While Haley and Rod were traveling in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to go flying with David Walter in his Lake LA-4-200 Buccaneer. The Lake is an amphibious seaplane plane with retractable landing gear. It’s distinguished by the engine sitting on top of the fuselage and incredibly large trim tabs that counteract the force of the engine on top of the aircraft (which causes lots of drag).

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David Walter is the owner of Reefmaker, a company based in Orange Beach, Alabama, dedicated to creating artificial reefs in the ocean. To date, Reefmaker has placed over 37,000 artificial reefs and marine habitats. The Weather Channel made a TV Series about his company called “Reef Wranglers.”

David had rigged up a GoPro mount of the front of his aircraft on a gear and pulley, so you can turn the GoPro around 360 degrees mid-flight with chords that extend into the cockpit.

We took off from Jack Edwards’ Runway 09 and turned South, flying low over the beach. David loves having a seaplane in Gulf Shores – He calls it the safest airplane on the coast since he can land on water (there is a lot of it!) or on land with standard landing gear.

Flying Down Gulf Shores

Flying Down Gulf Shores

After flying over Gulf Shores, we turned Northwest and flew over Mobile Bay towards the Mobile River Delta – David’s favorite spot for local seaplane flying. David performed the first approach and landing, teaching me the basics of seaplane flying. After slowing down on the water, we taxied up a nearby boat ramp and into a parking lot to check the hydraulic fluid (there was a warning light, but no issues were discovered). Everyone around the parking lot came over to take photos of the seaplane that had shut down in the parking lot.

For our first water takeoff, David taught me how to takeoff on water. The takeoff is performed in the Lake by holding the yoke in a full-back, left position. Once the aircraft’s speed climbs and the plane begins to “bob” in the water, you push the stick forward slightly (correcting for any more bobbing), and take off like normal.

After this first water takeoff and landing, David handed the controls over to me and had me practice a few water touch-and-go landings. In all, at that location, I landed about 10 times. The landings themselves weren’t difficult. The sight-picture on approach was definitely different since we sat so low to the water (with our feet below the water-line). I made approaches at a standard 70 knots; at a few inches above the water, I began pulling back the power and holding the nose off until we slowed down. The real trick to flying the Lake (or any seaplane) is avoiding bouncing during landings – Many accidents have been caused by Lake pilots bouncing during landing, eventually high enough to land nose-down in the water, and flipping over. To correct for any bounces, we just added power to level off the bounce.

After flying around the wide sections of the Mobile River, we headed about 7 minutes North, to a smaller river for some more confined approaches and landings. Below is a video of our landing at this section of the river:

On the way back to Gulf Shores, we called Mobile Approach and requested a low pass over the Mobile River for a possible touch-and-go landing. As a seaplane pilot, you’re allowed to break some of the normal rules governing flight if you’re in a position of landing or takeoff. We flew down the river at 30-40 feet, right above tug boats and other ships, right past the downtown skyscrapers. Since we had the permission of approach, coupled with flying a seaplane, we were able to do this close-proximity flying to other people, boats, and buildings. (Many seaplane pilots are even allowed to fly underneath bridges when they want to land)

The flight back to Gulf Shores and KJKA was nice; the weather was improving. David let me land the Lake on Runway 09 at JKA; I noticed that the landing gear felt much more stiff than conventional gear (they weren’t made to be smooth on the seaplane). Below is a video of this final landing:

Thanks, David, for showing me what it’s like to fly an amphibian!
-Swayne Martin
Twitter: @MartinsAviation

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Swayne Martin

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2 Responses

  1. Karlene

    Swayne, what another fabulous experience! I’m afraid with all these experiences you are going to: A. Get board flying long haul flights on automated aircraft. Or B. Drive your FO’s crazy with the, “I remember when… ” stories. Lol. I say this in complete jest. Because A. I love those stories of pilots’ experiences. And B… you’ll be using that long-haul flying to rest, so when you get home to do the really fun flying! Your logbook will entertain the most avid pilot interviewer. Print photos of each of these planes, and put them in between the pages of your logbook. I wish I had done that. I had a friend who did that and at NWA they spent an hour looking at pictures during the interview.
    Another great post!!

    Reply
    • Swayne Martin
      Swayne Martin

      That’s a great idea! I’d love to put some print copies of the planes I’ve flown into the logbook. Flying that Lake was amazing.

      Reply

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