The Liberty Gazette
January 8, 2019Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: At the end of 2017, I found myself facing a deadline. My employer offers a flying stipend we can use for flight training, but it’s a use-it-or-lose-it deal by the end of the year. I hadn’t used it, so we dashed up to Seattle for Thanksgiving week, hoping I could get a seaplane rating.
What was I thinking?! Seattle, in the late fall?
The ceiling wasn’t high, but it was high enough. The visibility was good enough. But the wind gusted, making waves too strong, beyond the limitations of smaller aircraft. No seaplane flying occurred that week, and I came back home and spent the money refreshing my tailwheel and aerobatic skills. First in a Super Decathlon, then in an Extra 300. Fun, of course, but I still didn’t have a seaplane rating.
Then came December 1, 2018 and I found myself in the same position, not having done any new training. This time, however, I wised up and chose Southern Seaplane in New Orleans, where the weather might be better than in Seattle.
I lucked out and started my training with Nate, a young man the older guys referred to as "the prodigy." I understood why right away. Great instructor. He followed all the rules of good, sound teaching.
The minimum requirements are two hours of training with the same instructor followed by a one-hour proficiency flight with a different instructor. I flew with Michael for the proficiency flight. Of course, you can take longer if needed, but I found the instruction to be of such high quality that I didn’t need more than the minimum required.
After three hours in the Cessna 172 on floats, I met with the FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, Lyle Panepinto. We sat down for the oral exam I had studied for, then went out to the plane for the check ride. I was required to show him I knew how to perform various types of taxiing in water, then off we flew, following a channel away from New Orleans, then over the Intercoastal Waterway for some splash-and-go’s.
Part of the test required that I prove I can land the floatplane in a specific spot, then under different conditions. The spot landing went well, so I went on to show Lyle my landings and take-offs in glassy water, rough water, confined space. Because the way water behaves has a significant effect on a float plane, each of these requires a different method to accomplish.
I returned to the base a happy new commercial seaplane pilot.
As we secured the airplane to the dock, Lyle informed me that those who fly in Alaska don’t consider pilots flying in the Gulf to be seaplane pilots. "You’re now officially a Louisiana Ditch Pilot," he affirmed. He didn’t even charge me extra for the pure enjoyment of listening to his thick Cajun accent.
I already miss landing on water. It’s a different skill, not necessarily harder, just loads of fun.