Float Plane Rating

Introduction and Expectations

The Western Michigan University College of Aviation Seaplane Certification course is designed to provide the training necessary to safely operate as a skilled seaplane pilot. Although the overall course goal is to train an individual to the highest level of proficiency, the College of Aviation offers training to both private and commercial pilot applicants as an additional rating.

Training is conducted at the College's state of the art facilities and in a 1962 Piper Super Cub. This aircraft has been fully restored by the WMU maintenance department and is equipped with Wipline 2100 amphibious floats.

The College operates from the Battle Creek W.K. Kellogg Airport—KBTL—and on a variety of lakes in Barry, Calhoun and Kalamazoo Counties in Southwest Michigan. Seaplane students at the College of Aviation are typically exposed to a range of variable weather and water conditions in the local area.

Prior to beginning the course, it is expected that the prospective seaplane pilot will have recent flight experience and be proficient in the operation of land planes. Additionally, it is expected that the individual be familiar with the content of the current Federal Aviation Regulations and Aeronautical Information Manual, as it would apply to a person of their qualifications.

The general flow of training follows the outline listed below:

  • Self-study prior to meeting with the individual instructor—see the section titled "How to prepare for this rating" below. The average student should plan on about 10 hours of self-study prior to beginning the course.
  • Introduction and initial ground instruction.
  • Preflight operations.
  • Flight training—it is important to note that there is no specific syllabus for the flight training; this is due to the variable nature of the water conditions. Maneuvers are taught as permitted by the prevailing water and wind conditions. For example, during light wind conditions, glassy water operations may be introduced and during high wind conditions, rough water operations may be taught or practiced. Obviously, it would be difficult to follow an exact syllabus when the required maneuvers are dependent on having a specific type of water condition. Although the duration of flight training is variable, depending on the overall proficiency of the individual prior to starting the course, most students average about nine hours of training before being recommended for the FAA check ride.
  • Check ride preparation—includes a comprehensive review of oral subjects and flight maneuvers. See the section titled "How to prepare for the check ride" below.
  • FAA check ride—this is conducted with a local FAA designated examiner. The student is responsible for the cost of the examiners fee.

Maneuvers taught in this course

The following flight maneuvers are taught during the course of this rating:

  1. Taxiing and sailing:
    • Idle, plow and step taxi—all straight and with turns;
    • Sailing—both directly downwind and diagonally downwind
  2. Normal and crosswind takeoff and climb.
  3. Normal and crosswind approach and landing.
  4. Confined area takeoff and maximum performance climb.
  5. Confined area approach and landing.
  6. Glassy water takeoff and climb.
  7. Glassy water approach and landing.
  8. Rough water takeoff and climb.
  9. Rough water approach and landing.
  10. Emergency approach and landing.
  11. Systems and equipment malfunctions.
  12. Anchoring—may be a discussion topic at the discretion of the instructor.
  13. Docking.
  14. Mooring—may be a discussion topic at the discretion of the instructor.
  15. Ramping/beaching—may be a discussion topic at the discretion of the instructor.

Ground instruction will support the listed maneuvers and is conducted on an as needed basis.

Required textbooks

The WMU seaplane certification course uses one of the two textbooks listed below:

  1. "How to fly floats" by J.J. Frey
  2. "Seaplane, skiplane, and float/ski equipped helicopter operations handbook" by the FAA. An electronic copy is provided on this CD—see the folder labeled FAA-H-8083-23.

The college only requires one of the above publications. Should the student desire a "hard copy" of the "Seaplane, skiplane and float/ski equipped helicopter operations handbook", a copy may be purchased at the WMU dispatch office or via various aviation retailers.

How to Prepare for this Rating

  1. Read the textbook "How to fly floats" or chapters 1-6 and 8 of the FAA "Seaplane, skiplane, and float/ski equipped helicopter operations handbook".
  2. Read the Super Cub owners handbook.
  3. Read the Wipline FAA approved airplane flight manual supplement.
  4. Read the "Seaplane Safety" advisory circular - AC 91-69A.
  5. Review the Wipline float service manual pages 9-14 and 20-21.
  6. Complete the self-study exam.

It is expected that the prospective seaplane student will arrive on their first day of class with the above items complete. In the event that the student is unable to answer all of the questions on the self-study exam, the balance may be completed after the first few flights.

How to Prepare for the FAA Check Ride

The FAA check ride will take place when the student has demonstrated the capability to consistently operate the aircraft in a safe and efficient manner while remaining within the standards as prescribed by the applicable FAA practical test standards. Generally, the entire check ride process takes approximately 3.0 to 3.5 hours from start to finish—including brief, debrief and paperwork.

Eligibility for check ride

In order to be eligible for check ride, the applicant must have the following items:

  1. A current FAA medical certificate.
  2. A valid pilot certificate.
  3. A valid, government issued, picture ID.
  4. A logbook endorsement from the recommending instructor (to be provided by the WMU instructor at the completion of training).
  5. A completed and "e-signed" application for the rating using the FAA's Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system.
  • Prior to the end of training, the applicant will be required to register for IACRA as an applicant and complete the on line application.
  • The web address for IACRA is: http://iacra.faa.gov/iacra/ .
  • Use Internet Explorer while accessing IACRA for best results.
  • When registration is complete, a FAA Tracking Number—FTN—number will be assigned. Please retain this number, as it will be required to access this and all future applications. 

Oral examination section

The FAA check ride will consist of an oral exam and a flight test. Although each check ride will be slightly different, the student can prepare for the oral portion by reviewing the following items:

  1. The student self-study exam. The questions on this exam serve as an excellent guide to the general areas on the oral exam.
  2. The FAA practical test standards. Be prepared to discuss each of the various areas of operation as they apply to the applicable certification level (Private or Commercial).
  3. General seaplane operations such as the following:
    1. Maintenance requirement and proving airworthiness.
      • WMU uses an annual and 100 hour maintenance system with 25-hour float lubrication and 50 oil change intervals. These are based on tachometer time.
    2. Required documents for flight - both personal and aircraft documents.
      • PAROW (Placards, Airworthiness certificate, Registration pilots, Operating handbook and Weight and balance information) is a useful acronym for the required aircraft documents.
    3. General flight planning
      • Where to find information about seaplane bases.
      • Where can a seaplane be operated and how to find this information.
      • Sectional chart interpretation—specifically seaplane bases.
      • Cross country flying in both amphibious and straight float equipped aircraft. Be prepared to discuss how/where to get fuel for a straight float equipped aircraft - an auto gas Supplemental Type Certificate—STC—is used by many float operators.
    4. Water characteristics
      • Be prepared to discuss in detail how to evaluate water conditions for takeoff and landing.
    5. Weight and balance computations
    6. General performance
      • Effects of density altitude on performance.
      • Rules of thumb for calculating performance.
      • General fuel burn.
      • No wind range with reserve.
      • Range with the prevailing winds for the day with reserve.
      • Estimating obstacle heights and whether or not the aircraft would clear the specific obstacle in question.
      • Factors affecting performance.
    7. Specific performance computations
      • The Wipline flight manual supplement provides these charts.
    8. All aircraft systems—be prepared to discuss each in detail.
    9. All aircraft limitations—be prepared to discuss how these relate to "real world" situations.
    10. The "common sense" aspect of flying—this section has the potential to vary greatly, but possible examples might include attempting a takeoff off with frost on the wings, landing a seaplane at night on the water, or attempting a takeoff over the gross weight.
    11. Regulations
      • This section of the discussion will likely include a variety of items related to water flying and general operations.
      • Currency requirements for seaplane pilots.
    12. Taxi techniques
      • Be prepared to discuss in detail how each type is executed and the associated advantages/disadvantages of each.
    13. How to conduct the various types of takeoffs
      • Be prepared to discuss in detail how each type is executed and the associated advantages/disadvantages of each.
    14. Docking, Sailing, Beaching, Mooring, Anchoring
      • Be prepared to discuss each in detail and the associated advantages/disadvantages of each.
    15. Landing techniques
      • Be prepared to discuss each in detail and the associated advantages/disadvantages of each.
    16. Emergency operations
      • Be prepared to discuss the various emergency procedures in detail.

    Flight examination section

    Although each flight test is conducted in a slightly different manner than others, it will include the maneuvers listed in the applicable practical test standards. Generally the flight test takes about 1 to 1.2 hours of flying time. During the course of the flight test, the applicant is the Pilot in Command and is responsible for making timely and sensible decisions about the maneuvers requested by the examiner. Furthermore, the examiner is expecting that the maneuvers to be completed within the applicable standards with the successful outcome of each "never seriously in doubt." At the successful completion of the flight test the examiner will issue a temporary pilot certificate with the rating "airplane single engine sea” added. The temporary pilot certificate is valid for 120 days.