Alaska Stories and Tips

Seaplane Flying in Moose Pass

Moose Pass Photo, Alaska, United States

Richard, already a single-engine land pilot and flight instructor, took a sea-plane lesson in a Piper Super Cub on floats. Located in Moose Pass (about 30 miles inland from Seward), Alaska Float Ratings offers seaplane instruction for pilots, as well as sight-seeing flights for everyone that tour around the Kenai Peninsula. Seaplanes provided an entirely different kind of flying experience. Getting into the small plane (even by single engine standards) was way more involved than opening the door and stepping in. A good part of my first lesson was spent learning how to balance on the float and pull myself into the small front-seat cabin. The instructor sat in the back. After my struggle getting in, it was impressive to watch the instructor deftly cross the small cable in the front to do the pre-flight check on the other side. The instructor pushed us off the dock and we started the engine as we floated away. Unlike on land, where you have the luxury of starting the engine while stationary, in a seaplane you need to have a strategy in advance for where the plane is going when you start up. Everything happens quickly – you can be drifting towards rocks or another plane in no time. After we got out on open water, I got some experience handling the plane on the surface before we did our first takeoff. The instructor walked me through the sequence and I was able to handle it without much trouble. The scenery was absolutely incredible. We could see snow-capped peaks in every direction as we passed over the dense forest a few hundred feet below. We flew low over a few ridges and set up for some landings on a nearby lake. It took some practice learning the technique, but I was starting to do a few on my own (with a close eye from the instructor) by the end of the lesson. We landed back at Trail Lake and the instructor parked the plane at the dock. After a short walk down the road and an excellent lunch at Trail Lake Lodge, it was time for my second lesson. I was able to get into the plane a bit easier than the first time. We took off and headed for another nearby lake. After the first landing, we shut the engine down to enjoy the quiet of the wilderness for a few minutes. Used to taxiing around busy airports with airplanes everywhere, it was a nice change of pace to only have to watch that we didn’t get too close a loon drifting near the shoreline. From there, we took off and headed over to Bench Lake. It would take all day to hike there, but we arrived in just a few minutes. At Bench Lake, I had a chance to really work on my landings. After several times, I started to get more reliable as I learned how to use peripheral cues to judge height, being careful to add power at the right time to avoid dropping in too hard. On one of the circuits around the lake, my instructor saw a moose peeking out through the high grass. After several more landings, it was time to head back to Trail Lake. I made a decent landing and my instructor had me handle more of the parking maneuver back at the dock. It should seem obvious that seaplanes don’t have brakes, but the practical impact of this became apparent when the instructor cautioned that we’d need to cut off the engine early enough to make sure we didn’t float into the expensive seaplane parked at the dock ahead of us. I took her warning to heart and ended up cutting off the engine too early, leaving us floating back from the dock, with no chance to reach it without re-starting the engine, only to cut it off a few seconds later. We went back inside and I had the privilege of joining some of the other instructors for some bush plane hangar flying (a term used by pilots to talk up the experiences, sometimes harrowing, of prior flights to the amusement, horror, or awe of others in attendance). The other pilots showed some pictures of flights they had done in the Alaska bush and it left me longing to have more time (and money) to complete the seaplane rating. That would need to wait for another trip, however. After a great day, I said good-bye to everyone at Moose Pass, and made my way back to Seward to join Laura and her parents.

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