RB “Doc” Hecker

EAA Flight Advisor 1905 / Technical Counselor 5453


The Seattle, WA metroplex and surrounding areas is collectively known to its citizens as the “Emerald City” due to its commercial waterfront and terrain that gently slopes with the rise of hillocks and buildings. Most notable is the city’s signature Space Needle standing amongst the lush evergreens and shimmering salt waters of Puget Sound to the west of the city and the various intra-metropolitan fresh water bodies to the east of the main waterfront. But to aviators, Seattle conjures up images of thousands of various military and civilian aircraft manufactured for decades by the Boeing Company. Many do not know of Seattle’s contribution to early seaplane operations.


The historical record indicates that the Frenchman Henri Fabre was the first aviator who on May 28, 1910, flew off the water and successfully landed in an aircraft of his own design and construction at the Mediterranean area of Martigues, near Marseille, France. In a short span of just only nine years, regular commercial seaplane operations began on the American continent in 1919 in Halifax, Nova Scotia with the so-called “bush pilots” flying a surplus Liberty L-12 (vee-type) 400 HP powered Curtiss HS-2L patrol flying boat developed for the US Navy in 1917 by that famous aviator/manufacturer Glenn Curtiss.    


Although internationally known for its present-day commercial airliners and freighters, and its iconic post WWI military pursuit ships along with the famous heavy bombers of WWII and the cold-war era, most of Boeing’s earliest efforts in aviation were either float seaplanes or flying boats.   The smooth waters of Lake Union east of the Seattle waterfront provided an ideal location to develop sea born aviation in the Pacific Northwest.


The Boeing Company was first formed by W. E. “Bill” Boeing and Conrad Westervelt as the Pacific Aero Prod. Company. This partnership enterprise introduced its first water-borne airplane, the “B and W”, which was manufactured on the shores of Lake Union in November, 1916. This initial production effort was a large biplane of the so-called “flying boat” type on twin floats powered by a 125 HP Hall-Scott engine mounted on the nose in conventional tractor fashion. This open-cockpit ship eventually started Boeing in the fledging seaplane business that included aircraft manufacture for the institution of “on-demand” carriage of airmail, cargo and the occasional passenger service to land and water points within the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Boeing’s growing design expertise in the flying boat business led to the very popular open cockpit Model B-1 large biplane “flying boat” design that cumulated with the award of Approved Type Certificate (ATC) #23 for the Model B-1D in April, 1928. This beautifully enclosed cockpit design was certified for commercial manufacture by the Boeing Airplane Company and seated four in a closed boat-type cabin powered by a Wright “Whirlwind” J5 engine of 220 HP mounted in a nacelle between the wing panels in pusher fashion.   Later versions became the B-1E (ATC #64, August, 1928) powered by a 9 cylinder Pratt & Whitney “Wasp” engine of 410-425 HP also mounted in pusher fashion. Arguably, the most famous Boeing designed flying boat was the Model 314 “Clipper”, an 84,000 pound gross weight 4-engine transoceanic ship of the large commercial passenger type certified by the CAA in 1938 and commercially flown on its inaugural scheduled trans-Atlantic flight on June 28, 1939. This aircraft was powered by four Wright Twin Cyclone engines of 1,600 HP each. A total of 12 Model 314s were delivered from 1938 to 1941. All of these aircraft were requisitioned by the US Government for military transport service at the beginning of WWII. No model of this type is in existence today


One of the most interesting ways to explore Seattle, WA is from the air, especially by aircraft capable of landing on water.   Nestled within the confines of this quite cosmopolitan and exquisite city lies a fascinating body of water known as Lake Union that has an added function of serving as a locale for many commercial and private seaplane operations. Additionally, Lake Union hosts residential houseboats and recreational boating competing for space with commercial business operations such as shipping, salvage yards, dry docks and ship berths. Lastly, there is a thriving community of restaurants and night life activities along its shores.   Jim Chrysler’s Seattle Seaplanes is located at Seaplane Base OWO on the south-east shore of Lake Union and offers charter flights, seaplane instruction and city tours. One of the highlights of my frequent trips to the Puget Sound area is to rent their 1965 Cessna 172 180 HP N5721T seaplane with an instructor to update my currency in seaplane operations. The advantage of Seattle based seaplane operation is that an aviator can operate on both salt-water tidal seas, or choose to operate on the relatively placid environment of the river or lake environment. In essence, the functional utility of a seaplane allows it to rival that of a helicopter in terms of ultimate destination or landing sites (including heavily dewed ground sites and ice/snow covered strips), and can be the perfect means for planning a holiday in close contact with natural environments.


So, just what constitutes a seaplane rating? It is a pilot rating that allows you to operate any appropriately equipped airplane off of the water. Surprisingly, there is no distinction between floatplanes or amphibians. Amphibians are equipped to operate on either land or water. The most commonly obtained initial seaplane rating is termed an ASES (Airplane Single Engine Sea) certificate that is usually pursued as an “add-on” rating to a previously awarded ASEL (Aircraft Single-Engine Land) certificate. Most rated pilots can add this certificate in just a few days, although seasoned pilots can qualify in only a day with advance preparation. The typical training interval is from 4.5 to 15 hours.   Although there are separate FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) for both the Private and Commercial Seaplane rating, the tasks for the add-on rating for either Private Pilot or Commercial Pilot are essentially the same, although a Pilot Examiner would expect a Commercial Pilot to exert a higher level of skill and airmanship during the check ride. Interestingly, a Private Pilot with ASEL and ASES ratings who obtains a commercial ASEL rating must further qualify by testing to obtain a commercial ASES. The same applies to AMEL pilots who must demonstrate proficiency in a multi-engine seaplane to obtain an AMES rating. I obtained my Private ASES “add-on” rating 7 years ago from Sheble Aviation Aviation in the span of one day flying a Piper PA-28-180 on Edo 2000 floats off of Lake Mojave and the Colorado River near Bullhead City, AZ. I later obtained my Commercial ASES “add-on” rating in a Lake LA-4-200 from Sheble Aviation on the Colorado River south of Bullhead City after demonstrating land and water proficiency in this beautifully designed “boat-type” amphibian. My future goal is to obtain an “Add-on” AMES rating in Sheble’s Beech 18, although that experience will be somewhat pricy as twin-engine seaplane flight training is expensive and difficult to arrange.


Another interesting aspect of seaplane operation concerns where the physical operation is being performed. When the machine is airborne, FAA regulations apply, but when the machine is on the water and is acting as a watercraft, US Coast Guard Rules and Regulations apply. In fact, the aerial sea craft can be considered to be either powered or under sail depending upon the use of the engine or airfoil structures to navigate the machine while on the water. A solid understanding of all of the pertinent regulations regarding Right of Way is essential to safe seaplane operations.


All of us are required to complete a Flight Review every two years to maintain our flying privileges. Another way to satisfy this Flight Review is to add another rating or qualification to our flying credentials, as the successful completion of a practical test qualifies as the review.  


A reading of FAR § 61.56(d) reveals that:


“A person who has, within the period specified in paragraph (c) of this section, passed a pilot proficiency check conducted by an examiner, an approved pilot check airman, or a U.S. Armed Force, for a pilot certificate, rating, or operating privilege need not accomplish the flight review required by this section”.


In other words, successful completion of the oral and practical (check ride) aspects of the required Practical Test Standards (PTS) for a certificate upgrade or additional rating satisfies the Flight Review requirement.


With this in mind, might I suggest that you consider adding a seaplane rating to your pilot credentials? In addition to a new vacation experience, it is a unique credential, extraordinarily fun to obtain, and the whole experience affords you the ability to begin another line of conversation with your fellow aviators when we join together in fellowship.


Ref:         DeRemer, Dale: Seaplane Pilot. Aviation Supplies & Academics, Inc., New Castle, WA 2003  


                  DeRemer, Dale & Baj, Cesare: Seaplane Operations. Aviation Supplies & Academics, Inc., New Castle, WA 2003        


                  Juptner, Joseph P: U.S. Civil Aircraft Series, Volume 1 (ATC 1 – ATC 100), Aero Publisher, Inc., 1962, Reissued by Tab Aero, Blue Ridge Summit, PA 1993


RB “Doc” Hecker (EAA 789419) is a FAA Senior AME (20969) who retired from the US Army Medical Department in 1997 after 26 years of service. He holds a Commercial/Instrument Pilot Certificate for ASEL, AMEL and ASES along with an A&P Mechanic Certificate. He has logged over 2,500 hours and prefers small, intimate airparks. He has restored a 1965 Cessna C210E (N4904U), a 1946 Taylorcraft BC12-D (NC43306),a 1946 Aeronca 7AC (NC2241E), refurbished a 1943 Aeronca O-58B / L-3B (NC47185) and a 1947 Taylorcraft BC12-D (N43928). He is currently restoring a 1947 Aeronca 7BCM / L-16 (N119TX). His other projects include building a RV-8 (N51TX) and he is assisting in the restoration of a 1976 Taylorcraft F-19 (N3556T). He has previously owned a Cessna C-172 (N61785), a Grumman AA-5B (N74447) and a Mooney M20C (N10AD). In his free time, Doc practices medicine in San Antonio, TX. He is a member of EAA Chapter 35 of San Antonio, TX, EAA Chapter 92 of Orange, CA, and is an EAA Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor. In addition, he is a Life Member of the Commemorative Air Force and affiliates with the Tex Hill Wing (Hondo, TX), and crews with the Gulf Coast Wing (Houston, TX) as a Flight Engineer and member of the maintenance team where he does sheet metal and fabric repair work on that magnificent 1945 B17-G war bird “Texas Raiders” (N7227C).

March 10, 2012                                          Photo Credit N5721T   – Seattle Seaplanes