My Experience at Alaska Float Ratings
By Jon Rashleigh
Blythewood, SC - Instrument Rated Private Pilot – 350 hours
As I was preparing for my trip to Moose Pass, Alaska, to learn how to fly float planes I told several of my flying friends in South Carolina about my upcoming adventure. They said I was crazy going all the way to Alaska to get my rating and that I should just go to Florida and get it done much cheaper and quicker. I am so glad I didn’t listen to their ‘advice’… I wanted the real deal. AFR far exceeded my expectations for comprehensive learning in a true ‘bush flying’ environment.
When I arrived in Moose Pass the weather was deteriorating with gusty winds and scattered rain and clouds prevailing. After a short classroom intro lesson from Vern Kingsford, owner of AFR, we spent time getting familiar with the PA-18 Super Cub we would be flying and started practicing maneuvers on the water. As soon as we had a break in the weather we got up in the air and starting learning the basics of reading the water and finding safe places to land. By my third lesson I was at the controls of my dream machine, flying into a mountain valley for landing practice on Bench Lake.
My first thoughts as we approached this postage stamp sized lake in a tight valley was that I was out of my league and I began questioning my judgment for signing up for this course. Thankfully, as in all maneuvers taught at AFR, my instructor demonstrated the technique three times and described each part of the approach, landing and takeoff. Once I gained confidence in the incredible performance of the Super Cub and in my ability to handle it, the maneuvers such as ‘confined space landings’ started to make sense.
For the next five days we adapted to the weather, taking advantage of the ever-changing conditions to get exposed to several different lakes within a few minutes flying time from home base on Trail Lake. I was extremely impressed with the instructor’s knowledge and experience reading the canyon winds and showing me where to find lift, as well as how to avoid downdrafts. I had flown in the mountains of Montana and Idaho early in my flying career but my skills were rusty. Each lake and each landing provided different challenges that kept the learning curve very steep.
On day six it all came together and I passed my checkride. The challenging lessons had allowed me to become comfortable with the airplane and confident executing all the maneuvers.
The amount of effort and energy put into this 9 hours of flying and several hours of course work and check ride preparation to earn my SES rating provided me with a true sense of accomplishment. Training with AFR has made me an all around safer pilot with a great respect for mountain flying on floats.
I am already thinking about my next trip to Moose Pass. I will definitely be back! Thanks AFR!!