Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lady Of Water & Sky

The Grumman G-111 Albatross flies again

Beaching an Albatross

One of the more intriguing tasks when flying an amphibian like the G-111 Albatross is "beaching" it. Beaching is the process whereby the aircraft is brought close enough to the shore that passengers can easily exit the aircraft without having to wade in the water. The process is also used to offload cargo or take on supplies from land. What may not seem evident is that an aircraft in the water has no "brakes" and no sail. Even at idle, an aircraft on the water is always moving. The challenge is to get the aircraft to the shore and not overshoot it or collide with something in the process.

"We use a variety of tools," says Paul LeVeque. "It's a combination of aerodynamic controls, asymmetrical thrust from the engines, and the reversible propellers." LeVeque added that he's always aware of the wind and the condition of the shoreline he is approaching. During our beaching experience with LeVeque in the Albatross, he overflew the spot where we'd beach the aircraft to determine whether it was safe.

The process starts with determining the wind speed and direction, then visually confirming the slope of the beach. If it's too shallow, the aircraft's hull could ground too far out. The bottom has to be sandy and free of large rocks or other submerged obstructions. Lastly, the current has to be evaluated since currents close to shore have a strong effect on the aircraft.

Wind complicates matters, and high winds squeeze every ounce of skill from the pilot. High winds require multiple crew members along with lines (ropes) attached to several points on the aircraft. However, winds under about 20 knots make beaching a simpler task.

Aerodynamic controls can be used to help "sail" the aircraft toward shore, as well. For example, if the wind is on the aircraft's nose, turning the yoke to the right (a right bank in the air) and pressing left rudder will cause the aircraft's to "sail" left. The opposite would cause it to "sail" to the right. The effect of the engine's speed also contributes to the "sail" effect. The thing to remember is the aircraft is constantly moving in some direction.

Once all the inspections and determinations have been made and the aircraft has landed on the water, LeVeque circles back around toward the intended beaching area and positions the aircraft using engine thrust, so he approaches the beach at a shallow angle, ideally with the beach to his left. Using constant reverse and forward thrust, and positioning the rudder and ailerons so they can be used as "sails," LeVeque approaches and then turns the Albatross, so it's parallel to the shore.

Once the aircraft's large left float is over the intended beaching spot, LeVeque puts the right engine into idle-reverse, and the tail of the Albatross begins to swing in toward the beach. Again, using tiny amounts of engine thrust, LeVeque holds the aircraft onto the shore, and a crew member can secure the aircraft using lines, or if the wind is calm, the engines are cut, and the aircraft remains
in position.

In strong winds blowing onshore, the Albatross can be turned into the wind and allowed to back into the beaching spot. Engine power—both forward and reverse— is used to fine-tune the parking job.

If the aircraft can't be beached, it can be anchored off-shore using an onboard anchor and line.

If the aircraft is beached, the tide must be watched carefully since an aircraft as big as the Albatross can't be easily manhandled off shore, if the tide goes out and it becomes too shallow to float the aircraft. That becomes an embarrassing moment for the Albatross pilot.


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