Hummingbird Island Airways
|The secret is to pull her free of the surface tension just below the stall speed and keep her airborne. Thrust rather than pure aerodynamics will be what gets you flying. My favorite trick is to launch off the last big swell and then dump the flaps to leave her "hanging on the prop!"|
The only difference with a
heavy load is that you have to milk or play the controls according to
the incoming swells. As you will be on the water longer than when
lightly loaded, you have to feel out each swell and ride them as clean
as possible to prevent crashing into the big ones. This initially meant
pulling back on the control column to go up rather than through the
largest swells, minimizing drag and maximizing speed, and then pushing
ahead during a periods of smaller swells to gain the air speed for
creating lift. With greater lift the floats will rise in the water
producing less surface drag and increasing the speed needed for
But, once you build up speed then you will have to push or cut your way through the big swells to minimize the impact and prevent getting launched prematurely, and then pull the nose up during the period of smaller swells in an attempt to minimize surface drag when you are just at or below the stall speed. Like I mentioned earlier, the secret is to pull her free of the surface tension just below the stall speed and relax on the control column just enough to keep her airborne. Thrust rather than pure aerodynamics will be what gets you flying. My favorite trick is to launch off the last big swell and then dump the flaps to leave her "hanging on the prop!"
I have tried to analyze good heavy water pilots as they make these moves to visualize what they do, but to no avail. Although, I know there is a proper way to take off in heavy water, there does not appear to be any rhyme or reason that you can teach in a class room. It is rather “just a feelin” for flying that you have to learn by doing.
The next two trips I flew and Ian sat in the right seat as a type of line check. I felt like I had not flown since my days in Fiji where in fact I had just been flying the same machine in Africa a few weeks before. The environment was so different from the muddy brown rivers of the tropical rainforests, however, I felt out of place for a few legs. Finally after a landing or two at Holiday Island and a trip to Gangehi, I felt more at ease. It is easy to look lost flying an aircraft you have several thousand hours in because of a new and foreign environment.
The last trip of my line check, I accompanied Ian to the island of Kunfunadhoo. 30 minutes to the north of Male, Kunfunadhoo is the home to Soneva Fushi Resort, one of the most natural and ecological friendly developments in the Maldives. Sonu and Eva, who are both eccentric and genuine, own the resort. I have learned over the years that most resort owners are definitely eccentric and usually self-centered and miserly. Sonu and Eva are certainly prudent when it come down to business, but they were one of the few owners who regularly greeted all pilots and staff and guests alike with the same genuine warmth and aplomb, like you were a long lost cousin from Madrid.
This philosophy showed in their management style where ideas or suggestions for improvement could come from anywhere. My son, who was about seven at the time, decided to attend a management meeting one morning. He was not only welcomed but was encouraged to make a presentation about how the island bicycles should have mounted lights so the guests could easily navigate at night. The next day the GM ordered a set of bicycle lights and thanked my son for his contributions. Their managerial style was not top down but radiated from the center. Sonu and Eva were known for doing things right and their resort is listed as one of the World's Top 100 Luxury Small Hotels.
was because of them Hummingbird had even one decent aircraft. Sonu was
the younger brother of the new owner of Hummingbird, and he had
requested a factory-fresh leather clad C208 amphib to be their exclusive
guest transport. Sonu got his way and Hummingbird got a new Caravan. In
fact, Sonu was the reason his industrial factory-owning brother, Azad, got into
the airline business in the first place. In order to prop up the
business that he relied upon to transfer his guests to the resort
island, Sonu had bought into Hummingbird Helicopters when they were
being financially drained by the MAT competition. When Sonu was in
threat of being dragged down as well, he called upon his older brother
to carry the day.
Azad had the MD for his aluminum factory in Nigeria look at the feasibility of taking over Hummingbird and turning it into a competitive floatplane operation. The MD, luckily for us float plane pilots and unluckily for Azad, knew absolutely nothing about airlines or airplanes, let alone floatplanes, and came up with a positive, but badly underestimated assessment. That was the beginning of a heavy investment of money, aircraft, and experienced employees into the making of an airline. The dreams of Kit and Sonu become the reality for our employment.
The factory new 675hp Caravan, however, was quite nice. Unfortunately the ferry company had done a wheels up landing at one of the airports enroute and forgot to mention it on delivery. I noticed on my first walk around that the skids were missing off the keels and the back keels near the wheels were worn down to metal mulch. One of the engineers told me that they cut the remainder of the protective strips off because they were hanging down and broken on arrival, and didn’t think to mention it to anyone either. Although that did not stop us from flying, it made me think of a famous Nigerian saying, "Things fall apart." It literally means that nothing last forever.
As we approached Soneva Fushi, I could not see any specific area that I would consider a safe landing zone. The island was long and narrow and surrounded by relatively open seas. Although the island was inside the North Baa Atoll, there was really no barrier reef protecting it from the incoming swells. Moreover, the house reef was too tight around the island with no safe landing areas inside. To start operations several weeks before someone had placed a mooring buoy beside the island, but that had proved unusable in any kind of wind as the seas got too rough. So they had moved the buoy inside a nearby lagoon.
The lagoon was large enough to operate out of, but the reef wasn't high
enough to stop the large rolling swells during the high tides. This
lagoon, although absolutely beautiful in color and form, became one of
our most challenging areas to operate into during the monsoons. The
first day Ian and I landed there was uneventful except that a family of
dolphins had decided to play chicken with us as we lined up for final.
They came on to us head on and only dove as the floats touched the
Ian and I rode in on the dhoni to the island and were greeted with cold facecloths and cold drinks. We stayed long enough to enjoy lunch and then loaded our passengers and headed back to Male. The passengers were government representatives inspecting the resort after a major generator fire. Even with no power the guests had not wanted to leave the island, but Soneva Fushi was forced to shut down because the health department said so.
Some of the guests had to literally be carried off the island, including Paul McCartney and his family. Ian had evacuated them in the new Caravan. Over the next two years Soneva Fushi definitely became my family's favorite island retreat. My wife casually remarks that we lived next door to the villa where Linda McCartney stayed "in the spring of her death."
Article and Images by John S Goulet
Note from the Editor. Hummingbird Helicopters became Hummingbird Island Airways, and Hummingbird Island Airways no longer exists. It has been sold out, and reincarnated as Trans Maldivian Airways. This story is about the two years it was HIA.
For maintenance concerns about operating your Caravan in saltwater,
Seaplanes & Salt Water
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Last modified on
August 22, 2006 .
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