”You can liken the scenario to skipping a stone on water, or a barefoot water skier,” says South African photographer Frans Dely. “The water compresses and becomes as solid as concrete.” This is how Scully Levin, one of South Africa’s top show pilots, makes his AT-6 Harvard walk on water. Levin first did the trick in the lead airplane of the Flying Lions aerobatic team on a lake near Johannesburg in February 2006.
Some years prior, a friend of Levin’s who was famous for tall tales was telling one around the campfire about seeing a pilot water ski an airplane on its tires. The other campers advised their friend to find a more gullible audience. But Levin pulled the storyteller aside and quietly peppered him with questions. The next day, Levin mastered the trick in his Super Cub.
Last winter Dely flew in Levin’s back seat as the Flying Lions flew a Left Hand Finger Four lineup (above). On the water, the team maintained a speed somewhere between 90 and 100 mph. The pilots were forced to apply a bit of forward stick pressure at the water’s surface, and the tires began hydroplaning when they had sunk in about four millimeters. “As with any air-to-air shoot, a detailed briefing is key to success,” says Dely. “When the pilots involved understand exactly what is expected of them, you can begin to push the envelope while keeping it safe. I often say, ‘If you can fly it, I can shoot it,’ but I’m always mindful of the fact that it is a team effort.”