GRAB YOUR FLOATIES: Ambidextrous Amphibians
With so much rain in our neck of the woods/rainforest recently and seeing some dramatic new aircraft developments, we decided to take a look at all things waterborne this month.
So, welcome to the world of ‘seaplanes’, to use the well accepted generic term. Meaning, as our friends at CASA would have it, a float equipped aeroplane, or a floating-hull aeroplane. The argument about which of these is ‘best’, is as old as the argument about the virtues of high wing aircraft versus a low wing type.
There are, of course, many distinct advantages to being able to ‘mess about on the water’ and seaplanes had early beginnings, in fact almost at the start of aviation, as water landing areas were plentiful while airfields, as we know them, were non-existent. Today, it’s still true that seaplanes are the only practical aircraft for use in remotes areas in North America, Canada and Alaska, as well as the Polar regions, for exactly the same reasons.
In Australia given our distinct geography and pricey landing fees at so many airstrips and the landing area flexibility and safety an amphibious seaplane offers, it makes you think! Nothing matches the feeling seaplane pilots enjoy every time their aircraft ‘kisses’ the surface of the water at the point of touchdown. Once you get into the wetter and sub-tropical parts of the country or if you’re situated somewhere along our glorious coastline, then it’s crazy not to consider the alternative of a seaplane, ideally an ‘Amphib’. Why buy a plane and a boat, when you can have both at once?
The commercial side of the amphibious equation has seen operators, in the main, sticking to the traditional and heavyweight options, for passenger capacity reasons: DH2 Beavers, Twin Otters, Cessna 172/182 plus Caravans on floats, the Nomad and the Dornier. So in Australia, tourists seeking that ‘something special’, can not only over-fly our beauty spots, but also land on the water and tie up directly at numerous waterfront restaurants. Seaplane flying, even as a passenger, is definitely a unique experience.
Worldwide, the Chinese were the most active in the seaplane market over the past 12 months with 50 new Twin Otters bound for the orient after the Paris airshow, while Chinese investors acquired a majority stake in the world’s largest seaplane airline, Canadian Harbour Air Group. The Russian built Berieve Be-103 seaplane was also tested near Shanghai, with a view to the aircraft being built in China. Not surprising since there are close aircraft technology ties and a number of joint ventures between China and Russia in commercial and military aircraft design and manufacture.
China is also well advanced in building the largest flying boat in the world, a four-engine turbo prop behemoth. The AG600 Dragon is destined to be slightly larger than the Japanese seaplane ShinMaywa UC2. The Water Dragon’s maiden flight is expected in the next few months, so make room!
One should also not forget the pioneering work the Russians have done with the earliest naval seaplanes, used with the Black Sea Fleet in the first World War, for spotting and attack missions. Furthermore, the Cold War drove the Russians to develop Ekranoplan and other similar aircraft, designed to skim the water, or any other flat surface. ‘Ground effect’ supplied the lift to support over 100 tons and the aircraft itself, measured twice the length of the modern 777 airliner. Not truly a seaplane by definition but it’s a fine line.
Other recent significant developments that will change the landscape (or should that be the seascape?) forever, include legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan’s pet project, the SkiGull, which finally had its much-anticipated first flight. Rutan only showed pictures of his project a few months before its debut last spring, and he plans to fly it around the world to demonstrate how good it is. Also in the last few years, massive marketing efforts have been directed by an American manufacturer to introduce seaplanes to a new generation of pilots looking for something different, a sports car of the skies!
Meanwhile the Aussie equivalent of the Seaplane Pilots Association have continued to promote this segment of aviation and co-ordinate safety and waterway access. They are the ‘go to guys’ if you have even the remotest interest in a waterborne adventure, (you don’t need to be a seaplane pilot to join) so check them out at www.seaplanes.org.au.
Today there is renewed interest in seaplanes and there are many more stylish amphibious aircraft options for the Australian flying yachtsman, coming especially from the more economical Light Sports Aircraft (LSA) ranks.
In the Ultra light and Light Sports space the boys at Silent Wings have a definite edge when it comes to knowledge of what’s needed for safe fun in waterborne operations. Given that experience, they are unique in Australia in only offering fully composite airframe designs with stainless steel fittings and fastenings. No fabrics wings and tail feathers for them, or gear that may suffer under our salt water conditions, In addition, as well as complete ready to fly aircraft, they recently became the Aust/NZ agents for CZ floats, a well known Czech Republic manufacturer whose floats have been used as OEM and aftermarket equipment for other manufacturers. CZ specialise in sales of floats and repair work, in the displacement range from 550 Kg to 1650 Kg, with plain floats and amphibious types, in three and four wheel configurations.
And now, here are some of our favourite water wings:
FLY SYNTHESIS CATALINA
This true ‘fun ship’ in the Fly Synthesis range is one for the guys ready to graduate from high-speed jet skis and other sports oriented personal water craft (PWCs), or for pilots looking for a safe, low cost entry to 3 Axis controlled water operations. The lightweight, 545Kg MTOW Catalina is very easily driven, powered by 4 stroke or 2 stroke engines, the same Bombardia (Rotax) two stroke 64hp engines as many PWCs, or the new 92hp 4 stroke D-Motor. This baby is Italian designed and supplied as a complete ready-to-fly fully composite amphibious LSA, so style and performance is a given.
Coming from the Fly Synthesis design team who specialise in carbon fiber construction, it’s a roomy 2 seat aircraft, with a sheltered cockpit, allowing helicopter like views. Using the proven airframe of the popular Storch in a tractor motor/prop configuration. Operation on the water or on hard surfaced airstrips is arranged with hydraulically retractable tricycle landing gear inbuilt to a rugged floatation assisted hull – unsinkable even if seriously holed. A folding wing option allows the aircraft to be taken home for storage and for the ultimate in safety, a ballistic parachute is available which does not damage the airframe if deployed.
It’s easy to operate on the water and in the sky, and comes in at a very low price point that will make everything even more enjoyable. Like a PWC, just hose it down at the end of the day’s flying to remove salt and grime and wipe down. It’s tough enough to take what you throw at it and is certain to provide enough excitement that you won’t be wiping the grin off your face any time soon.
FLY SYNTHESIS STORCH
Well over 1,000 Storch aircraft have been delivered and it continues to evolve with typical Italian innovation, the latest being its LSA iteration and new convertible ‘sea-legs’ coming from the folks at CZ floats.
It’s a closed cockpit two-seat, three-axis LSA floatplane designed for plain floats or for the fully amphibious 4 wheel types. A low CG, wide gear stance and tractor configuration make it simple to operate and very stable. The well known Storch aerodynamic efficiency allows for short take-off and landing runs, rapid climbs and fast cruises with modest fuel consumptions – which adds up to you being able to fly it into and out of more places.
A great aspect of the design is the elevated comfort in flight, which means the pilot and passenger can enjoy excellent visibility, lots of space, and low noise level inside the cockpit, with a Rotax 80hp or new D-Motor 92 hp humming along contentedly out the front. Should you value the open cockpit for great water pix, the doors readily remove to be replaced by shallow Perspex airflow screens instead
The Foxbat is a clever little aircraft that is perfect for exploring those out-of-the-way lakes, bays and rivers. While adding floats to the base model might make the A22LS Foxbat Amphibian slightly slower, it’s definitely worth it for the versatility. Retractable (‘re-positionable’) landing gear sit within the floats, and it will take off and land, fully loaded, in a genuine 150 metres of water, or 125 metres of runway. Maximum take off weight is increased to 650kgs to allow for the floats, so you can still carry a respectable 190-200kgs of people and baggage after adding full fuel.
A comfortable cruise at around 85 knots only uses about 18-19 litres an hour, so it’s the perfect plane to venture out and explore with. The A22LS has a proven record as a very sturdy and rugged aircraft, with exemplary low speed flight characteristics. The propeller is a 3-blade composite ground adjustable KievProp; dual controls are standard, using a single central “Y” yoke or optionally twin yoke control system. Furthermore, if you have a land allergy and don’t need wheels, you can save a little weight with the straight float/no wheel option.
The A22 Foxbat is a fun and inexpensive amphibian with a unique look that’s sure to turn heads, and the ability to get into (and out of) terrain that most other aircraft in its class simply can’t handle.
This beautifully fitted and finished, Czech-built, full carbon fibre airframe aircraft is designed to provide an LSA based alternative to Cessna’s legendary C180E, in fact being a 80% scale copy of the external design. It’s intended to provide real comfort for private pilot use and act as a PPL and RPL training alternative when registered under CASA, for GA training.
Since the beginning, the Legend 600 LSA has been deliverable as a fully featured floatplane, initially with Italian floats but now with a new type of amphibious floats from CZ floats. These have some unique features including field conversion to amphibious operation and to avoid that old bogey of floatplanes, over-wing refuelling, the wing tanks can now be refilled from a fuel container sitting securely on the float. How easy it that?
Add to that new instrument types, with dual analogue and digital displays, or glass panels, the super durability with full carbon fibre airframe and SS fittings and fastenings with BRS safety chute and it’s a compelling package for the serious seaplane pilot and companion.
COLYAER FREEDOM S100
The Freedom sits unashamedly at the top of the tree in seaplane design and features, yet it’s very good value for the discerning pilot who wants cockpit room plus top level performance from a seaplane. And, this handsome fella doesn’t just look good: he has some quite different design features. Try a true 20:1 glide ratio for safety and fun. Or a feathering or reversing prop for the ultimate in convenience when docking and lightweight quick release seats, ideal for camping use.
The S100 is a very slick side-by-side adjustable seat amphibious aircraft, with room to accommodate even very tall pilots, controlled through individually adjustable rudder pedals and dual joysticks. It’s designed to comply with the Light Sports Aircraft specifications and is also compliant to the new more stringent EASA specifications.
The T-shape tail and high wing ensure that the control surfaces are far enough from the water to avoid interference from splashing, while a spacious cockpit with great visibility makes this aircraft ideal for surveillance or aerial photography, or coastal patrol.
The Freedom S100 is designed for salt water operation and is entirely built with composite materials with all fixings and fittings including brake parts, made from 316 stainless and anodised 6082 marine grade aluminium. These materials guarantee low maintenance, safety and long life even in salt water. The Rotax 912 engine is also fully integrated into the fuselage to improve the aesthetics, aerodynamics performances and stability.
FK-Lightplanes FK9-ELA (WB)
This is the latest in a very long line of FK9 aircraft, produced now in five model series for over 20 years and continuously evolving. This European Light Aircraft (ELA), is modelled on the needs of private pilots.
With an internal chrome moly structural airframe to take all structural loads, including those from the CZ floats, this latest wide body version is an outstanding floatplane with field convertible CZ floats. This enables a field change from conventional tri-gear configuration, to plain floats or amphibious four-wheel floats.
Again a fully composite design with SS fittings and fixings, configurable with GA style Garmin panels or the new dual display Analogue gauge panel, the FK9 can be customised to individual pilots needs. Leather seats to hold you in comfort plus an autopilot and integrated comms/GPS.
A German design with all that means in utility and durability, for the long haul, the FK9WB in the floatplane version also features long range 110 lt wing fuel tanks or, on option, fuselage tanks, handy when you want to fold the wings and tuck it away securely and compactly.
DORNIER S-RAY 007
With a name like 007, you’d expect this German amphibious aircraft to have everything a world-famous spy could ever ask for. That’s pretty much the case, because we could definitely picture James Bond piloting Dornier’s latest baby on his way to taking down yet another evil organisation.
Inspired by one of the world’s first flying boats – the Dornier Libelle, which first flew way back in 1921 – this incarnation has been modernised as an amphibian multi-purpose aircraft to handle both the land and the sea, so even in bad weather, you’ll remain shaken, not stirred.
It’s a high wing aircraft featuring a one-piece wing which is connected with the centre-mounted Rotax 912S engine and propeller via an aerodynamically shaped central support pylon to the fuselage. That means that, despite its small size, the 007 is put together well.
The S-Ray 007 is built from reinforced plastics with carbon fibre reinforcements, which makes the flying boat highly resistant to salt water and the problems it can cause. The aircraft is equipped with retractable landing gear and two 50 litre fuel tanks.
The 007 has an hydraulic-actuated tricycle landing gear, which can be extended in the water in order to move up or down a ramp, which is handy. A retractable water rudder assists to control and manoeuvres the aircraft even at slow speeds.
Of course, the 007 is simply to launch, fly and land, and is so much fun to fang around in. With two seats, there’s plenty of space for a beautiful sidekick, too. Even better, the aircraft is built to be transportable in a container or on a trailer, where the wing can be folded 90-degrees within seconds, so you can take it wherever your heart desires.
With all these features and more, remember the name S-Ray… Dornier S-Ray.
There are plenty of other choices out there but we’ll wrap this up with something fun – the Nano. This Finnish contraption is so small and light that it could easily be mistaken for a toy – but trust us, it’s anything but. At just 70kg, it’s incredible to learn that it has a service ceiling of 3000m and can cruise at up to 140km/h. It’s an absolute riot to pilot, with an open cockpit and lack of windshield, providing a truly ‘organic’ experience.
There’s no option for traditional landing gear, so be prepared to get wet whenever you come in for a landing – but, honestly, that’s half the fun!
The initial plan was to produce several models with different powerplant options, including a two-stroke powered ultralight, a high-powered racing model and an electric model, but the company recently announced that only the electric model will be produced, citing that “it’s quiet, efficient, eco-friendly and it’s easy to maintain”. The aircraft wing can be removed for storage or ground transportation.
Being so small and light, the Nano is incredibly easy to fling around the skies (or along the water!). The rudder is controlled by pedals. Tailerons (ailerons + elevators) and throttle are controlled intuitively by a stick with your right hand, very similar to a normal airplane, meaning it’s perfect for beginners, or those who simply don’t want to have to think about things too much while hanging out in the sky.
While the Nano isn’t currently available (boo!), the company are currently selling buy options for the tiny champion (yay!), so you can get your hands on one soon!
If you’re still undecided, then we suggest you go for a spin in a commercial seaplane first or else chat to an expert about obtaining a float endorsement. Landing on water is quite an addiction so don’t say we didn’t warn you!