Making a Splash Last year as the flying season began, an unusual flying boat appeared at airshows. The machine was called Ramphos (pronounced RAM-fohss) and it featured a form of ducted prop surrounding a pair of counter-rotating blades. While these two components commanded a lot of attention, they were de-emphasized when the 2004 season arrived. In 2003, the presentation was market-savvy. By showing a somewhat radical version of the familiar flying boat design – we’ve seen a few of these configurations over the years – the Ramphos attracted attention in a crowded marketplace. When you’re new (to the American public), you need some way to stand out from the crowd. However, the downside of new, potentially radical ideas is that people – like me – tend to wait until the new concepts prove themselves. So I didn’t fly the Ramphos in 2003. That changed for 2004. Modern Machine For the 2004 flying season, the emphasis had been taken off the counter-rotating props, though it was still displayed and remains an option.
|Empty weight||462 pounds|
|Gross weight||992 pounds|
|Wingspan||33 feet 6 inches|
|Wing area||161 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.1 pounds/square foot|
|Kit type||Fully assembled|
|Build time||25 minute field assembly|
|Standard engine||Rotax 582|
|Power||65 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||15.3 pounds/hp|
|Cruise speed||50-70 mph|
|Never exceed speed||90 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||650 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||260 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||300 feet|
|Standard Features||Ramphos S 15-meter wing, 65-hp Rotax 582, altimeter, water temp, tachometer, complete boathull with retractable gear and gear doors, remote choke, center-mounted retractable water rudder, steerable nosewheel.|
|Options||81-hp Rotax 912 engine, electric starter, counter-rotating props, 4-blade prop, aerodynamic rudder, landing light, non-amphibian version available, ballistic parachute.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, fiberglass fairing, stainless steel carriage components, Dacron wing. Made in Italy; distributed by U.S.-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - Boat hull with integral amphibious gear is lighter than some competitors. Nicely finished deep V-hull with stainless steel trike structure. The Ramphos is well along in development, not a new, unproved product. Has 450-pound payload even with full fuel.
Cons - The Ramphos brand is new to the U.S. and acceptance of internationally built products is not yet certain. Wing has passed German certification but readiness for FAA's proposed Light-Sport Aircraft not known. Wing not known to U.S. consumers. Amphibious trikes get much heavier than wheeled carriages.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Retractable gear system works with good efficiency, even in water while engine is thrusting. Easy fuel access in twin tanks on boat hull floor. Good access to engine for maintenance. Test aircraft equipped with electric starting. Landing light available.
Cons - No signal system to tell you wheel position (though fairly fail-safe system seems to offset lack of this information). No experience with hand starting (though cockpit offers enough room for a vigorous pull stroke). No trimmer system fitted to wing. No brakes.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Simple but adequate instrument pod has water-resistant switches. You can use wide siderails for entry but you must get across them making egress slightly more challenging for some. Sturdy boat hull is inspiring. Very roomy, especially up front. Rear-seat headroom benefits from angled mast.
Cons - Harder to enter than conventional trike without wide boat hull. Seats don't adjust nor do pedals. Rear seat had ridges in an uncomfortable place (Gil says they plan changes to the fiberglass mold). Lap belts on seaplanes are common - and understandable for underwater escape reasons - but they're insufficient in some in-flight upsets.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Highly effective, retractable water rudder. Simple gear retraction system that requires only 5 to 6 pounds of effort on a single handle (after releasing a lock). Gear doors prevent most water from entering; a drain system and bilge pump take care of the rest. Excellent all-around visibility.
Cons - Wheels are small for taxiing on an unimproved or soft field. Handling a big wing in some wind calls for some muscle. Downwind operations in most seaplanes are challenging; even more so in a big trike. No brakes for land operations. No other boat operation negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Takeoff and landing in most trikes is quite simple and the Ramphos is no different. Bar full forward for takeoff largely prevents pitch control errors by new pilots. Slow approach helps produce short water run-out on landing (not measured). Excellent visibility in nearly all takeoff and landing operations. Demonstrated ability in fairly rough water conditions.
Cons - Rather small wheels may make a rough- or soft-field emergency landing better done on the boat hull. As with all trikes, you have no flaps to control approaches; good planning is important. Crosswinds can be difficult in trikes (but fortunately much less so in a seaplane on a large body of water).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - For a 15-meter (161-square-foot) wing, handling pressures were acceptable with good response. Trike wings like the Ramphos S have little adverse yaw to overcome. Crosswind landings on a seaplane are unnecessary except in an emergency on a small lake. Turns held their bank angle well in the Ramphos S.
Cons - Most large trike wings sacrifice handling crispness by making the wing taut enough to carry large loads (the Ramphos trike chassis and boat hull are 462 pounds empty). Precision turns will take some practice to achieve (common to all large-wing trikes).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - Water run was quite short (listed by Ramphos as 260 feet); we flew at a bit under gross but with two occupants. Most exposed glider tubing is faired sections, which should add some efficiency despite the boat hull. Climb seemed adequately brisk with the 65-hp Rotax 582 (though we did not fly at full gross).
Cons - A big boat hull will obviously increase sink rate (though designer says it may actually help glide). Fuel economy is not a strong point. New 81-hp Rotax 912 installation may increase performance but at a steep price increase ($8,500 over standard engine).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - Very low stall speed, down close to 30 mph; speaks well of double-surface wing's slow-speed characteristics. Special aft keel section said to lower stall speed (no way to prove in test flight but stall was slow). As with most trikes, adding power gives proper longitudinal response, raising the nose.
Cons - Usual trike problem making power dives difficult to do if needed. Some overbanking tendency noted in steeper turns (though this is common in delta-wing aircraft). Parachute offered as optional but was not fitted to test Ramphos. Lap belts are standard on seaplanes to facilitate escape, however, they may not be sufficient in a violent upset.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - Excellent international connection by American Gil McGarity, who speaks Italian and travels frequently to Italy (for his airline employer). Common materials used in boat hull so any repairs needed can be done closer to home. Wing design has been through German vehicle testing. Good value in an amphibious aircraft.
Cons - Currency value fluctuations make for uncertain pricing; tough for both importer and customer and doesn't benefit producer either. Despite close U.S/Italy connection, special parts could have delivery delay or high cost.