SeaRey Sets a New Standard for Floatplanes
Many pilots who have flown in water-borne aircraft believe this is the
finest and most enjoyable flying one can do.
If that statement holds water (is true), then the beautiful SeaRey amphibian
from Florida-based Progressive Aerodyne should be one of the most desirable
aircraft you can buy.
Pilots have spoken with their money. Since it arrived on the market in 1992,
the SeaRey has sold in increasing numbers each year.
Three years of Progressive Aerodyne history hardly tells the story behind
the SeaRey. A father and son ownership team, Wayne and Kerry Richter have
long experience in this business producing many hundreds of amphibious
The Richters were principals in a company called Advanced Aviation best
known for its amphib sea plane called the Buccaneer. After another designer
made the first single place Buccaneer, Kerry Richter made his name with a
two place model. He also updated an older single place called the XA into
the much slicker SX version. In addition, Kerry designed several other
models based on a similar theme.
Every model in Advanced Aviation¹s line was celebrated for excellent
performance and for superb handling. Having flown most ultralights made in
the USA, I know it is a strong statement to say Kerry Richter designs were
among the very finest handling aircraft I¹ve ever flown. Yet I am supported
by many other pilots who agree with me.
In the early 1990s after a dispute with a man who owned a large piece of
Advanced Aviation, the Richters parted company and set about building a new
Today, Progressive Aerodyne is shipping airplanes, satisfying customers, and
delighting kit builders with a fine machine they are proud to own and fly.
With sales well beyond 100 units, Progressive Aerodyne has established
itself as a dependable airframe supplier. The future looks good for the
SeaRey and single-seat Sting Ray.
Through more than a decade Kerry Richter¹s designs were continually refined.
His aircraft were widely applauded. All the knowledge he acquired with the
earlier designs has been put into the two models.
New From the Water Up
SeaRey is new from top to bottom. While it stands on the shoulders of
previous designs, it truly is fresh, maintaining only a faint resemblance to
the older Buccaneers.
For example, the new SeaRey uses fiberglass where the Buccaneer had sewn
Dacron coverings. The glass is so strong, Kerry says you can walk anywhere
on the fiberglass
SeaRey¹s engine of choice is the four cylinder, four-stroke Rotax 912. Half
of the single place Sting Rays and virtually all of the two place SeaRey
models use the popular 80-horsepower engine.
Operating range on the SeaRey¹s Rotax engine was 4,200 to 5,000 rpm, a
fairly low setting for a rather heavy plane. The fact speaks well of the
design¹s overall efficiency.
SeaRey is a feature-laden aircraft with electric gear and a gear position
indicator. Uncommon as such electric features are on microlights, the system
is appreciated when you prepare to land in the retractable aircraft.
Our test SeaRey also had electric trim. Trim is adjusted by a switch atop
the throttle, a single lever located between the seats in front of a
supportive armrest. When you set trim you move an adjustable horizontal
stabilizer which pivots at the leading edge.
On kit-built aircraft, these electrical devices may seem like luxuries | at
least ³costly² in terms of weight | and sure enough, they¹re available at
optional cost. However, the electric power actually SAVES weight over
Flaps are mechanical on the SeaRey with a control lever over the shoulder
between the two occupants (either pilot can work the flaps). Positions
available are 12, 24, 35 degrees; flaps can be used under 130 km/h.
Hydraulic heel brakes were mounted only on the left side seat. Brakes are
also part of SeaRey¹s lengthy standard equipment list.
The two seats may look simplistic in their construction, but are
surprisingly comfortable. Comprised of two wedges of foam that thicken at
your knees and shoulders tapering to a seam at your bottom, they provide
support where it is needed and add far less weight than a seat structure
built of fiberglass.
An overhead center canopy rail has switches on the inside of the structure
for the bilge pump and the master switch. Both are thus handy without being
in a position that could result in inadvertent activation.
Up and Flying
The Progressive Aerodyne plane performs brilliantly on the water, allowing
taxiing up to 40 mph and even more. You¹ll want to stay under 50 mph,
though, as this approaches lift off speed. Still, the plane is amazingly
stable at the higher water speeds.
The control panel has plenty of room for many instruments in the SeaRey and
in the company¹s single place Sting Ray. The one seater is also
exceptionally roomy inside and has a multiple-angle control panel that makes
all instruments easy to see. The wider SeaRey uses a flat panel, which
allows each occupant to have a clear view of the gauges.
Some of the best times I¹ve had in the air have taken place in one kind or
another of sea plane or float plane. When I¹ve had the pleasure to fly in
boat-hulled sea planes, the experience has always felt right, what with the
design being built to the purpose. Contrarily, float planes are land planes
that have been modified for water use.
Water approaches in the SeaRey are made at 110 km/h while land approaches
are made at 100 km/h.
Kerry recommended I use two notches of flaps for both takeoff and landing.
The added lift also helps pull the plane up on step and out of the water
quicker. Even at gross weight, water runs are a mere 100 meters or so
(admittedly hard to measure in the water).
On water landings, you are advised to touch down slightly nose high as you
want to meet the water on the hull step. Should you put the tail down first,
an light push forward will return you to the step before you slow to a stop.
On whole, the SeaRey is a most impressive boat on the water acting very much
like that¹s where she belonged.
A beaching experience was fascinating. Kerry took the controls and aimed us
at the far side of a lake that had no beach, instead having a marshy look
with tall grasses. In spite of this slippery surface, I was pleased at the
ease with which the SeaRey negotiated the grassy lake edge.
Kerry demonstrated a roll up from the water with the now-extended wheels
cooperating nicely. We swung around in a 180 on the lake¹s edge and headed
back out for another takeoff as though it were no challenge to the plane at
Electric gear extension made the beaching easy. However, submerging larger
tires overworks the motor somewhat so the Richters are investigating
hydraulic actuation. Since most kitplanes aren¹t retractable at all, this
seemed to be unusual sophistication for so reasonably priced a kit.
SeaRey¹s hull design triumphantly resists nose plowing; it simply won¹t do
so without a protest. While some combination of power and pitch motion might
cause problems, pilots need not be overly concerned about this.
Gear Up and Flying Gracefully
For summer fun | when so much sea plane flying is done | buyers will
appreciate canopies that slide back independently. You can move them to any
position during flight, although Kerry indicated you should take care not to
fly at maximum speeds with the canopy(ies) full aft. Wide open canopies do
begin to affect prop efficiency, a sensation you can both hear and feel.
SeaRey¹s noise level was a bit higher than I expected in such a deluxe
aircraft, however, the noise reduction is significant upon closing the
canopy. Headsets or helmets are recommended.
At a safe altitude, the SeaRey easily runs past 160 km/h with full power
level flight producing 180 km/h. Normal cruising is done between 125 and 145
km/h. The plane will allow a plowing flight, but once you have a feel for
it, nosing over slightly will put the SeaRey on an aerodynamic step that I
was able to notice within a single hour of flight.
SeaRey¹s roll rate is quite good, typical of Kerry¹s designs, with response
relatively quick and forces low. Pitch is nicely dampened leaving its pilot
with an I¹m-in-charge feeling. Both roll and pitch are somewhat faster on
the single place Sting Ray as knowledgeable pilots would expect.
In a series of stalls, I noted no evil tendencies. SeaRey could be
encouraged to break out of stall by sharper control movements, yet even so
the break was mild and I found no wing drop in any stall I performed.
Progressive Aerodyne sells the SeaRey kit for under U.S.$20,000 without
engine. You may use a 65-horse, two stroke Rotax 582 to the 80-horse,
four-stroke Rotax 912.
The plane will perform nicely with the two-stroke motor, so you pay a
premium for the perceived security of four stroke operation. Compensating is
the lower fuel usage of the larger engine.
You may want to choose from a menu of options. Besides the engine choices,
I¹d want the standard instrument package for about U.S.$1,000. This provides
an airspeed indicator, altimeter, VSI, compass, cylinder head temperature
and exhaust gas temperature, water temperature (for the liquid cooled
engine), and tachometer.
Parachute maker, BRS, builds a highly customized rocket-deployed parachute
expressly for the SeaRey which fits neatly into the wing¹s center section.
It sells for about U.S.$3,200 and offers a dramatic safety backup.
When you add the best options plus the top-of-the-line Rotax 912 engine a
SeaRey will cost about U.S.$30,000.
The price compares well to land microlights in Europe and indeed, American
prices are usually a lot lower. If you think the price sounds high, you
haven¹t priced a sea plane or float plane recently.
Building the basic SeaRey will take you 350-400 hours. A large selection of
options will add hours as will elaborate paint finishes.
Progressive Aerodyne has made sales to Europeans but lacks a dealer network
on the continent at this time. However, since Buccaneers once sold quite
well in Italy, it may not be long before someone takes a SeaRey and Sting
Ray agency for the Italian market.
Meanwhile, if you want to see one up close, Progressive Aerodyne regularly
displays both their water birds at America¹s Sun |n Fun or Oshkosh events.
If you can attend, look for them in the ultralight areas of these big shows.
If you can¹t make the trip, video tapes and literature may suffice.
With SeaRey, you can expect some real fun on the water.
|Empty weight||318 kg., depending on engine|
|Gross weight||568 kg|
|Wing area||13.7 sq. meters|
|Wing loading||39 kg/sq. m.|
|Cabin Interior||112 cm @ shoulder|
|Load Limit||+3.8 -1.9|
|Fuel Capacity||68 liters|
|Baggage area||0.4 m3|
|Standard engine||80 hp. Rotax 912, 4-cyl., 4-stroke|
|Power loading||7.1 kg/hp.|
|Cruise speed||145 km/h|
|Stall Speed||65 km/h (58 km/h solo)|
|Never exceed speed||185 km/h|
|Rate of climb at gross||3.75 m/sec (4.75 solo)|
|Takeoff distance at gross||100 m.|
|Landing distance at gross||100 m.|
|Range (powered)||4.5 hrs. w/ 30 min. res. (650 km w/ 30 min. res.)|
|Fuel Consumption||13 l/h|