Seaplane flying is a specialty within aviation but it is one that has steady appeal and develops passionate aviators. I prefer to modify that “gear-up landing” line to… “There are pilots who love seaplane flying and there are those will love it.” Be forewarned: Once you touch your seaplane* or floatplane* to the water, it may forever change you. If you think I’m being too dramatic, you probably haven’t flown off the water.
Great, so it’s magical to see the countryside from a few hundred feet up. Even better, enjoy flying low across the clear, blue, warm waters of the Bahamas. Examine the shoreline of a big lake in a way you’d never do in a landplane. Compared to airports, seaplane pilots have many times more lakes or rivers able to handle a landing. All are fair game in an emergency and many U.S. waterways will permit normal water operations.
Are you convinced yet? Water flying does require earning a Seaplane rating for Private or better pilots flying a certified floatplane or seaplane. However, for Sport Pilots or those using higher level certificates to exercise the privileges of Sport Pilot, only training plus a logbook endorsement is needed.
Purchase cost of a seaplane can be, well… breathtaking. If you or someone you know has ever priced a general aviation aircraft on floats, you’re aware they can be quite expensive. Flying from water demands a more robust airframe and amphibians add weight and complexity.
Finding a qualified flight school and instructors with seaplane trainers and insurance for commercial training operations is another challenge although organizations like the dedicated Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA) can help overcome some of the preceding obstacles.
All these facts conspire to make seaplane flying less common than it ought to be. Light-Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilot kits to the rescue.
While still more costly than landline equivalents, LSA seaplanes carry price tags that are a fraction of certified aircraft on floats and they likely outperform their counterparts in general aviation. Even SPA — the water flying organization that has been more focused on certified floatplanes — is now flying a loaned Searey for a year or so to learn more about this segment of their community (photo).
Here at Sun ‘n Fun 2019, we saw two new entries in the LSA or Sport Pilot kit space. Italian manufacturer ICP representative (and airline pilot) Walter della Nebbia presented a bright red STOL Savannah on white composite amphibious floats.
The floats were designed and built by an Italian organization (Scuola Italiano Volo) with many years of experience providing seaplane-only flight instruction. “He (the designer) is very knowledgeable,” said Walter. “These are very good floats with lots of experience.”
Just Aircraft showed a Highlander on aluminum floats built by the owner from a Zenair float kit. Just has become known for their SuperSTOL model with the jaw-dropping performance. Highlander is the company’s original LSA success story (#33 on our SLSA List) that, when significantly modified for special use, became SuperSTOL.
Besides these two entries the LSA industry offers several more choices of float-equipped land planes plus other boat-hulled seaplanes such as Progressive Aerodyne’s Searey, Aero Adventure’s Aventura, Seamax Aircraft’s SeaMax, Vickers Aircraft’s coming Wave, and others.
In the days ahead I’ll also provide some coverage for a very affordable amphibious weight shift trike, Airtime Aircraft’s Cygnet, built right here in Florida.
While waterborne aircraft carry a higher price tags than land-only airplanes, seaplane flying has never been more affordable.
* My definition of these terms is that a “seaplane” has a boat hull where a “floatplane” is straight or amphibious floats added to a landline. The terms are not used as official designations.
Home page sunset view over Seamax LSA seaplane by Randee Laskewitz