Seaplane LSAs take off

Many have now heard that the Light-Sport Aircraft industry achieved an impressive benchmark in its first decade. As the newest aviation segment approaches its 10th birthday in the summer of 2014, airplane designers have created and gained FAA acceptance for 134 models, a pace of more than one new design every month for 10 years running. No one has claimed a more active period in worldwide aviation since 1903 witnessed the Wrights making their first flights.

Yet even within this ocean-swell of engineering, flight testing, manufacturing and marketing, the industry is gearing up for a secondary wave.

In 10 years, LSA have morphed from European and American ultralight or light kit aircraft into a fleet of modern and capable aircraft manufactured under industry consensus standards. In 2014 it is becoming clear that the LSA industry is embarking on a new level of achievement. From design studios born of spacecraft and yacht building are coming the next generation of Light-Sport Aircraft. Some of the most intriguing are seaplanes.

Icon stimulated the market for these advanced ships with fresh ideas and creative engineering. A team from Scaled Composites (key participants in the creation of SpaceShipOne and a gaggle of unique aircraft) joined Icon to bring us the A5. Using California savvy instilled by their charismatic leader, Kirk Hawkins, Icon marketed the blazes out of the distinctive design.

Following their breathtaking charge into the LSA space, the Southern California company reported capturing more than 1,000 aircraft orders, even more than Cessna once logged for the now-abandoned Skycatcher. While Team Icon works to assemble a manufacturing system, other designs are coming into view.

Today, in the here and now, among those 134 SLSA models plus amateur built kits are several proven light seaplanes, including Searey, Super Petrel, SeaMax, Mermaid — all presently accepted by FAA as Special LSA — plus Freedom, Aventura, and Atol (a review of most of these can be found at here).

Yet among LSA seaplanes, the next generation wave is building and we expect additional designs to emerge this year. Among them are some of the most technically sophisticated flying machines in the entire LSA space.

NEXTGEN IN SEAPLANES

Consider this: The Lisa Akoya, Icon’s A5, the Vickers Wave, and one other that I’ve agreed not to identify have all secured substantial funding from Chinese investors. Of course they join such notable aviation enterprises as Cirrus Aircraft, Continental Motors, Flight Design, Superior Air Parts and others in securing Chinese investment.

In the case of the LSA seaplanes, the investors are not taking over the companies and appear primarily focused on the China market. Regardless, funding is a lifeline for small companies with big ambitions and costly development processes.

Lisa’s Akoya, stunningly priced near $400,000, is a unique design that in some ways attempts to surpass Icon’s A5. Both are flying at present, but neither has gone to the conforming prototype stage, as far as the public is aware. Another fascinating design promises features and qualities that I believe will surprise and delight potential buyers. We may see a prototype at AirVenture this summer.

One that has already showed their hand is the equally groundbreaking Wave from Vickers Aircraft in New Zealand. The company has allegedly signed preliminary agreements with Chinese investors and new funding could accelerate its seven-year-old design project so that it can take to the skies this summer.

WaveWave (pictured) has several popular characteristics, such as powered folding wings, sliding doors, enough aft cabin space to allow a four-seat design in the future, and specialized landing gear involving as many as seven wheels.

Wave’s “Cross-Over” landing gear does not need to be retracted, which eliminates some weight and reduces pilot workload. The gear pivots enough to aid crosswind landings on hard surfaces. Naturally, components such as autofold wings threaten to add weight.

Readers may recall that Icon asked for and received an exemption to the LSA weight restriction so it could offer all the features customers wanted for their seaplanes. Wave designer Paul Vickers has observed this and said that he has designed with great care from the beginning to assure his seaplane can make weight even while offering the very powerful fuel-injected Lycoming IO-360.

Deploying 180 horses from the American powerplant would give a clear edge to Wave, providing it can meet the ambitious weight controls to stay with the permitted 1,430 pounds gross.

Wave is a true composite, built from an aluminum primary structure surrounded with a carbon fiber hull. As parts go together in prototype number one, Vickers said all parts are matching the weights as predicted by state-of-the-art computer design software.

If you think Vickers might have missed something on its new Wave, consider this list: Automatic folding wings; Cross-Over landing gear; electric, retractable water thruster for engine-off, on-water maneuvering; Vertical Power’s digital electrical management system; iPad Mini EFB; angle of attack indicator; Dynon’s Skyview computer instrument including autopilot; custom-designed Aveo Conforma lighting; center console joystick; dual aft-sliding doors; a windscreen offering 335° visibility; inertia reel four-point seatbelts and Amsafe airbags; BRS emergency airframe parachute; air conditioning; special exterior lighting; cabin heat with climate control fans; stereo intercom; and even arm rests and drink holders. (Note that some listed items are optional.)

As with every design since the Wright brothers’ first biplane 111 years ago, the proof of design will be found in the flying, but Wave, A5, Akoya, and others yet to be identified are showing the LSA seaplane subcategory to be a fountain of engineering prowess.

Though Lisa is asking a great deal for its Akoya, the others are promising base prices below $200,000. As polished, ultramodern, even futuristic seaplanes go, such prices remain quite a bargain as any general aviation seaplane buyer can attest.

As LSAs celebrate their 10th birthday in 2014, anything can happen and we wait with anticipation to see the newest flock of LSA in boat hulls take to the friendly skies.

Comments

  1. Greg Doyle says

    We are an Australian company active in Australia/NZ and parts of Asia, across our market we have 60+ aircraft deployed, some waterborne, I fly a seaplane and of course have continued to watch developments in the seaplane as various teams ‘come and go’. The ICON story has been a fascinating example of marketing hype, released in 2007, production deliveries planned from “end 2008” and we are today where?? Gotta worry about the deposits though later purchasers were more savvy and funds are in Escrow. The resurrected Seaagle deserved to succeed by finally couldn’t hit the LSA weight targets I understand and its gone, the beautiful SeaWind I understand killed it’s designer but what an aircraft in the GA space. And though the efforts of a good local agent and SPAA luminary the SeaRay flock grew from nothing to a large flock (believe about 40) in Australia, it does a great job in it’s designed role. But the market is changing full composites are clearly the future for seaplanes in the LSA space, here’s what we do since we often field overseas calls on one or other of our products and do export into Asia and other regions.

    Currently we have in our range the following seaplanes and floatplanes in the LSA category:
    1) Colyaer Freedom Series II (Freedom UP) and the pure seaplane (no gear) Gannet. These are the only PRODUCTION LSA aircraft (since 2006) that are built for salt water operations, the only fully composite airframe, incl sealed ‘wet’ wings and empennage and the only seaplane that is built to be fully escapable in an incident and buoyant even if damaged on landing. The SeaMax, Super Petrel, SeaWind, Adventurer, good and all as they are, have fabric coverings. A seaplane that soars at close to 20:1 with standard in-feathering prop is “pretty interesting”. Sad it got a bad start in USA and a good seaplane buddy was lost and distribution stopped, but not because it was a bad aircraft. It’s around $Aus 190,000 for a fully loaded aircraft, good value considering the price hikes of Carbon Fibre. go to: http://www.colyaer.com

    2) The new Fly Synthesis Catalina, an open cockpit fun ship that is also fully composite, runs Rotax 2 stroke or the new D-Motor 4 stroke and is a low cost entry to water fun from Euro 49,000 ex Works. This is originally derived from co-operation with Ramphos, but now is very far from that concept now has a proven full composite construction with 3 Axis control, proven as the Wallaby tri-gear and it includes a fully sealed composite wing, with inbuilt tanks with great range – 80 Ltr fuel load. go to http://www.flysynthesis.com.

    3) The current generation of the Fk-Lightplanes FK9 ELA (wide body), is the 5th generation to have floats and made in these generations for near 25 years, always with tri-gear or tail dragger and thus always with floats, mostly pure floats due to their European market dominance and their unbelievable 472.5 Kg MTOW. Recently the FK9 went wide body and Baumann floats having ceased production, now uses the new CZ marine grade alloy Floats, available in pure floats, three wheel and 4 wheel. This is an interesting floatplane made now to 600 Kg LSA specs, structural inner chrome moly cage supporting all load bearing and providing a BRS equipped safety cage for the pilots. It shipped as a ‘convertible’, on its tri-gear legs with the structural cage/fuselage prepared for bolt on floats, so they can be easily converted as seasons change (if required) and the floats are prepared for ‘bolt on’ gear to turn them into fully amphibious. The engine needed is only 80 Hp with plain floats, so it can be fitted with the new Mercedes core FlyEco diesel or the Rotax 912ULS or 912 iS, as can any of the land planes, this diesel is only supplied as a
    production fit diesel. go to http://www.Fk-Lightplanes.com

    4) We have been very proud recently to introduce a new LSA market entry that we have helped through the LSA processes and documentations, this is the Legend 600 LSA from a Czech manufacturer of very good repute. This also has a float option for pure float, 3 wheel amphib and 4 wheel fitting, floats are from Italy and quality composite. The big thing that makes this aircraft in any configuration different is that it is deliberately targeted at Cessna owners moving to UL or LSA (depending on country/model) as this is an exact 80% scale fully carbon fibre built replica of the Cessna 182 E, yokes, toe brakes and all and a standard of fit and interior trim that will gladden a PPL holder’s heart. go to http://www.Aeropilotcz.com.

    5) Finally we have the Fly Synthesis STORCH a very simple (but certainly not basic) aircraft with fantastic all-round visibility and access to internals for examination. Mainly delivered so far (though not in USA) with fully composite floats usually in Europe used with pure floats due European weight issues. We have the amphi here but due to the shortcoming of failure to extend gear in the water (they extend courtesy of gravity in the air), we are looking to use the lighter weight ‘convertible’ CZ floats to solve that problem. go to wwwflysynthesis.com

    A long story, hopefully instructive of things that ARE known to work in the tough Aussie conditions….Greg

  2. says

    Ive been flying the Aventura II by Aero Adventure for the last few years and it is a fantastic amphibious light sport plane! 250 hour kit – less then 50K with optional financing – Low and slow and affordable!

  3. Robin Moore says

    I have been watching the ICON A5 from inception with a high level of interest. It has already grown 50K in price and that is a shame.
    This process takes much too long. What can be done about this? More government certainly won’t help…I feel badly for those who signed on early only to find that now even a Sporty License is out of reach.
    I will continue to watch, but a Seawind still seems a better experimental option for anyone who wants a real plane and has a real license.

  4. Greg W says

    These are indeed interesting aircraft. Compared to standard category even affordable.Yet they are designs not real airplanes for sale, those that are flying are not “conforming” prototypes. Until the production versions are flying and available for purchase it is simply marketing. Aviation is cursed by companies that “market” or “produce”, until the same company does both the new designs will remain dreams of what could be. The Skycatcher was marketed great but never produced even at the higher cost, how can you sell what has not been built? Just remember the words of Otto Lilienthal”To invent an airplane is nothing. To build one is something. But to fly is everything.” In the case of the manufacturer, this could be thought of as ” to produce one is everything”,as it cannot “fly” until “produced”. Designs and proof of concept prototypes are nothing, a conforming prototype is something and serial production at a mass-market price is everything. I wish them all well, but, orders taken are not airplanes flying.

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