Flying the Searey

I’m retired, so officially every day is a day off. But I do a lot of writing and lately, I’ve been looking for a little more fun in my new home state of Florida. Last week, I kicked around some boat clubs and breezed through the sailboat ads. Then, my EAA chapter emailed that Searey was bringing its seaplanes to the Spruce Creek Fly-In community.

I loved the pilots-eye video of flying this most successful LSA seaplane. I wanted to know more. So I went to the company, based in “America’s Seaplane City” of Tavares, Florida.

There have been plenty of “pilot reports” on the latest Searey, whose forebears go way back. So it’s tried-and-true; Searey officials note there’s never been a structural break-up. But since you’ve probably read a flight report by now, let me just give you my impressions.

As a neophyte in the LSA world, I was ready to be skeptical. But I really liked the looks of the upscale Searey Elite. Pre-demo, I worried about my size (both in height and heft.) Yet slinking into the right seat was easy — if you do it “their way.” And the Searey Elite’s fit-and-finish (as they say in car mags) was gorgeous, just classy.

Back when LSAs were new, I flew in what I thought were two of the better ones. I liked both these low-wing landplanes and considered eventual ownership (until more recent financial reality set in!) One looked like it was doing 150 on the ground but I was surprised by its pedestrian airspeed. It had very conservative handling, too, not the Hot Rod it looked to be. I concluded it would be nice and safe for low timers.

searey On beachThat said, one thing I reacted to in both LSAs was the high-revving Rotax. Sure the prop speed is normal but the 5000+ engine rpm was something new. I also noted sensitivity in pitch control that’s been much-discussed since. It’s an issue when the average GA pilot converts to a 1,320-pound airplane, especially in landings and crosswinds. And that can mean big loads on more lightly built landing gear.

Perhaps because the Searey’s Rotax was above and behind me as a pusher, I didn’t give it a second thought. The Searey Elite has a turbocharged 115 hp engine; perhaps it sounds better than the 80- and 100-hp versions. The airplane itself also felt fully robust. As a former Beech guy, I value that. Best of all, handling on water and in the air was beautiful. There was certainly no excitement in pitch control as I had experienced before.

The Searey’s stability was demonstrated constantly by my pilot, Kerry Richter, designer of the modern Searey. (His father and grandfather pioneered the Searey predecessors.)

Often, Richter would pointedly operate hands-off and fly (or skid around the water) with rudder control only. In the sharpest water turns, he’d apply just a little opposite aileron to keep wings level. I was totally comfortable with it all. Richter knew how to fly it like a fighter, too, with 9,000 hours in Seareys alone.

Searey panelDemonstrating total confidence in his machine, Richter shut off the engine mid-downwind with a flick of the ignition key. No big deal. I continued to chatter on about the fuel pumps for the TC engine until Richter finally interrupted, “You know I’ve shut the engine down, right?” Trying to be the macho aviation guy, I treated it as a non-event – and it was. Richter dead-sticked into little Lake Idamere without a care. The thing lands or takesoff in just 300-400 feet.

Searey’s HQ and production facility is just up the seaplane ramp from the lake. Inside, I saw the innards of what struck me as a stout and stable airplane. First, as a seaplane, it’s got a hull. It’s a boat first and foremost. Other major structural elements in its skeletal form are a tail boom and the vertical support structure for wing and engine. A turtledeck top and aft fuselage skin round out the body before wings, struts and the tail group are added.

Searey FactoryCover off, the wings boast nice metalwork in sturdy ribs and leading/trailing edges. (The leading edge is slightly swept, making a tapered wing.) It’s all very impressive. There are scores of recent changes from previous Seareys.

Those buying the latest of some 600 airframes out there are getting the best yet. Most buyers are ordering the factory-built airplane that recently excelled in its FAA LSA audit. Those who want a four-to-12 month project (or the $35,000 kit price, sans engine) can even build one in the factory, if they want.

All that good handling, mature engine sound, solid airframe feel and superior handling scored points with me. But amphibians are, after all, amphibian. So I was particularly impressed with the flat screen avionics that prompts you about gear position. (A Spruce Creek couple had just water-landed their C-185 floatplane wheels down the previous weekend.) Slow this Searey to landing speeds or drop some flaps and “Bitchin’ Betty” will ask, “What kind of landing is this?” With one button push and a properly configured airplane, she reassures, “Water (or land) Landing OK.”

Flying SeareyI was impressed with the product and the company, although I couldn’t resist offering a few ideas. Perhaps they’ll take me up on some. But I concluded that Searey has advantages in some areas where LSAs are criticized and seaplanes can run afoul. Sure, Searey cruise speed is, well, seaplane-like – but you can push the throttle, sacrifice the 4.5-5.0 gph and cruise at 105 mph, if needed. Hey, it’s only premium auto gas! Ethanol-ed fuel from the gas station is OK. Even around $4 a gallon, that’s just around $20 an hour.

Sure, it’s not a 120-knot LSA, but don’t try to land those in the water! And for the “Rotax-nervous,” you can land the Searey anywhere at those same low LSA stall speeds. In fact — as a retractable taildragger with beefy mains and hydrodynamic hull — the Searey just might survive a rough off-airport landing better than some daintier LSA with tender gear and small wheels.

While the kit can be engined-up complete for perhaps $55-$60,000, the standard factory-built Searey joins most other LSAs at over $100K. There’s always the used market, of course. But if you’ve got the cash or credit rating, spend an extra $20,000 and buy the Searey Elite. There is such a thing as pride of ownership.

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© 2014 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved


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