The Mermaid amphibian had a problem.
The problem was that it’s a Light Sport amphibian. Light Sport rules didn’t allow pilots to “reposition” landing gear in flight. Of course, the whole point of an amphibian is to allow a takeoff from land or water and a landing on the other, and that requires moving the landing gear up or down.
What to do?
Chip Erwin, CEO of Mermaid builder Czech Aircraft Works, and importer Danny Defelici, along with other LSA amphibian builders, appealed to the FAA and won the first of three (so far) repositionable gear exemptions. While retractable gear apparently befuddled FAA lawyers initially, the agency since has fixed this part of the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft rule simply by requiring special training for amphibian pilots. The rule change, which came earlier this month, has been welcomed by LSA amphibian and floatplane builders, enabling them to make deliveries in time for summer flying.
The Mermaid is American-designed, built with American materials to American standards, says Erwin. An American businessman, Erwin has lived in the Czech Republic for 10 years and has “integrated U.S.-style business management with Eastern Europe traditions of craftsmanship,” he says.
Defelici runs Sport Aircraft Works at Palm City, Florida, the U.S. marketer of Czech Aircraft Works’ Mermaid, Parrot and SportCruiser LSAs. Defelici was involved in the development of all three.
Although the sleek, all-metal Mermaid charmed the LSA world when it was first introduced – collecting more than 200 orders – visitors to Sun ‘n Fun and the earlier Sebring LSA Expo saw a revised version. The engine, formerly perched atop a stubby faired tower, now sits on open struts and is a little higher. The change “solved some challenges of the Jabiru 3300 engine installation,” said Defelici at Sun ‘n Fun, increasing propeller clearance, eliminating an airflow problem and, as a bonus, decreasing noise. The higher thrust line does require pilots to trim – but only slightly – when adding power, Defelici acknowledged.
General Aviation News columnist Dan Johnson was the first U.S. journalist to fly the Mermaid, reporting in these pages that it performs well on land or water. “Hiking up or dropping the gear is done via an easily-reached, hand-pumped hydraulic lever in the center console. Taxiing up on a beach proved effortless,” he wrote – just the sort of things an amphibian buyer looks for.
The elegant Mermaid was intended from the outset as a “certifiable, roomy amphibian that would fit the LSA rule and be affordable, reliable and fun to fly,” Defelici said at Sun ‘n Fun. He added it has “the speed and range to be practical” and dual controls “for training and peace of mind.” He emphasized its easy 118 mph cruising speed and range of up to 620 miles, depending on engine choice. “Carry your work to a business destination or just go fishing,” he suggested with a grin.
You get a choice of engines for the Mermaid. The “high performance” version is powered by a Jabiru 3300 powerplant of 120 hp, getting it off a grass airstrip in 450 feet and yielding a climb rate of 910 fpm. The “performance” option gives you a Rotax 912 ULS engine of 95 hp, naturally producing somewhat less impressive – but still excellent – numbers. Takeoff distance goes up to 511 feet and climb rate goes down to 850 fpm along with cruise speed, which is a respectable 110 mph at 75% power. Stall speed for both versions is 32 mph with flaps, 36 mph without.
With a wingspan of only 33 feet and an over-all length of 25 feet, the Mermaid is easy to hangar and can slip into waterways that would be denied to its bigger cousins. Its empty weight of only 925 pounds allows a (very) useful load of 505 pounds while remaining within the LSA gross weight limit.
All that and, as its pictures show, a pretty airplane besides. What more could an amphibian lover ask?
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