The economic slowdown had at least one bright spot for the aviation industry: New products.
Case in point is the AmphibCub, a collaboration between the folks at Baumann Floats and American Legend Aircraft Co., which manufactures the Legend Cub, one of the most popular Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) on the market.
Amphibious aircraft are nothing new, but making an amphibious LSA was a challenge worthy of Prince Valiant. The main sticking point was keeping within the weight limits for an amphibious LSA while still having a reliable method for gear repositioning, say officials at the two companies, who debuted the AmphibCub at the US Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, in January. During the show it was not uncommon to see people down on their hands and knees studying the landing gear on the nose of the float to exam the gear placement mechanism.
“It can’t be hydraulic — how did they do that?” one gentleman wondered out loud, telling his companion that hydraulics would be too heavy to use on an amphibious LSA because of the weight restriction of 1,430 pounds gross weight.
“It is a cable,” explained Joe Birkemeyer, general manager of Baumann Floats as he hunkered down next to the visitor to give him a better explanation of the system.
The aluminum floats took more than two years to develop at Baumann’s factory in New Richmond Wis.
“When we were approached by Legend more than two years ago, we realized that we had to have something that would hold up and meet the weight limit,” he said. “When the economy slowed down we finally had the time to work on the design.”
Chiseling down the weight of a float is no small task, he said.
“The target weight for the floats was 240 pounds or less,” he explained. “We knew that we couldn’t have an electric or hydraulic system because that would be too heavy, so we used cables. The weight of the floats came in at 235 pounds.”
According to Birkemeyer, the floats have to support at least 90% of the aircraft’s weight to be certified by the FAA.
“We went beyond that,” he said. “The aircraft weighs 1,430 pounds. We stress tested the floats to a 1,600 pound load.”
Reminders for pilots to check the position of the gear come in the form of placards. The whole idea was to keep it simple, said Birkemeyer.
Meanwhile, in Sulphur Springs, Texas, where American Legend is based, the engineers and designers of the Legend Cub were also at the drawing board trying to figure out a way to lighten a Cub so that it could go on floats.
“There was a lot of back and forth on the phone,” recalled Darin Hart, owner of American Legend Aircraft Co. and designer of the AmphibCub. “This aircraft was specially built lighter so that it could go on amphibious floats. Often times it was a case of saving a few ounces here or there.”
The LSA, which features Garmin avionics, is powered by a Continental O-200 with an open cowl.
“That open cowl saved us about 16 pounds,” he said with a laugh. “There was a lot of scaling done to reduce the weight. We’d get 10 ounces out of this, 14 ounces out of that. It was a challenge to reduce the weight and still maintain good structural integrity. We knew the airplane could not weigh anymore than 1,000 pounds. We came in at 998.”
The ready-to-fly design is available for $159,900.