Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Way Ready For Prime Time


Amphibian dreams vs. reality: here’s a classy amphib in full production


Nature abhors a vacuum. Three years ago, Plane & Pilot publisher Mike McMann saw the SeaMax at the Sebring air show and said, "That's beautiful, let's do a story on it."

I contacted the SeaMax dealer, arranged a demo, jumped aboard, saw how beautifully it handled like a speedboat on water, how nimbly it leaped into the air from land and water, and how easy it was to land. I took tons of photos of it beached on a little island on a Florida lake and thought to myself as I often do, "Man, wouldn't I love to own one of these!"

There were just two problems. The local dealer/owner wouldn't let me touch the controls. I don't mean for stalls, high-bank turns and such. I mean I wasn't allowed to even touch...the...controls! Undaunted, I arranged to fly with the SeaMax U.S. importer. Or rather, attempted to. Never got a reply. In time, I accepted the truth: SeaMax didn't have a viable U.S. presence.

Two years later at Sebring 2012, I was approached by Richard Rofé, a thoroughly likable, high-energy, successful entrepreneur. He had just bought the U.S. distributor rights to the SeaMax from the Brazilian company AirMax. The company has manufactured the sleek, lovely amphib for the last 10 years. In fact, it's the most successful S-LSA amphib by far, with 129 units delivered to 22 countries.

"I Bought The Company!"
Rofé reminded me of the guy in those Remington TV commercials many years back who would grin as he said, "I liked the razor so much, I bought the company!" But Rofe's ultimate journey to becoming the sole U.S. importer (ditto for Canada, Mexico and China) was hardly a direct path.

A few years back, he had looked into the much-ballyhooed, gorgeous Icon A5 amphib, first announced in 2005. He nearly bought one, but changed his mind when he realized it would be years more to get one in his hands. Next, he built a SeaRey amphib kit under Experimental Aircraft Category rules, but had numerous problems, including a very scary in-flight electrical fire. Finally, last year, he looked into the SeaMax. He even encountered the same problem I had: The original U.S. dealers wouldn't let him fly the airplane. He bought the airplane...they still wouldn't let him fly it. And eight months later, the airplane had yet to be delivered to him.

Now one thing you never want to do to a super-enthusiastic go-getter like Richard Rofé is wave a candy bar in his face...then make him wait indefinitely for it. Frustrated, and more determined than ever to have a SeaMax, he flew to Brazil, huddled with the AirMax owners including designer Miguel Rosario, and returned stateside with the distributorship in his pocket. Problem solved.

"And I love it," he crowed during our long, enjoyable flight over Long Island recently...and yes, he let me have the controls. "I have a couple already here. I'm in the process of introducing them to the market professionally, the way they should have been years ago. As a businessman, I couldn't sit idly by while others hyper-marketed products that no one could actually get." Consider that market vacuum filled.



Labels: LSAs

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