Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Making A Splash In The LSA World

Tecnam’s new amphib marks a sea change in float design

If you need convincing that LSA represent a valuable adjunct to traditional GA models, look no further than the amphibian world. There, you can buy an LSA capable of setting down on land or water for about what amphib floats alone cost for some Part 23 aircraft. Italian aircraft manufacturer Tecnam has already sold many pilots on LSA and sport aircraft, with more than 3,500 of its products operating around the globe. Now, the company has taken on the realm where water and sky meet with its P92 SeaSky, which joins an already formidable fleet of LSA amphibs. Development of this end of the market has doubtless benefitted from the increased weight limit LSA seaplanes enjoy—1,430 pounds versus the 1,320 pounds for other LSA—a standard the FAA adopted to keep LSA regulations consistent with rules for European microlight aircraft.

While several seaworthy LSA employ the hulled flying boat model (e.g. the Aventura, SeaMax, SeaRey, Super Petrel and the in-development ICON A5), the SeaSky puts Tecnam's proven P92 Echo Classic LSA atop amphibious floats in place of the aircraft's usual tricycle undercarriage. The result flies something akin to a classic Piper J-3 Cub on floats, updated with side-by-side seating in a comfortable cabin and the added utility of being able to touch down on solid land, something even the most ardent seaplane pilot can appreciate.

"That means you can go out and do all the floatplane flying you want, and then go to just about any land-based airport and get fuel," said Tristan Raab, Tecnam's SeaSky demo pilot, noting, "You can't go to just any lake with a floatplane and expect to fuel up—you've got to really plan it."

Raab should know. In addition to corporate work, his extensive seaplane CV includes stints flying Beavers on floats for Seattle-based Kenmore Air and instructing at Jack Brown's Seaplane Base, the noted training facility in Winter Haven, Fla. I met Raab on the flight line at Sebring Regional Airport (SEF) during the annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in January, where the SeaSky was making its Expo debut.

The P92 looks good on floats, with enough heft not to appear diminished when hoisted astride pontoons. The airframe is basically all aluminum (wingtips and cowl are composite, and the ailerons are fabric), but the Tecnam-made floats are composite; the company took fabrication experience gained through development of its carbon-fiber airframe for the P2008 and P2010, and created its own amphibious floats.

Made from vacuum-cured carbon fiber, the floats feature a flat top with a nonslip grip coating for firm, stable footing. A pneumatic compressed air system, lighter than a hydraulic system, controls landing gear extension and retraction. (The maintenance-free pneumatic system also eliminates the potential for hydraulic fluid leaks.) A manually operated reserve pump provides backup. The landing gear components are anodized Avional CNC-machined, and the pontoons are reinforced to survive a gear-up landing or two on turf or hard surface.


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