Many engineers have in the past aspired to create a craft that can traverse both the sea and the skies. After many years of trial and error, some have finally succeeded to come up with various seaplane designs. Leading us to the question, what are Seaplanes? Seaplanes are classified in aviation as fixed-wing aircraft that are designed to take off and land in water. Some seaplanes are also designed to land on both land and water; amphibious in nature.
There are different categories of seaplanes based on the design, physics, and aerodynamics of the aircraft. The two main categories are flying boats and floatplanes. Flying boats are defined as those whose main airframe (fuselage) has a buoyant design that allows it to act as a boat. Floatplanes on the other hand are seaplanes that have buoyant landing gear or floats known as pontoons. Floatplanes can either use one or two pontoons.
Early aviation pioneers such as Frenchman Alphonse Penaud who filed the first patent for a flying machine with the hull of a boat, Wilhelm Kress who built the first seaplane, and Gabriel Voisin who took off and landed on a river, led the way to the creation of the combination of sea and airplanes.
So, why design a seaplane? There are a large variety of reasons as to why seaplanes are designed. One major reason is the lack of a place to take-off / land owing to rough terrain or no landing space at all. Such areas may have the option of water that may be used as a landing and parking medium. Uses for seaplanes may include passenger transport, cargo, emergencies, firefighting and other specialized purposes such as survey and surveillance.
The amphibian seaplanes are especially adept in emergency and rescue missions. They are particularly favored by coast guard and naval agencies whose main work includes sea rescues that then require moving the victims to medical facilities on land. Flying this kind of aircraft requires special training and one has to get a seaplane rating. This usually takes 3-days for an already qualified pilot, or typically around 10-hours.
Seaplanes have come a long way and have cut a specialized niche in air transport and in global aviation. They have proven their worth in the aviation sector. Whether you want to pilot or ride in one of these aircraft. It is always a challenging and exciting experience. It is literally an experience that will “float your boat”. Remember the largest flying boat ever built was the seaplane – Howard Hughes H-4 Hercules.