Smoke On Go

Are floatplanes and seaplanes making a comeback?

In recent weeks have seen a number of these type of aircraft making headlines. Is this a possible renaissance? We investigate a little.

When aviation was still in its infancy, airports were non-existent and large flat areas without obstacles were few and far between. However large bodies of water exist on this humble little planet and where there is water, there are generally large populations of humans. These bodies of water present the ideal place for aircraft, as there is always some sort of infrastructure available, like ports, quays, jetties, buoys and trade etc.

Many early aircraft were thus fitted with floats and others were designed with boat like hulls, becoming known as flying boats. These aircraft developed at a rather fast pace, from the famous Schneider Cup race aircraft, to the world famous four-engine flying boats used by Imperial Airways and  later BOAC. The military also used a number of these aircraft for patrolling coastlines, and in WWII, hunting submarines while protecting convoys. However, post war, these aircraft fell out of favour due to the many airports built throughout the world by both Allies and Axis powers.

A problem today, is that waterways allow ventures into less inhabited areas, where unfortunately some dubious events take place, like illegal fishing, drug plants, smuggling and human trafficking to name a few. Conventional aircraft cannot land in such places, and getting to these places by boat is a long winded affair. Another fact is that many more people today have an interest in remote places for holidays, fishing and exploration. Floatplanes are thus still in demand, and in many cases, still the only connection available.

Hence the re-interest in water borne type of aircraft.

Chinese AG600M maiden flight 

The AG600M, an upgraded version of the AG600 seaplane developed by The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), completed its maiden flight from water on August 29, taking off from Zhanghe Reservoir bordering Jingmen-Zhanghe Airport in the central Hubei province.

After an 18-minute test flight to examine the aircraft systems, it successfully landed back on the reservoir. The AVIC AG600 is powered by four Dongan WJ-6 turboprop engines and is reportedly capable of staying 12 hours in the air and carrying 50 people.

The aircraft is similar in size to a narrow-body airliner such as the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320. The latest “M” model is being tested for use as a water bomber. Among the noticeable design differences from the original version, the AG600M sports a larger underbelly. The maiden flight of this variant, from the ground, took place on May 31, 2022. 

It is expected to serve firefighting missions in 2023 and enter the market in 2025.

C130J amphibian will fly in 2023 

Faced with a potential fight against China across vast swaths of ocean, the amphibious “MC-130J Commando II” could soon become a reality.

“We’re awaiting the outcome of the 23 budget process that continues to work its way through the Hill right now,” Lt. Gen. James Slife told reporters at the Air and Space Forces Association (AFA) Air, Space, & Cyber Conference in National Harbour, Maryland. “But our anticipation is that we will have a flying demonstration in the next calendar year.”

The plan is to conduct a demo by the 31st of December 2023, featuring a single aircraft and aimed at validating digitally engineered models that the program has run so far on the aircraft’s capabilities.

In an age of increasing concern over threats from China, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been looking for ways to move people and equipment to austere locations in or at the edge of potentially contested areas. Being able to take off and land on the water offers a lot of advantages. The MC-130’s ability to use short, often rugged airstrips has made it an attractive platform to consider for such capabilities. It is not a floatplane, as it will have the ability to land on both land and water.

AFSOC is working with the Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) directorate to develop and improve aircraft in support of seaborne special operations. The Air Force is making “an amphibious modification” to the C-130, Slife had said earlier this month.

Regent’s futuristic electric hydrofoil seaplane

The mini seaglider first test flight circled over Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The US outfit, which unveiled the electric “float, foil, fly” seaplane last year, which is a quarter-scale model of the full-size prototype, is expected to launch in 2024. It was also the first craft to take off from a controlled hydrofoil and transition to wing-borne flight, according to Regent.

“This is the next great moment in the history of human transportation,” said Regent’s CEO and co-founder Billy Thalheimer. “There has not been a new mode of transportation since the helicopter.”

Designed by two aerospace engineers, the full sized seaglider will have a wingspan of 65 feet, versus the demonstrator wingspan of 18 feet. The glider takes off and lands on water the same way a floatplane does, but flies just above the water’s surface instead of thousands of feet above it. Like a hovercraft that uses “ground effect,” or the cushion of air beneath the wings, the seaglider will stay within a wingspan of the waterline.

Starting out, the craft runs on foils at speeds between 20 and 45 mph, before retracting the foils and accelerating to between 145 and 180 mph, six times faster than a conventional ferry. The first version will carry 12 passengers between coastal or island destinations at a lower price than commercial flight or ferries, and will be in service by 2025, the company says.

Billy Thalheimer said the company has already amassed a backlog of $7 billion worth of orders for its seagliders.




Subscribe to our newsletter for new blog posts, tips and news