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Six members of Swedish Ultraflyers flying club in Stockholm, Sweden, agreed to invest seven thousand dollars each to get waterborne in a floatplane. The club took a seventh part, to share its infrastructure. The project was dubbed Swedish Floatflyers and the brand new ship, registered SE-YUL, was ready to launch last spring.
Powered by a Rotax 912 and riding the waves on SF 1400 Superfloats from Comp Air LLC, the aircraft is built by Danex Engineering Kft, Nyiregyhaza, Hungary and sells under the name EuroCub Mk.1.
The choice of aircraft was an easy one. All the owners of SE-YUL already flew the Eurocub on wheels, and would need only five hours on floats to get a seaplane check-out, if sticking to the type. The familiarity, and the benign handling, of the Eurocub granted low-risk introductions into floatflying's procedures and special skills.
When it came to floats, there were mixed opinions. Other ultralight flyers in Sweden had put their craft on inflatable rubber floats, praising their built in capability to fend off docks and rocks. This is seductive arguments when the chance to find a smooth sandy beach is slim. But challenged with the speed and range advantage of sleek and not-so-fragile-as-you-think fiberglass floats, the vote finally turned in favor of performance.
As the first of its kind on the register, the local aviation authority scrutinized SE-YUL, and ordered their senior seaplane expert Mr. Anders Ljungberg to make the first flights. He approved of the floats installation, done by the technical staff of Sweden's largest ultralight flying school, and found the rigging remarkably good for a first attempt. Mr. Einar Edland could embark on the 50-hour flight test program right away.
Einar is the prime mover and one of the shareholders of Swedish Floatflyers. Chief instructor of Swedish Ultraflyers, he now took on the same role at sea, when SE-YUL was released, and the fun could begin for the owners.
First to go was Bjarne Lindstrom. Bjarne lives in Mariehamn, on the island of Aland, halfway across the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. His check ride took him on a return flight Stockholm-Mariehamn, and his first solo ended back home where family and friends waited on the dock for scenic rides in Bjarne's new love affair.
Michael Widéen has his house in a suburb east of Stockholm, on the shore of the protected waters of a vast archipelago that is ideal for seaplane excursions:
"I was a slow starter and did not check out till August", Michael says. He recalls that he had thought a lot about what the difference would be to operate the Eurocub on floats. It would be his first seaplane experience at the controls.
"We were only just airborne on my first flight when all my doubts were gone. The plane handled excellent on the water and it took off effortless."
Into a 15 knot wind he was airborne in no more than 75 meters, and the climb at 50 knots looked more like a helicopter than an airplane. In zero wind he learned that a jerk with the ailerons, to lift one float, could shorten considerably the time it took for the plane to unstick.
In the air he found the control response slower compared to the landplane configuration, due to the weight and drag of the floats. But the difference was slight. Cruise speed at 65% was a reassuring 72 knots.
Flying is freedom for Michael and doing it in a seaplane is one of the best things in life, he maintains. Multiple compartments in the floats that must be checked for water in every pre-flight, fuelling from heavy jerry cans balancing on your shoulder, and jumping in and out of cold water for launching and docking in tricky places, only adds to the special feeling.
Where he flies, 60-90 percent of what is under the plane is 'airfield', on which every take off and landing is right into the wind. "This makes seaplane flying a lot safer than landplane flying", Michael concludes. In the Baltic archipelago, and on most of the tens of thousands of lakes in Scandinavia, you can always find smooth water, allowing take off and landing even in strong winds. The trick is to use the glossy water procedure for landing, to be better off to handle gusts.
Michael was virtually born in a boat and his life-long experience comes in handy when taxiing and docking SE-YUL. Not that the handling of this keel-less weathercock of a barky has much in common with that of a real boat. But if you master the art of tacking, and have managed to take a boat in and out of tight spots backwards, using sails only, you have come a long way.
"My kids love taking a ride with me. They are still very young, but I would be surprised if not one of them, or maybe both, will become pilots when growing up. My spouse don't like flying. But she managed a smile to the camera when going with me in SE-YUL last summer, so I have not given up hope that one day she will share our joy", Michael says.
He, and his co-owners in Swedish Floatflyers, are confident that their model to make seaplane flying affordable holds great potential. Particularly in Scandinavia, where this kind of flying is so attractive, the desire to do it is so great, and yet cost has kept the seaplane fleet down to a fraction of the total number of fly-for-fun aircraft.
Story by Hakan Ahlstrom
Photos by Ola Carlsson, Michael Widéen, Bjarne Lindstrom and Greger Ottosson