Advice and considerations for a float plane on a tropical island

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tilopa

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Dec 11, 2011
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246
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Middletown, CA
Greetings,
we are looking at options for a bush type plane with floats that we would use in Fiji. Our main criteria are: 4-6 place with high useful load, STOL, something that can withstand the rust/corrosion factor, and price. The planes in consideration are:

Bearhawk
Tundra
Super Cyclone
Murphy Moose
Bushcaddy
Zenith 801
C- 185
C-182

We were kind of sold on the Bearhawk, great performance characteristics (STOL, good cruise), serious useful load, nice price. But we read that the salt water high heat/humidity and sun would wreak havoc on the tube and fabric design. It seems we should probably only look at all aluminum designs? The Tundra also uses steel for its cabin structure. Not sure about the Moose but it is a little more expensive than we wanted to go. And the 801 does not quite have the useful load and space that we would like, but maybe it would do.

I keep coming back to the Cessna 182, it is all aluminum, easy to fit floats, and cheap. The 185's seem to be double the price though for more plane I know. Which brings me to the Super Cyclone, it is a kit build replica of the 185 but with a bigger wing (better STOL) and great performance and useful load. But I cannot find a price, I have an email into the company and he said he will get back to me.

Anyone have advice/opinions on the best plane for our needs?
Thanks.
 

Dan Thomas

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Sep 17, 2008
Messages
5,802
Greetings,
we are looking at options for a bush type plane with floats that we would use in Fiji. Our main criteria are: 4-6 place with high useful load, STOL, something that can withstand the rust/corrosion factor, and price. The planes in consideration are:

Bearhawk
Tundra
Super Cyclone
Murphy Moose
Bushcaddy
Zenith 801
C- 185
C-182

We were kind of sold on the Bearhawk, great performance characteristics (STOL, good cruise), serious useful load, nice price. But we read that the salt water high heat/humidity and sun would wreak havoc on the tube and fabric design. It seems we should probably only look at all aluminum designs? The Tundra also uses steel for its cabin structure. Not sure about the Moose but it is a little more expensive than we wanted to go. And the 801 does not quite have the useful load and space that we would like, but maybe it would do.
Aluminum does not get along well at all with salt water, and steel bolted to aluminum really presents an issue. The float operators on the BC coast (Canada) have to be constantly washing out the salt and keeping a good eye on the structures, and aluminum needs thorough priming inside and good paint on the outside. Even then, they rot away. Steel tubing would need to be protected well, too.

I have seen moss and mildew on metal airplanes on the coast. Some of them are low-timers that have sat for years and are pretty much worthless no matter how few hours are on them. The lap joints on aluminum get spread open with corrosion and stuff growing in there. I suppose one has to recognize that an airplane has a finite life and will get used up fairly quickly in salt-water service no matter what it's made of, and budget accordingly.

I've seen moss on old cars there, too. I don't know if it's getting nutrients out of the air, or eating the paint and rubber seals or what. It sure wrecks stuff.

Dan
 

tilopa

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Joined
Dec 11, 2011
Messages
246
Location
Middletown, CA
Aluminum does not get along well at all with salt water, and steel bolted to aluminum really presents an issue. The float operators on the BC coast (Canada) have to be constantly washing out the salt and keeping a good eye on the structures, and aluminum needs thorough priming inside and good paint on the outside. Even then, they rot away. Steel tubing would need to be protected well, too.

I have seen moss and mildew on metal airplanes on the coast. Some of them are low-timers that have sat for years and are pretty much worthless no matter how few hours are on them. The lap joints on aluminum get spread open with corrosion and stuff growing in there. I suppose one has to recognize that an airplane has a finite life and will get used up fairly quickly in salt-water service no matter what it's made of, and budget accordingly.

I've seen moss on old cars there, too. I don't know if it's getting nutrients out of the air, or eating the paint and rubber seals or what. It sure wrecks stuff.

Dan
Yes, it sure does. Like I said the decay in those environments is very bad. So, are you suggesting that I am really no worse off with the tube and fabric of a BH than with an all aluminum design? If so for the price I think I would go with the BH. Though I could find a 182 1960's model for cheaper that would be an airframe with already 40 years plus on it. If I got 10 years out of the BH I would be happy.
 

Dan Thomas

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Sep 17, 2008
Messages
5,802
Yes, it sure does. Like I said the decay in those environments is very bad. So, are you suggesting that I am really no worse off with the tube and fabric of a BH than with an all aluminum design? If so for the price I think I would go with the BH. Though I could find a 182 1960's model for cheaper that would be an airframe with already 40 years plus on it. If I got 10 years out of the BH I would be happy.
I don't know how tube and fabric compare with aluminum in saltwater service. There used to be a lot of those old airplanes on floats before aluminum became the norm. I do know that stainless steel is the best, but just try to find such a beast. The Fleetwings Seabird of the 1930s is the only one I'm aware of, and they were very few.

1031004.jpg

Dan
 

PTAirco

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Sep 20, 2003
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3,610
Location
Corona CA
Tube and fabric is a lot easier to protect from corrosion than sheet metal. Just look at the surface area for a start. If you are building your own, I would choose tube and fabric. Epoxy primer on the tubes or powder coating on the outside, all openings welded shut. I would also flush all tubes with linseed oil or some other equivalent. One thing I would NOT do is what is often recommended and that is to drill holes at all intersections to connect the entire framework and then fill it (and drain it of course). This is just asking for corrosion to spread, should it start somewhere. With all tubes closed off individually, any that start to corrode internally won't spread it to others. I have seen my fair share of old steel tube fuselages and how they are treated makes a lot of difference to their longevity. Austers used to have the entire framework sprayed with aluminium and Austers have lasted through the long wet British climate pretty well. The process is not that uncommon, but I haven't seen it applied much elsewhere. My Aeronca L3 was simply doused with zinc chromate primer and had dozens of small holes drilled into the tubes for sheet metal screws - avoid that like the plague! It survived well enough in the Southwest, but I doubt it would have in the northeast.

Of course the best choice for amphibians and floatplanes has got to be a composite airframe.
 

Vector

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Dec 4, 2010
Messages
345
Location
Pacific
Have you thought about a composite design? If you have park it under a shade , it might reduce the UV degradation. Haven lived in Hawaii, I can tell you that your concerns are real and unless you keep up with all around maintenance, you will pretty much donate the aircraft to the junkyard invariably.
 

Propshaft

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Nov 25, 2011
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Holland
I live quite close to the sea (just over 10 miles), and things start to rust quite fast here too. Anything that isn't stainless starts rusting very fast. It definitely is a lot worse to have salt around the metal instead of just saltish air.

Now most composite boats are in the sun all day, there's UV gel-coats that can be replaced after a couple of years. I don't see why you couldn't use that for the upper surface, it adds a couple of pounds, but that's all.

If you can only park outside, put up a couple of poles and a tarp... Keeps things in the shade...

Gosh, a seaplane and a tropical island, that's a nice thing though! :)
 

tralika

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Messages
98
Location
Wasilla Alaska
There's an article in the December issue of AOPA Pilot about a guy operating a T-Craft on floats in Florida, here's a link to the online version;

AOPA Online: Challenges: River dance

The owner reports using a product called "Salt-Away" to rinse the plane for corrosion prevention. I'm not familiar with that product but it might be worth looking into. If you fly on floats in salt water corrosion is going to be a fact of life for you. The nice thing about a tube and fabric plane is you can open it up every 20 years or so (maybe 10 in your environment) and see whats going on under there. I would get the frame powder-coated at the factory and avoid drilling holes in it. With an aluminum mono-coupe design you can't overdue the corrosion proofing while your building and put in lots of inspection ports to try to keep an eye on things. Keep in mind there are lots of float planes that have been flying in Southeast Alaska salt water for years.

Have you checked into the availability of avgas in Figi? That might be a limiting factor for you.
 

tilopa

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Dec 11, 2011
Messages
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Middletown, CA
Have you thought about a composite design? If you have park it under a shade , it might reduce the UV degradation. Haven lived in Hawaii, I can tell you that your concerns are real and unless you keep up with all around maintenance, you will pretty much donate the aircraft to the junkyard invariably.
I thought of a composite but could not really find anything out there suitable. We need something that is a hauler, something that is a 4-place with around 1000lbs of useful load, and unless there's an aircraft I have not found in my searching no composite can do that, at least not a single engine in my price range.
 

tilopa

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Dec 11, 2011
Messages
246
Location
Middletown, CA
I live quite close to the sea (just over 10 miles), and things start to rust quite fast here too. Anything that isn't stainless starts rusting very fast. It definitely is a lot worse to have salt around the metal instead of just saltish air.

Now most composite boats are in the sun all day, there's UV gel-coats that can be replaced after a couple of years. I don't see why you couldn't use that for the upper surface, it adds a couple of pounds, but that's all.

If you can only park outside, put up a couple of poles and a tarp... Keeps things in the shade...

Gosh, a seaplane and a tropical island, that's a nice thing though! :)
Are you talking about the gel-coats for the floats or.... on the wings? I'd be concerned about putting anything on the wings and altering the CP and lift dynamics. Yeah we'll try and have some sort of shade rig that we can park it under while sitting. Thanks.
 

tilopa

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Joined
Dec 11, 2011
Messages
246
Location
Middletown, CA
There's an article in the December issue of AOPA Pilot about a guy operating a T-Craft on floats in Florida, here's a link to the online version;

AOPA Online: Challenges: River dance

The owner reports using a product called "Salt-Away" to rinse the plane for corrosion prevention. I'm not familiar with that product but it might be worth looking into. If you fly on floats in salt water corrosion is going to be a fact of life for you. The nice thing about a tube and fabric plane is you can open it up every 20 years or so (maybe 10 in your environment) and see whats going on under there. I would get the frame powder-coated at the factory and avoid drilling holes in it. With an aluminum mono-coupe design you can't overdue the corrosion proofing while your building and put in lots of inspection ports to try to keep an eye on things. Keep in mind there are lots of float planes that have been flying in Southeast Alaska salt water for years.

Have you checked into the availability of avgas in Figi? That might be a limiting factor for you.
Thanks for the article, and I'll check out that product. Yeah, we're really going to look into the best way to rust/corrosion proof from the beginning, definitely going to powder coat and everything else. I feel better about the tube and fabric plane now though, not that it would be any better than aluminum just that it won't be any worse. The fabric will get nasty pretty quick though, it will be impossible to keep it dry and mold/mildew will wreak havoc on it.

avgas will be a factor, we're looking into an auto conversion for the engine, I know.... that has it's own complications, but we are going to explore the possibilities with that.
 

Vector

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Dec 4, 2010
Messages
345
Location
Pacific
I thought of a composite but could not really find anything out there suitable. We need something that is a hauler, something that is a 4-place with around 1000lbs of useful load, and unless there's an aircraft I have not found in my searching no composite can do that, at least not a single engine in my price range.
I think a Stallion will fit the bill; though I don't know how much you are looking to spend. You may be able to pick an uncompleted project and finish it. Tom Nalevanko on here has one and I am sure he can tell you more about them.
 

tilopa

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Middletown, CA
I think a Stallion will fit the bill; though I don't know how much you are looking to spend. You may be able to pick an uncompleted project and finish it. Tom Nalevanko on here has one and I am sure he can tell you more about them.
Wow, did not even know this was out there. Looks pretty cool but after checking the kit price it is way out of my price range, kit is $220,000.
 

Max Torque

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Dec 16, 2011
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Arizona/Alaska/several nasty places around the glo
I spent a several years flying/managing helicopters - mostlyHughes/MD 500s with a few Hillers & Bell 47s tossed in - off of super purse seiners a.k.a. "tuna boats" and learned a thing or two about operating aircraft in a salt water environment. (I, and a buddy of mine, had our own contract. Another buddy had 15 helicopters on the boats at one point in time with which I helped him - we definitely learned a few things along the way.) These helicopters lived on those boats 24/7/365 and hardly ever saw a land based maintenance facility. Some were out there for years and exhibited only very minor signs of corrosion – no more than aircraft based in coastal states - while others were total "rustbuckets" and pretty much trashed. One 500C had been out there 13 years and was still in really good shape, last time I saw it. Many operators had problems getting their engines (Allison 250 series mostly) to make TBO or escape being pretty much scrapped at overhaul, but ours normally made TBO and very seldom had trouble at overhaul. (There are reasons for that, too!) It all boils down to, and depends upon, the maintenance/preventive maintenance.

From what you’ve listed as requirements, I think your best options are the Bearhawk or Dream Aircraft’s Tundra http://www.dreamaircraft.com/site/index.php?lang=EN for an experimental/homebuilt aircraft.

I’m a big fan of auto conversions, but unless you’re opting for a William Wynne Corvair (not enough hp for your requirements), a Tracy Crook Rotary, or a Belted Air Power Chevy, and you are willing to spend a large amount of time and money tinkering, I would stick to a Lycoming or Continental (removing the data plate and going experimental with it is an option - hint).

A misconception with many homebuilders is that one will save money by going experimental/homebuilt. This has not proven to be the case for the vast majority of homebuilt aircraft. The initial costs actually favor buying a flying used certified aircraft. Notice I stated initial costs. Where the savings come in is farther down the line - maintenance, parts, modifications, etc.

Insurance and resale value could also be factors. I don’t know what the regs are where you plan to operate, but insurance could be a biggie.

Tom
 
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tilopa

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Dec 11, 2011
Messages
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Location
Middletown, CA
I think a 182 would be a good choice for you judging from the requirements you've set forth. You'll save a year or two of building time and be able to start flying immediately. The market is fairly good for buyers right now.

Tom
Thanks Tom,

Yeah, we had our hearts set on a Bearhawk, we were going to try and throw a modern Audi V-6 turbo diesel engine in it with direct drive, but it would probably be too heavy. Anyway, we are finding out that it will be tough to get around Fiji's version of the FAA breathing down our necks for operating a experimental for ferrying passengers for no pay. So we might have to go commercial and use certified aircraft in which case as you mentioned you cannot beat the price of the 182, it can be found for much cheaper than the 180 even because so many of the 182's were made and are out there for sale. But my biggest concern again it if we buy an older 182 how quickly will in corrode? I'll have to look into how much corrosion proofing can be done to it without taking the plane apart too much.

And I hear what you are saying about preventive maintenance, we plan on washing it down with fresh water every day to keep the salt off.
 
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