WHY don’t we see more seaplanes?
There would be something rather glorious, would there not, had the industry developed in a different direction?
Instead of the beautiful people of the “Cannes set” using their private jets and private airfields and heading down to the south of France - or these days further afield - what if they could be seen alighting and disembarking from their seaplanes and flying boats at the end of the Palace Pier?
There is something rather otherworldly about a seaplane, in the way it allows a human footprint in two realms we are not built to explore: the sea and the sky.
The two kinds of the machine are easy to distinguish. So-called “floatplanes” of the type seen in this 1940s photographs are buoyed by floats or pontoons secured beneath the fuselage.
Only the floats of a floatplane normally come into contact with water and the fuselage remains above water.
It is posisble to retrofit pontoons onto a standard light aircraft, but they cannot be retracted into the body of the craft in the way wheels can, so they add significantly to the vehicle’s drag coefficient and therefore reduce its capacity, rate of climb, and cruise speed.
They are also unsuitable for choppy seas, being unable to deal with waves much higher than a foot.
Flying boats, on the other hand, are much bulkier and main source of buoyancy is the fuselage, which acts like a ship’s hull in the water because the fuselage’s underside has been hydrodynamically shaped to allow water to flow around it.
Most flying boats have small floats mounted on their wings to keep them stable. Not all small seaplanes have been floatplanes, but most large seaplanes have been flying boats, with their great weight supported by their hulls.
The craft were invented in 1898 and some seaplanes saw service in WWI but their inherent inefficiency and the growth of airports undercut the growth of the industry in the 1940s and beyond.
It seems rather a shame.