Note: This article will appear in the October issue of COPA Flight magazine.
The SeaRey is built by Progressive Aerodyne of Tavares, Florida. First flown on 13 November 1992, over its 28 years of production so far, nearly 800 of these side-by-side two-seat, amphibious flying boats have been delivered to customers.
The design features a "V" strut-braced parasol-wing, a cable-braced tail, a pusher engine, a boat hull with outrigger pontoons and repostionable landing gear: down for landing on the ground and up for water landings.
Originally delivered in the US as a kit for their experimental amateur-built category, the US adoption of the light-sport category has allowed the company to deliver complete, ready-to-fly SeaReys to American customers at a 1430 lb gross weight. The current amateur-built models have a gross weight of 1510 lbs.
Here in Canada, the design can be built as a basic ultralight (gross weight 1200 lbs) or advanced ultralight (gross weight 1232 lbs), but to take advantage of the higher gross weights available and avoid the AULA empty weight restrictions, all of the 23 SeaReys currently registered in Canada have been constructed in the amateur-built category.
The SeaRey design has evolved over the three decades it has been around. Early models had fibreglass "A" style hulls and were often powered by a two-stroke, twin-cylinder Rotax 582 engine, putting out 64 hp. Today's kits have fibreglass or optional carbon fibre hulls, with the four-stroke 100 hp Rotax 912iS engine or even the turbocharged Rotax 914 powerplant that puts out 115 hp and allows flying into higher-altitude lakes. Modern production SeaReys can have traditional round dials or modern glass cockpit instrumentation.
Being able to land on the land or water opens up a new world of destinations, from short grass strips to remote lakes. As a flying boat, it can be landed on water and then easily moored on an anchorage or, with wheels lowered, powered up onto a sand beach or even sloped rocks.
The company currently offers the SeaRey as the "Adventure" and "Elite" ready-to-fly light-sport versions, as well as the LSX kit version.
Progressive Aerodyne has a network of representatives around the world, including a sales office in Shanghai, China. John Dunlop is the Canadian distributor. We did a "socially distanced" interview in August 2020.
Canadian SeaReys: An Interview with John Dunlop
COPA Flight: What was your aviation background before you got involved with the SeaRey? What kind of flying had you done?
John Dunlop: Air Cadet flying scholarship at age 17 at the Brampton Flying Club, ROTP on the RCAF Chipmunk, then the Tutor, T-33, F-86 Sabre and the CF-104 Starfighter in Germany. I joined CPAir in 1970 flew the Douglas DC-8, Boeing 737 and retired in 2003 after flying the Boeing 767 with Air Canada.
CF: What initially attracted you to flying boats and this design in particular?
JD: I have loved sailing Georgian Bay with family in a Hughes 40 sailboat, until the children grew up! I decided building a SeaRey would allow me to continue flying into retirement while enhancing enjoyment of the Bay’s 30,000 islands.
I was offered a demo flight in Orlando with SeaRey designer, Kerry Richter in December 2000 and, like others before and after me, I was hooked by the experience. When I compare this little bird with the other aircraft I've flown, I continue to revel in the panoramic view from its sliding canopies, open or closed. I am continually pleased at its easy water handling and short strip operations.
CF: The SeaRey first flew in November 1992. When did you become the Canadian distributor and what motivated you to become the representative for this country?
JD: By June 2002, I had completed an enjoyable 15 months building C-GJIB in my Shelburne Ontario two-car garage. The first flight solo off a nearby grass strip was exhilarating! Kerry was all for my representing the SeaRey in Canada, just as he had talked Rob Loneragen into being the Australian dealer. I wasn't really into sales but Kerry believed that supporting other local builders would grow his company and generate a support network. He never set a quota and I have never felt pressured. My first kit sale was in 2004. I also participated in a SeaRey owner website that morphed into the SeaRey Technical website (STS) and also the Splash & Dash social site.
CF: What is the typical Canadian SeaRey owner like and what type of flying do they do with the aircraft? Are people using them for fishing, trips to cottages or other specialized uses?
JD: No, they are poor fishing platforms and difficult to bring alongside a dock! Yes, you can put the wheels down and drive them up on a beach, or a flat rock, but they are probably safest on a buoy mooring, like at the Oshkosh seaplane base.
Besides, if you take your wife along there is little left for food and luggage! LOL! OK, some have them at their cottage…
The typical owner is a pretty diverse sort. There are now a few women owner/builders. The SeaRey is probably not a first plane, nor possibly even their first build. They love fly-ins with other "waterfowl" too. I have flown a SeaRey several times to Oshkosh, to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and even all the way to Key West, Florida. They love the low level sightseeing (well under the radar, so to speak). They are not the types who pass their time flying traffic patterns! Heck, Michael Smith flew his SeaRey solo around the world!
With the LSA category, more are now buying factory-built or second-hand. This is a shame because they miss the journey of building their own aircraft.
CF: What are pilots who have never flown an amphibious flying boat missing out on?
JD: Well, taxiing up on a rock for one. But also, think Sea-Doo or Jet Ski. Think being able to do slalom turns on the step. Think a 360 degree step turn to get into or out of a small lake. Sit back and drop your arm in the cool water…
CF: The SeaRey has been an accepted AULA in Canada at 1232 lbs gross weight for some time now, but there are none currently registered in that category. There are currently a total of 23 SeaReys registered in Canada, all of them in the amateur-built category. Are you aware of any under construction as AULAs?
JD: There are no AULA SeaReys under construction in Canada.
CF: Is the low gross weight limit the only reason for the lack of popularity of that category option for the design or are there other reasons?
JD: Well, it is not just the low gross weight limit, it is the mandatory empty weight calculation. Notwithstanding that, in 2004 Transport Canada designated three AULA SeaRey types, the SeaRey-80, SeaRey-95 and SeaRey-115 with 80, 100 and 115 hp Rotax engines, respectively. The empty weight calculations require that these three AULA SeaRey types have maximum empty weights of 842, 834.5 and 824.5 lbs, respectively. My 2002 SeaRey with a 912ULS weighed in at 918 lbs. When I participated on the LSX (kit)/LSA (certified) design committee in 2008-2009, we were shipping the LSX kit close to 1000 lbs empty weight. The LSX is a much stronger and better performer at that weight. Too bad that Transport Canada has yet to recognize the Light Sport category.
CF: I see you have built two SeaReys yourself, one in 2002 and your current one in 2007. How did you find the learning curve and the building experience with those two kits?
JD: Both kits took me 15 consecutive months. Yes, the second one was easier and, I think a better build. The builders' website was a huge help during my first build. I think I contributed much more to that site during my second build, but each of us have our strengths and weaknesses. The Polyfiber aircraft fabric process is a long haul but actually quite easy (after a short AirVenture seminar). My enjoyment was in the electrical and other systems. My bear was spray painting.
CF: Do you find that the kits have become more refined over time and easier to build?
JD: Yes, probably because the assembly manual is much more detailed. However, the LSX is a bit more complex than the "Classic SeaRey" was.
CF: The kit build time has been estimated as 400-600 hours in the past, do you still feel that this is about right for a first time builder?
JD: I have never found that to be about right for the first time builder. I guess it’s how one measures hours. Not counting all the time spent on the internet or picking up supplies from Aircraft Spruce, etc. Lights on to lights off probably totals 800 to 1200 hours but, as long as the journey is a joyful enlightenment, what does it matter?
CF: What is the most challenging part of putting the kit together?
JD: I mentioned painting, but the windscreen and sliding canopies are a challenge. So are the wiring harness and avionics.
CF: On which part do builders typically spend the most amount of time?
JD: No question, the fabric installation.
CF: Is builder assistance with the SeaRey kit available in Canada?
JD: No, but such assistance is readily available from several sources in Florida.
CF: What is your opinion of the fibreglass versus the carbon fibre hull options?
JD: "Carbon graphite" hulls used to be 70 lbs lighter than the fibreglass hulls. And, as the glass hulls progressed from the "A" design hull (flatter entry), "B" (deeper V), to "C" (bluff entry and double V step), their volume increased and thus did their weight. However, the LSA design and factory process is producing fibreglass hulls 40 lbs lighter than twelve years ago so I don’t think the current 20 to 30 lb benefit of carbon is worth the extra price.
CF: What is your thought about the engine options? Is the extra performance of the turbocharged 115 hp Rotax 914 worth the cost or is the 100 hp Rotax 912 sufficient?
JD: Early "A" hull SeaReys operated just fine on 80 horses. Now that the aircraft no longer fits in the ultralight category, the 100 hp 912ULS are what most builders install for all but high, hot or mountainous airports where the flat-rated turbo gives sea level performance. However, I sure do love that extra turbo kick! People who have an extra $16,000 to throw at a 914UL should reflect that it is heavier, aft of the centre of gravity and more complex to maintain.
CF: What options offered for the kits are the most popular these days and which would you most recommend as worthwhile?
JD: Well a lot of necessary things like engine, prop, instruments, electrical harness and panel, pitot-static system, fuel and coolant lines, paint, battery etc. are sourced by the builder. The SeaRey factory normally supplies at extra cost: seat cushions, an engine mount kit and a radiator and oil cooler kit, both kits differentiated by engine model. But that wasn't your question was it? All of the above are not "optional". Recognizing that the aircraft should be built "lite", there is an engine cowl and many interior packages that simply add weight. The most important option, bar none, is an ACI Gear Alert system. After that, carburettor heat, strobe lights, gascolator, ELT and a cabin heater for Canada’s cooler climes.
CF: There seems to be a strong SeaRey owner community in Canada, with events like the Georgian Bay Gaggle and the Prince Edward County, Ontario fly-in. Are there other dedicated Canadian SeaRey events?
JD: Summer SeaRey fly-ins have been traditionally held at CYEE Midland Huronia airport. Other events have been ad hoc but with more SeaReys locating on the West Coast and in Nova Scotia, I expect these areas will see their own "squadrons".
CF: The pandemic has been slowing aviation down around the world, how has it affected SeaRey sales, building and flying?
JD: Definitely the factory output has been affected but COVID-19 has certainly provided a "time at home" opportunity for builders already in working on their dreams.
CF: What do you see in the future for SeaReys in Canada?
JD: Let's face it, the SeaRey lives in a niche of its own. It requires a Recreational Licence or PPL with seaplane endorsement. The amphibious flight envelope is a rewarding challenge! It is owner-maintained and repaired which is an asset given the prohibitive cost of hull insurance. My hope would be that we'll see Canada soon join the US, Europe and Australia in recognizing the certified Light Sport category SeaRey. These aircraft will be welcome additions to our small Canadian fleet.
SeaRey LSX amateur-built kit specifications
- Type: two-seat amphibious flying boat
- Engine: Rotax 912iS 100 hp
- Length: 22.4 ft
- Height: 6.4 ft
- Wingspan: 30.8 ft
- Wing area: 158 sq ft
- Wing loading: 9.6 lb/sq ft
- Power loading: 15.1 lb/hp
- Cabin width: 44 in
- Hull draft: 10 in
- Max gross weight: 1510 lbs
- Typical basic-equipped empty weight: 940 lbs
- Useful load: 570 lbs
- Fuel capacity: 23 US gal
- Cruise speed at 75% power: 90 mph
- Rate of climb at sea level: 650 fpm
- Stall speed flaps down: 38 mph
- Stall speed flaps up: 47 mph
- Take-off roll on ground: 350 ft
- Take-off run on water: 472 ft
- Landing roll on ground: 325 ft
- Landing run on water: 350 ft
- Glide ratio: 8:1
- Service ceiling: 13,000 ft
- Range with 30 minute reserve at 75% power: 363 statute miles