Strong economy spurs four-seat amphib’s
CLINTONVILLE, Wisconsin — It’s doubtful that very
many people have heard of the TA-16 Seafire.
but not surprising.
For in addition to the prototype,
only three are flying, and another 20 are under construction
Over the years, the aircraft has also
flirted with production status. David Thurston, perhaps the
grand master of small amphibious seaplane design, has revived
that long-dormant project.
Thurston, who believed the
Seafire was too complicated to work as a kit plane, engineered
it into a manufactured product 20 years ago, and the first
prototype was flown in 1981.
Thurston also designed the
Teal and the Colonial Skimmer, which evolved into the LA4 and
At a distance, one would dismiss the
Seafire as just another Lake model. Outwardly they appear the
same. Both are boat-hull amphibians with T-tails,
shoulder-mounted wings and sponsons. And both have the engine
mounted on top of the fuselage with bracing struts.
hold on; there is indeed something different here. The engine
on the Seafire, a 250-horsepower Lycoming O-540-A4D5, is a
tractor, not a pusher. It’s aided and abetted by a two-blade
Hartzell constant-speed propeller. And like the Skimmer, the
nose wheel protrudes somewhat from the hull when
There’s also something different about the
canopy. Unlike the gull-wing, clam-shell canopy of the
Buccaneer, the Seafire’s canopy slides to the rear, can be
partially opened in flight and is hinged at the rear in such a
way that it can be pivoted to either side for stretcher or
Finally, the Seafire is larger and
offers more performance than the Buccaneer.
1980s were not particularly bounteous in terms of
private-aircraft sales. The economy was up and down, but more
devastating for aviation was insurance premiums for product
liability, which drove up airplane prices.
event, Dave Thurston put the Seafire project on the back
burner and waited for better times. In the meantime he
occupied himself with his Thurston Aeromarine Corp., a
consulting service that offers advice on aircraft design, as
well as expert witness services in connection with aircraft
accidents. Thurston is also called upon as an FAA designated
engineering representative (DER) for special engineering
Two years ago, believing the time was finally
right, he convinced a group of investors to bring the Seafire
program back to life. The prototype, which had been sitting
outside in the elements for years, was reconditioned at
Seagull Aviation Parts in Clintonville, Wisconsin.
Corrosion-proofing, in addition to the time-honored alodine
coating, included an epoxy primer that was applied to
essential parts before assembly.
Thurston reports that
about 85% of the data that’s required to submit to the FAA for
Part 23 certification is complete. First flight of the
revamped prototype is scheduled to take place this month, with
final certification expected by September. The aircraft is
scheduled for appearances at Sun ’n Fun and Oshkosh, with
order books at the ready.
So what are the parameters
that will loosen a seaplane pilot’s grasp on his
To begin with, a 3,200-pound gross weight
with a 1,950-pound empty weight affords a useful load of 1,250
pounds. When all four seats are filled, that’s almost enough
for a full fuel load of 90 gallons in the wings, which is
sufficient for 1,000 miles with VFR reserves at a cruise speed
of 130 knots.
The Seafire’s rate of climb is a
respectable 1,100 feet per minute, and landing speed is a
modest 48 knots.
Takeoff and landing distances are
remarkable. A departure from a sea-level strip at ISA
temperature is a mere 1,000 feet over a 50-foot obstacle, with
1,200 feet required for landing under the same conditions. Off
the water, 1,200 feet are needed for going or
Why a tractor instead of a
According to Thurston, the puller is more
efficient than the pusher because the blades are not on the
receiving end of all the wake turbulence that the engine
cowling creates. The only reason the Skimmer had a pusher
propeller, Thurston said, is the FAA and its regulations at
the time that addressed the proximity of the propeller’s plane
to the passenger cabin.
One of the more interesting
features of the Seafire, not shared by any of the Lakes, is
the steerable nose wheel. It not only makes ramping the
aircraft a lot simpler, it also allows for skis in the winter,
thereby making the aircraft more versatile — and profitable in
commercial operations — when the lakes get hard.
said Thurston, the deep V-hull design, step location and hull
strakes allow the Seafire to execute high-speed water turns
and handle rough water better than any of his previous
Friese-type ailerons offer maximum response in
crosswind conditions, and the slotted, manual flaps are
designed to meet water-load conditions. For unimproved landing
strips, slippery ramps and rocky lake bottoms, the
trailing-arm hydraulic landing gear delivers trouble-free,
In fact, in shallow water, the
landing gear can be partially lowered to contact the lake
bottom and anchor the aircraft to the spot where the bass are
Full dual controls and independent brakes
are standard on the Seafire, with the right-side control wheel
easily removable for passenger comfort. Engine and propeller
controls are mounted on a centrally located pedestal, similar
to the Piper Cherokee. The wing floats, or sponsons, are
designed to break away without damage to the wing in case of
encounters with logs or other submerged objects. Planing
plates on the bottom of the floats prevents the floats from
becoming buried during high-speed water turns.
newly formed corporation that’s bringing the Seafire to
certification and market is Aquastar Inc. To date, more than
10,000 hours of design work have been invested in the project.
A suitable production facility, encompassing some 30,000
square feet, hopefully with tax breaks and other incentives,
is aggressively being sought.
Once the type certificate
is received, Aquastar Inc. plans to build 31 aircraft the
first two years of production.
While there still has
been no decision on whether to sell factory direct or set up a
dealer network in the United States, Aquastar has decided to
go with carefully chosen distributors for its overseas market.
Parts and service will in all likelihood be handled through
four franchised regional outlets of existing FBOs, with the
factory maintaining a substantial parts inventory in support
of the service outlets. Training would also be conducted at
the factory level, both flight and technical.
are the chances of Aquastar Inc. succeeding in this endeavor?
Good to great, in this writer’s opinion. While sales and
trades of boat-hull amphibians on the used market continue to
be brisk, prices have been pulled upwards by new-airplane
Aquastar’s philosophy seems to be that there’s
a market for a quality, pedigreed product that offers safety,
reliability, performance and value. Although a price for the
Seafire has not yet been established, Aquastar is targeting it
at somewhere around $325,000. That would be less than what the
“Aircraft Bluebook” says a 1994 model of another popular
boat-hull amphibian is going for, and half its new
If Aquastar can pull it off, the seaplane
community will definitely sit up and take notice.
perhaps wonder how they can get some stock in the
For more information, contact Seagull Aviation
Parts, 715-823-8120 or
General Aviation News - 800.426.8538
Lakewood, WA 98439