History of the flying boat


seaplane is a powered fixed-wing aircraft capable of taking off and landing (alighting) on water.  Seaplanes that can also take off and land on airfields are a subclass called amphibian aircraft. Seaplanes and amphibians are usually divided into two categories based on their technological characteristics: floatplanes and flying boats; the latter are generally far larger and can carry far more. These aircraft were sometimes called hydroplanes,  but currently this term applies instead to a motor-powered watercraft which use hydrofoils to levitate their main hull above the water when running at speed.



The word “seaplane” is used to describe two types of air/water vehicles: the floatplane and the flying boat.

  • A floatplane has slender pontoons, or floats, mounted under the fuselage. Two floats are common, but other configurations are possible. Only the floats of a floatplane normally come into contact with water. The fuselage remains above water. Some small land aircraft can be modified to become float planes, and in general floatplanes are small aircraft. Floatplanes are limited by their inability to handle wave heights typically greater than 12 inches (0.31 m). These floats add to the empty weight of the airplane, and to the drag coefficient, resulting in reduced payload capacity, slower rate-of-climb, and slower cruise speed.
  • In a flying boat, the 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 term “seaplane” is used by some instead of “floatplane”. This is the standard British usage.  This article treats both flying boats and floatplanes as types of seaplane,  in the US fashion.

An amphibious aircraft can take off and land both on conventional runways and water. A true seaplane can only take off and land on water. There are amphibious flying boats and amphibious floatplanes, as well as some hybrid designs, e.g., floatplanes with retractable floats. Modern production seaplanes are typically light aircraft, amphibious, and of a floatplane design.

Uses and operation

Numerous modern civilian aircraft have a floatplane variant, usually for light duty transportation to lakes and other remote areas. Most of these are offered as third-party modifications under asupplemental type certificate (STC), although there are several aircraft manufacturers that build floatplanes from scratch, and a few that continue to build flying boats. Many older flying boats remain in service for fire-fighting duty, and Chalk’s Ocean Airways operated a fleet of Grumman Mallards in passenger service until service was suspended after a crash on December 19, 2005, which was linked to maintenance, not to design of the aircraft. Purely water-based seaplanes have largely been supplanted by amphibious aircraft.

Seaplanes can only take off and land on water with little or no wave action and, like other aircraft, have trouble in extreme weather. The size of waves a given design can withstand depends on, among other factors, the aircraft’s size, hull or float design, and its weight, all making for a much more unstable aircraft, limiting actual operational days. Flying boats can typically handle rougher water and are generally more stable than floatplanes while on the water.

Rescue organizations, such as coast guards, are among the largest modern operators of seaplanes due to their efficiency and their ability to both spot and rescue survivors. Land-based aircraft cannot rescue survivors, and many helicopters are limited in their capacity to carry survivors and in their fuel efficiency compared to fixed-wing aircraft. (Helicopters may also be fitted with floats to facilitate their usage on water, though they are not referred to as seaplanes.) These are even more limited in range.

Water aircraft are also often used in remote areas such as the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, especially in areas with a large number oflakes convenient for takeoff and landing. They may operate on a charter basis, provide scheduled service, or be operated by residents of the area for private, personal use. Seaplanes are used in Greece to connect the many islands to the mainland. In the Western Hemisphere, there are numerous seaplane operators in the Caribbean Sea that offer service within or between island groups.