Best Kitplanes

December 8, 2016

KITPLANES The Independent

Pilots often gather to debate and nominate designs in the category of “best-handling homebuilt, ” and the discussion can be lively. Few would expect a 95-mph amphibian to be included among RVs and Thunder Mustangs and such. Yet, the Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey LSX could arguably be among the best. Why? Pure goodness—but we’re already getting ahead of the story.

The new factory digs at Tavare, Florida, north of Orlando. Demo flights are made from the water, of course.

The original design had a shallow V hull, which gave excellent performance on calm water. A further modification, called the B hull, had a deeper V for rougher water. That iteration was finally replaced by the C hull, which is tolerant of a wide range of piloting techniques. The retractable landing gear has evolved from manual through two types of electric gear, and refinement continues.

(More) Evolved Amphibian

Designer Kerry Richter listened to pilots and took on suggestions to improve the airplane’s handling, which is notable in itself. The biggest change is the use of ball bearings throughout the control system to reduce stiction (the force required to break static friction and start something moving) and regular old friction. There are also new gap seals on the ailerons plus a 25% bigger horizontal tail that now has dihedral to keep the tips out of the weeds.

The LSX demonstrator cockpit, all lit up. Exotic avionics work just fine with a “puddle jumper, ” thank you!

That is just the beginning of the Sea-Rey’s updates. The cuffs on the outboard leading edges that were originally there for spin protection are gone, their function replaced by vortex generators. The wingribs are no longer just top and bottom battens; they are now real ribs with trusses connecting top and bottom, so the bottom surface stays flat at cruise speed with less drag. These wing changes are good for a 3- to 5-mph increase in cruise speed.

Also, the flaps now have gap seals, and there is an inch more chord on the ailerons and flaps, so the stall speed is 7 mph lower. To look at it from another perspective, the LSX stall speed clean is about the same as the classic wing version’s stall speed with full flaps. On water, low takeoff speed is a big deal, because hydrodynamic drag from the hull is an enormous factor in takeoff distance.

For the campers among you or for those who don’t pack light, there is a large, long, tapered baggage area behind the seats.

Jenny Craig Approach

One of the possibilities on the classic SeaRey was a carbon-fiber hull, a $3000 option that saved about 70 pounds of empty weight. On the LSX, the standard fiberglass hull went on a severe weight-loss program without sacrificing strength, reducing the weight advantage of the carbon-fiber hull to merely 12 pounds. That small weight savings is hardly worth the price, so the carbon hull is no longer offered. With the gross weight increased from 1320 pounds to 1430, the Light Sport Aircraft maximum for an amphibian, the structure has been beefed up as well, with 78 changes.

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