Amphibian nears maiden flight

The plane can land on water or land.
The plane can land on water or land.

In a few months time, at an airfield somewhere near Hamilton, a new aircraft will take to the air for the first time.

The first flights will be tentative, little more than short hops to ensure that the elevators, rudder and ailerons are all working as they should.

Meet the Wave. It's a two-seat light aircraft that has been designed to operate from any suitable stretch of water as well as from runways on land. With its wings tucked back, thanks to an automatic folding mechanism, the Wave will be able to be towed on a trailer or even mounted on the back of a yacht.

The Wave is the brainchild of Hamilton businessman Paul Vickers, who said he has spent seven years and a "considerable amount" of money developing the project so far. His company, Vickers Aircraft, has funded the research and development costs from the sale of former businesses, he said.

Vickers said the Wave is aimed squarely at the United States recreational market, where it will retail at US$179,000 ($206,000) once it has been certified under US Light Sports Aircraft (LSA) specification.

This specification, which is also recognised in New Zealand and Australia, means that novice pilots will be able to learn to fly The Wave with as little as 20 hours of instruction. Another advantage is that as long as you are fit enough to hold an unrestricted drivers licence you won't need to pass a medical, said Vickers.

The biggest challenge of the project has been to meet the strict weight limits imposed by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for this type of aircraft, he said. The FAA stipulates a maximum take off weight of 650 kg, so in order to allow for the weight of the pilot, passenger and fuel, the airframe could not weigh more than about 400kg.

Vickers said he met the weight limit by combining tried and trusted materials with some more recently developed technology. While machined aluminium has been used for structural parts, the hull and wing skins use light weight carbon fibre.

The weight saved has allowed the Wave to be fitted with a 180hp engine, which is much more powerful than the engines usually seen on this type of aircraft.

The result is an aircraft with some impressive specifications - on paper at least. Vickers estimates the Wave will offer a cruising speed of 222 km/h and a range of more than 1300km -enough to fly from Auckland to Dunedin and still have more than an hour's flying time in reserve.

A problem with some light seaplanes in the past is that they have difficulty taking off in calm water conditions when there are no waves to help the aircraft "unstick".

But Vickers, a former boatbuilder, reckoned he had cracked this problem with a hull design that encourages air to flow underneath the aircraft during its take off run.

"As the nose comes up, air is pushed through pockets under the hull which breaks the friction of the water," he explained. "This also provides cushioning when you land."

Once the prototype has been completed it will undergo a 180-hour test flying programme before being certified by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in New Zealand. The CAA certification will also allow the
Wave to be flown in the US under a reciprocal arrangement with the FAA, Vickers said.

Vickers claimed he has already received numerous expressions of interest in the Wave from aviation companies in the US, Europe and Malaysia, as well as a joint venture proposal from a large China-based manufacturer.
"We don't want to put numbers on this yet, but it's a lot," he said. "We are just concentrating on getting the plane flying at the moment. Nothing has been signed."