Being able to land an aircraft on water is a spectacular way to open up a whole new world of flying. Aircraft come in all shapes and sizes and there are a surprising number of float options available. We will explore the float options available for General Aviation aircraft starting from the smallest and cheapest for ultralight aircraft up to those for certified aircraft.
Many of the manufacturers we will explore produce both straight floats and amphibian floats containing retractable wheels. Kits usually come with both the floats and associated rigging. Floats are usually sized for the maximum takeoff weight of the aircraft.
Floats are usually built with separate air tight compartments to prevent sinking if one of the sections is damaged. There is usually a method to easily remove water from the float if there are leaks.
Floats generally carry their own weight due to the aerodynamic shape. They do however cause significantly more drag usually taking 10 – 20 knots off typical cruise speeds.
The Full-Lotus floats on this Rans S6 are manufactured by Aircraft Floats Mfg. Ltd. located in Ontario Canada. They have been in the floats business for over 35 years and are market leaders. They sell rugged inflatable floats and rigging. The floats also require stiffening tubes that run the length of the float to add stability.
The inflatable floats have a hard plastic bottom 13 mm thick which protects the bottom from punctures. The are kept at a low 2.5 psi which make them very flexible. The floats can also be landed on snow and take-off is possible on wet grass. Floats including rigging cost around $8,000 USD. There is also an option for amphibian floats for around $13,000 with rigging which make use of the Zenair amphibious retractable gear mechanism.
Zenair floats are also located in Ontario Canada and have very tight collaboration with Aircraft Floats mfg. Ltd. who handle their marketing and distribution. The floats are popularly used on Zenair aircraft like the CH750 pictured below as well as other Ultralight/experimental aircraft. Their largest size could be used on an aircraft with a gross weight of 1134 kg, the size of a Cessna 172.
Zenair floats are built out of high grade aluminium alloy and come in kits that can be completed in 50 to 80 hours per float. Typical prices for a set of 600 kg ultralight (USA LSA) floats is around $13,500 USD including rigging and rudders. Amphibian models are an extra $4,000 USD.
FloatsCZ are manufactured in the north west of the Czech republic. They have been making floats since 2000. Their floats fit very nicely on most Ultralight aircraft as can be seen from the Aeroprakt below.
The floats are made from anticorrosive 6061T6 aluminium alloy sheets. Floats are riveted and water sealed using polyurethane mastic. Each float is separated into 6-7 waterproofed sections. The floats have an aerodynamic fiberglass nose that can be easily replaced if damaged. straight floats cost around $9,000 USD and $13,500 for amphibian floats including rigging. They come fully assembled and ready to mount.
Clamar floats based out of Maine in the USA build beautiful lightweight and strong composite floats for the experimental market.
Their process uses the latest technologies in composite construction, incorporating Carbon fiber, Kevlar and S-glass. As well as producing the lightest floats on the market, this type of construction eliminates corrosion and common leaks coming from rivets in aluminium products.
Their smallest floats are suitable for 600 kg Ultralights with their largest floats being suitable for a Cessna 182. They do not mention any prices on their website but one could expect their straight and amphibian floats to be 20 – 40% more expensive than equivalent non certified aluminium floats.
Montana Floats build both straight and amphibious aluminium floats for experimental aircraft. Their smallest size floats (2200 series) are suitable for aircraft up to 1043 kg while their biggest floats (4000 series) are rated for aircraft up to 2000 kg. The picture below is of a Maule that operates locally here in Finland that uses their 2800 series floats.
Montana Floats do not publish prices on their website but one would expect them to be selling in the $20,000 – $35,000 USD range depending on size and type.
Other Float Manufacturers
The rest of the Float manufacturers mentioned here deal with the high end certified spectrum of the mark. Prices for their floats are in the range of $40,000 – $250,000, depending on construction, size and complexity.
Acorn Welding are a fully certified Aircraft weld shop and do everything from exhausts to engine mounts and even floats. Their float kits are aluminium. They hold STC’s for their products and specialize in working on certified aircraft.
Pk floats are based out of Maine USA and have been building build certified and experimental floats since 1954. There product line consists of straight and amphibian aluminium floats. Here is an interesting video of the factory where they produce the floats.
Wipaire floats are based out of Minnesota USA and are the largest and most successful float producer for certified aircraft. If you buy a factory new seaplane chances are it has Wipline floats. They also do full refurbishments, avionics and aircraft sales.
Aerocet is based out of Idaho USA and have been operating for 20 years. They high end build composite straight and amphibian floats for certified aircraft. They are open with their pricing and advertise prices starting at $44,000 USD for straight and $94,000 USD for typical Cessna 182 floats. They also build cargo pods.