Floating More Than an Idea
A primer on aircraft floats
By Greg Napert
July / August 1998
In several distinct areas of the country, and in locations around the world, float equipped planes, otherwise known as seaplanes, are a normal part of life. These aircraft are used for pleasure as well as utility and are a necessity in some remote areas of the world.
The floats, for the most part, are constructed much like the aircraft it is mounted on, but given the need for a structure to hold up to a great deal of impact and remain water tight, there are some distinct design differences which can make the maintenance of aircraft float fairly unique. In addition, the fact that many of these aircraft operate over salt water, presents some unique challenges to maintenance personnel. Floats aren't something you inspect and forget. Daily maintenance and care is required if these relatively expensive pieces of equipment are to last.
A bit of history
To give the technician in the field some of the basics about floats, AMT magazine visited the builder of what is generally considered to be the "Cadillac" of floats — Wipaire Inc., in MN. Wipaire, manufacturer of Wipline floats, says it builds over 70 percent of floats manufactured today.
According to Mark Mathisen, service center manager and chief pilot for Wipaire; the founder of the company, Ben Wiplinger was involved in converting WWII airplanes into corporate aircraft after the war. Someone came to him one time and asked him if he could correct problems on the floats people were currently using. After looking at the problem, he developed an STC to convert the electric floats to completely hydraulic floats with just electric indicating systems.
"This was very well received and later that same year, he made a decision to build his own floats. The company actually started as Wipline Floats. His first float that he built was an amphibious float for the Cessna 185 to compete with EDO, the dominant manufacturer at the time. His float business became so successful that he branched into float production and got away from aircraft conversions," says Mathisen.
Ben passed away in 1993, and his son, Bob ("Wip") Wiplinger took over operation of the company. Mathisen says that since Bob took over the company, there has been a very heavy emphasis on research and development. "We used to build floats for Cessna's 185, 206, and on up to aircraft as large as the Twin Otter. In the last three years; however, we've begun developing floats for small aircraft such as Super Cubs, PA-12s, Skyhawks, XPs, and we're now building a float for the brand new Cessna 182s. We plan to float the 180s, the Maules, and many of the current production airplanes," says Mathisen
"Right now," Mathisen continues, "the market is such that we probably have about 70 percent of the float market, our specialty being amphibious floats. But we also build straight floats for the same applications. In the last several years, there has also been a big demand for amphibious floats due to the versatility, ease of fueling, maintenance, etc. Other things that we do at our facility is related to our float business. We refurbish aircraft, for instance, with the intent of putting them on floats and do a good deal of factory reconditioning."
Mathisen says the company has also been adding service centers in the last couple of years for support due to the significant increase in its customer base. Its current service centers include one in Vancouver, BC, Anchorage, AK, One on the East coast called Telford Aviation in Waterville, ME, as well as one in Juneau, AK.
A good reason to keep them in good condition
You've probably heard rumors about the relatively high cost of floats and never really believed how expensive they are — well, believe the rumors.
Flight testing also completed, and application filed for a gross weight increase.
Powered by the new Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-140 engine, the available power in the Grand Caravan EX has increased almost 25 percent, from 675 HP to 867 HP.
Agreement authorizes Wipaire as a StandardAero-approved installation facility for the Cessna Caravan 208-series aircraft engine-upgrade program.
The company expects to complete the float installation approval and begin taking orders in the Spring of 2010.