What’s the difference between a floatplane and a seaplane?

Différence entre un avion à flotteurs et un hydravion

In some parts of the world, the words floatplane and seaplane are interchangeable. However, the two have different meanings in technical terminology. A floatplane and a seaplane can both take off and land on almost any body of water (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.). However, a floatplane has greater capabilities. Let’s look at the distinctions between the two.

Floatplane vs. seaplane: What’s the difference?

Seaplane Characteristics

Any aircraft that can land, float, and take off on water is referred to as a seaplane. Flying boats are seaplanes with hulls that resemble those of a boat.

The majority of seaplanes are modified landplanes. Two pontoons, or floats, usually support seaplanes on the water. Landplane wheels are frequently replaced by floats. Straight or amphibious floats are used on seaplanes. Straight float aircraft have no wheels and are unable to land. Amphibious aircrafts feature retractable wheels and can operate on both land and water.

The floats are what make a seaplane a seaplane. Certain traits are shared by all seaplane floats. To aid takeoff, they are designed with a step—a break in the hull’s profile. The step aids takeoff by decreasing the amount of float in the water, lowering overall drag, and allowing the pilot to alter pitch attitude during the takeoff run. The deck refers to the top of the float. Behind the float are retractable water rudders that aid in steering in the water.

The design of the float bottom can have a considerable impact on the seaplane’s handling qualities. A shallow V bottom float, for example, would take off easily in calmer water but would be highly rough in other situations. While a deep V bottom float might be helpful in turbulent water, it would be difficult to get out of the water quickly in calm conditions. 

Pros and Cons of a Seaplane

The fuselage, which works like a ship’s hull in the water because the fuselage’s underside has been hydrodynamically designed to allow water to flow around it, is the principal source of buoyancy in a flying boat. Small floats are put on the wings of most flying boats to keep them steady. Although not all tiny seaplanes were floatplanes, the majority of large seaplanes were flying boats with their hulls supporting their massive weight.

Some seaplanes can withstand rougher conditions than floatplanes. In waves or with a slight tailwind, a hull plane’s lower center of gravity makes it less prone to flip. Floatplanes, on the other hand, can take off faster from smooth water because the pilot can bank onto one pontoon and eliminate half of the water drag while gaining enough speed to fly.

You must depart from the entire hull’s large surface area when flying a seaplane, sometimes purposely pitching up and down to break free. If not done correctly, the plane can dangerously porpoise and crash.

Floatplane Characteristics

A pontoon plane is another name for a floatplane. A floatplane has separate floats or pontoons that serve as a landing and takeoff surface instead of a fuselage/belly that can land directly on water. A float plane’s fuselage/belly is not supposed to touch the water. A floatplane is a subcategory of seaplane which is why the two are interchangeable.

In contrast to a seaplane, where the hull serves the dual purpose of providing buoyancy in the water and space for the pilot, crew, and passengers, a floatplane is a normal landplane with independent floats instead of wheels. The float kind of seaplane is the most prevalent, especially for those with low horsepower. It can have either single or twin floats However, most seaplanes have twin floats.

Pros and Cons of a Floatplane

Because the fuselage is not in contact with water, float planes have a number of advantages, including the elimination of compromises for water tightness, general impact strength, and the hydroplaning characteristics required for the aircraft to leave the water. Attaching floats to a landplane also enables for significantly higher production numbers to cover the costs of developing and producing the tiny number of water-based aircraft.

Furthermore, with the exception of the largest seaplanes, floatplane wings usually provide better clearance over obstructions such as docks, making loading easier while on the water. In comparison to aircraft fitted with wheeled landing gear, floatplanes have more drag and weight, making them slower and less maneuverable in flight, with a slower rate of ascent.

Which is better, a floatplane or a seaplane?

The answer is contingent on the operator’s intention or intended usage for the aircraft. Many floatplanes are versatile and amphibious which can give them an edge over other seaplanes. These planes can take off and land on a runway as well as in the water. Furthermore, floatplanes are easier to carry because they can land on the water and then draw straight up a ramp onto dry land.

There are many types of flat planes, and even more types of seaplanes, but let us compare two formidable examples: The De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver floatplane, and the De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter seaplane. Both are part of Air Tunilik’s seaplane fleet. All of our seaplanes in the province, including Natashquan, Havre St-Pierre, Manic 5, Caniapiscau, and Sept-Îles, provide spectacular scenic flights

The de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver floatplane

The DHC-2 Turbo Beavers can operate from water, unsurfaced field strips, or forest clearings of up to 300 meters (1,000 feet) in length when deployed as a landplane or seaplane. When flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), it can carry a weight of around half a tonne (1,000 lbs) on realistic stages for about 1,000 kilometers (about 600 statute miles). This is why it is an ideal aircraft for northern Canadian terrain.

  • Capacity: 6 passengers
  • Wingspan: 57.2 feet
  • Height: 10.4 feet
  • Length: 32.8 feet
  • Cruising speed: 180 km/h

The de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter seaplane

This is an excellent bush-style aircraft with plenty of power, so you have a foot in both camps with a tough, well-developed aircraft and a modern turbine powertrain in the 750 HP PT6A-34 turbine, which is based on the conventional Viking or Vazar conversion.

Turbo Otters, like its radial forerunners, are commonly employed for charters, tourist work, freight, and scheduled service, as well as hauling people and bulky loads deep into the bush to airfields where most other aircraft would be unable to land.

  • Capacity: 9 Passengers
  • Wingspan: 57.2 ft
  • Height: 12.3 ft 
  • Length: 45.2 ft
  • Cruising speed: 210 km/h

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