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Wet Wings are Wonderful — Flying off Water!

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If 70% of the globe is covered with water, shouldn’t we have that same percentage of RC model floatplanes? No? Well, many RC clubs today are struggling to find suitable open flying sites and with growing urban sprawl, noise restrictions, and the cost of real estate all playing a factor, it’s little wonder that good RC flying fields are far and few between.

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Ah, but flying from a pond or a lake offers a unique challenge and a new opportunity you may not have considered in the past. Flying off water is new to many RC pilots; however, water planes have existed since the birth of powered flight. Airlines like Pan American used large flying boats like the Yankee Clipper. Canada’s north was opened through the extensive use of bush planes on floats, de Havilland Beavers, Otters, Beech 18 and are still used today. Dick Folsom of Folsom’s Air Service based in Maine put a DC-3 on floats.

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The scale modeler has no shortage of subjects. The sport modeler has options for floats too. Many of the popular ARF companies offer float aircraft like the ElectriFly G-44 Widgeon or Seawind. There are floats available for many ARFs including the Hangar 9 J-3 Cub. Regardless of what aircraft you fly, odds are you can buy floats that can be bolted on.

Wet tips

There’s a plethora of information available from the float manufacturers, online stores, and in many back issues of Model Airplane News regarding how to build and mount floats, where to locate the step, how to waterproof radio gear, and more (see the sidebar for some of the setup basics). Two areas that are often neglected are flying from salt water and how to retrieve a stalled aircraft without going for a swim. Flying from water in Atlantic Canada often means flying from salty or briny brackish bodies of water. It is the same as far as the flying goes but when your aircraft gets a lot wetter than planned, you need to hop into action.

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First of all, take all the usual precautions to ensure that your receiver, servos, wire connectors, wing saddles, etc., are all well sealed. Anti-corrosion sprays for electronics are available from hobby shops that deal with RC boats and they really will help protect your electronics. Saltwater is corrosive and will destroy your electronics if not cleaned properly. If your plane does get wet inside with saltwater and it gets into the electronics, it is of the upmost importance to open up the servo and receiver cases and rinse the electronic components with warm distilled water to flush out all the salt. You should also use a hair dryer and really dry them out and spray the components with the protectorant before reassembling your RC gear.

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Don’t forget the airframe—metal pushrods, control horns, should all be cleaned and given a good dose of the anti-corrosion spray as well. Don’t forget the switch harnesses and servo extensions too! For glow engines, rinse the with fresh warm water, remove the glow plug, flip it over a few times to make sure all water is out, give it a good spraying of WD-40 and then add a several drops of after-run oil. Replace the glow plug, start the engine, and run a tank of fuel through it.

Off shore rescue

Occasionally, you’ll need to retrieve a aircraft stalled on the pond. If it’s a club organized event, there is usually a dinghy, canoe or a rowboat of some type available.

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When retrieving the aircraft, follow safe boating practices by using life jackets, and carefully lift aircraft into boat. It may be heavier than expected with water inside the aircraft. Another fun option for retrieving a stalled floatplane is to use an RC boat.

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A tennis ball and 20 feet of fishing line attached to the RC boat can be used to retrieve a stalled floatplane.

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With the tennis ball in tow, make two or three circles around the aircraft. The ball will hook in the aircraft then tow it back to shore. It takes a little practice and is a lot of fun too.

Final thoughts

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There are many RC clubs that have float fly events and some modelers fly off floats much of the year. It does require a little preparation and is a relaxing way to fly. Trainers, scale, sport planes, aerobats and any other plane you can think of can all be successfully converted and flown off of water.

Give it a try—I know you’ll like it!

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Updated: June 15, 2017 — 10:02 AM
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6 Comments

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  1. NW Seaplane Championship July 24-25
    http://www.sky-knights.org

  2. Bad idea to mention a PFD in the article, then run a picture with out a single flotation device in sight.

  3. My club has been enjoying Float flying for the past seven years. A 10′ skiff with a trolling motor was our favorite retrieval method. Small problem occurred when the local township purchased the lake for a park and no motorized boats became the law. But it had been a very fun time for all.

  4. There is one point you did not mention. When a model float plane flips over in the water it usually ends up upside down and nose down, with the engine submerged. When taking the plane out of the water, it is best to leave it upside down and nose down, because the water inside will be sitting in the front top of the fuselage. Turning the plane the right way up effectively distributes the water all over the rest of the inside of the fuselage. So get the plane to the shore first, then take the wings off with the plane upside down and let the fuselage drain out before turning it the right way up.

  5. Just a little reminder also that takeoffs are not the same with a land based aircraft. It is necessary to “break free” from the water and the surface of the water creates a lot of drag to any part of the airplane touching it. It takes a little more time to build up the speed needed before trying to elevate. Try not to use the rudder if you can during takeoff as it is easy to cause the plane to dip a wing and cartwheel.

  6. As David Moore said above, the float plane has more drag during the take-off run that a land-based model. So if your model is low on power, you might want to install a more powerful engine to give you better performance.

    As far as using rudder goes, you may want to use a water rudder on your floats to help directional stability, especially when trying to taxi in a crosswind. The crosswind will tend to make the plane “weather vane” into the wind and make directional control difficult. Water rudders will help a lot with this. Set up the linkage on the water rudders so that they only have a small amount of movement, compared to the model’s rudder. You don’t need a lot of water rudder movement to control your model effectively.

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