Float Planes

A floatplane (also known as a seaplane or hydroplane) can have one or more floats. The floats, or pontoons, are usually mounted beneath the fuselage but can also be mounted beneath the wings. (A flying boat uses its fuselage to create buoyancy in place of floats.) An amphibious plane has floats with retractable wheels, which make it capable of landing on water or on land.

Floatplanes, in particular the PBY Catalina, were used in World War II for reconnaissance purposes, rescuing downed airmen, and as a defense against submarines. Ship catapults launched the floatplanes. After landing in the water, hoists lifted them back onto the ship.

Some of today’s most popular floatplanes are the Single Otter, Norseman, and the Beaver, all of which are used heavily in northern bush operations to ferry people and gear in and out of remote lakes. Bush pilots refer to these planes as “work horses” because of their reliability and short take off and landing (STOL) characteristics. Some aircraft are converted from wheels to floats. Any floatplane should have a strong engine to compensate for the added drag of the floats.

Pilots must obtain a license endorsement to fly floatplanes. Floatplanes are limited to daylight flight because of the difficulty of landing on water in darkness. Because a floatplane lands, takes off, and taxis on water, the floatplane pilot must be proficient in nautical rules and seamanship.