Aircraft: Sea Change

<< Back to Robb Report, November 2002
  • Fluto Shinzawa

Eleven years ago, in the town of Lymington on the south coast of England, James Labouchere had an epiphany that, he believes, has helped him revolutionize the seaplane. On that day in 1991, Labouchere, who was engineering two-hulled racing yachts at the time, sailed at high speeds on a boat he had helped to design. “We had a very exciting ride,” Labouchere recalls. “You realize that you’re sailing at speeds that an aircraft needs to take off.”

So Labouchere took off—from his job—to design a seaplane that would cruise and handle on the water like a raceboat, carry high payloads, and withstand the saltwater corrosion that plagues most models. Today, Labouchere, who is managing director of Warrior (Aero-Marine) Ltd., is ready to unveil the Centaur, a six-seat seaplane that he says will perform like a high-end racing boat in the water and enable its pilot and passengers to easily access yachts, docks, and remote islands. “The plane’s very fine bow gives it much less drag on the water,” Labouchere explains. “The shock loading is very light, and it’s very seaworthy. These elements solve everything that has constrained amphibious aircraft from serving between the marine and aviation sectors.”

Labouchere says the hulls of current seaplanes are designed with rounded bows, causing the planes to jostle along waves, even at low speeds. The Centaur has a displacement hull and a thin bow, allowing the aircraft to take off in conditions that might ground another seaplane. “Most private light seaplanes cannot operate on open water when there is even a common coastal sea breeze,” Labouchere says.

On the water with its propeller idle, the Centaur can reach a speed of 7 mph with its rear jet thruster, allowing you to sidle up to a pier or yacht. The Centaur’s wings fold, reducing its wingspan from 44.8 feet to 14.9 feet, so you can dock the plane alongside speedboats and small yachts.

Also, unlike most seaplanes with fixed long wingspans, the Centaur can be stored inside a marina during storms, although, because of its composite body, it is not as susceptible to the weather as a traditional aluminum seaplane is. According to Labouchere, in warm saltwater environments such as the Bahamas, an aluminum seaplane might last five years before it begins to corrode; the Centaur’s airframe will last four times as long.

Labouchere views the Centaur, which cruises at 5,000 feet at approximately 150 mph, as the perfect craft for Wall Streeters taking off to the Hamptons from New York Harbor, or for vacationers flying from Miami to the outer islands of the Bahamas, reducing the need for water taxis, land transport, or helicopters.

“If you’re looking to get to an island 200 miles out, that’s a long boat trip,” Labouchere says. “If there’s a breeze on the water, you’re feeling quite ill by the time you arrive. Two hundred miles is too far for most helicopters. They have very limited range capabilities and payload range capabilities. We can pull a customer out of his city office, bring him down to the city dock, and fly him directly onto the beach.”

Warrior (Aero-Marine) Ltd., 207.885.9920, www.centaurseaplane.com

From Around the Web...
See which private-jet and airliner interiors made the shortlist for the Crystal Cabin Award…
DesignQ creates new luxury interior concepts for a business jet
Focused on comfort, the interior includes a private lounge, a dining area, and a large shower…
Bliss Jet Gulfstream G450
A one-way ticket for a seat aboard a Gulfstream G450 or G550 will cost just under $12,000…
From Australia to Africa, these private-jet journeys are taking travelers to new heights…
A new online tool lets you calculate the price of being an unproductive airline passenger…
The new planes boast an improved flight deck and wingtip lights that look like they were taken from...
XOJet
The pairing is part of the charter company’s mission to manage a client’s needs across the board…
For commuters tired of traffic, things may soon be looking up thanks to the Airbus Group’s Project...
The aviation corporation’s best business jet continues to distance itself from the competition…
The new interior has high-speed network access and plenty of places to charge your devices…