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Aircraft: Sea Change

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

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