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"You Mean They Can Fly Off Water!"

By: Paul Oliver

This was the statement her indoors said when I told her of my intention for us to go and watch some r/c model water planes one Saturday morning. The circumstances leading up to this was a discussion with one of the members in my local club (Witham Model Aircraft Club). His nickname is 'Swampy' not because of his love of model water planes, but more akin to his love of falling in water when going flying at our patch. Anyway the upshot of the discussion was that there was a group of model flyers that were interested in flying off of water and would I like to come along. Well being a fairly adventurous pilot and always looking for new challenges I decided to pop along and watch and see if I got the bug.

Armed with a map to the lake where the waterboys flew from I headed for the water. On the day in question there were several models at the venue, but they were varied in their type. The models ranged from a Junior 60 through to Flair Magnatilla fitted with floats, to purpose designed models such as the Northstar, DB Seastormer, and a Jabberwocke.

It was interesting to see the relative ease that the models could taxi, and take off. Or at least that was the case on the day, because there was very little wind, resulting in the water being as flat as a mill pond, so no waves for the models to have to battle with.

In the air, the models were pleasing to the eye to seeing them equipped with floats. The interesting part of the flight to me was the landings. It was clear that even with the conditions on the day in question you have to plan landings in advance and exercise them with care. Water is very hard if you hit it at speed so trying to slow up the model on the approach and having a flat approach appears to be paramount to a successful landing. Too fast or too steep results in a big splash which could at the least stall the engine, or at worst damage the model, that could lead to the model sinking. In either case a paddle out in a rescue boat will be required.

So what were my impressions of flying off of water, and what must you do in preparation to fly off of water?

Well, it does take a degree of skill to fly off of water, and I would say that you need to be a reasonably experienced flyer, largely because of the care in taxiing, take off, and landing. One of the things I noticed at the venue was the large number of buoys in the water that tend to have a magnetic effect on models. They seemed substantial enough, that if you hit them at speed your model would be badly damaged, if not written off. The range of models suitable seem to be very broad, and success appears to be largely down to float design and position, power available, and protection from the water for the engine and radio if you want to convert a land plane design for use on water. There are of course purpose designed models or float kits available for models, but I would suggest taking advise from seasoned water plane pilots.Well I was hooked enough to look at fitting floats to my Pupeteer. It was explained to me that there were a number of important points to remember when flying off of water. A model that is not overpowered for flying off of land may need a larger engine fitted when fitted with floats largely to overcome the additional weight and drag caused by the floats.

You also need to consider how safe your engine is from ingesting water. I have given this some thought and would suggest fitting a CK oil impregnated Air Filter to the carburettor. I used these in my car racing days and they did not affect engine performance unlike some, and were very efficient still in wet weather racing, so would be good unless you submersed the engine. If you do, then before running the engine again, drain all of the remaining fuel from the tank and discard it (in case of any water contamination in the fuel). Flush the engine with some WD40, and then use some after run oil having flushed out all of the WD40. It may be worthwhile considering using jack oil when you get home. Some of the model powerboat people find jack oil is better for protecting the engine between sessions. Also, consider the type of water you are flying off of. Is it salty water? i.e. sea water, or is it fed by road drainage water where roads may have been salted. Salt water is definitely bad news for model engines - and radio gear!

Okay now we are talking about radio gear let us consider protection from water ingress into the model. Consider areas such as wing/fuselage point. Donít rely upon foam tape, use silicone sealant. The best way is to place polythene on the wing, apply vaseline to fuselage facing surface of the polythene before applying silicone sealant to the fuselage. Fit the wing and ideally, with bolted on wings donít fully tighten the bolts, and banded on wings use a larger wing band so there is not so much pressure being applied. This should ensure that when properly secured the wing will be pressing gently against the sealant thus preventing ingress of water. Also do the same with any access panels or hatches, water has an uncanny way of finding its way in through all sorts of places. Apply silicone sealant at any exit points through the bulkhead around fuel tubing, and silicone grease to the throttle cable.

As additional precautions ensure that the receiver and nicad are wrapped in balloons. Also spray the servos with Silicone Grease. Common entry points for water are down the output shaft, through the servo lead grommet, and case joints if the servo does not have a gasket fitted. You can also spray any plugs and sockets, switches and leads with silicone grease. In any case straight after the session check that the radio gear is still dry. Also consider the receiver aerial, on/off switch, charging socket. Spray these too, and with regard to the receiver aerial apply silicone sealant to the end of the exit whole in the model. I also apply some to the end of the receiver aerial to protect the copper aerial inside the pvc sleeve.

To some the precautions above may sound slightly draconian but it is good safety sense. Remember you want reliability out of your equipment firstly for safety to others and yourself, and secondly for cost of replacing parts and models. In my model car racing days you could tell who had taken precautions. It was those models that had been 'waterproofed' that rarely failed to finish, even in some of the most atrocious conditions.

So have I caught the bug? Well yes I have? I am in the process of making changes to my Pupeteer to give it a bash. The waterproofing etc, is not exactly hard or going to break the bank. If I like it I can see me building other models probably scale - how about a Fairey Swordfish on floats, or a Supermarine Walrus, or Supermarine Sea Otter, or even a Spitfire! There are a whole lot of opportunities to the scale buff. If like me you like a challenge this could be the way to go. It would be nice to know if other people fly off water. Let us know at the website. We may be able to publish a list of clubs or groups, and contacts, and if you are looking to have a go put you in touch with someone near you.

For further reading there are some other float plane articles available on
Trip to the Lake!
Trip to the Lake 2 - The return of Skippy!

By: Paul Oliver