Take the deep-V hull from a high-performance offshore racing powerboat, slap wings on it, and then fill it with the posh interior of a business jet. The result is the Dornier Seastar, which opens vistas never considered, even if you’re already flying by private aircraft. Imagine, if you will, that you want to go bonefishing in the Keys. You’d have to fly or drive down there, rent a boat, and spend a chunk of time getting out to the flats. The Seastar lets you just fly down, land on the water near the flats, and—by the way—the wing makes a terrific casting platform.
Perhaps your boat is at anchor in the Exumas. Getting there is going to be, well, ugly. Airports, connections, and finally a boat ride to your anchorage. The Seastar can land next to your boat and taxi right up to it. Want to make a grand entrance for your getaway weekend at Palm Island or Necker Island? You can’t do better than arriving by Seastar. The thing about the Seastar that works so well with the yachting lifestyle is that it is a true amphibian: It can land and take off with equal grace from land or water.
So, why aren’t there more seaplanes? Up until now, the seaplane has been limited by its basic construction. Face it, riveted aluminum and salt water are just not a happy combination. But the Seastar is built from fiberglass just like a boat, and the one-piece hull won’t corrode or leak.
According to Mac McClellan, editor of our sister publication, Flying, an airplane operated in salt water must undergo a total overhaul with major parts replaced every two or three years. Even with an intensive maintenance schedule and freshwater baths after ocean landings, a metal seaplane is always under attack from corrosion. The high-gloss fiberglass construction of the Seastar reduces the maintenance requirements to a fraction of those for conventional seaplanes.
Dornier is no newcomer to aviation. The Dornier family has built more than 10,000 aircraft over the past century, including more than 1,000 seaplanes. Before World War II, Claude Dornier built a number of seaplanes, including an immense transoceanic flying boat with 10 engines and a wingspan larger than that of a 747. As fiberglass became accepted in aircraft, Dornier began developing the Seastar in the early 1980s and, by 1991, had certification from the FAA, as well as German authorities. Unfortunately, the project was put on hold when the company was sold and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that Conrado Dornier brought the project back on line.
Since the basic fuselage has been approved for construction in Germany, the company is building the hulls there and finishing the build in the States. But Joe Walker, the CEO of Dornier Seaplane Co. (and former sales head at both Gulfstream and Citation) is setting up production facilities near Montreal to build the entire aircraft. Meanwhile, another Seastar will fly this year, and six more in 2011. The company has deposits for more than 50 Seastars, some of which will go to private owners and some to remote or island resorts that want guests to arrive in style.
The Seastar passenger cabin is 18 feet long, or more than five feet longer than a Cessna Caravan. The cabin, at five feet, seven inches, is also wider than the King Air by more than a foot. And the headroom of four feet, six inches is more than that of the Caravan. The aircraft that McClellan and I flew is number two, and it was fitted with the standard nine-passenger interior, equipped with supremely comfortable UltraSuede seats, highgloss burled-wood bulkheads, and carpets befitting a Rolls-Royce. Dornier also offers a luxury six-passenger interior, which ups the amenities with an enclosed head, or another configuration, a high-density interior for up to a dozen passengers plus their luggage. Our preflight walk-around revealed some fascinating details. Seastar has a parasol wing, which stands on struts, giving the propellers clearance above the cabin. The twin-turboprop engines are in a push-pull arrangement in line with each other. The engines rotate in the same direction but, because one is reversed, the propellers are contra-rotating for better efficiency. By keeping the engines centered over the hull, the rolling moment is reduced, enhancing stability on the water, and the height keeps the engines and propellers far away from salt water.