Complex may be the best one-word description of the hull. The deeply veed main part of the hull morphs into a pair of wide sponsons on each side. The inner section of each sponson has flattish chines, and the outer section is softer in shape. At rest in the water, the inner section is fully submerged, and the outer acts like the amas of a trimaran, so the Seastar doesn’t require floats at the wing tips for stability. The sponsons also hold all the fuel, which keeps the center of gravity very low.
As soon as the Seastar starts to move, the inner sections of the sponsons generate tremendous lift to pop the aircraft onto a plane for fast and short takeoffs. Landing is just the opposite: The deep-V kisses the water first and the sponsons continue to soften the process as the aircraft drops into displacement mode.
Getting aboard from the wide, non-slip surface of the sponson is equally well planned, with a large gullwing door for the pilot and a wide hatch into the cabin from the port side. Skippers will be amused by several surprises. First is the mooring cleat next to the pilot’s door. A boarding ladder is hidden under a locker on the sponson and, while it is primarily for dry land, it doubles for swimming, although I’d like a rinse-off shower nearby.
Settled in the cockpit, there are more surprises in store. First, the power controls are mounted on a pedestal between the pilots, unlike most seaplanes, which have the throttles hanging from the overhead at eye level.
Second, there were an unusual number of warning lights for the landing gear, which makes sense because landing on the water with your wheels down is the one Bozo No-No of seaplanes. This particular plane had a classic aircraft avionics panel with round gauges, but future Seastars will have a full glass cockpit with interfaced monitors.
Power for the Seastar comes from a pair of inline Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprops. These Dash 135A versions put out about 650-shaft horsepower and are the same as those used in the Beechcraft King Air 90. Taking off from the Punta Gorda, Florida, airport where Dornier is based was effortless, and I was impressed with the low noise level. Even at full takeoff power, the cabin was far quieter than I would have expected with two big turboprops howling away just overhead. McClellan was up in the right seat, and his first-time landing on Charlotte Harbor was soft and impressive, although his many years as a racing sailor give him a good eye for wind and sea. The Seastar takes off from water in less than 2,500 feet and, even with one engine out, still climbs at almost 500 feet per minute.
The Gulf of Mexico glittered in the sun beyond Captiva and Sanibel Islands and, with a lazy “Why not?” we headed out to sea. It was a calm day and so—get this— we landed so far out that Florida was just a haze on the horizon. We touched down, killed the two engines and were enveloped in silence. Aside from the faint tink-tink of cooling engines, the only sound was the slap of water on the hull. Joe Walker popped open the rear hatch and handed out icy soft drinks from the fridge. We all stepped out onto the sponson, which was our private porch in the shade of the wing, somewhere in the middle of the ocean.
The Seastar has a high-speed cruise of 180 knots and, with a fuel capacity of 458 gallons, a range of 700 miles is reasonable, depending on the load.
Driving home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities. Land somewhere in the Bahamas and put the nose on a deserted beach for a picnic and a swim before flying home. Drop a Royal Coachman fly in front of a rainbow trout on an isolated mountain lake, explore the Sea of Cortez in grand style, or catch up with your yacht wherever it happens to be.
Dornier Seaplane Company, (800) 590-9667; www.dornierseaplane.com