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Fri, Apr 28, 2006

Seawind Clears Big Hurdle On Long March To Certification

Seats Pass FAA Part 23 Crash Standards; Company Hopes For Full Cert By End Of Year

If there's someone better qualified to say that the race to receiving FAA certification of a new airplane is a marathon -- not a sprint -- Seawind President Richard Silva would probably want to talk to them, and swap some war stories. Silva has been trying to get his Seawind 300C amphibian -- previously available in kit-built form -- FAA-certified for over three years. The company had originally expected certification by summer 2004.

But like the Energizer Bunny, Seawind is still going two years later -- still plugging away, and meeting with some success. In fact, the company recently celebrated a major achievement towards that goal -- meeting the FAA's Part 23 crash-test certification requirements on the forward and aft seats.

Why are those tests significant? Silva says there are several reasons, not the least of which is the unique design and cabin layout of the Seawind.

"Many people have asked why we didn’t use an existing design?" Silva said. "...I wanted the Seawind to have seats that are as versatile as the aircraft. The forward seat can be moved the full length of the cabin. It can be moved full forward for easy entry to the rear seats or for sleeping in the Seawind camper version... The seats also had to be moveable full aft for easy entry to the front for swimming as well as standing up for fishing."

"[M]ost people do not realize how stringent the regulations are," Silva continued. "The forward seats must sustain a crash load of 26g (26 times the force of gravity) forward with the floor severely twisted. It must also absorb a 19 g vertical crash test at a 60 degree angle. Not only does the structure have to withstand these loads, the anatomic dummy must also survive without its spine load exceeding 1500 pounds."

"By comparison, an airline seat need only withstand a forward crash load of 14g even though the crash speed is far faster. Airline seats have much greater headroom and are fixed to the floor making the design much simpler."

Silva added the forward seatbacks in the Seawind also hold the shoulder belts, necessitating a seat structure and floor tracks strong enough to carry the upper body load. The seats also recline for comfort on long-haul flights.

"Well, we made it!" Silva said. "Thanks go to the skill of our engineering staff and their collaboration with the FAA staff CAMI test facility in Oklahoma City."

According to the Seawind website, the company expects to begin flight testing with the FAA certification testbed aircraft at the end of April. The test aircraft will first be flown to the Baker Aviation test team’s facility. Seawind adds that Baker has certified a number of land and seaplane STCs and new models in Canada.

Seawind says that Baker estimates four to five months to complete VFR certification, which includes flutter and spin testing. (The certification tests will be put on hold for Oshkosh at the end of July, so the company can display the FAA test plane.)

The test team has then allowed another month to complete IFR and autopilot certification, with "probably" another thirty days to process the paper work, during which time they are also scheduled to complete the FADEC certification for the plane's Continental engine.

To date, Seawind reports 64 customers have ante'd up deposits for their own 300C... and despite the significant delays in certification, only two customers have withdrawn their money.

"We are late for a reason," Silva writes on the Seawind website. "It is also to let you know that if we uncover a problem, we will correct it. Our goal is to provide not only the best airplane that we can, but the best seaplane in the world."

"The evolution of an intelligent design goes on, and we won’t give up," he added.

FMI: www.seawind.net

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