Typically, planes land on solid runways usually made of tarmac or grass. Planes can also land on snow. You may also be aware that certain planes can land on water.
So, what are planes that can land on water called?
A plane capable of landing on water is known as a seaplane. The seaplane is a water-landing aircraft that lands like a boat in the water. A floatplane is a type of seaplane that lands and takes off from the water by using floats or pontoons. These planes are also sometimes known as sea boats.
The very thought of a certain type of plane being able to land on water seems like a very strange concept. But in reality, seaplanes land on the water every day.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about seaplanes and what they are capable of. Speaking of planes landing on water, if you enjoy that concept, you’ll love our article on what is the Mile High Club because there’s a funny and true story about that every thing and it’s not what you might expect!
To compile the technical information for this article, we have spent many hours researching this topic in depth with aviation experts, especially seaplane and floatplane pilots.
You’re in safe hands!
Table of Contents
How Can Planes Land On Water?
If you’re used to a plane landing on solid ground and coming to a safe stop, the idea of an aircraft landing on water might sound completely crazy to you.
But it’s not! So, how is it possible for certain planes to safely land on water without sinking to the bottom?
It all comes down to the design of the airplane’s landing gear section. A plane’s landing gear is the part of the plane that the aircraft lands on.
Typically, the landing gear for most planes is a set of wheels that allow it to travel down the runway to take off or land.
However, for planes that need to land on water, they need to be fitted with special landing gear called floats or pontoons.
So these water-based aircraft land on the water on their floats or pontoons, and they keep the plane buoyant on the water. These planes are called floatplanes because they use their landing gear to float on the water.
There is a less popular type of plane that lands on the water using its entire hull or fuselage (“the belly”). This type of plane is known as a seaplane. More detail on this is below.
Seaplanes and Floatplanes Comparison
All over the globe, the terms seaplane and floatplane are often used interchangeably as synonyms. They can be used incorrectly.
So, in this article, we’ll clear up any confusion as we explain the differences between seaplanes and floatplanes.
What Are Seaplanes?
To describe “flying boats”, people located in the US tend to use the word seaplane to generically describe any plane that is capable of landing in water.
To use the correct term, we need to look at the mechanism that the aircraft uses to land on the water.
Technically, a seaplane does not have floats or pontoons attached as landing gear. It simply lands on the water, resting on its hull. So, another way of looking at this is that it’s like a simple boat with wings!
A seaplane uses powerful engines to take off from water and also land on it.
What Are Floatplanes?
Most people actually picture a floatplane when they think about aircraft that can land on water. Instead of wheels, the landing gear of floatplanes is floats or pontoons.
Some people think it looks like the plane lands on skis. In fact, skis are another type of interchangeable landing gear that planes have to land on snow or ice.
Floatplanes are regarded as being more versatile because there are more configuration options open to the pilot in terms of choosing which landing gear to attach to the aircraft.
A seaplane doesn’t have any other options besides landing on its fuselage.
Floatplanes can use their special landing gear to taxi, take off and land in the water. For safety, floatplanes tend to take off and land a little bit of a distance away from the main docking area.
The floats or pontoons that floatplanes have as landing gear are the only parts of the aircraft that should touch the water.
This is different from the seaplanes discussed above because a seaplane’s hull floats on the water just like a boat.
Can Waterplanes (Seaplanes or Floatplanes) Land On Regular Runways?
No, seaplanes and floatplanes are not designed to land on a normal runway (grass or asphalt).
The only exception would be if the seaplane or floatplane was fitted with special landing gear, but in reality, this doesn’t happen often.
If a seaplane or floatplane attempted to make an emergency landing on a normal solid runway, there would be a much higher risk of a crash landing.
The floats, pontoons, or hull would most likely be ripped apart on touchdown, and the plane could flip over, resulting in casualties or fatalities.
An ordinary aircraft can attempt to make an emergency landing on water if there are no regular runways within reach.
Usually, seaplanes and floatplanes tend to fly mostly over water, and they don’t stray too far inland. In an emergency situation, a waterplane will always be better off trying to land on water instead of a regular runway.
What Is An Amphibious Plane?
When an aircraft is restricted to only landing on or taking off from one particular runway surface type, ground, or water, it’s a slightly limiting factor for the use of that aircraft.
What if there was an airplane that can land on either land or water? There actually is!
An amphibious plane is an aircraft that has special landing gear that allows the plane to take off or land on either solid ground or water. The landing gear for an amphibious plane contains retractable gear that has been custom retrofitted.
An amphibious plane does, however, come with some downsides. They have more weight restrictions than other aircraft, and this often means they have a shorter range due to carrying less fuel than usual.
So, it’s usually safer, more cost-effective, and fuel-efficient for aircraft to stick to what they have been designed for.
In other words, ordinary aircraft should take off from or land on solid ground. Seaplanes (flying boats/waterplanes/floatplanes) should stick to landing on or taking off from water.
One of the possible reasons why flight MH370 can’t be found is because it likely went down over a large area of water. The aircraft wasn’t designed to land on water.
I hope this article has cleared up the main differences between regular airplanes and seaplanes.