August 1, 2007 With disposable income levels running high, expensive hobbies like aviation are coming within the reach of more and more people – and hobby pilots are discovering that small planes are coming down to a price point on a par with a touring motorcycle or midrange car. Owning a small plane has its drawbacks though – storing and transporting them can be difficult, not to mention the fact that you need an airstrip to take off and land from. The Italian Ramphos, however, suffers none of these issues. It’s an amphibious flying boat that’s just as happy taking off and landing on water as on land with its retractable wheels. You can tow it around on a trailer, and like the best of late-night TV exercise equipment, it folds for easy storage. This purpose-built little 2-seater is effortlessly easy to fly, handles like a dream and offers a very affordable, practical and exhilarating way to explore the local lakes and coastlines with maximum thrills for minimum fuss.

The Ramphos is a slightly confused-looking air/land/sea vehicle – imagine a hang-glider that’s crashed into a boat with retractable wheels. This configuration may look odd, but it allows pilots the option of taking off and landing either on a nice flat runway or a body of water, opening up a lot of interesting sightseeing opportunities around the coastline and making it one of the most practical leisure vehicles around.

Takeoff from the water is a breeze – get up to about 30-40 knots and work the control bar forward and back to break free from the water surface. From standstill to airborne can take as little as 8 seconds in the right conditions and the Ramphos will launch in waves up to 50cm or so. Once in flight, it cruises at around 50 knots and the topless wing makes it stable and easy to fly. “Hands off and the Ramphos was completely stable,” noted Australian imported Rod Tyson, “the controls were precise and you don't need to be a gorilla to make the thing change from a right turn 45 degree bank to a 45 deg left bank.”

The landing gear doesn’t rely on any electronics – you simply pull on the brake lever to release a locking mechanism, and push the landing gear downward with a lever. Clear covered ports on the floor let you visually confirm the wheels are down and locked before they hit the ground. Landing on water is even easier than on a runway, allowing you the opportunity to drop the jaws of unwary locals as you swoop in from the sky, land in the water and drive straight up the beach. Tyson did just this after a recent 500ft high jaunt over the Sydney Harbor Bridge, cruising up out of the water in front of a group of amazed locals at nearby Manly beach.

Tyson says the two-seater’s large and comfortable enough to fit “two big blokes” with “heaps of room.” The open canopy gives you an almost 360-degree panorama as you fly, making it pretty much the ultimate sightseeing leisure craft. It can be fitted with training bars and a foot operated throttle for use in flight instruction.

When it’s time to park the vehicle, the wings fold back, reducing a 15 foot width to basically the width of the hull and making the Ramphos garage-friendly for storage. Opening the wing back out takes no more than 10 minutes and is a simple operation.

As usual there’s plenty of options available – the Hydro comes without the wheels, the Trident comes with unpowered wheels and the Sonic is the full banana incorporating the German Sonic trike. You can choose from 65hp or 80hp Rotax motors; Ramphos is also looking to offer a Mercedes-Benz Smart engine as a further option, but this is not yet production-ready.

An Australian license to fly your own Ramphos, including the amphibious endorsement, can be obtained through Tyson’s FreeFlying school in QLD. You’ll also need a boat license in many areas. Australian pricing starts from around AUD$40,000 plus GST, and international enquiries should contact head office in Italy.

Note: we'll hopefully get a much closer look at the Ramphos next week, and maybe the chance to tell you how it flies. Watch this space.

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