Flying The “SeaBear” In Russia – Part 1 of 3

SeaBear

Flying The Chaika L-44 “SeaBear” In Samara – Russia

SeaBear

Author Thomas Giegerich standing inside the SeaBear at the Krasnyi Jar Airport, which serves as HQ for SeaBear Aircraft

Written by Thomas Giegerich and shared here in three parts. Looking for a modern seaplane, suitable for long-distance travel and adventures in the outback, Thomas has been successful in Russia, on the Volga river. Here is the story of the trip in three parts.

Sometimes someone develops interests or an enthusiasm that cannot be explained easily. This was the case for me; shortly after I have started my training as a private pilot in Speyer, Germany. Even in this very early stage of this process, I found it boring to fly to neighboring airfields for a coffee and back again on the same afternoon, or maybe on the next day. This was not the reason why I wanted to become a pilot. Flying with a seaplane to remote regions far away – like Canada, Norway or Africa – that was what I wanted!

So I started to occupy myself with this topic and realized very soon that ‘standard’ seaplanes, like a Cessna Skyhawk or a Piper Cub on floats, are very slow and with limited performance – and thus also very boring: a speed decrease of 40 knots, a range that is not worth talking about, and one to two person fewer loads (when compared to the land-plane versions of these models) was simply unacceptable for realizing my plans to travel to these remote regions. So it became clear to me that the first thing I had to do was to find a suitable plane.

To my surprise, I had to realize quickly that I was looking for something that doesn’t seem to exist: Fast and modern flying boats (without the breaking floats that let the plane look like an flying brick) with sufficient payload for long flights with three guests seem not to be on the market, especially not if you are looking for a range of more than 1,000 miles and two engines – which definitely makes sense if you want to spent most of your flying time over water.

After some time searching the internet, I found the website of a Russian manufacturer called ‘Chaika’. If one could believe the – at that time not very detailed – information on this website, the company offered a flying boat called L-44, more or less exactly the plane I was looking for! After some efforts to contact the company by e-mail, followed by some difficulties resulting by the language barrier, I finally managed to receive an offer for such a plane in English. The price was surprisingly low, approximately half of the price of a new Piper PA-28, so my interest was growing bigger. The name of my contact person at Chaika was Dmitry, the director of the company.

If my investigations were right, the L-44 seems to be a design of the early 2000’s, based on the design of the LA-8 from AeroVolga. The L-44 has been manufactured in small numbers (up to now approx. 30) that are all operated only in Russia. If the licensing of such a plane is possible in Germany, Europe or if the rest of the world is do-able is hard to say as it depends on several parameters. However, all this cannot be clarified from a distance, especially when considering the communication problems we had at that time. The best information I could get was based on information found on Facebook and on YouTube videos – not very reliable sources! It became obvious to me that the only way to get reliable information was to travel to Russia…

Chaika is located in Samara, the sixth largest city in Russia and one of the industrial and cultural centers of the former Soviet region. During this time, Samara was called Kuibyschew and was a closed city, mainly because the manufacturing of rockets and rocket engines was done there, and with limited access for foreigners. Even today, Samara is still the center of the Russian space industry: Rocket engines are manufactured in two companies and also the Soyuz rocket is manufactured there, the most often used rocket in the world.

Samara, Russia – Click on the image to see it on Google Maps

After the exchange of some emails, where I agreed with Dmitry on a visit and on a suitable time for my visit, a flight was booked quickly. The flight times were not very convenient but the flight was very cheap; and this was most important for me as I was not completely sure if the visit would really take place – my respect for the well-known Russian visa formalities was the main reason for this. However, in the end all this was successful, thanks to the support from Dmitry. My flight from Frankfurt International Airport to Samara via Prague took place at the beginning of August. I arrived in Samara Kurumotsch International Airport (ICAO: UWWW) very early (at 4 in the morning) and I was curious to see if I wiwould be picked up as promised. So far, I did not have any idea where to sleep and what would be the planed program for the following two days, but let’s see!

Before anything else could happen I had to pass through immigration which took me more than one hour. This was a good start of my first visit in Russia! When I entered the arrival hall, I was delighted when I saw my name on a sign. Two people were waiting for me: The first one was Dmitry, I knew him from pictures, and the second one was someone I did not know. Later I learned it was Valentin, a designer that works for Dmitry and speaks very good English. He would be the translator during my visit. Valentin is also responsible for the promotion of the L-44.

After 45 minutes in Dmitry’s SUV, we arrived on a small airport some kilometers outside Samara, called Krasnyi Jar. On some hangars in bright yellow colour I could decode the name ‘AeroVolga’. On the apron, beside a small taxiway, some of the large eight-seat aircraft from AeroVolga (LA-8) are parked and also three machines of the Chaika L-44. Valentin told me that the L-44 is manufactured on two different locations, here in Krasnyi Jar (in cooperation with AeroVolga) and directly in Samara, where mainly GRP work is being done.

Also here on the airport is a white-red striped building which turned out to be generous guesthouse, where we will spend the rest of the short night. I am surprised how large the rooms are: the room lasts over two levels with the bedroom being on the upper level. An air conditioner is available to fight against the hot and humid air that is typical for this region in early August. A big flying day would be to come and I hope you join me for it in part 2, next Friday!

Thomas Giegerich is 33 years old and works in the field of nuclear fusion in a large research centre in Germany. In 2016 he discovered his interest for water flying and joined the German Water Flying Association. Completing his private pilot’s license in 2017, he then joined a flying club in Speyer, Germany, where he is flying Piper PA-28 and an Evector SportStar. Interested in the SeaBear, he is now collaborating with the manufacturer to see about bringing this aircraft to the European market.

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