Brash, over the top, totally impractical—and absolutely irresistible. This Waco YMF-5F (N56ED) is the first of the modern biplanes handmade in Battle Creek, Michigan, to set upon amphibious floats—it’s a mind bender. On its four wheels, the big, candy apple-red biplane is mountainous. On the water, it glides serenely, its 300-horsepower radial engine rumbling with the calm assurance that it can roar into the air at a moment’s notice.
And wherever it goes, this rock-star biplane turns pilots into paparazzi as they reflexively grab their smart phones to record photos and video.
I flew with Bowers from AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, to the season-ending AOPA Fly-In at Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, Florida, in the float Waco—and he wasn’t exaggerating about the airplane’s magnetism. Fishermen on lakes, watercraft riders on rivers, and especially pilots at airports, all approached the airplane with the same mix of awe, curiosity, and gushing admiration. They’re powerless to resist the airplane’s gravitational pull.
Those who know Waco well are likely to realize this isn’t the first floatplane YMF.
Waco built a non-amphibious, full-time floatplane in 1999 but didn’t seek FAA certification. Still, those involved in the program learned a great deal from it.
“That first floatplane had a less powerful engine, a less efficient fixed-pitch prop, and smaller floats,” Bowers said. “Also, it was a full-IFR airplane that was significantly heavier, so its performance suffered.”
This time, in addition to the bigger engine and constant-speed prop, Waco lightened the airframe and saved weight on the panel, interior, and wherever else they could. They even switched to a 14-volt electrical system from a 28-volt for a smaller battery.
“It’s also easier to jump a 12-volt battery on a lake with a ski boat than it is to bring a 28-volt power cart from the FBO,” he said.
The floatplane has a 454-pound payload with full fuel, and Bowers said he hopes to sell some to ride operators in seaside locations, resorts, and private individuals. It’s also creating more interest in high-powered, lightweight versions of the company’s wheel airplanes—and it showcases the craftsmanship of the company’s technicians who are widely recognized for their flying works of art.
This first amphibious Waco floatplane was flying under the Experimental category at the time of our evaluation, and there was more testing to do before the FAA added the airplane’s many mods to the company’s type certificate. Bowers said Waco intends to keep this N56ED for flight testing and marketing, and learn how to improve it over time.
Find out how it flies in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot.