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The Piper Aztec on floats

Rich Hulina reports on Air Muskoka’s elegant Nomad – first published summer 2000

Piper Aztec C-GFOB

Nomad C-GFOB overnighting at a wilderness camp in the foothills of the Cassiar mountain range, Yukon Territory. (Landair Ltd. photo)

The unique, little-known conversion of putting floats on a Piper Aztec was developed in 1967 by Melridge Aviation of Vancouver, Washington. Known as the Aztec Nomad, the plane was designed by Clayton Scott, head of Boeing’s production flight test department for 25 years before he started engineering new floatplane installations. The Aztec, an offspring of the Piper Apache, was a successful landplane for business and pleasure. The Cessna 195 and Howard were other examples of Scott’s conversion projects before trying the Aztec. Approximately a dozen Nomads were delivered.

In 1981, Dave Gronfors of Air Muskoka purchased the Nomad STC from Melridge Aviation. Although Dave has held the STC for almost 20 years, marketing to potential operators met with resistance, as the conversion always priced out a lot higher than a Beaver. However, with the passage of time, the Aztec’s cost hasn’t increased to anywhere near the exorbitant prices being paid for a Beaver these days. In fact, a Nomad can be had for about the same price as a good Cessna 185.

The Aztec rides on Edo 4930s and seats a pilot plus five passengers and their gear. With an 1,800-pound useful load, there isn’t much the Nomad can’t carry. The aircraft is powered by two Lycoming IO-540s producing 250 hp at 2,575 rpm. The recommended TBO is 2,000 hours. Everyone is trying to achieve better performance with their seaplanes, and Gronfors is dramatically improving the Nomad’s takeoff performance with new propellers designed by Hartzell. The expected 30% increase in static thrust should have the aircraft jumping onto the step.

Aztec models C and up or having serial number 2,505 or higher can be converted to floats. Air Muskoka completely removes the landing gear to save 150 pounds and make the aircraft a true floatplane. Conversion takes approximately 1,000 person-hours and includes the addition of a left-side pilot door to allow access to either side for docking. An Aztec and a pair of Edo 4930s can be provided to Air Muskoka for conversion; however, Dave doesn’t encourage it, because unexpected surprises may be found inside an aircraft that add more cost to the process. Typically, US$100,000 will cover the work, subject to a complete inspection.

The nose and rear baggage compartments are accessible from the right side only. They can carry a total of 300 pounds in a combined area of 41 cubic feet. The standard rear baggage door measures approximately 30 inches by 32 inches and tapers toward the top. An oversize aft cargo door can be installed–71.5 inches at the bottom tapering toward the top and rear following the fuselage lines.

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