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Dan Cardís Amphibious E-LSA

First Flights

By Nick Wood, EAA 831459, nicholasmwood@gmail.com

Bringing the aircraft onto step, deployment of 10 to 20 degrees of flaps will provide for a quick liftoff from the water.

Dan Card knew he wanted to build a light-sport aircraft (LSA); he just needed to find the right one. With so many different aircraft out there it was just a matter of searching his heart and picking the best one for him. Deciding on an LSA and stepping down from private pilot to sport pilot was easy for Dan. Ten plus years of managing his home airport at Fresno Chandler Executive Airport (KFCH), and he was tired of seeing friends make “the long walk” to the lunch counter in the diner on the field. Not wanting to give up flying someday (losing his medical) and looking to his future as a sport pilot was all the motivation he would need.

When Dan began his search for a plane to build he had some criteria he knew he’d want to stick too. Favoring aircraft designed around and built using standard building practices appealed to his experience as a licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic. Dan also knew he would want side-by-side seating, roomy enough for two people and comfy enough for long cross-country excursions. While surfing the Web, Dan stumbled upon the amphibious Mermaid and would say he fell in love with it. Thinking about the Mermaid, Dan could remember being fascinated with amphibious aircraft as a kid, and after retiring from 26 years in the parks service as a ranger; Dan couldn’t help but think of all the wonderful places he and his wife could visit in the Mermaid.

Working with Danny Defelici of Wet Aero www.WetAero.com, the designer of the Mermaid and builder of the prototype, Dan received the first production Mermaid in parts and began construction in December 2005. Parts and pieces to make the fuselage, bulkheads, tail, and wings arrived from  Czech Aircraft Works, where they were previously partially assembled using the factory jigs. Dan still had much of the aircraft to build. The challenge to build the first customer-built Mermaid began with assembling the aircraft for fit and finish while meeting the individual aspects of being “the first.”


As per Dan’s “wish list,” the construction of the Mermaid is very conventional as far as riveted aluminum monocoque construction goes. With plenty of traditional rivets to squeeze and buck, the fuselage in essence emerges in one piece, from nose to vertical stabilizer, including a robust center section to which the wings attach. The V hull is reinforced with a boxed section (at the bow) that houses the nose wheel when it’s retracted and closed off by its doors. It’s also triangulated with a flat floor onto which the seats, rudder pedals, and center console get fastened. With a series of 10 bulkheads, about a foot apart, completing the structure, the hull area below the seats becomes exceedingly robust.


Center section

The wing center section extends past the cockpit just far enough to support (or be supported by, if you prefer) the repositionable (not fully retracted) hydraulically actuated main gear. The wings are attached just outside the main gear bay via three bolts in the main spar and one in the drag spar, but in each instance, there is no carry-through of either spar. The ailerons on the Mermaid are actuated by push-pull and torque tubes, not cables. The flaps stop at the butt end of the wing and do not extend through the center section and die into the fuselage. They are slotted and use a displaced hinge pivot similar to the RV-10, a Cirrus SR22, or a Lancair Legacy; not really clean, but simple. The center section is also used as a platform for supporting/carrying ancillary systems like the battery, fuel pumps and filters, strobe pack, solenoids, disconnects, and relays, but it also serves as the main attachment for the engine pylon.

Wing jig

Dan’s Mermaid is an experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) built and registered before the January 31, 2008, deadline for doing so. Sometimes called the “wild west” period, builders didn’t have to prove they built 51 percent or more of the aircraft to be entitled to the E-LSA certification, but unlike those registered experimental amateur-built, this plane has a few minor restrictions, specifically those imposed on any factory-built special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA).

Engine first fit


The Engine
Since completing his plane, Dan has become an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and the plane is a prototype for Jabiru-powered Mermaids. Working closely with other equipment-and-parts manufacturers, Dan has been able to improve upon systems particularly where the Jabiru was concerned.

The biggest challenge was getting the Jabiru’s cylinder heads and oil to stay cool. “The Jabiru 3300 works great in a tractor configuration, but when you turn it around to a pusher with a tight cowl and try to fly in hot California air, it’s a challenge,” says Dan. Of course, having Jim McCormick of Jabiru Pacific working only a few hangar rows over was a big help. “Jim McCormick has been instrumental in configuring the Jabiru for pusher use.” They also worked closely with Ben Ellison of Ellison Fluid Systems,  adapting one of his carburetors for use on the 3300.

Having revamped and modified the tight cowling numerous times, Dan is finally seeing steady oil temps in the 190° to 220° range in the air and couldn’t be happier with those numbers. However, he did have to overcome other issues, like keeping the engine cool while operating from water. Although the thought of splashing around in the water sounds cool and refreshing, amphibious aircraft follow another set of operations that are night and day from lifting off from firm ground.

Operating From Water and Keeping Cool
Dan explains that while little power is needed to glide across hard surfaces, providing enough cool air flow over the engine, the complete opposite is inherent in water operations. More power is required to push the plane through the water during the taxi, and thus more airflow is needed that’s often just not there.


The solution came from company owner Danny Defelici, who, borrowing from radio control aircraft technology, provided Dan with two turbine fan motors that mount just inside the large front cowling inlets. These small but powerful carbon-fiber fans use brushless electric motors spinning at 40,000 rpm while producing more-than-adequate cooling volume when the engine is under heavier load, or when outside air temperatures dictate. The fans are operated by a custom-built module that is “armed” by the pilot with a toggle circuit breaker built into the panel. A rheostat is then used by the pilot to control the speed and subsequent amperage draw from the little electric fan motors, as well as the resulting engine temperature drop. Although the motors draw a lot of amps when used (up to 20!), they are perfect for auxiliary airflow when taxiing on water, as they produce “leaf-blower” velocities and volume. Once aloft, they are switched off.

The Mermaid’s Jabiru 3300 powerplant is fed by two 16-gallon wing tanks draining to a centrally located and easy-to-reach selector switch with sumps between each tank and the switch. From there the fuel is pumped up to the motor.


Less challenging but equally fascinating is Dan’s exhaust manifold. Again utilizing crossover technology, the Jabiru’s exhaust stacks have been pinched at the ends with ports punched out just as you often see on motorcycles (and throughout Tony Bingelis’ book Firewall Forward). The resulting manifold combination muffler produces just the right amount of back pressure while accentuating the engine’s unique sound. When Dan taxis the Mermaid, you can almost imagine a muscle car rumbling up to the fuel pumps.

Dan’s Mermaid swings a composite Sensenich ground-adjustable composite propeller featuring a nickel-metal leading edge, which Dan explains saves the prop from harsh water operations while providing best climb-out and cruise. Dan had to work closely with the manufacturer to find the best prop to meet his individual needs with his Jabiru pusher.

The Numbers
Dan’s Mermaid currently cruises around 90 knots indicated at a 70 percent power setting. with a fuel burn of around 7-1/2 gallons per hour. With an empty weight of about 930 pounds and a gross sitting steady at 1,430 pounds, all these numbers could all be considered “good,” since there just isn’t anything else to be compared to. Considering that his aircraft meets all the regulations restricting LSA, it is remarkable to see his Mermaid as well-equipped as it is while saving weight, even with the extra weight in his super-rigid hull and added weight from repositionable landing gear. Dan still has just enough room left over to carry his iPod on every flight.

First Flight
This Mermaid’s inaugural flight took place in September  2007 and was conducted over the rural farmlands of Fresno, California. The flight was thoroughly planned out in advance and meticulously flown by Dan under expert supervision. To ensure the flight would be carried out in a way befitting a new plane and design, Dan called upon his longtime and most trusted friend for assistance. Dan insisted a chase plane be used during his first flight to keep an eye on his aircraft and its system’s, and of course who better than to fly chase than Dick Rutan?

Dick Rutan
Before Dan’s first flight a thorough preflight is conducted by famed test pilot and longtime friend Dick Rutan.

Dick Rutan
One-on-one time for a preflight briefing between Dan, who will conduct his Mermaid’s first flight, and Dick, who will fly chase with his Cessna 152.

Dick Rutan
Just before takeoff, a final look at Dan Card’s situation in the Mermaid’s cockpit while Dick Rutan gives everything a last check, with Dan’s wife watching closely.

After a two-hour preflight inspection, Dick gave Dan the okay. Dan would say, “If you are going to make your first flight in a previously untested configuration, you really need an extra pair of trustworthy eyes”.

A flight of two, Dan leads Dick as they depart FCH. Dick is in a Cessna 152 chase plane.

Dick stuck to the Mermaid like two airplanes attached at the tail, never any further than 20 feet away, keeping a keen eye on the Mermaid’s control surfaces and lending his expert advice as a test pilot.

Champagne flows in celebration of a safe and successful first flight.

To cap things off, it was Dan’s 61st birthday, and after a successful first flight and debriefing, champagne was had in celebration.

Getting Wet
Of course the day finally came to put the Mermaid exactly where it wanted to be, and the first splashdown was in November 2008. With just more than 50 hours on the Mermaid, Dan put down in the Sacramento Delta, with no surprises or fast reactions needed. The plane settled into the water gracefully, followed by a noneventful water taxi for takeoff. Dan then brought the aircraft onto step and finally lifted back out of the water. Since that first water excursion, Dan has enjoyed landing in the small lakes dotted around the surrounding mountains along Central California’s eastern range. The foothills to the east of Fresno offer numerous lakes and reservoirs to explore within short reach of Dan’s home in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

Just recently, Dan and his wife flew the Mermaid to the 30th annual Clear Lake Splash-in, California’s largest splash-in event held each September on the shores of Lakeport. Not being able to sit idle along the shores Dan took advantage of his time there with multiple trips in and out of the water, showing off for friends and fellow amphibious pilots.

Having built the Mermaid without assistance from fellow builders other than Danny Defelici, and having no manual to follow, Dan is extremely happy with his decision to be the first and has built one of the finest examples of amphibious LSA. His plane will set the standard for future Mermaid builders, but also for Jabiru engines flown in the pusher configuration. Being the first has paid off, and Dan is ready to assist others build their own. The Mermaid is now the first certified amphibious S-LSA, Dan’s is the first amphibious E-LSA, and Dan is now the director of western sales for Wet Aero, Inc.


He may be reached at dcard01@comcast.net.

Mermaid M6
$147,000 Rotax 912ULS Base Model
$168,000 fully optioned.
Prices for the Jabiru are not available at this writing.

Rotax 912 ULS 100 HP

Jabiru 3300 120 HP

U.S. standard


U.S. standard


Takeoff (grass)

511 ft.

156 m

450 ft.

137 m

Takeoff (50-foot object grass)

850 ft.

259 m

1,080 ft.

330 m

Climb rate

800 fpm

4 m/s

910 fpm

4,6 m/s

Stall speed with flaps

32 mph

52 km/h

32 mph

52 km/h

Stall speed w/o flaps

36 mph

57 km/s

36 mph

57 km/h

Cruise speed (75% power—true airspeed)

110 mph

177 km/h

118 mph

190 km/h

Never-exceed speed (Vne)

155 mph

250 km/h

155 mph

250 km/h

Range (75% power, no reserve)

450 sm

725 km

620 sm

1000 km

Endurance (no reserve)

4.5 hours


4 hours


Landing ground roll (grass)

434 ft.

132 m

434 ft

132 m


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