Feathercraft Aironaut

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Jake
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Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jake »

I’ve learned that Doug Simpson, owner of now defunct Feathercraft has a couple of gently used Aironauts available. Based on my criteria for portability, light weight, durability and paddle-ability I had narrowed my choices to the Innova Safari 330 and Twist 2/1 but at just 20 pounds and reputed to paddle with the efficiency of a hard shell, the Aironaut has my renewed interest. However it seems that more than one Aironaut suffered seam failure and it appears that this might be the boat’s Achilles heel. Or the problem might have been limited to just a few early examples. Does anyone out there know anything about this? On the other hand, I’m now thinking that Gumotex/Innova is the way to go; they’ve been successfully making inflatables for a long time. Feathercraft came up with an elegant design but, perhaps, without the ability to execute it properly.

Jeremiah
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jeremiah »

Hi Jake,

That Aironaut continues to haunt your dreams! It's interesting that Doug still has some Aironauts to sell. How did you find this out? I wonder if he has other gently used kayaks to sell. I also heard of some seam failures in the Aironaut but I would love to know the numbers sold compared to the number of Aironauts with issues. Also, if this problem surfaced how repairable is it. This is not a definitive answer to your question but I thought that if the Aironaut (single) was not a successful design (performance, reliability) then they would not have created the Aironaut double kayak ( short lived because Feathercraft closed their shop).

My one question to Doug would be about ease of repair if a blowout occurred. Otherwise you might want to stay with Innova in your search for an inflatable.

Jake
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jake »

Hello Jeremiah,

I got in touch with Doug Simpson to replace a cracked bow rib. I had effected a repair with cyanoacrylate (aka super glue) but because the Kurrent might soon be going on to a new owner, the right thing was to simply replace the damaged rib with a new one. Anyway, I mentioned the Aironaut and how much I admired it’s design. In his reply, Doug said that he still had three Aironauts, one new boat ($2500cdn) and two “slightly” used models ($1500 cdn). Going through the archives, I came across a post from an Aironaut owner who experienced two seam failures in two different Aironauts. As these blown seams are not repairable, the damage is catastrophic, thus rendering the boat useless. This is troublesome and gives me pause in considering the purchase of one of Doug’s Aironauts.

Jeremiah
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jeremiah »

A catastrophic, unrepairable seem failure would scare anyone from buying a kayak, no matter how nice it might be, and Feathercraft always made just beautiful kayaks to stir your desires. One of those used Aironauts would be tempting but I don't blame you for being hesitant. Feathercraft's welding technique was supposed to be much stronger than glueing but maybe the blown seem issue was more a result of the complicated process of making an Aironaut, as mentioned in a previous post. Still, I'd like to know numbers, as in how many of these kayaks failed to numbers sold. I suppose people would consider this topic beating that dead horse but there will always be thosed used Aironauts around to stir the emotions.

Jake
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jake »

I emailed Doug and told him of my concerns about the blown seam incidents. The thought did cross my mind that this might have been a reason for FC discontinuing production of the Aironaut sometime before they actually ceased production entirely. I think that Doug is a straight-up guy and will likely be candid in his reply.

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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jeremiah »

Good of you to contact Doug with your concerns. I hope you will post his reply. It's not just the Aironaut subject but I'd love to hear anything from him. If he wrote a book about the history of Feathercraft I'd consider it a must read!

onsafari
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by onsafari »

It's certainly a lot of money to blow if indeed it is an inherent problem. I thought though that the guy with the seam failures linked it to, if not user error, then overreliance on the PRVs to do their purging work while the boats were in full sun. To achieve the low weight, feathercraft went with a thinner fabric than the industry standard (let's use Grabner as the exemplar as their boats run the same pressures). 420 denier to Grabner's 990 (converted from their quoted 1,100 decitex) on the hull and just 210 on the top and sides. The aironaut is urethane as opposed to Grabner's rubber so I'm not sure if that's truly apples with apples, but even if urethane is a bit stronger than rubber (and I'm not sure it is) you'd have to say that 4.5 psi in a 420 denier tube is going to need more careful handling than 4.5 psi in a 990 denier tube - Grabner, who interestingly don't use PRVs at all, say that the pressure doubles very quickly in the sun and that while their boats can withstand 9 psi for a short period it's better for durability to reduce the pressure.

You could always change the PRVs for ones that start to purge earlier, although that might fatally compromise handling, or just be super diligent and always partially deflate the boat when you're out of the water.
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Jake
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jake »

I did get a reply from Doug Simpson confirming that a couple of Aironaut owners experienced seam failures with their boats and these were unrepairable, thus my use of the term “catastrophic”. He advised that some air be released when the boat was out of the water in full sun. He didn’t mention the pressure relief valves that should have automatically released air when the pressure exceeded the Aeronaut’s 5psi maximum. Perhaps that kind of air pressure is just too much for conventional glued or welded seams except for boats using drop-stitch technology. That might be why Gumotex kayaks all seem specified for 3psi with the exception of their new Thaya. Without knowing how many Aironauts were sold, the report of a couple of seam failures is almost meaningless yet it can’t help but make one a bit uneasy about purchasing a new or used Aironaut, both of which Doug has in stock. The Aironaut’s very light weight is quite attractive but then I realize that such lightness is achieved by using 420 denier urethane coated nylon in the fabrication of the hull. The Gumotex Safari, on the other hand, is made with a 1200 denier Nitrilon coated polyester. My decision as to what inflatable I’ll be paddling on Tampa Bay next winter will require a bit more thought. By the way, I’ve noticed that there are a few photographs posted in the classified section of this forum of a lightly used Aironaut. A unique boat.

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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut for sale

Post by ChrisvonS »

If anyone's interested, just spotted a little-used Aironaut on ebay.uk
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm//264756597536

Not far from me and I'm looking for a new IK myself, but for the reasons given above, it's not the boat for me.
Setting aside the tippiness and decking, a long solo IK made from thin fabric needs high pressure not to fold in the middle, but the seams weren't up to it, even with full PRVs (I'm just repeating what's probably been said to remind myself not to buy it ;-)

btw, I was just looking at Grabners again this morning and noticed their very long IKs (bigger than Holidays) do have PRVs.
Perhaps it's down to larger volumes of air/larger surface areas potentially making pressures great enough to need protection.


Talking of FS, a mate in Scotland is selling my old Grabner Amigo for 400 quid. Solid as a brick and not a PRV to be seen!
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Jake
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jake »

I’ve pretty much given up on the Aironaut (for this week, anyway). I treat my boats gently but, even so, the Aironaut’s 420 denier hull seems less durable than I’d be comfortable with. I’d also prefer an inflatable without a fixed deck, something that I could fall into and roll out of and though a deck might be a nice thing on a cool, rainy day, the inflatable will mostly be used in Gulf Coast waters in the winter months where such days are rare. The rest of the year I paddle hard shells in New Jersey waters though that, too, may soon change as I turn to a light weight, SOF folding kayak as my principle cockleshell.I recently talked with Lee Arbach @ The Boat People about Innova’s newest inflatables, the Rush 1 & 2. He seemed cautious about this new hybrid mix of drop stitch and standard inflatable construction and perhaps a bit dubious. But that’s the sort of guy Lee is and he doesn’t want to push something onto a customer that he himself has yet to become confident with. As he said, time will tell.

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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by ChrisvonS »

I see there are a couple of bids on the Airo. Good luck to them!

Yes I read Lee seemed ambivalent about the Rush but D/S isn't so new anymore, as millions of iSUPs prove.
And D/S (or anything) with Nitrilon appeals to me more than PVC, let alone bladders.
I noted Lee was oddly lukewarm about the Seawave too, one of the best Gumboats of all time (if you like that sort of thing).
The Rush 2 is no faster or lighter.

I do wonder how the flat floors of D/S IKs will work, slapping down on choppy seas, compared to curved I-beam hulls, although no IK cuts through the water like a marlin.
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kayak3r
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by kayak3r »

Hi I am chipping in to this thread because I am selling my aironaut and I already got three people mention about the "certain death" potential of using an aironaut because of the "catastrophic failure" of the models construction.

But first, a little story about airplanes.

I have most of my hours of Private Pilot on a PA38 aka the Tomahawk.

When designing the Tomahawk Piper interviewed thousands of airmen, instructors, pilots and so on and so forth. They all came up with the same idea: make a plane less forgiving, a plane that mimics the characteristics of larger planes ad requires heavier inputs, a plane that makes better pilots.

So the Tomahawk was born, with a wing designed by the NASA and the plane was an immediate hit and an alternative to the high wing planes of the time, that were so easy to pilot that you could literally not bring them down.

People started flying the Tommies like if they were Cessnas, specially being cavalier and foolish with them, and died.

So the Tomahawk was quickly referred as the "Traumahawk". Even Piper, with certain pressure from the FAA, had to modify their wings by installing strips that compensated for fools stalling the plane and spinning it out of control all the way to their graves.

Still to date, people badmouth the Tomahawk, while I still love it. But the peculiar characteristic is that almost all the people who refer to the Tomahawk as a death trap have never flown in one.

Back to the Aironaut now.

I am yet to see ONE SINGLE PICTURE of a blown up Aironaut. And in the meantime people talk and talk and talk, and I suspect none of the owners are the ones doing the talking.

Since the matter does not seem to go away, I took the bull by the horns and asked A. the Feathercraft dealer in Sweden who sold me mine, a wonderful honest guy named Per, and B. The owner of Feathercraft, Doug Simpson.

Per response was:

Nice to hear from you. I have no experience about the comments around Aironaut, short after the introduction the business went down for Feathercraft and some models was disappeared from the program. Like you say people have comments about things they don’t use or know anything about. It is like French or Italian cars, selling well in Sweden etc.

Best regards

Per

Doug response:

The problems people have had have generally occurred when the boat has been left out in the sun on a beach, not on the water.
We have found that if you let off some air this can be avoided. We have a small fleet of these boats and enjoy them immensely.

Good luck,

Doug

So this does it for me. The kayak is good, people are bad. And people like to badmouth whatever they cannot have, armchair critics so to say.

Regards

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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by gbellware »

kayak3r,
Nice story, and I completely agree. I had the good fortune to visit Feathercraft before they closed and Doug gave me the nickel tour with an emphasis on how he fabricated the inflatables. The design and engineering is remarkable and I believe that he stopped making them not because they had any inherent problem but, rather, because they were so expensive to fabricate, even though he was leaning in to the only growth segment of the "folder" market with the Aeronaut.
Just don't leave an inflated boat of any kind out of the water and in the sun. And don't let your wing tip stall. And don't buy a Porsche 911 and then complain that the back seat is too small. Sheesh.
g (for grumpy, sometimes)
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Jake
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by Jake »

I thought that, in concept, the Aironaut could be a superb inflatable kayak even going so far as to call Theresa at FC with credit card in hand ready to place my order. But she told me then that they had decided to drop the Aironaut from production. Seems like it was too labor intensive to allow a decent profit. So, no more Aironauts and a short time later no more Feathercraft either. I can see no reason why anyone, especially on this forum, would fabricate a report describing a “catastrophic failure” to the hull integrity of the Aironaut if such were not the case and so I assume that these were actual events. To be fair, I don’t know how many Aironauts were manufactured and sold. If, say, one hundred were produced and the purported failure occurred with just two boats, I think it would be reasonable to accept a risk factor of just two percent as acceptable. And the problem could have been caused by faulty relief valves. One owner reported that the relief valves on his Aironaut failed to blow even when the pressure exceeded the maximum 5PSI. He replaced the valves and, apparently, that solved the problem. A more significant concern to me regards the durability of the Aironaut’s hull material. So as to make the boat as lightweight as possible, the hull is fabricated using a combination of 420 and 210 denier material. By contrast, the hull of my Kurrent 2.0 was fabricated from 840 denier material. A 19 pound kayak sounds like a wonderful thing but not so much when one must be overly cautious about “touching ground” while paddling.

I last spoke with Doug Simpson in October about purchasing one of the several Aironauts he’s held onto. He told me then that he wasn’t quite ready to part with them but suggested that I might check back in about a year and maybe then he might be ready to give one up. I might just do that. And I now see that Gumotex is coming up with inflatables using advanced drop-stitch techniques to allow much higher pressure hull inflations. It appears that DS might be the future of the inflatable kayak.

yuen
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Re: Feathercraft Aironaut

Post by yuen »

Aironaut: Best perfornance inflatable.

- Tracks well, active paddling possible.
- Performance hull
- Very fast, 6,5 - 7,0 Km/h travelling speed
- Safe in bigger waves, as it surfs very beginner friendly and you can paddle it actively, very good secondary stability
- Dries fast in the sun
- Very lightweight
- Skin is durable, I have Kurrent LW, Baylee and Aironaut with that skin, never a problem, before getting my Kurrent LW I was concerned of the durability, no more now
- Relativly small package
- Very confy seat
- Not as affected by high winds like other IK´s
- Jack of all trades in the IK world
- I put a Reed spraydeck and seasock, so it stays completely dry, even the inbuild coaming
- When leaving the water and putting in the sun, let a lot of air out, I do that with all inflatables I have

If you have the chance to get one, get it. I really really enjoy it, has been my most used boat last year. Perfect for bus, tram, train and bike.

Jake, you shoud not have hesitated getting one from Doug.

There is symply not a replacement out there for the Aironauts. Dropstitch, Gumotex Rush, even Itwit x500 cant reach the whole package of the Aironaut. Tippy, or heavy or flat buttom, repair concerns of DS, etc.

Just to clarfy it: Thats my experience and opionion. Dealing and comunicating with Doug has always been a pleasure. Great guy.

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