Thailand News: Ultralight aircraft to land on river as offering to Thai King

PHUKET: Four Thailand made single-engine aircraft will soon land on the Chao Phraya River in downtown Bangkok as an offering to His Majesty the King if a Royal Thai Navy (RTN) plan is brought to fruition.

The navy team is hoping to present the experimental two-seat amphibians to the much-loved monarch who has been undergoing treatment in hospital.

Vice Admiral Sommai Prakarnsamut, who heads the naval hydroplane development project, disclosed that he looked up to His Majesty every time he ran into problems or felt discouraged.

“Now that we have successfully created these efficient hydroplanes, we really wish to present them to His Majesty,” Sommai said.

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He said Thailand was awarded the right to conduct research on the aircraft in 2007 under a multinational effort. Other countries are engaged in the project for different sizes of hydroplanes.

“We started this research project with an initial budget of 500,000 baht,” he said. “It was progressing quite well until we found out that no pilot wanted to steer our prototype for test flights.”

In 2008, Sommai decided to take a pilot course himself, even though he was already 57 at that time. “I spent 500,000 baht from my own pocket on the course,” he said.

Sommai was the first pilot to conduct test flights for the project.

With his fierce determination, the project has finally taken off and has attracted three more willing pilots.

The Thailand Research Fund and the Defense Ministry have also allocated 12 million baht and 15 million baht, respectively, to the project.

“His Majesty’s self-reliance philosophy inspired me to join this project,” said Captain Kritchaphon Rianglekjamnong, another pilot involved in the endeavor.

His Majesty has encouraged the Navy to develop patrol boats and more equipment on its own instead of importing the supplies. “I’m so proud that this hydroplane has been completely invented by Thais,” Kritchaphon added.

The research team has named its invention, Naval Aircraft Experimental or ‘NAX’.

Each NAX hydroplane weighs 360kg, with the maximum test load of 600kg. It flies at a maximum speed of 90 knots and up to 10,000 feet above the ground. It can take off and land on either land or water.

The NAX 01 and the NAX 03 have already been flown with great efficiency.

On May 19, they will carry out their first mission to survey sea-transport spots for the Transport Ministry.

“These Thai made vehicles can be used for coastal patrols and rescue operations too,” Sommai said.

The construction of NAX 2 will be completed in less than two weeks, while NAX 4 will be ready to take off before the end of 2012.

Although the construction cost of each craft is now about 5 million baht, the cost will drop if more planes are manufactured.

“If we have adequate budget for research and development, we won’t have to spend a lot of money on importing boats and aircraft anymore. Please don’t think that Thais won’t be able to provide quality products,” Sommai said.

Kritchaphon said he had flown many types of aircraft, including those made by foreign countries. “I can tell you that this Thailand made hydroplane is second to none. It is even better in terms of durability, easy-to-use functions, and maintenance – and also lower in terms of production cost.”

Phuket Gazette / The Nation

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