Flying Boat Helps USM Gulf Research

Just when you thought the birds had enough company in the sky, here comes an inflatable boat to fly right along with them.

"We have a project right now offshore, maybe 100 miles offshore, that we're spotting these mats of sargassum weed because of the juvenile fish that live in there. So what we're gonna do with this is instead of launching it from here and flying all the way out and doing the work out there, we'll actually fold it up, put it on the larger research vessel, the Tommy Munro, and we'll take it out to our study area, unfold it, set it in the water, and do the flying locally right there, and report back to the ship where the seaweed is so they can find it," said Dr. Asper.

One of the most useful things this flying boat can do is help research large off shore game fish and pelagic fish.

"It will help us locate possible areas where they may be spawning, it will help us locate a habitat where we can sample to make sure we're learning more about their life histories, so it'll certainly help the work on all the fish we're working on here along the Gulf Coast," said fisheries biologist Jim Franks.

This combination of a boat, a jet-ski engine, an aircraft propeller, and a large hang-glider wing, can go at least 2000 feet in the air, but does it have enough power to keep up with the birds?

"The birds stay away from it. In fact I was trying to fly along with the pelicans a little bit because they're such great flyers, but they always just take off. I can't keep up with them. They're such good flyers," said Dr. Asper.

Although there are more than 13-hundred flying boats in use worldwide, only a few are used for research.