Feathercraft Aironaut Review
|The Feathercraft Aironaut in Papua, Indonesia.|
One of the most exciting kayak this year is the Feathercraft Aironaut, an inflatable sit-in sea kayak. While they are many sit-on-top inflatable kayaks, currently only the Incept K-40, Grabner Holiday, and the new Gumotex Seawave can be considered as sea-worthy sit-in inflatable sea kayak.
As a folding kayak owner for over 15 years, portability ranks first. Folding and inflatable kayaks are the only truly portable kayak one could own, and take them anywhere desired.
A sit-in inflatable sea kayak is thus interesting. It protects one from sun and rain, keeps gear better, and gives the kayak just a bit more shape when paddling in the windy conditions. And one that sets up within 6 minutes deserves more than ogling at the specs and personally testing it out on the waters.
Here's what I think.
Ease of Assembly
|Aironaut package comes with a double action hand pump, sea sock, double fin skeg, kayak skin, sprayskirt, repair kit, paddle float (not shown), and a travel dry bag backpack (not shown).|
In repeated attempts, the Aironaut pumps up in less than 6 minutes. The double-action hand pump that comes with the kayak, though small, pressurises the kayak easily. I have used the K-pump (without adapter) and the inflation time is about the same. The fast inflation time is due to the Aironaut's small chambers. It is the fastest inflatable kayak I have ever inflated and set up. For its length, this surprises me.
At 136kg payload, there is capacity to load 1 week+ of gear into the Aironaut even if one weighs 90+kg. The narrow air chambers make space for 20L bags to be easily inserted towards the stern and bow of the kayak. While we normally strap another bag at the stern deck on longer (10 days+) trips, the deck of the Aironaut is just a piece of fabric and not rigid to take load. A fully stuffed stern is necessary to provide the rigidity for the stern deck to hold a strapped bag. It is easier to load bags into the Aironaut compared to folding or rigid kayaks, the flexible deck fabric means I could peel and expand the openings to insert unevenly packed bags.
PRV (Pressure Relief Valves)
|Aironaut's PRV (pressure relief valve).|
On a hot tropical island where I live, the best performance feature is the pressure relief valve on all 3 chambers. One could inflate the kayak to its maximum pressure and not worry about leaving the kayak out in the sun during breaks or meals. When air expands due to the hot sun, the excess pressure inside the chambers simply purges from the relief valves instead of building up in the chambers and bursting the kayak. In long overseas expeditions, such features are life saving.
The inflatable seats (backrest and seat) however, do not have the pressure relief valves. They are black and expand rapidly in hot sun, so it is a must to check the seats and manually release excess pressure. I recommend inflating the seats to no more than 75%, as pressure builds up very fast.
The seat and backrest are adjustable (for stiffness) and they are comfortable. The seat straps directly on the floor of the kayak while the U-shape backrest can be adjusted for a snug or relax fit around the waist. It is all very comfortable much like sitting on an inflated pillow, but I just wonder if they could had made it a different colour other than black!
|The Aironaut's footrest.|
The footrest is a simple horizontal adjustable bar. It works. I can see paddlers discarding this item or customising a more robust kickable footrest. The footrest bar can be a nuisance when bow loading the bags into the kayak. On longer trips with the kayak loaded with gear, I would prefer to kick my feet on the bags than using the footrest.
The Aironaut comes with a sea sock, which is a long waterproof bag that goes over the cockpit coaming and extends into the kayak. Its purpose is keep the interior of the kayak free of water and sand. It is also a useful safety gear upon capsize, to contain water inside this 'bag' instead of the entire kayak. One, there is less water to remove from the kayak. Secondly one just need to withdraw the sea sock to drain the water, and climb back in.
I have never use a sea sock on my Feathercraft as I like my interior to be roomy. A bilge pump will still a very useful safety gear to bring along to pump out water from the kayak.
A sit-in kayak with a sprayskirt makes it a seaworthy craft for rainy days and paddling with waves. Sealed correctly, the Aironaut offers a dry ride and give lots of confidence in choppy waters.
|Aironaut's orange paddle float is kept under a pocket on the stern deck.|
The Aironaut requires a learning curve for those unfamiliar with sit-in kayaks. It sits higher on the water and is thus more tippy than a folding kayak or even a plastic one. Feathercraft provides a paddle float as a standard aid to re-enter the cockpit from the water. When deploy with a paddle, it acts like an outrigger stabilizer to climb back into the cockpit upon capsize. Beginners will find the paddle float very useful.
A double-fin skeg...in terms of performance I am still figuring why a double fin other than it holds in place much better with no chance of dislodge during paddling.
|Surfing the Aironaut!|
Is the Aironaut a fast kayak? The Aironaut tracks well due to its double-fin skeg, turns easily and paddles fast. It is surprisingly tippy for an inflatable kayak. It has a good secondary stability, so while the kayak tip side to side, it is hard to capsize.
The 4.5m Aironaut is much faster than the Gumotex Solar (4.1m) and comparable to the longer Feathercraft Java (4.75m). Being a sit-in kayak, it has many advantages over the Java, as written above. The key difference is the pressure release valves...a high-performance inflatable kayak must have these valves.
The Aironaut is ideal as a weekend kayak. The ultralight portability, fast set-up time, ease of maintenance, speed, and capacity gives a city apartment dweller like myself unprecedented ease of access to surrounding waters. Even without a car, it is easy to carry 9kg on public transport to the desired beaches.
Paddlers will also appreciate the ultralight weight when carrying the kayak from the set up on the beach to the waters. Those planning an overnight trip will be please by the ample room within the kayak for gear and cookery.
I have yet the opportunity to review the Aironaut on long unsupported expeditions. I think stretching the Aironaut for a week unsupported is within its operating design. On longer unsupported expeditions, the extras I look for would be the survivability of the kayak, ease of field-repair, capacity, speed in various water conditions, and options for customisations (whether sail or electronics). Knowing how the kayak performs and its operating limits make for safer expeditions.
Then again, the Aironaut is not designed for extreme expeditions (we have a bad habit of pushing the limits of our gear!). It is conceived as a dream kayak, that one you think about amidst the routine of work and life, the 'sometimes I just wish to get out somewhere for a paddle' vessel...the Aironaut makes going that somewhere spontaneous.
|Lining up the Aironaut with the Seawave.|