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Flying boat
Short S-23.jpg
Short S23 'C' Class or 'Empire' Flying Boat
Le Canard ("The Duck") photographed during its historic testing on March 28, 1910  — the aircraft is still in existence and can be viewed in Marignane airport (Bouches du Rhône). Henri Fabre, who had no prior experience with flying or flight, then provided 'Fabre Floats' to other experimenting air pioneers.

A flying boat is a fixed-winged seaplane with a hull, allowing it to land on water. It differs from a float plane as it uses a purpose-designed fuselage which can both float, granting the aircraft buoyancy, and give aerodynamic sheath. Flying boats may be stabilized by under-wing floats or by wing-like projections from the fuselage. Flying boats were some of the largest aircraft of the first half of the 20th century, superseded in size only by bombers developed during World War II. Their advantage lay in using water instead of expensive land-based runways, making them the basis for international airlines in the mid-war period. They were also commonly used for maritime patrol and air-sea rescue.

The craft class or type came about after The Daily Mail offered a large monetary prize for an aircraft with transoceanic range in 1914 prompting a collaboration between British and American air pioneers, resulting in the Curtiss Model H. Following World War II, their use gradually tailed off, partially because of the investments in airports during the war. In the 21st century, flying boats maintain a few niche uses, such as for dropping water on forest fires and for air transport around archipelagos, wilderness access in wilder undeveloped territories such as lands north of South Dakota and roadless regions of Central Africa. Many modern seaplane variants, whether float or flying boat types are convertible amphibians—planes where either landing gear or flotation modes may be used to land and take off.

Contents

History

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Origins

Curtiss NC Flying Boat "NC-3" skims across the water before takeoff, 1919.
Flying boats of Ad Astra Aero S.A. at Zürichhorn water airport, Uetliberg in the background (~1920)

Henri Fabre, a French non-aviator/adventurer invented and was first to successfully flight test a sea plane which he named Le Canard, which is acknowledged as the first seaplane in history[1] and a 'landmark' invention that inspired others  — some of whom for which he designed and sold Fabre floats over the next few years. The American prize winning pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss had built experimental floatplanes before 1910, without proceeding to flight testing but after the pioneering successful seaplane flights of Henri Fabre in France while still interested, he stayed focused mainly on his land based air craft business and only slowly spent further development resources on small experimental models at Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company and only slowly improved upon his earlier work.

In 1911 Curtiss unveiled a development of his floatplane experiments married to a larger version of his successful Curtiss Model D land plane technologies, but with a larger engine and this time fitted with a rudimentary hull and fuselage, and designated as the Model E, for the first time joining a boat hull to a flying craft and arguably the epoch event creating the flying boat class or type of seaplanes that would come to dominate long distance aeronautical travel for the next four-to-five decades. Consequently he soon became acquainted with others interested in both seaplane based and long range commercial aviation development  — two aspects which were hopelessly interrelated in those days when airports were yet to be built throughout most of the world, while the design expanded his new circle of flying enthusiast contacts to include Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander John Cyril Porte, a British aviation pioneer with more than a few important connections.

Subsequently, Lieutenant Commander Porte would soon come to be his chief test pilot in the Curtiss Model H developed in 1913 – 14 and then play an important role in selling that seminal flying boat design to the British Admiralty as the Type H-4 'American' flying boats, and then furthered the art one step beyond that with his hull design experiments at Felixstowe (See below section). Regardless of the importance of their meeting, because of the Model E release, in February 1911, the United States Navy took delivery of its very first airplane, a Curtiss Model E and soon tested landing and take-offs from ships — using the land based Curtiss Model D.

The 1913 prizes

When London's Daily Mail newspaper in 1913 put up a ₤10,000 prize for the first non-stop aerial crossing of the Atlantic which was soon 'enhanced by a further sum' from the "Women's Aerial League of Great Britain", American businessman Rodman Wanamaker became determined that the prize should go to an American aircraft and commissioned the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company to design and build two aircraft capable of making the flight. In Great Britain in 1913, similarly, the boat building firm J. Samuel White of West Cowes on the Isle of Wight set up a new aircraft division and produced a flying boat in the United Kingdom. This was displayed at the London Air Show at Olympia in 1913.[2] In that same year, a collaboration between the S.E. Saunders boatyard of East Cowes on the Isle of Wight and the Sopwith Aviation Company produced their "Bat Boat", an aircraft with a consuta laminated hull that could operate from land or on water, which today we call amphibious aircraft.[2] The "Bat Boat" completed several landings on sea and on land and was duly awarded the Mortimer Singer Prize.[2] It was the first all-British aeroplane capable of making six return flights over five miles within five hours.

In America, Wanamaker's commission built on Glen Curtiss' previous development and experience with the Model E for the United States Navy and soon resulted in the Model H. The H series or family of planes were born as a conventional biplane design with two-bay, unstaggered wings of unequal span with two tractor (pulling, not pushing) engines mounted side-by-side above the fuselage in the interplane gap. Wingtip pontoons were attached directly below the lower wings near their tips. The Model H resembled Curtiss' earlier flying boat designs, but was built considerably larger so it could carry enough fuel to cover 1,100 mi (1,800 km). The three crew members were accommodated in a fully-enclosed cabin.

Christened 'America', trials of the Model H began in June 1914 under Curtiss' acquaintance English naval Lt. Cmdr. John Cyril Porte and testing soon revealed a serious shortcoming in the design; especially the tendency for the nose of the aircraft to try to submerge as engine power increased while taxiing on water. This phenomenon had not been encountered before, since Curtiss' earlier designs had not used such powerful engines nor large fuel/cargo loads and so were relatively much more buoyant. In order to counteract this effect, Curtiss fitted fins to the sides of the bow to add hydrodynamic lift, but soon replaced these with sponsons — a type of underwater pontoon mounted in pairs on either side of a hull — to add more buoyancy. These sponsons (or their engineering equivalents) would remain a prominent feature of flying boat hull design in the decades to follow. With the problem resolved, preparations for the crossing resumed, and whilst the craft was found to handle 'heavily' on take-off, surprising still by requiring rather longer take-off distances than expected, 5 August 1914 was selected as the transatlantic flight date.

The disappointments of 1914

These plans were interrupted by the outbreak of war, which also saw Porte, who had been selected to pilot the America, recalled to service with the British Royal Navy. Impressed by the capabilities he had witnessed, Porte urged the Admiralty to commandeer (and later, purchase) the America and her sister from Curtiss. This was followed by a decision to order a further 12 similar aircraft, one Model H-2 and the remaining as Model H-4s, four examples of the latter actually assembled in the UK by Saunders. All of these were essentially identical to the design of the America, and indeed, were all referred to as Americas in Royal Navy service.

Felixstowe incremental developments

Since before the war Porte had worked with American aircraft designer Glenn Curtiss on a flying boat in which they intended to cross the Atlantic, he was quickly able to convince the Admiralty to acquire Curtiss's H series flying boats. When he became commander of the naval air base at Felixstowe in 1915 he acquired Curtiss flying boats designated the Curtiss H-4 type by the Royal Navy, which was basically a military version of their earlier "America" flying boat design and permission to modify and experiment with them. The initial batch was followed by an order for 50 more (totalling 64 'Americans' overall during the war).

Subsequently, Porte soon advanced the technology and developed a practical hull design with the distinctive 'Felixstowe notch'[3] which could be married to Curtiss' airframe and engine design, creating 'the Atlantic', or 'Type A' flying boat (as it became known in Great Britain). After that initial mass upgrade Porte had modified the H4 with a new hull with improved hydrodynamic qualities on four aircraft, later designated as the Felixstowe F.1, of which only four were built as they were deemed underpowered for arduous North Atlantic Patrol conditions. Consequently, Curtiss was asked to develop a larger flying boat, which were designated the 'Large American' or Curtiss Model H8 when they became available in 1917 and which when tested at Felixstowe air drome were deemed to still be under powered. Porte soon upgraded the planes with 250 HP Rolls Royce engines and replaced the hulls with a larger Felixstowe hull variant. These became the Felixstowe F.2[4] and Felixstone F.2a variants and saw both wide use and long service. The innovation of the 'Felixstowe notch' enabled the craft to more quickly overcome suction from the water and break free for flight much more easily making operating the craft far safer and more reliable. After several years of war development and upon getting negative reports on the H-8, Curtiss produced upscaled flying boats which by 1917 were designated as the Curtiss Model H12. Porte then designed a similar hull for the larger Curtiss H12 flying boat, designated the Felixstowe F.2a, which was greatly superior to the original Curtiss boat. This entered production and service as a patrol aircraft, with about 100 being completed by the end of World War I. Another seventy were built and these were followed by two F.2c which were built at Felixstowe.

In February 1917, the first prototype of the Felixstowe F.3 was flown. This was larger and heavier than the F.2, giving it greater range and heavier bomb load, but poorer agility. Approximately 100 Felixstowe F.3s were produced before the end of the war.

The Felixstowe F.5 was intended to combine the good qualities of the F.2 and F.3, with the prototype first flying in May 1918. The prototype showed superior qualities to its predecessors but, to ease production, the production version was modified to make extensive use of components from the F.3, which resulted in lower performance than the F.2A or F.5.

The "notch" break through would soon after evolve into a 'step', with the rear section of the lower hull sharply recessed above the forward lower hull section, and that characteristic became a feature of both flying boat hulls and seaplane floats. The resulting aircraft would be large enough to carry sufficient fuel to fly long distances and could berth alongside ships for refueling.

World War I

From 1914 Curtis produced his "America" flying boat, several examples of which sixty-four were acquired by the Royal Naval Air Service and several were assigned to be tested at their Seaplane Experimental Station, where Lt-Cdr Porte became a squadron leader upon being recalled to active duty with the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS). In 1915 Porte was promoted to base commander. By later that year Porte developed several variations hoping for an improved hull, eventually resulting in the experimental Felixstowe F.1 class of four planes and giving rise to the later larger F.2-F.5L derivatives, most of which were successfully deployed and used for coastal patrols and hunting U-boats. The four F.1 planes were exclusively used for experimentation and were never deployed operationally.

The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company independently developed its designs into the small model 'F', the larger model 'K' several of which were sold to the Russian Naval Air Service, and the Model 'C' for the US Navy. Curtiss among others also built the Felixstowe F5 as the Curtiss F5L, based on the final Porte hull designs and powered by American Liberty engines.

Between the wars

A Curtiss NC-4 became the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1919, crossing via the Azores. Of the four that were to make the attempt, only one completed the flight.

In the 1930s, flying boats made it possible to have regular air transport between the U.S. and Europe, opening up new air travel routes to South America, Africa, and Asia. Foynes, Ireland and Botwood, Newfoundland and Labrador were the termini for many early transatlantic flights. Where land-based aircraft lacked the required airfields to land, flying boats could stop at small island, river, lake or coastal stations to refuel and resupply. The Pan Am Boeing 314 "Clipper" planes brought exotic destinations like the Far East within reach of air travelers and came to represent the romance of flight.

In 1923, the first British commercial flying boat service was introduced with flights to and from the Channel Islands. The British aviation industry was experiencing rapid growth. The Government decided that nationalization was necessary and ordered five aviation companies to merge to form the state-owned Imperial Airways of London (IAL). IAL became the international flag-carrying British airline, providing flying boat passenger and mail transport links between Britain and South Africa using aircraft such as the Short S.8 Calcutta.

Supermarine Southampton

In 1928, a new world achievement in aviation attracted the attention of the Australian public when four Supermarine Southampton flying boats of the RAF Far-East flight arrived in Melbourne on a circumnavigation and flag-waving mission. The RAF crews were warmly welcomed by the waterside crowds, and the flight was considered proof that flying boats had evolved to become reliable means of long distance transport.

Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, better known as Qantas, had been registered in Brisbane during November 1920. With good levels of public support for the new faster public transport and agreements to carry domestic mail, the outback airline grew. By 1931, Qantas was trialling land plane flights connecting with Imperial Airways services. Mail was now reaching London in just 16 days - less than half the time taken by sea.

Government tenders on both sides of the world invited applications to run new passenger and mail services between the ends of Empire, and Qantas and IAL were successful with a joint bid. A company under combined ownership was then formed, Qantas Empire Airways. The new ten day service between Sydney's Rose Bay and Southampton was such a success with letter-writers that before long the volume of mail was exceeding aircraft storage space. A solution to the problem was found by the British Government, who in 1933 had requested aviation manufacturer Short Brothers to design a big new long-range monoplane for use by IAL. Partner Qantas agreed to the initiative and undertook to purchase six of the new Short S23 'C' class or 'Empire' flying boats.

Delivering the mail as quickly as possible generated a lot of competition and some innovative solutions. A variant of the Short Empire flying boats, Maia and Mercury, was a strange-looking solution where a four-engined floatplane Mercury was fixed on top of Maia, a heavily modified Short Empire flying boat.[2] The idea was to use the larger Maia to get the smaller Mercury (the winged messenger) off the ground at weights that would have been impossible otherwise, so that it could carry sufficient fuel for the trip. Unfortunately this limited the usefulness, and after crossing to New York the Mercury had to be returned by ship. The Mercury was to set a number of distance records before in-flight refuelling was adopted.

Dornier Do-X over a seaport town in the Baltic, 1930

Sir Alan Cobham devised a method of in-flight refuelling in the 1930s, so that the Short Empire flying boats serving the transatlantic crossing could be refueled over Foynes on the River Shannon in Ireland allowing them to carry more fuel than they could take off with, so as to enable them to make the trans-Atlantic flight.[2] A Handley Page H.P.54 Harrow was used as the fuel tanker[2]

The German Dornier Do-X flying boat was noticeably different from its UK and US-built counterparts, using wing-like protrusions from the fuselage called sponsons, pioneered by Claudius Dornier during World War I on his Dornier Rs. I giant flying boat, to stabilize on the water without the need for wing-mounted outboard floats, and perfected on the Dornier Wal in 1924. The enormous Do X was powered by 12 engines and carried 170 persons.[2] It flew to America in 1929[2] crossing the Atlantic via an indirect route. It was the largest flying boat of its time but was severely underpowered and was limited by a very low operational ceiling. Only three were built with a variety of different engines installed, in an attempt to overcome the lack of power. Two of these were sold to Italy.

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso flying boat at RIAT, England, in 2009. A version of the PBY-5A Catalina, this aircraft was built in 1944 for the Royal Canadian Air Force

World War II

The military value of flying boats was well recognized and every country bordering on water operated them in a military capacity at the outbreak of the war. They were utilized in various tasks from anti-submarine patrol to air-sea rescue and gunfire spotting for battleships. Aircraft such as the PBY Catalina, Short Sunderland and Grumman Goose recovered downed airmen and operated as scout aircraft over the vast distances of the Pacific Theater and Battle of the Atlantic during World War II, as well as sinking numerous submarines, and finding enemy ships. In May 1941 the German battleship Bismarck was found during a routine patrol by a PBY Catalina flying out of Castle Archdale Flying boat base, Lower Lough Erne, Northern Ireland.[5][6]

The largest flying boat of the war was the Blohm und Voss Bv 238 which was also the heaviest plane to fly during the Second World War, and the largest aircraft built and flown by any of the Axis Powers.

In November 1939, the structure of Imperial Airways was changed to create British European Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation with the change being made official in 1 April 1940. BOAC continued to operate flying boat services from the (slightly) safer confines of Poole Harbour during wartime, returning to Southampton in 1947.[2]

Post World War II

The Hughes H-4 Hercules in development in the U.S. during the war was even larger than the Bv238, but it did not fly until 1947. The "Spruce Goose", as the H-4 was nicknamed, was the largest flying boat ever to fly. That short 1947 hop of the 'Flying Lumberyard' was to be its last however, a victim of post-war cutbacks and the disappearance of its intended mission as a transatlantic transport.[7]

During the Berlin Airlift (which lasted from June 1948 until August 1949) ten Sunderlands and two Hythes were used to transport goods from Finkenwerder on the Elbe near Hamburg to the isolated city, landing on the Havelsee lake beside RAF Gatow until it iced over.[8] The Sunderlands were particularly used for transporting salt, as their airframes were already protected against corrosion from seawater. Transporting salt in standard aircraft risked rapid and severe structural corrosion in the event of a spillage. This is the only known operational use of flying boats within central Europe.

Following the end of World War II, the use of flying boats rapidly declined, though the U.S. Navy continued to operate such aircraft (notably the Martin P5M Marlin) until the early 1970s, even attempting to build a jet-powered seaplane bomber, the Martin Seamaster. Several factors contributed to the decline. The ability to land on water became less of an advantage owing to the considerable increase in the number and length of land based runways, whose construction had been driven by the needs of the allied forces during the Second World War. Further, as the speed and range of land-based aircraft increased, the commercial competitiveness of flying boats diminished, as their design compromised aerodynamic efficiency and speed to accomplish the feat of waterborne takeoff and alighting. Competing with new civilian jet aircraft like the de Havilland Comet and Boeing 707 was impossible.

BOAC continued to operate their flying boat services out of Southampton until November 1950.

Aquila Airways Short Solent flying boat G-AKNU taking off from Funchal. This aircraft was destroyed in a 1957 crash on the Isle of Wight.

Bucking the trend, in 1948, Aquila Airways was founded to serve destinations that were still inaccessible to land based aircraft.[2] This company operated Short S.25 and Short S.45 flying boats out of Southampton on routes to Madeira, Las Palmas, Lisbon, Jersey, Majorca, Marseilles, Capri, Genoa, Montreux and Santa Margherita.[2] The airline ceased operations on 30 September 1958.[2]

From 1950 to 1957, Aquila Airways also operated a service from Southampton to Edinburgh and Glasgow.[2]

The flying boats of Aquila Airways were also chartered for one-off trips, usually to deploy troops where scheduled services didn't exist or where there were political considerations. Three Aquila flying boats were used during the Berlin Airlift.[2] The longest charter, in 1952, was from Southampton to the Falkland Islands.[2] In 1953 the flying boats were chartered for troop deployment trips to Freetown and Lagos and there was a special trip from Hull to Helsinki to relocate a ships crew.[2]

Saunders-Roe Princess G-ALUN at the Farnborough SBAC Show in September 1953

The technically advanced Saunders-Roe Princess first flew in 1952 and later received a certificate of airworthiness. Despite being the pinnacle of flying boat development, none were sold, despite Aquila Airways reportedly attempting to buy them.[2] Of the three Princess that were built, two never flew and all were scrapped in 1967

Helicopters ultimately took over the flying boat air-sea rescue role.

The land-based P-3 Orion and carrier-based S-3 Viking became the US Navy's fixed-wing anti-submarine patrol aircraft.

Ansett flew a flying boat service from Rose Bay, New South Wales to Lord Howe Island until 1974, using Short Sandringhams.

Modern versions

The shape of the Short Empire was a harbinger of the shape of later aircraft yet to come, and the type also contributed much to the designs of later ekranoplans. However, true flying boats have largely been replaced by seaplanes with floats and amphibian aircraft with wheels. The Beriev Be-200 twin-jet amphibious aircraft has been one of the closest 'living' descendants of the flying-boats of old, along with the larger amphibious planes used for fighting forest fires. There are also several experimental/kit amphibians such as the Volmer Sportsman, Glass Goose, the LSA SeaMax, Aeroprakt A-24, and the Seawind.

The ShinMaywa US-2 (Japanese: 新明和 US-2) are large STOL aircraft designed for air-sea rescue (SAR) work. US-2 is operated by Japan Self Defense Force.

The Canadair CL-215 and successor Bombardier 415 are also examples of modern flying boats and are used for forest fire suppression.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Naughton, Russell (May 15, 2002). "Henri Fabre (1882-1984)". Monash University Centre for Telecommunications and Information Engineering. Monash University. http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/fabre.html. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Flying Boats of the Solent, Norman Hull. ISBN 1-85794-161-6
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ "Felixstowe Flying-Boats". Will Higgs Co, United Kingdom. unknown. http://www.willhiggs.co.uk/dundee/felixstowes.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  5. ^ [www.iwn.iwai.ie/v29i1/fermanagh.PDF] Inland Waterways News Flying-boats in Fermanagh
  6. ^ "Castle Archdale Country Park". Northern Ireland Environment Agency. http://www.ni-environment.gov.uk/archdale.shtml. Retrieved 2009-06-19. 
  7. ^ Its claim to true flying status is disputed as it made but one short flight in its life
  8. ^ The Berlin Blockade. Spiritus Temporis history Community Retrieved: 28 January 2007.

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