Seaplanes are fixed-wing aircraft that can take off and land on water, and there are two categories of seaplanes: floatplanes and flying boats. Pontoons under a floatplane keep the plane afloat, and the fuselage sits above the water. In a flying boat, the plane is kept afloat with the fuselage, similar to the hull of a ship. Flying boats, which were used extensively during World War I, have a rich history.
The Early Days
On March 28, 1910, the Canard, took off from water with pilot Henri Fabre at the controls, making it the first successful water take-off in history. The historic flying boat take-off took place near Martigues, located in the Mediterranean Sea, and the fifty-horsepower rotary engine flew the craft 1,650 feet over water. However, historians consider Glen Curtiss the father of the flying boat. Curtiss flying boats were the only U.S.-designated airplanes to see combat during World War I. After the war, airlines recognized the potential for commercial use of the flying boat.
Boeing’s B-1 flying boat, a pusher-style flying boat with a rear engine, had a range of 400 miles and a cruising speed of 80 miles per hour. The plane could carry a pilot and two passengers, and had room for mail or cargo. The first flight of the Boeing B-1 was December 27, 1919, but Boeing only built one plane, as the market was flooded with war-surplus aircraft. In 1920, Edward Hubbard purchased the plane and used it to carry mail between Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia. The plane is now on display in Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry.
Designed as a cross between a houseboat and plane, the Caproni Triplane flying boat was one of the largest seaplanes ever built. The plane used three sets of triplane wings taken from World War I bombers attached to a 100-passenger flying boat hull. Powered by eight 400-hp engines, the plan was to carry 100 passengers as well as six pilots and flight engineers. However, on the plane’s second flight in 1921, it crashed into a lake, killing both pilots, which led designers to scrap the design.
Levy Flying Boat
A three-seat French biplane, the Levy Flying Boat, also known as the Levy-Le Pen, is considered the best French amphibious aircraft of World War I. The plane gained popularity in Africa where Ligne Aerienne du Roi Albert used a version of the flying boat to carry 2-passenger loads throughout the African Congo. In fact, the Levy-LePen Type R helped inaugurate many airline routes throughout Africa in the early 1900s.
Built for use by the military, the Curtiss F-5 flying boat became the U.S. Navy’s standard patrol aircraft until 1928. Known as the Aeromarine 75 in civil use, Aeromaritime Airways flew flights from Key West to Havana, carrying the first international airmail. In 1920, American Trans-Oceanic Company flew anglers from Miami to Bimini in a Curtiss F-5 painted like a fish. The plane had a range of 830 miles and was powered by two liberty 400-hp engines.
The world’s first all-metal transport aircraft, the Junkers F-13 seaplane offered enclosed travel for passengers. Considered the first modern commercial aircraft, the flying boat was often called an air limousine due to its luxurious interior. The flying boats were often used for transport between seaports or for longer flights over water. Finnair began using Junkers F-13 planes in 1926. One benefit to the Junkers F-13 was that the landplane version could be fitted with floats to become a seaplane or with skis to become a snow plane.
The first stressed-skin, metal-hulled flying boat, the Short Calcutta design answered a need for Imperial Airways for air service to the Mediterranean to and from India. The plane, powered by three engines mounted between the wings, carried 15 passengers and two pilots. The first flight of the Calcutta, on February 14, 1928, took place after the aircraft had been left mooring overnight to test the hull for leaks. Seven flying boats were built for commercial use, and a military version, known as the Short Rangoon, was also created.
These flying boats represented the beginning of the long and colorful history of the flying boat. For more information on seaplanes, or to learn more about the engine repair services we can provide for your aircraft, call Covington Aircraft at 918-756-8320. You can also join us on LinkedIn and Twitter.