History of the Flying Boat – Part Three

The history of the flying boat actually predates the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, although seaplane flights prior to that historic flight were not exactly successful.  Throughout the 1920s, flying boats gained popularity, both with the military and commercially.  In fact, Pan American Airways had a main flying boat base for their Latin America operations based in Miami.

Consolidated Commodore

Considered the beginning of an era that led to more modern, high-efficiency monoplane flying boats popular in the 1930s, the NYRBA Airline used the Consolidated Commodore on flights between New York, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, using the initials of each city as their name.  In 1939, Pan Am acquired NYRBA and took over the fleet of Consolidated Commodores.  Although designed to accommodate up to 32 passengers, the plane actually accommodated only 14, including the crew, for thousand mile flights.  This seaplane opened up the possibility of long, over-ocean routes.

Savoia-Marchetti Sm-66

Designed for trans-Mediterranean airline services, the Savoia-Marchetti Sm-66 flying boat originally carried seven passengers, as the prototype contained seven seats, two sleeping couches and a lavatory.  In later versions, designers replaced the sleeping couches with two to four more seats, increasing the number of passengers it could carry. The enclosed cockpit, mounted in the center wing section, held two crewmembers.  Aero Expresso Haltiano began using the flying boats in 1928.


Sikorsky S-40 “Flying Forest”

Charles Lindbergh gave the Sikorsky S-40 flying boat the nickname the “Flying Forest” due to the numerous exposed flying wires and strut braces used to support the framework.  Juan Trippe, President of Pan Am, requested that Sikorsky design a seaplane with a larger passenger capacity than the Sikorsky S-38.  The S-40 carried 38 passengers, as opposed to the eight-passenger limit of the S-38, and offered an electric refrigerator and stove.  In addition, the S40 included a book-ended mahogany wood paneled smoking lounge for passenger comfort.  Sikorsky manufactured only three of these flying boats.  Pan Am used the planes, which were the first in Pan Am’s famous “Clipper” line, on the Miami-to-Panama route.  However, the “American Clipper,” as the S-40 came to be known, avoided night flying as it lacked navigation aids and instrumentation.

Sikorsky S-42

During the initial flight of the S-40, Charles Lindbergh, then a consultant for Pan Am, and Igor Sikorsky began drawing preliminary sketches of the Sikorsky S-42 on the back of a menu in the lounge of the Sikorsky S-40 flying boat.  The two men, along with Pan Am President, Juan Trippe, envisioned a flying boat that would be able to span oceansSikorsky built only ten of the S-42 aircraft and the flying boats flew exclusively for Pan Am.  Known as both the “Pan Am Clipper” and the “Flying Clipper,” the S-42 flew the San Francisco-to-Hawaii, New York-to-Bermuda, and Hong Kong-to-China routes among others, and made the first survey flight from Alameda, Calif., to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in April 1935.  The plane set ten records for altitude and payload flights, and had a longer range than the S-40.

DLH Ship-to-Shore Mail Flights

Starting in 1931, Deutsche Luft Hansa (DLH) flew single engine flying boat mail flights.  Initially, the company used Heinkel He.12 and He.58 flying boats to carry mail to and from cruise ships, allowing mail to arrive onshore long before the ship arrived in port. Eventually the company replaced the Heinkel planes with Junkers 46 floatplanes.  The planes, outfitted with compressed air-driven catapults that increased the speed of the plane, launched at a distance of about 750 miles from the destination.  Painted bright red in case of emergency sea landings, the launch of these aircraft was a special experience for cruise ship passengers.  The success of these flying boats encouraged DLH to begin trans-Atlantic mail flights to Europe and Latin America using the Dornier Wal flying boat.  The plane met a converted cargo ship with a launch platform in the Atlantic, where the launch ship picked up the flying boat and refueled the aircraft before launching it from the ramp.  Mail from Germany could reach Brazil in three days using the DLH ship-to-shore service.

Breguet Br.350

On routes from France to points in the Mediterranean, Air France used the Breguet Br.350 flying boat in 1934.

As aviation design became more sophisticated, the creation of long-range flying boats began to increase throughout the 1930s.  For more information on seaplanes, or to learn more about the engine repair services, call Covington Aircraft at 918-756-8320.  You can also follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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