Although relatively unknown by the public, flying boats have served many purposes through the years, including military operations, exploration, and mail delivery. Deutsch Luft Hansa (DLH) was instrumental in creating ship-to-shore mail delivery, which led to trans-Atlantic mail flights by 1937.
In 1937, DLH ordered three of the Do.26 flying boats for trans-Atlantic mail flights. The Do.26, called the “most beautiful flying boat ever built,” were sleek four-engine planes whose floats retracted to increase plane speed. Although completed prior to the outbreak of World War II, United States opposition kept DLH from operating the aircraft on the intended flights. Instead, the company operated the planes to carry mail between Bathurst and Natal in South Africa. During World War II, the flying boats entered military service, with three additional Do.26 planes built for use by the military.
Sikorsky S-43 Feeder Airplane
Known as the “Baby Clipper,” the Sikorsky S-43 flying boat was a smaller version of the Sikorsky S-42. The plane carried between 18 and 25 passengers, as well as a two-person crew. Pan Am used the S-43 for flights to Cuba and Latin America, while Reeve Aleutian Airways in Alaska and Inter-Island Airways of Hawaii used the flying boat to transport passengers. The U.S. Army Air Corps purchased five of the aircraft, the U.S. Navy purchased 17, and the Marine Corps used two of the aircraft. Designed for short routes with low-passenger numbers, the plane had a range of 775 miles and a maximum speed of 190 miles per hour.
Built by the Glenn M. Martin Company in Baltimore for Pan Am, the three M-130 flying boats purchased by the company joined Pan Am’s “Clipper” line, although all three of the planes were given different names. On November 22, 1935, the “China Clipper” flew the first trans-Pacific airmail route. On October 14, 1936, the “Philippine Clipper” began passenger service between the United States and Hong Kong, while the “Hawaii Clipper” offered service between California and the Philippines. In July 1938, the “Hawaii Clipper” disappeared on a flight between Guam and Manila, losing nine crew and six passengers. The “Philippine Clipper” survived the Japanese attack on Wake Island but crashed into a mountain in January 1943, killing 19 people. The “China Clipper” broke apart and sank at the Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago during landing on January 23, 1945, killing 23 people.
The original Douglas Dolphin, then known as the Sinbad, was a true flying boat, as it had no wheels and could land only on water. Designed as a luxurious flying yacht in 1930, Douglas Aircraft Company found limited demand for the plane due to the Great Depression. However, in 1931, the company improved the Sinbad, making it amphibious, and renamed it the “Dolphin.” The United States Coast Guard purchased not only the Sinbad, but twelve dolphins as well. Eventually, two of the flying boats became the property of Wilmington-Catalina Airlines, who used the planes to fly passengers between Los Angeles and Santa Catalina Island. The majority of these seaplanes, however, transported wealthy industrialists, including William Boeing, Philip K. Wrigley and William Vanderbilt. One plane was procured by the U.S. Navy to transport President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and although Roosevelt never used the plane, it was the first aircraft purchased for use by a sitting U.S. president.
Short S-23 Empire of QANTAS
Used to carry passengers and mail between Britain and the British Colonies located in Africa, Asia and Australia, the Short S-23 Empire flying boat became known as the Empire “C” Class. The British Empire companies, QANTAS, which served Australia, TEAL, which served New Zealand, and Imperial, which served Britain, named each Short S-23 with a “C” name in recognition of the aircraft class. The planes, used in military operations during World War II, primarily for anti-submarine and transport purposes, had less range than the Sikorsky flying boats. This meant they were unable to provide trans-Atlantic service.
Aviation designers continued to develop better trans-Atlantic flying boats in an effort to improve passenger and mail transport across oceans. For more information on seaplanes, or to learn more about engine repair services, call Covington Aircraft at 918-756-8320. You can also join us on LinkedIn and Twitter.