A flying boat is a type of aircraft which uses its fuselage as a floating hull, generally stabilised on the water surface by underwing floats or stub projections. It is a specialised form of seaplane, an aircraft that is designed to take off and land on water utilising a carriage and pontoons that maintain the fuselage above water level.
Flying boats were among the largest aircraft of the first half of the 20th century. Their ability to alight on water allowed them to break free of the size constraints imposed by general lack of large, land-based runways, and also made them important for the rescue of downed pilots, a capability put to great use in World War II. Following World War II, their use gradually tailed off, with many of the roles taken over by land aircraft types. 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.
Before World War I the American pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss, who had been experimenting with floatplanes, joined with Englishman John Cyril Porte to design a flying boat that could take the prize offered by the British Daily Mail newspaper for the first aerial crossing of the Atlantic ocean. Porte developed a practical hull design with the distinctive 'step' which could be married to Curtis' airframe and engine design. The resulting large aircraft would be able to carry enough fuel to fly long distances and could berth alongside ships for refuelling. The war interrupted Porte's plans, but from 1914 Curtis produced his "America" flying boat, several examples of which were acquired by the Royal Naval Air Service and tested at their Seaplane Experimental Station, now run by Porte. Porte developed this model into the Felixstowe F.1 and its larger derivatives, used for coastal patrols and hunting U-boats.
The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company independently developed its designs into the small model 'F', the larger model 'K' which was licensed to Dmitry Pavlovich Grigorovich as the Shchetinin M-5 for the Imperial Russian Navy, and the Model 'C' for the US Navy. Curtiss among others also built the Felixstowe F5L, the last of Porte's designs for US use.
The Curtis NC-4 became the first airplane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1919. In the 1920s and 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 range to travel great distances and 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 "China Clipper" planes brought exotic destinations like the Far East within reach of air travelers and came to represent the romance of flight. BOAC and Imperial Airways provided flying boat passenger and mail transport links between Britain and South Africa, Australia and New Zealand using aircraft such as the Short Empire and the Short S.8 Calcutta.
The military value of flying boats was quickly recognized, and they were utilized by various nations in tasks from anti-submarine patrol to maritime search and rescue. 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. By the end of World War II, nearly 350 Gooses (they are never referred to as Geese) had been built. They helped the U.S. military and their allies with reliable transportation to remote locations all over the world.
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. 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.
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. Aircraft like the Saunders-Roe Princess made it to prototype stage, but orders or a purpose never came. Helicopters overtook the flying boats in their 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.
In the early to mid-1950s, there was an attempt to build a full-size, jet-powered flying boat (the Martin P6M Seamaster) for the U.S. Navy. Though several Seamaster aircraft were manufactured and flown, the project was terminated for a variety of reasons.
Just twenty years after the first powered flight by the Wright brothers in 1903, the new British aviation industry was experiencing rapid growth. The Government decided that rationalisation was necessary and ordered five aviation companies to merge and form Imperial Airways (IA). IA then became the official British airline. Also in 1923, the first British commercial flying boat service was introduced with flights to and from the Channel Islands.
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, was registered in Brisbane during November of 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 with Imperial Airways, and 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 IA 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 mail volumes were exceeding aircraft storage space. A solution to the problem was found by the British Government, who in 1933 had requested aviation manufacturer's Short Brothers to design a big new long-range monoplane for use by IA and the RAF. Partner Qantas agreed to the initiative and undertook to purchase six of the new Empire 'C' Class S.23 flying boats.
The shape of the Spruce Goose 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 Glass Goose, the LSA SeaMax 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.
- Chinese Shuihong 5 amphibious aircraft.jpg
Chinese Harbin/Shuihong 5
- US-1A-KAI-Flying boat01.jpg
Japanese ShinMaywa US-2
Notes and references
- Enhanced by a further sum from the "Women's Aerial League of Great Britain"
- Its claim to true flying status is disputed as it made but one short flight in its life
- List of flying boats and seaplanes
- Amphibious aircraft
- Jerome C. Hunsaker
- RAF Gatow
- Maureen O'Hara
- Bill Chen
- Sunderland Flying Boats Windamere
- Flying Clippers Pan American's Fabulous Flying Ships
- The Boeing B-314
- Flying Contraptions
- Flying Boats of the world - A Complete Reference
- Foynes Flying Boat Museum
- Present Day Application of Flying Boats
- LSA seaplane SeaMax
- The Dornier Do X
- Centaur Seaplane
- Pan Am Clipper Airliners
- TransAtlantic Re-enactment Flight
- Flying boat documentaries on DVD
- Cyril Porte and Glen Curtis
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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Flying boat".