A flying boat is a type of seaplane. It differs from a floatplane in that the fuselage itself sits in the water rather than being positioned above it on a pontoon. The flying boat takes its name from the fact that its fuselage is really a boat-like hull. Nautical terms generally apply to flying boats, whose fuselages are referred to as their hulls, whose noses as bows, and so on. Flying boats were some of the largest aircraft of the first half of the 20th century; they were only exceeded in size by bombers developed during WWII. Their advantage was in using water instead of expensive land based runways, making them the basis for international airlines in the interwar period. They were also commonly used for maritime patrol and air-sea rescue. Their use gradually eased after WWII, partly due to investments in airports during the war. In this century, flying boats are used to drop water on forest fires, provide air transport around archipelagos, and to get access to undeveloped areas.
The Felixstowe was designed by Lieutenant Commander John Cyril Porte RN at the naval air station, Felixstowe. In February, 1917, the first prototype of the Felixstowe F.3 was flown. Larger and heavier than the F.2, it had a greater range and heavier bomb load, but less agility. About 100 Felixstowe F.3s were produced before the end of the war.
Canadian Vickers Ltd. produced five flying boats, four of which went beyond the prototype stage. The first one produced was the Vista. It was the first Canadian designed monoplane. It had a duralumin sheet hull; its tail was made of framed metal tubing. The wings were made of wood and the wing and tail surfaces were fabric. However it had some undesirable traits. Thus, once the prototype was finished, production was cancelled. After testing the airframe, the aircraft was shipped to RCAF Jericho Beach in 1930, where it was used for taxiing practice. It was also moored out to test the effects of salt water on its hull. By 1931, the corrosion on the hull was bad enough that it was scrapped in the same year.
Eight Vickers Vikings were flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1923 until the last one was “struck off strength” in 1931. The aircraft was used in a variety of roles, primarily in northern Canada. It featured an observer’s cockpit at the front of the fuselage which was often used for photographic reconnaissance.
First flown in 1925, the Vickers Vedette was the first aircraft designed and built to meet specifications for Canadian conditions. It was a single-engine biplane flying boat purchased to meet an RCAF demand for a smaller aircraft than the Viking, with a much greater rate of climb, to be suitable for forestry survey and fire protection work. Many of the topographical maps in use in Canada today are based on photos taken from these aircraft.
The Canadian Vickers Varuna was a Canadian flying boat of the 1920s. A large scale twin-engined version of the Vedette, the Varuna’s hull was made of wood and the rest of the structure was a frame of steel tube. The Varuna was developed to meet an RCAF requirement for a flying boat to transport men and equipment to forest fires. Most Varunas spent their service in Manitoba.
The Canadian Vickers Vancouver was a Canadian transport/patrol flying boat. Built in the 1930s, the Vancouver was a twin-engine, equal-span biplane. The hull was of metal; the rest of the structure of fabric-covered wood. The Vancouver was developed as a replacement for the Varuna; the main difference from the Varuna was a duralumin hull and more powerful engines. Used as a transport for men and equipment to forest fires, the Varuna housed two flight crew in two tandem open cockpits forward of the wing, along with a main cabin that could accommodate a firefighting team of six men as well as all the required equipment. Of the five that were delivered to the RCAF, one was later converted into a coastal patrol aircraft. In the mid 1930s, the Vancouvers were modified as coastal patrol aircraft by installing machine guns and bombs. Following the outbreak of WWII, the Vancouvers were attached to No. 4 Squadron, RCAF at Jericho Beach and were there till withdrawn from service in 1940.
The Supermarine Walrus (originally known as the Supermarine Seagull V) was a single-engine biplane reconnaissance aircraft designed by R.J. Mitchell (designer of the Schneider racers and later the Spitfire), first flown in 1933. It was the first British squadron aircraft to incorporate a fully retractable main undercarriage, completely enclosed crew accommodation, and an all metal fuselage in one airframe. It was designed for use as a fleet spotter and to be catapult launched from cruisers or battleships. Later it was used for other purposes, such as a rescue aircraft for downed aircraft. It was in service throughout WWII. The Walrus was involved wherever the Royal Navy saw action, from the Mediterranean to the South Pacific. It also served with the Australian Navy.
The Supermarine Stranraer entered service in 1936; it was the fastest of the biplane flying boats with the RAF. It was also the best protected in a structural sense; it took advantage of the preserving characteristics of the anodizing process being introduced. This was especially an advantage to marine aircraft which were always subject to corrosion from sea water. The Stranraers were also produced and operated in Canada, serving in the RCAF until replaced by Canso PBYs in 1943.
The Curtiss HS series of flying boats “were a natural evolution of the Model H series of flying boats that were born in the years before WWI and adapted by Felixstowe for production in the United Kingdom… the Model H flying boats had been the twin-engine, pusher propeller H-16 aircraft that were being developed concurrently with the single-engine HS craft.
The Curtiss HS-2L flying boats were produced with 400 horsepower Liberty 12 engines. They became “the standard US Navy flying boat during World War I and was the only indigenously-designed US aircraft to serve in Europe during the war… The HS-2L carried a crew of three, was armed with a single machine gun, and had a 600 pound bomb load. It was 39 feet in length and had a wing span of 74 feet 1 inch. It had a gross weight of 6432 pounds. Its engine gave it a top speed of 85 mph, and it had a range of 575 miles.” (Bill Yenne)
The Consolidated PBY Catalina, also known as the Canso in Canadian service, was an American flying boat, and later an amphibious aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. Catalinas served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other nations. The Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina (September 1940 – July 1943) was an improvement on earlier designs in that it had higher power engines (using higher octane fuel), discontinued the use of propeller spinners, and had standardized waist gun blisters. Self-sealing fuel tanks were introduced during the production run.
Special thanks to Dan for sharing the photos!