Fabulous Flying Boats, A History of the World’s Passenger Flying Boats



Relatively few books cover flying boats. This book is one of the best and it includes a very detailed appendix that packs much information and is almost a book in its own right.





NAME: Fabulous Flying Boats, A History of the World’s Passenger Flying Boats
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
DATE: 311013
FILE: R1876
AUTHOR: Leslie Dawson
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 320
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Flying boats, seaplanes, Empire Class, Boeing Clipper, Catalina, PBY, Martin Mariner
ISBN: 978-1-78159-109-1
IMAGE: B1876.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/q5gucud
DESCRIPTION: This is a very well written-book, with a host of well-chosen monochrome photographs in illustration. It is the subject that is potentially confusing, and the author has gone a long way to making the subject clearer.

In the early days of aviation there was an extraordinary range of shapes and formats. Over the first decade from the Wright Brothers’ first controlled power flight, this bewildering range of designs and names began to condense, and by the end of the first half century of flight, much of the confusion was removed. In embarking on a history of a broad type of aircraft, it is very difficult to avoid re-introducing some of this confusion and the main culprit is often the book title. In the case of this new book, the title suggests that it provides a history of commercial passenger flying boats and this is indeed the main part of the story that has been told so well, but the author has needed to also include information beyond that described brief, and to attempt to put in perspective the nature of the flying boat as a form of aircraft.

Very early in the story of flight, pioneers built aircraft that could land on, and take off from, water. This was a very logical approach in the early days because the places where aircraft could fly to and from rarely had a large open space available to provide the runway that a land plane requires. Buying land and levelling the space to provide an airfield that was adequate for the rapidly developing forms of aircraft was both costly and time-consuming. One difficulty was that the space had to provide a runway that was long enough for the aircraft to become airborne, but there was also the need to provide a greater space that was free of obstructions as the aircraft gained altitude. By using lakes and sea as an airfield, the cost was greatly reduced, the time in development of the facilities was significantly shorter, and aircraft development did not make the facilities obsolete almost as soon as they were open for flying. However, that was a simplistic view because adverse weather can render the water ‘airfield’ unsuitable when a land base continues to be adequate. Passengers, fuel, supplies and engineers have to be taken out in some kind of boat, presenting other potential difficulties. The result is that water-based aircraft needed facilities to allow them to be brought ashore for maintenance.

The first water-based aircraft were often referred to as hydroplanes, which was confusing because a class of high-speed power boat was also known by that name. To avoid this confusion the names seaplane, floatplane and flying boat came into use and those aircraft able to fly to and from land or water came to be known as amphibians. The only two accurate names were flying boat and floatplane, because the two forms were distinctly different with only one possible exception. Flying boats had a boat-shaped hull and would normally also have two small wingtip floats that were there only to stop the wing digging into the water and causing the aircraft to crash. Float planes had two or three floats as the only parts of the aircraft to sit on the water. Those with two large floats had sufficient stability to avoid the need for wingtip stabilizing floats. Early floatplanes had two smaller main floats and therefore required a third float at the tail. Those floatplanes with a single large main float faced a similar stability challenge to flying boats and required wingtip stabilizing floats. The exception was an experimental Blackburn flying boat that could be regarded as both a floatplane and a flying boat. To address the traditional challenges of drag and wing angle of attack, Blackburn built what looked like a flying boat with an unusually low top line. For take off and landing, wingtip stabilizing floats were lowered, like landing wheels, and the fuselage was raised from what was a very large single float that also placed the wing at an increased angle of attack for take off. This provided good hydrodynamic characteristics for operation on water, but when the main float retracted to the bottom of the fuselage, and the wingtip floats retracted, the aircraft provided greatly improved aerodynamic characteristics and greatly reduced drag, similar to that of a large landplane with retractable undercarriage. Amphibians were floatplanes or flying boats that include wheels for land operation. Many early floatplanes, particularly for military use, included wheels and grass skids in their twin floats and these were not retractable, reducing the efficiency of operation on water. Amphibious flying boats usually had retractable wheels, retracting into the boat hull fuselage.

The author has provided a lively account of the early passenger flying boats, the people who flew them and used them, the infrastructure that supported them and the transition from peace to war. After 1945, flying boats returned to peacetime passenger duties but were rapidly withdrawn and scrapped because airliners developed from land-based heavy bombers proved much more efficient and had hundreds of war-time airfields, built for bombers, from which they could operate. This rapid change has seen the floatplane, amphibian and flying boat forms reduced to niche operations. Several ‘bush’ aircraft, such as the Zenith 750, mostly operate from land with large flotation tyres for rough ground operation, but they can also convert to amphibians by replacing the pair of main wheels with a pair of large floats that include a main wheel and a semi-retractable nose wheel in each float. There are also amphibian flying boats, like the Bombardier amphibian that is used for fire fighting, search and rescue and maritime patrol, and there are a few very old smaller flying boats that continue in operation, but the numbers are very small. The result is that this book deals mainly with times long past and provides an interesting perspective.

Relatively few books cover flying boats. This book is one of the best and it includes a very detailed appendix that packs much information and is almost a book in its own right.

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