Friday, January 9, 2015

The Age of the Flying Boat

By Fletcher Morton
Flying Boats are fixed wing seaplanes with a watertight hull making it so that they can set down on the water. They are kept balanced on the water by the use of floats under the wings. Some Flying Boats were amphibious, meaning they can set down on the water and land on runways.

Flying Boats had very interesting attributes. They had floats near the ends of the wings instead of wheels. They carried freight and passengers. Most would carry between six and thirty passengers, but the really big later models, like the Pan Am Clipper could carry over seventy passengers. Although the outside looked oddly shaped, the cabins were very nicely appointed, some with rooms inside like miniature staterooms on a cruise ship. Most Flying Boats were made out of aluminum, plywood, and fabric and were powered by radial engines. Flying Boats were mainly used as passenger planes for going around Europe, Africa and Asia. Some of the most popular destinations of the flying boats were exotic ports of call like the Pacific Isles, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Lake Victoria, The Ivory Coast and Southern Africa.

Many Flying boats were made during the first half of the 1900s. At the time, technology had not gone to lighter planes and better fuel and engines, and runways were expensive to build. Because the behemoths were really huge, and less power, it took longer to take off. The solution, was water. Flying boats took off from the water instead of land which made them good international airliners without the need for expensive long runways. Flying boats also served as air/sea rescue planes. They and their valiant crews are responsible for saving countless lives.

By the end of World War II, their popularity waned because of new materials and technologies making airplanes lighter, more powerful and efficient. People thought, "Flying Boats? Why should we use them when we have shorter, less expensive runways?" Very few Flying Boats still exist today. They are now mostly used for recreational flights, remote areas, air/sea rescue missions and dropping water on fires.

There are a lot of famous flying boats, such as the Pan Am Clipper, The PBY Catalina, and Jimmy Buffett's Grumman HU-16 Albatross, the Hemisphere Dancer. (pictured on the right) For the future of Flying Boats, I really hope that they come back for more flying around Europe, Africa and Asia, because I would really like to see places like the Serengeti and Lake Victoria and touch that lost piece of aviation history.