US Flying Boats Best In World

When Air News inaugurated its "Spotter's Quiz" last winter, flying boats were presented first, despite the fact that planes of this type were less spectacular in performance than fighters and bombers. Because nearly eighty per cent of the earth's surface is covered with water, the flying boat can be expected to appear in more world sections than any other type of plane. Ground observers and gun battery crews must early learn the characteristics of enemy flying boats because their extreme range, potential loads, and operational economy can easily conquer the waters separating America from Axis bases.

The military importance of this plane type, however, appears to be diminishing daily in the light of lessons learned during our first year of war. In the course of cargo plane discussions last summer, the relative merits of long range land and sea planes were considered, with the flying boat coming off second on more than one count. Then the US Navy asked Boeing to convert its new Renton plant, originally built for Sea Ranger manufacture, to the production of B-17 Flying Fortresses. The Sea Ranger, rated by some as the finest plane of its type ever built, became known facetiously as aviation's lone ranger.

To the average fighter pilot, the passing of the flying boats comes as no surprise. This plane type has, for many years, been the easiest victim of aerial gunfire. Obviously, no plane which lands on water can be fitted with a bottom turret or any bottom armament beyond a hatch gun aft of the step. Even the Sea Ranger, with ball turrets in tail and nose, could cover only a small part of this vast, unprotected hull area, which supplied the enemy fighter pilot with a huge, unarmored target. In combat, disabling of the engine, controls, or crew was not necessary for victory against a flying boat; puncturing the hull meant that it would almost inevitably sink when landed.

Ground observers will be among the first to welcome the passing of the boat on wings as a military weapon. Because flying boat success depends equally on aerodynamic and hydrodynamic characteristics, every plane of this type must represent an engineering compromise. This challenge to the designer has led to more one-of-a-kind planes in this category than in any other classification. And recognition problems have increased with the appearance of every new design or change in design. This is particularly true among American flying boats now going into service on. six continents. Originally, the Catalina depended for excellent flying characteristics on the operation of retractable wing tip floats. But the present products of Consolidated plants are fitted with fixed wing tip floats for some undisclosed reason — probably the installation of auxiliary gas tanks in the floats. This change in external design is also apparent on the Martin PBM-3.

With so many flying boat designs serving the belligerents, and many of them one-of-a-kind models, it would be confusing and impractical to include all existing types in this spotting guide. In addition, there are some important flying boats which have been omitted from this section for reasons of United Nations security which prevent showing silhouettes and photographs. Observers should, therefore, consider the flying boats described and illustrated on succeeding pages as representative rather than comprehensive. Basically, it is well to consider them first from a standpoint of engine type, number, and mounting, and secondly as to whether hulls are fitted with sponsons or wings with tip floats. Operational purpose frequently dictates these latter characteristics, inasmuch as the stubby sponson, or water wing, increases the plane's marine stability while the tip floats enhance flying performance. German and American. planes likely to require servicing in rough, open seas usually have the sponsons, and patrol bombers which must stay aloft for hours at a time are fitted with tip floats, retractable or fixed.

Germany is reportedly now using a Blohm & Voss 222 flying boat, powered by six engines. And the Latecoere 631, a six-engine flying boat originally designed for Air France Transatlantique, is now being produced in unoccupied France in the interest of Germany's long-distance invasions to come in future months. Powered first by Gnome-Rhone engines, but now fitted with Wright Cyclones shipped to France before German conquest, the Latecoere has maximum overload of 145,000 pounds, wing span of 187', top speed of 261 mph, and cruising speed of about 215 mph. With maximum bomb load, its range probably exceeds 4,000 miles. Britain is now using the Sunderland Mark I and the US Navy has added the JRK, developed from the Vought- Sikorsky Excalibur. The mammoth Martin, originally designated the PB2M-1, has now been redesigned as a long range, unarmed Navy freight carrier, tentatively known as the JRM-1. America's biggest flying boat, it is dwarfed by the Latecoere and by the Bv-122 which has 150' wing span and weighs 100,000 pounds fully loaded for combat duty.

This article was originally published in the December, 1942, "Complete Spotter's Guide" issue of Air News, vol 3, no 8, pp 24-25.
The original article includes 5 photos and 1 drawing.
Photos credited to Rudy Arnold, Glenn L Martin Co, Monkmeyer, British Combine, Boeing; drawing from British Combine.