Glenn Hammond Curtiss (1878 – 1930)

On 26 January 1911, Glenn Curtiss made the first practical hydro-aeroplane flight at San Diego Bay, California, by converting a Curtiss Model D landplane.

As a result, Edward Wakefield ended his negotiations with A.V. Roe & Company for a Bleriot-type machine. Arrangements were then made for an Avro Curtiss-type, which when made into a hydro-aeroplane at Windermere was known as ‘Waterbird’.

Henri Fabre had achieved the first successful flight from water on 28 March 1910 near Marseilles.

So, when Waterbird flew on 25 November 1911, it was the first successful hydro-aeroplane flight outside of France and the USA and the first with a stepped float in the world.

Float Design

The Curtiss pontoon float had been designed to ride through waves of the sea, shaped so that it would tend to rise on the surface and was flat-bottomed. However, the Wakefield float, whilst of a Curtiss-type, was ‘stepped‘ so as to enable it to break the suction effect of the water.

The first floats with a step were designed and tested by Oscar Gnosspelius at Windermere in July 1910.

Curtiss flying boat No. 2, nicknamed the ‘Flying Fish’, had a full-length flat-bottomed fuselage, rather than a central float. However, it would not leave the water until a step was added in July 1912.


On 11 December 1911, Wakefield applied for UK Patents No. 27,770 and No. 27,771 for the method of attachment and a stepped float, which were respectively granted on 12 September 1912 and 18 March 1913.

In a departure from the pontoon float, Gnosspelius applied for a patent for a v-shaped float on 29 October 1913, which type is used on almost every float made today. UK Patent No. 10,801 was granted on 12 February 1914.

Curtiss applied on 4 June 1913 for US Patent No. 1,142,754 for a flying boat, which was granted on 8 June 1915. On 18 November 1916, he applied for US Patent No. 1,269,397 for a pontoon float, which was granted on 11 June 1918.

Curtiss Aeroplanes in Europe

The first successful demonstration in Europe of a Navy-type Curtiss hydro-aeroplane was made on 6 February 1912, by Hugh Robinson to Louis Paulman at Juan-les-Pins, near Nice.

In 1914,  John Porte went to America to join Curtiss who had been commissioned to produce a flying boat capable of crossing the Atlantic and to claim the Daily Mail £10,000 prize, which was named ‘America‘. However, World War One intervened.

On Porte’s arrival back in England, he entered the Royal Naval Air Service as a Squadron Commander in command of the Royal Naval Air Station at Hendon. Having been transferred to RNAS Felixtowe, he  was given command in 1915. He obtained Admiralty permission to purchase 2 Curtiss flying boats, and there followed 62 Curtiss ‘Small America’ and 71 ‘Large America’ flying boats; Britain was Curtiss’ largest overseas customer during the War. Porte carried out many improvements and, during experiments on the Curtiss hulls, work began on the construction of large flying boats designed by him leading to the Felixstowe F-boats.

On 20 May 1917, two ex-Windermere pupils, Flight Sub-Lieutenants Charles Morrish and Henry Boswell, were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a U-boat whilst flying a Curtiss Large America H-12 flying boat. Both received the Distinguished Service Cross.

A Felixtowe F.2A flying boat shot down a Zeppelin on 10 May 1918, whilst under the command of Captain Cooper Pattinson of Windermere for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Felixtowe F.3 flying boat hulls were made by Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere, having been sub-contracted in 1918 by Dick, Kerr & Co. of Preston.  Borwick’s also built Waterbird’s float and floats for the RNAS.

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes