Glenn Hammond Curtiss (1878 – 1930)

On 26 January 1911, Glenn Curtiss made the world’s 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 converted to a hydro-aeroplane was known as ‘Waterbird’.

Wakefield concluded:

‘But in spite of the valuable results obtained by M.Fabre, he, like many early experimenters, achieved but moderate success and it was reserved for the American, Mr Glenn Curtiss, to show that with a single float constructed on certain lines so as to lessen resistance, it was not only possible to rise from the water but also to alight on it with a reasonable amount of safety, for if the truth must be told, while the Fabre system had shown itself able to leave the water, it had not been equally successful in alighting without damage. Among the important results derived from Mr Glenn Curtiss’ experiments may be mentioned in addition to the possibility of using a single float, the importance of retaining the Fabre float bottom together with the parallel sides and mounting the float under the aeroplane in such a way that the greater part of the buoyancy was forward the centre of gravity, and only just sufficient buoyancy left at the stern of the float to prevent the risk of a tail dive. By this means a considerable speed could be attained in the water before the excess of forward bouyancy was overcome by the pressure of the propeller, and when once speed had been got up the inclined plane comes into action and the risk of a nose dive is greatly lessened.’

Waterbird first flew on 25 November 1911 from Windermere.

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.

On 11 December 1911, Wakefield applied for patents for stepped floats and their methods of attachment.

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

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 his arrival back in England, Porte entered the Royal Naval Air Service as a Squadron Commander in command of the Royal Naval Air Station at Hendon and obtained Admiralty permission to purchase 2 Curtiss flying boats. In 1915, 50 Curtiss flying boats were purchased and Porte was given command of the Felixstowe Station. Porte carried out many improvements and, during experiments on the Curtiss hulls, work began on the construction of large flying boats designed by Porte leading to the Felixstowe F-boats.

Whilst commanding an F.2A in 1918, Captain Cooper Pattinson of Windermere was awarded the DFC following the destruction of a Zeppelin.

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

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes