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.’

Waterbird flew on 25 November 1911 from Windermere. This was the first successful hydro-aeroplane flight outside of France and the USA.

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 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, when during the course of thirty minutes he alighted on the water at least a dozen times.

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.

On 6 September 1912, Curtiss applied for US Patent No. 1,142,754 for a flying boat, which was granted on 8 June 1915.

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.

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

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