View Full Version : Calling All Boat Hands

Flatus Veteranus
14th Feb 2002, 22:45
Are there any ex-Sunderland or Boeing Clipper operators left out there? I imagine the PanAm and BOAC pilots who operated the transatlantic service in the big Boeing boats during WW2 have long since gone to some sort of Valhalla; but Sunderlands were in service with the RAF at least until the early ‘50s. When I was trained there was a whole section in AP129 on the operation of flying boats and relevant seamanship, and all that “lore” will die soon unless it is recorded somewhere. Has anyone written a book that includes any detail of handling techniques and the life-style in the “boats”?

Charles Graves in “Seven Pilots” has “Jock Riddell” converting on to Sunderlands in 1942, after a tour on Hudsons. Some points that came up:-

 Some of the crew lived aboard permanently (there was an excellent wardroom and galley). One of the 3 pilots had to be aboard at any time a gale warning was in force, in case the mooring parted.. . Handling on the water could be tricky due to weather-cocking tendency. Radius when turning down wind could be large. When sea-room around the mooring was limited by other boats and shipping, the boat could be sailed down wind backwards by lowering full flap and steering with the outboard engines, until sufficient room was found in which to turn the boat.. . Drogues were used to slow the boat down and differentially to help steering. A “drogue switch” was mentioned; but this may have rung a bell aft to tell a crew man to throw the drogue out.. . Controls were heavy but the handling was viceless, “…unless you get the nose down at stalling speed or in a night landing. If you do you’ve had it!” There was a tendency for the unwary to porpoise on take-off.. . A wartime flare path consisted of three glims, 200 yards apart.. . Sunderlands did land on the open sea to pick up aircrew in dinghies. Normal max sea state for landing was a 6ft sea “Full flap, 2,300 rpm, long shallow power approach, pick out a swell on which to land. The idea was to find a small swell and run along the top of it with the wind drifting the Sunderland with the swell”.. . However, Graves had Riddell returning to base at night short of fuel and unable to find the flare path due to low cloud and poor Vis. He laid his own flare path a few miles out to sea using 8 “flame floats” 75 yds apart, and landed successfully (just about!) in 35 kts of wind and a 12-15 ft sea. He was then, eventually, towed in (next morning).

There was a bloke on my CFS course from boats in the Far East. He told yarns about going on cruises around Indonesia and staying independent for days and weeks at a time. There were fuel dumps stashed away up creeks and most servicing operations could be done by the crew on board. They even used to entertain officials from remote outposts to drinks on board – duty-free, of course!

Any flying-boat experiences would be most gratefully received.

15th Feb 2002, 07:21
Flatus,. .You may like to read "Adventurous Empires" ISBN 1-84037-130-7 by Phillip E. Sims.. .A good history of the Shorts Empire boats. <img src="smile.gif" border="0">

15th Feb 2002, 09:43
Try Corsairville, can't remember the author. True story dealing with an Empire boat stuck in a river in deepest Africa just before WW2. Heroic efforts required to get the thing out of the mud <img src="eek.gif" border="0">

15th Feb 2002, 14:36
That story is covered in AE. <img src="smile.gif" border="0">

15th Feb 2002, 15:16
About Corsairville. The author is Graham Coster and the ISBN Number is 0-670-86653-9. Published by Viking and retail was UKL12.99.

A smashing read, I thoroughly recommend it.

16th Feb 2002, 18:29
Best chance probably to see big boats still in action in off Vancouver Island in Cananda. Martin Mars boats are still used for fire fighting there.

17th Feb 2002, 07:48
Two nice shots of Mars C-FLYL. .<a href="http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=213611" target="_blank">http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=213611</a> . .<a href="http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=210010" target="_blank">http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=210010</a>

Don't get caught here. .<a href="http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=095633" target="_blank">http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=095633</a>

Finally this superb pic of the PBY . .<a href="http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=140110" target="_blank">http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=140110</a>

[ 17 February 2002: Message edited by: pigboat ]</p>

17th Feb 2002, 10:53
pigboat, excellent links. Those Mars are amazing. Are there only 2 left?

Imagine a formation of the Mars, Catalina and a Sunderland. It's doeable if you happen to have a shed full of money at the end of your garden! :)

17th Feb 2002, 21:34

went to google.com Martin Mars

A Canadian bought all 4 of them from a scrap dealer for $100,000. ALL Four. The dealer had bought them from the US Navy. Two were lost , including the one with the R4360 engines, before they really got them into full operation.

Gary Halliday
19th Feb 2002, 04:54
I stand by my remarks about "Corsairville" on this forum. Naff.

Best Flying Boat read I`ve come across is The Sky Beyond - Sir Gordon Taylor ISBN 0-553-23949-X

It would be interesting to know what Kermit Weeks intends to do with the ex Edward Hulton Sunderland. I know of 1 active UK F/E (though not on boats) who has a Sunderland Type Rating.

I hope FVs idea of recording comprehensively the lore of the boats comes to something.My personal solution to the loss of the skills would be a complete ban on cheap fights, silver service for those able to fly, wicker chairs, replace all jets with pistons, make GPS illegal and mass travel to be the preseve of ships (they`re much more civilised anyway). Sails or preferably Galleys.

Edited to say yeah very nice pictures Mr Boat


[ 19 February 2002: Message edited by: Gary Halliday ]</p>

19th Feb 2002, 07:55
LowNSlow, your three ship formation idea is great. The only guy who has the bucks and the equipment to do something like that would be Kermit Weeks. He has, I believe, the only flying example of a Sunderland around. Must figure a way to entice him to bring it to Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island, where the Mars are based. There are two PBY's in Nanaimo, if I'm not mistaken, so our problem is solved. :) . .At some point last year there was talk of putting both the Mars up for sale. One of the companies that contracts for their use thought they were an expensive luxury, since during the previous year they had seen little use in a fire fighting capacity due to a wet season. What the bean counters fail to realise, is that in an hour a Mars can knock down a small fire before it destroys ten million dollars worth of prime timber. Fortunately, someone pointed that fact out, and the aircraft won a reprieve.. .Mr. Halliday, the book you mention is that the one about the pioneering flights made by an Aussie with a PBY5? I seem to remember reading it many years ago. Is this the one where they ride out a typhoon moored at a place called Clipperton Island? If it is, it's an excellent read. . .FV, Cat Driver would be an good source of material on handling the boats. He still flies the PBY regularly, and must be one of the few who does so in a non water bombing role. I'm also taking the liberty of mailing this thread to a friend who used to be the demo pilot for Canadair on the CL215/415 series. He's still active on both machines during the fire season in Europe. There would also have been a section in the old Austin Airways Ops Manual dedicated to the operation of the PBY5A. Hopefully, Cat may still have a copy hanging around. I'll also see if I can dig up a copy of the old Northern Wings Ops Manual. We operated two at one time.

Flatus Veteranus
19th Feb 2002, 23:08
Thanks all for the super pics and bibliography. I hope to make contact with ex-Sunderland hands in NZ, where the boats served on to the 60s.

Does anyone recall an incident when one of the big Boeings operated, I think by a charter company in the late 40s/early 50s, forced-landed in bad weather in the Atlantic? I seem to remember that she survived long enough for the passengers to be taken off. The Boeings had hull-mounted sponsons, I think, which were presumably stronger than wing-mounted floats.

I would like to put together a collection of flying-boat reminiscenses, perhaps for private circulation. Please email me any contributions or ask for my postal address.

<img src="smile.gif" border="0">

20th Feb 2002, 06:25
Now the Short's Mayo. That was one of a kind.

Short's Mayo Composite was an attempt to provide long-range air mail services with two aircraft teamed together to carry out a single mission. This was a daring concept that looked bizarre. It was also a challenge to pilots, but it worked. Durning its brief moment of glory in the late 1930's, the Short Mayo combination established a long-distance duration record for seaplanes that will probably never be broken: 5,984 miles, from Dundee, Scotland, to the Orange River, South Africa.

In the 1930s, tests proved that an Imperial Airways "Empire" flying boat could achieve a transatlantic crossing only if its entire payload consisted of fuel, leaving no room for cargo or passengers. Since an aircraft can fly at greater weight than that at which it can take off, Robert Mayo proposed that a small heavily-loaded mail plane be carried to operational altitude above a larger "mother plane" and then released to complete its long-range task.

Shorts designed and built a Composite unit, modifying an "Empire" flying boat to mount the S.20 long-range twin floatplane. The system was a sucess, but World War II ended any further development.

SPECIFICATIONS. .S.20 "Mercury". .Type: Long-range floatplane mail carrier.. .Powerplant: Four 340-hp. Napier Rapier H piston engines.. .Maximum speed: 210 m.p.h.; 194 m.p.h. at max weight.. .Extended range: 5,984 mi. (record flight).. .Normal range: 3,800 mi.. .Weights: Empty 10,150 lb.; max 15,466 lb.; normal Composite launch 20,775 lb.; record launch 26,752 lb.. .Payload: 1,000 lb.. .Dimensions:Span 73 ft.. .Length 51 ft.. .Wing area 1,748 sq. ft.

SPECIFICATIONS. .S.21 "Maia". .Type: Flying boat, mother plane for long-range upper component.. .Powerplant: Four 919-hp. Bristol Pegasus XC radial piston engines.. .Maximum speed: 200 m.p.h.. .Range: 843 mi.. .Service ceiling: 20,000 ft.. .Weights:Empty 24,715 lb.; max takeoff 37,954 lb.; max for Composite launching 27,676 lb.. .Dimensions:Span 114 ft.. .Length 85 ft.. .Wing area 1,748 sq. ft.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to a photograph, only a model:


ps. here is a link to the Flying tankers home site with downloadable video footage:

. .<a href="http://www.martinmars.com/videogal.htm" target="_blank">Mars</a>

(But if you want comfort and silverware, have'nt they started building Zeppelins again?)


[ 20 February 2002: Message edited by: ORAC ]</p>

20th Feb 2002, 06:36

PanAm Clipper Flight 943 - Pacific


Date: October 16, 1956 . .Time: 06:15 . .Location: Over the Pacific Ocean . .Airline / Op: Pan American World Airways . .Flight #: 943 . .Route: San Francisco - Honolulu . .AC Type: Boeing 377 Stratocruiser . .Registration: N90943 . .cn / ln: 15959 . .Aboard: 31 (passengers:24 crew:7) . .Fatalities: 0 (passengers:0 crew:0) . .Ground: 0

Summary: The aircraft ditched into the Pacific Ocean while on a flight from San Francisco to Honolulu after losing the No. 1 and then the No. 4 engine. The aircraft circled around the US Coast Guard weather ship "November" until daybreak after which it made a successful ditching with no casualties. Probable Cause: An initial mechanical failure which precluded feathering the No.1 propeller and a subsequent mechanical failure which resulted in a complete loss of power from the No.4 engine, the effects of which necessitated a ditching. The aircraft was named Clipper Sovereign of the Sky.


On 16 October 1956, the cutter Pontchartrain had spent an uneventful two weeks on Ocean Station November when a Pan American Clipper, Flight 943, about 38 miles from the cutter, reported a runaway engine.

A few minutes later the airplane, which was on the last leg of a transpacific flight with twenty-four passengers and a seven-member flight crew, notified the Pontchartrain that another engine was out and it would have to ditch.

Commander William K. Earle called his men to rescue stations and informed them of the situation, ordering float lights laid on the ditching heading while the motor whaleboat was manned and the ship's searchlights and mortar flares provided illumination.

After some experimentation, Pilot Richard Ogg found that the clipper's altitude could be maintained by use of maximum power on the two remaining engines—thus, it could wait until daylight to come down. During the next five hours, the airplane circled November while Ogg and Earle discussed its evacuation plan, going over every possible contingency, and the Pontchartrain's men shifted her motor gig outboard of the pulling boat normally rigged out so that two power boats would be available immediately.

It was fully light by 7 am , but Ogg decided not to ditch until his fuel was virtually exhausted. Notified that the airplane would come down at 8:25, the Pontchartrain laid a. 2-mile line of foam to mark the ditching path, but before she could reach her desired position and heading, the clipper made its final approach, bouncing once and then plunging into a low swell with tail breaking off and nose smashed.

As the cutter came up at full speed, backing down close aboard and putting her her boats in the water, members of the flight crew climbed onto the wing to launch liferafts and help passengers into them. The motor whaleboat took fifteen people from the airplane, after which one of the gig crew inspected its interior to ensure that no one remained.

The gig then picked up the sixteen in the rafts, returning to the Pontchartrain as the clipper sank, twenty minutes after ditching. All were got on board without difficulty, and the hospital corpsman, joined by a doctor who had been a passenger, treated the five with minor cuts and bruises. Meanwhile, those in the two boats examined the debris left floating when the airplane sank and retrieved a considerable amount of registered mail, luggage, and other things of value.

The 255-foot cutter lacked adequate quarters for so many guests, a number of whom were women and children, so the commander of the Coast Guard's Western Area ordered her to San Francisco, leaving Station November temporarily unattended.

Off the Golden Gate, the Pontchartrain met the Gresham, which transferred thirty-one suitcases, each bearing the name of a passenger or flight crew member and containing clothing purchased by Pan American Airways in accordance with information radioed by the cutter. Thus, those rescued were properly garbed when they went ashore.

No reporters were permitted to board the Pontchartrain as she stood into San Francisco Bay, and when the thirty-one left the cutter after she had been moored, they went immediately to a section of the pier reserved for relatives and friends, with whom they talked before facing the press and television cameras

The success of this operation owed much to the fact that on taking command of the Pontchartrain two months earlier, Commander Earle had requested refresher training to familiarize himself with his crew and with techniques introduced since he had left the 311-foot Matagorda, which he had commanded on ocean station duty in the Atlantic from 1950 to 1952. And the clipper crew had gone through ditching drill at the Coast Guard Air Station, Alameda, less than a week before, with special emphasis on getting passengers out of a partially submerged airplane fuselage."

The rescue operation had been conducted almost flawlessly, as indeed it should have been, considering the favorable wind and sea conditions and the time available for preparation.

[ 20 February 2002: Message edited by: ORAC ]</p>

20th Feb 2002, 06:55
The USN flew the Atlantic just before Alcock and Brown, and vanished into obscurity:

<a href="http://patspalace.com/nancy1.htm." target="_blank">The Nancy Saga</a>

20th Feb 2002, 06:58
FV, I believe it was American Export Airlines that had the Boeing 314 go down in the North Atlantic. I seem to recall they ran out of fuel because of higher than forecast headwinds, westbound to Botwood. The aircraft was successfully landed on the open ocean, no mean feat in itself, and was later sunk by gunfire as it was a hazard to shipping. This would have been about 1946-47. I'll see if I can dig up more info on this. As an aside, my first sim instructor at the then Allegheny Airlines was a gentleman, and I do mean gentleman, who'd flown the Boeing 314 for Pan American.

Chuck Ellsworth
20th Feb 2002, 09:10

Pig Boat is correct, I not only have a complete flight training manual for the PBY but a complete training syallabus and exam that I use when doing type rating training.

If you want any of this e-mail me.

.................. . :) The hardest thing about flying is knowing when to say no. :)

21st Feb 2002, 05:59
Here's two links to the story, both by a crewman on the USCG cutter Bibb which was maintaing Ocean Station Charlie. The first link is about the rescue of a crewman from the vessel, who suffered a ruptured appendix. The medivac was carried out by a PBY-5A based at Argentia NF. The second is the account of the successful rescue of the pax from the Boeing.. .<a href="http://www.zianet.com/tmorris/charlie.html" target="_blank">http://www.zianet.com/tmorris/charlie.html</a>. .<a href="http://www.zianet.com/tmorris/charlie2.html" target="_blank">http://www.zianet.com/tmorris/charlie2.html</a>

Damn and blast! The links don't seem to work. Maybe cut and paste into the address bar, or something.. <img src="redface.gif" border="0">

Ok, seems to work now.

[ 21 February 2002: Message edited by: pigboat ]</p>

27th Feb 2002, 07:30
Forgive me for hijacking this thread but I really felt I should return it to the top. . .Am I to understand that the thread which sparked this one off, the account of Flatus Veteranus about his journey many years ago, and the equally fascinating posts which followed, are now wiped out? . .I really think that thread, and indeed this one, should have been archived and made available as a valuable and irreplaceable historical record.

[ 27 February 2002: Message edited by: chickenhawk66 ]</p>

28th Feb 2002, 00:34
OK, I've spotted it now.. .Still think it should be archived.

Lu Zuckerman
28th Feb 2002, 19:45
For what it is worth, I was a flight engineer on USCG PBY-5As and accumulated 1400 hours flying under the wing. In all that time, I never made a water landing or take off in the P-Boat. My only water work was in a US Navy PBM flying from NAS Corpus Christi, Texas to NAS Pensacola, Florida. During that flight one of the other passengers had to use the head. After completing his business he was required to dispose of the paper bag containing his “business”. He neglected to activate the air deflector and when he threw the bag overboard it exploded and his business and shreds of the paper bag came back into the plane and came to rest in and around the fuel system. When we landed he had to clean up the mess.

The only pictures I have of working on and flying in Amphibians (JRFs PBYs and UF-1Gs) are in my mind and that is fading fast.

Red Spitfire Driver
6th Mar 2002, 03:16
ORAC, yes but the Brits did the First non stop East West crossing, and the First double crossing of the Atlantic by air, with the R34 Airship !. .. .Left East Fortune (Scotland) 2 July 1919, landed Mineola, Long Island on 6th July. . .Flight time 108 hrs.. .Departed Long Island, 9 July (2354) arrived Pulham, Norfolk 13th July.. .Flight time 75hrs.