Pen & Sword Aviation have just released Leslie Dawson’s Fabulous Flying Boats – A History of the World’s Passenger Flying Boats in paperback. Originally released as a Hardback a number of years ago, then in Kindle and ePub format (I have a copy in ePub), this edition is now in paperback and good value at half the hardback price. This release contains 320 pages, ISBN is 978-1-52673-969-8 and was published on 2 May 2018.
Where to start? I was watching an old Charlie Chan movie today, Charlie Chan at the Olympics with Warner Oland playing the redoubtable Chinese Hawaiian detective and where honourable number one son Lee won the gold medal for the Berlin, 1936 Olympic metres freestyle final (yes, I know it was a Hungarian first and two Japanese in second and third). Early in the movie Charlie takes a Pan Am Clipper seaplane flight of 18 hours duration from Hawaii to San Francisco (followed by a 13-hour trans-continental flight to New York and a 61-hour Zeppelin flight to Friedrichshafen, chasing the theft of an aircraft remote control gizmo that would change the face of war (it didn’t).
Anyway, the movie caused me to reach for my ePub copy of Fabulous Flying Boats. I have had it for a while now and had not got around to reviewing it as such although I had often flicked through it reading items of interest. I started flicking through it again today.
The book has 11 chapters and a very interesting Appendix. The chapters are:
- First to Fly
- Bigger and Further
- Peace to War
- Battle for Britain
- High and Lows
- Thoughts of Peace
- Post War Years
- A Closing Door
- End of an Era
- Last of the Breed
The book outlines peacetime operations in Europe, the US, the Pacific, Australia, Latin America, South America, Africa, New Zealand, and France (including photos of the largest sea plane, a French aircraft) among others. The author also covers airlines such as Qantas, BOAC, South Pacific Airlines (and the twice weekly flight from Hawaii to Tahiti via Christmas Island), Ansett, Antilles Air Boats, and Barrier Reef Airways.
Aircraft producers came from the UK, France and the US among others with the more famous manufacturers being Short, Boeing, Martin, Douglas and Sikorsky for example. Militarily the flying boats were formidable but more importantly, robust weapons of war that adapted quickly to and from peacetime roles. The aircraft were tough, taking a great deal of punishment before generally being forced to land at sea. The could also deal it out and I can remember being thrilled of tales of the Australian pilots flying Short Sunderlands when I was a kid. The Catalina as well whose role was so important to the victory in the Pacific.
As a kid I can remember the flying boat services taking off from Rose Bay in Sydney heading to exotic sounding locations in the Pacific and the book contains photos of the flying boat base that existed at Rose Bay.
The Appendix is a treat though as Dawson tracks the airlines that used flying boats and identifies registration numbers, aircraft name, aircraft type and fate, by airline. An impressive database.
The flying boats were eventually retired from service with BOAC in the early 1950s hanging on longer in Australia and Africa but eventually being replaced by land-based aircraft which could fly further and faster and that enabled the airlines to reduce their operation costs by reducing the number of aircraft servicing locations and management.
This book is a great review of the Flying Boats and the author’s personal, easy style make the book a relaxing read. The photos are a joy to look at as well. However, I think I will let the author have the last word:
Though no large passenger flying boat remains in service, for a moment we had admired a unique form of flying that had once graced the waterways of the world: from the grey, heaving Atlantic to the dry heat of Africa and the idyllic sun drenched islands of the Pacific.