The Beginnings of Seaplanes and Naval Aviation

Overview

A floatplane is essentially a development of land-based aircraft, with floats mounted under the fuselage instead of a wheeled landing gear. Floatplanes are traditionally more popular than flying boats for small aircraft designs, since it permits a single piston engine to be installed at the nose of the fuselage. This could be done on flying boats only by mounting the engine high above the fuselage. The fuselages of floatplanes are typically more aerodynamic than flying boats; while the large floats underneath the fuselages add extra drag and weight to floatplanes, rendering them less manoeuvrable during flight than their land-based counterparts. The installation of the floats resulted in a loss of speed, slower rate of climb and increased empty weight.

Aerial Warfare Goes to Sea

The word "seaplane" is used to describe two types of air/water amphibious flying vehicles: the floatplane and the flying boat. Both floatplanes and flying boats may be referred to as seaplanes, but it is merely a generic term.

Seaplane Tenders

Between 1910 and 1914 the navies of all the major powers became interested in using aircraft for reconnaissance purposes. The RNAS experimented with ships carrying small platforms from which aircraft could take off. There were two problems with the concept. Takeoff weights were limited and no practical solution to landing was immediately discovered.

The RNAS found the implementaton of "seaplane tenders" more practical. These ships carried a small number of seaplanes that could be lowered by crane over the side. At the end of their flight they would land next to the ship and be raised back on deck.

The first seaplane tender was the H.M.S. Hermes, which was torpedoed and sunk in November of 1914. However at the outbreak of the war the Navy requisitioned three cross-channel packet boats and converted them as seaplane tenders. These were the Engadine, Riviera and Empress.

Other navies also used seaplane tenders. The Russians Black Sea fleet used them quite aggressively in their campaign to blockade the Bosphorus and prevent shipments of coal to Istanbul. Their most successful raid was on the 6th of February 1916, when a flight of eleven M-9 seaplanes from the ships Emperor Aleksandr I and Emperor Nikolai I attacked the port of Zonguldak. Among other damage they sank the Turkish collier Jamingard.

Seaplane Tenders

Foudre
The first seaplane carrier, the French Foudre in 1912.
HMS Hermes
HMS Hermes at Simon's Bay, Coronation Day, 1911.
HMS Empress
HMS Empress was a First World War Royal Navy seaplane carrier.

Naval Aircraft

Floatplanes

Sopwith Baby
Sopwith Baby - 1915
Sopwith Baby

A floatplane is essentially a development of land-based aircraft, with floats mounted under the fuselage instead of a wheeled landing gear. Floatplanes are traditionally more popular than flying boats for small aircraft designs, since it permits a single piston engine to be installed at the nose of the fuselage. This could be done on flying boats only by mounting the engine high above the fuselage. The fuselages of floatplanes are typically more aerodynamic than flying boats; while the large floats underneath the fuselages add extra drag and weight to floatplanes, rendering them less manoeuvrable during flight than their land-based counterparts. The installation of the floats resulted in a loss of speed, slower rate of climb and increased empty weight.

A floatplane has slender pontoons mounted under the fuselage. Two floats are common, but other configurations are possible. Only the "floats" of a floatplane normally come into contact with water. The fuselage remains above water.

Flying Boats

Hansa-Brandenburg W.20 - 1918
Hansa-Brandenburg W.18 - 1917

In a flying boat, the main source of buoyancy is the fuselage, which acts like a ship's hull in the water. Most flying boats have small floats mounted on their wings to keep them stable. Not all small seaplanes have been floatplanes, but all large seaplanes have been flying boats, their great weight supported on their hull.

Flying boats were some of the largest aircraft of the first half of the 20th century, dwarfed in size only by bombers developed during World War II. Their advantage lay in using water for take-offs and landings instead of expensive land-based runways. Several examples of flying boats could be transported and launched by the usage of specially designed seperate wheeled carriages.

Their flexibility of operation made them the basis for international airlines in the mid-war period. They were also commonly used for maritime reconnaissance patrols, cargo transportation and air-sea rescue.

Carrier Based Seaplanes

Beardmore W.B.III

Beardmore W.B.III-1917
Beardmore W.B.III-1917
Beardmore W.B.III

The Beardmore WB.III, nicknamed the folding Pup was a British carrier-based fighter biplane of World War I. It was a development of the Sopwith Pup that William Beardmore and Company was then building under licence, but was specially adapted for shipboard use.

The Beardmore W.B. III was built to be used on aircraft carriers as naval scouts. It featured a redesigned wing cellule with no stagger, facilitating folding for stowage, a stretched fuselage that carried emergency floatation gear, and main undercarriage that could be folded for stowage (though not in flight). Later models had fixed landing gear that could be jettisoned off in case of an emergency landing at sea. A lewis machine gun was mounted on the upper wing that fired over the propeller. By the end of 1918, one hundred of these aircraft were deployed by the Royal Naval Air Service on the carriers HMS Furious, Nairana and Pegasus.

Beardmore W.B.III
  • Type: Naval Scout, Carrier-based fighter
  • Manufacturer: William Beardmore and Company
  • First flight: 1917
  • Primary user: Royal Navy
  • Number built: 100
  • Developed from: Sopwith Pup
  • Powerplant: 1× Le Rhône 9C, air-cooled 9 cylinder rotary engine, 80 hp (60 kW)
  • Wingspan: 25 ft (7.62 m)
  • Wing area: 243 ft² (22.6 m²)
  • Length: 20 ft 3 in (6.16 m)
  • Height: 8 ft 1 in (2.47 m)
  • Empty weight: 890 lb (400 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 1,290 lb (585 kg)
  • Maximum speed: 103 mph (166 km/h)
  • Service ceiling: 12,400 ft (3,780 m)
  • Rate of climb: 534 ft/min (2.7 m/s)
  • Endurance: 2 hours 45 min
  • Crew: 1
  • Armament: 1 × 0.303 in (7.7 mm) drum-fed Lewis gun

References

  1. Beardmore W.B.III. (2009, May 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:46, September 4, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Beardmore_W.B.III&oldid=290566872
  2. Sharpe, Michael. "Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes". Pg 75. London, England: Friedman/Fairfax Books , 2000. ISBN 1-58663-300-7.
  3. Mason, Francis K. "The British Fighter since 1912". Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1992. ISBN 1-55750-082-7.
  4. Taylor, Michael J. H. (1989). "Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation". London: Studio Editions. pp. 122.