The Path of Curtiss "America"

The Curtiss flying boat "America" was built in 1914 to compete for the London Daily Mail's£10,000 prize for a non-stop transatlantic crossing — eventually won in 1919 by Alcock and Brown in their modified Vickers Vimy. The project was financed by the department store magnate, Rodman Wanamaker, whose choice of a Curtiss Model H, the largest flying boat built at the time, became commonly known as the Curtiss-Wanamaker.

    The pilot of "America" was to be Englishman John C Porte, but the project was abandoned when World War I broke out. Porte returned to England and convinced the Royal Navy to purchase twin-engined flying boats based on the "America" to be built by Curtiss. This led to the Curtiss H-4 — known to the British as the "America" and, later, "Small America" — the H-6, H-8, and H-12 "Large America," all twin-engined biplane flying boats. Dissatisfied by the poor Curtiss hull, Porte designed a far stronger and more seaworthy hull to which he fitted Curtiss flying surfaces.

    Those aircraft became the Felixstowe series of patrol boats, the main versions being the F.2A, F.3 and, later, the F.5. Curtiss in turn adopted the Porte hull and built the H-16, which was essentially a Felixstowe F.3. The story extends far and wide from there, as the larger Felixstowe F.5 was adopted, with Liberty engines, as the F-5L for the US Navy. Built in 1918-19 by Curtiss (60), Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd (30), and the Naval Aircraft Factory (133 plus four from spares), the F-5L became the primary US patrol aircraft of the post-war period. NAF built two with modified tails as F-6Ls in 1919; the enlarged fins and rudders were subsequently adapted for those F-5Ls still in service.

Further experimentation and development led to the PN series of 1923-31. Licensed production resulted in the Douglas PD-1, Keystone PK-1, and Martin PM-1 and PM-2. Those four types retained the hull shape designed by Porte, but constructed in metal. Hall-Aluminum built its PH series based on the PN-11/XP4N's rounded metal hull, and the last of the line, the Hall PH-3, served the US Coast Guard throughout World War II.

    Post-war in Britain, Short Brothers built and rebuilt some F.3s and F.5s, eventually exporting a number of the latter to Japan. There the Hiro Naval Arsenal (Hirosho) undertook licensed production and eventually designed upgraded versions as the Hiro H1H1, H1H2, and H1H3 Type 15 flying boats. Combining elements of the older boats and a rounded metal hull, inspired by the Supermarine Southampton, the H2H1 Type 89 went into production in 1932 to serve until WWII, and could be considered the Japanese equivalent of the Hall PH.

    All those twin-engined biplane patrol flying boats, representing a quarter century of incremental development, were direct descendents of the Curtiss-Wanamaker "America" built on the eve of the Great War.