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Curtiss H-1 America - Across the Atlantic

The first actual attempt to fly across the North Atlantic from America to England was made by Walter Wellman, in 1910, when he set sail in the rigid dirigible America from Atlantic City. The engines were not strong enough to force the huge gas-bag against the breeze, and it was blown out of its course and came down in the sea, 1,000 miles off Cape Hatteras, where the balloon was abandoned and the crew was picked up. During a test flight of a second dirigible called the Akron, on July 2, 1912, Mr. Melvin Vaniman and four of his crew were killed by an explosion of the hydrogen gas with which the gas-bag was inflated.

The keenest aeronautic interest was centered in the aerial crossing of the Atlantic Ocean between America and Europe. Two possible routes are proposed for the flight. Both start from St. John's, Newfoundland, but one stretches from there to Ireland and the other via the Azores to Portugal. The northern route is 1,860 miles from land to land, and the other 1,195 miles to the Flores, which is the nearest one of the Azores. From there to Ponta Delgada to Lisbon is 850 more. The southern route is preferable because the first leg is shortest from land to land. Also, less fog prevails in the south in all seasons of the year.

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of 1912 was the Curtiss flying-boat. Glenn Curtiss, who won the James Gordon Bennett race in 1909, had succeeded in rising from the water in 1913 with a similar biplane fitted with a central pontoon float instead of a wheeled under-carriage. This he made into a genuine flying-boat, consisting of a proper hydroplane-boat, with wings and engine superimposed. All the great flying-boats descended from this, and it was the forerunner of the great passenger-carrying seaplanes of the future.

England's Lord Northcliffe, with a vast string of publications amounting to the British William Randolph Hearst, announced a prize of 10,000 pounds for the first successful trans-Atlantic flight. He published the conditions for this $50,000 competition in his London Daily Mail on 01 April 1913 [attribution of this prize to the "Times of London" seem in error] . The award would go to the first aviator to cross the Atlantic by airplane, flying in either direction, between North America and Great Britain or Ireland, within 72 consecutive hours. The winner was required to complete the trip in the same aircraft in which he started, with intermediate stops permitted only upon water.

The year 1914 was the most prolific in long-distance flights. On June 23 the German aviator Basser covered 1,200 miles in a Rumpler biplane in 16 hours and 28 minutes. The same day Landsmann, another German, drove an Albatross machine 1,100 miles in 17 hours and 17 minutes, and four days later 1,200 miles in 21 hours and 49 minutes.

In February 1914, Mr. Rodman Wanamaker, son of the Philadelphia department store magnate John Wanamaker, announced that he had commissioned Glenn H. Curtiss to build a floating flying boat capable of making a transatlantic trip in a single flight of from 12 to 15 hours. This seemed to indicate the most complete preparations for crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and that competent authorities considered the project possible in view of the flight of Ingold, who covered a distance of 1000 miles in 16 hours, and of Stuffier, who had made 1340 miles in 24 hours. But Orville Wright, to cite one name, called Rodman Wanamaker's idea of a trans-Atlantic flight "impracticable and foolhardy." But Wanamaker persisted.

The question of whether the flight would be a successful one hinged largely upon the motor and its reliability. The original plan involved a tractor biplane with one direct connected 200-horsepower engine, with a detachable running gear, which had a water hull for sea driving in case of necessity and water-tight compartments, for the safety of the aviators. The plan was to rise from St. Johns, N. F., leave behind the chassis, ascend to a point two miles above sea-level, and with a permanent easterly wind of an average speed of 50 miles an hour, and with the 60 miles speed of the aeroplane itself, proceed direct to Ireland and cover the journey in some 18 or 20 hours.

As this plan would not permit of rising or resting on the ocean, in case of stoppage of the motor or other mischance, it was decided instead to use a large Curtiss flying boat, capable of carrying two passengers with supplies for more than twenty hours, and capable of descending and rising at will in mid- ocean. It was not intended to take advantage of the upper streams of the atmosphere, but to start when the weather forecast seemed propitious, and lay a direct and practical course, flying as circumstances dictated.

Accordingly the flying boat was constructed along these lines, and was the largest flying craft ever built in the United States. It measured 72 feet from wing tip to wing tip on the top plane, and 46 feet on the bottom plane; it measured 38 feet from prow to the end of the vertical rudder; it spread 500 square feet of wing surface, the wings being 7 feet wide, having a gap between them of 7% feet. Complete with two men and supplies, the flying boat weighed about 5000 pounds, the hull was 34 feet long, 4 feet in beam, and 6% feet in depth.

It embodied most of the features previously employed in the Curtiss flying boats, with additions for the comfort of the pilots for an extended voyage. There were four water-tight compartments within the hull, and gasoline tanks with an aggregate capacity of 1500 gallons, which coula be pumped above to the feed tanks and supplied by gravity to the engine as required. In designing the wings of the machine the contour was found only after a systematic aerodynamic investigation, which had been conducted by the British Government, and found to be the most efficient and practical wing.

The two engines were each of 90-horsepower, and water jacketed, running at 1200 r.p.m., and weighed together 690 pounds. The radiators weighed 62 pounds each. A 30-hour continuous test was held, in which time the engines together consumed 288% gallons of gasoline, and 10% gallons of oil, or about 1800 pounds.

As pilot of the transatlantic flyer, Lieut. John Cyril Porte, R. N. of England, was selected as navigator, and Mr. George Iallett as chief aviator, it being planned that Mr. Hallett should be dropped at the Azores, and Mr. John Lansing Callan of the Curtiss Flying School should take his place to complete the trip. The new Wanamaker flyer was christened at Hammondsport on June 22, and received a successful trial subsequently. In preliminary tests the total weight carried was about three-fourths of a ton short of the 5000 pounds to be lifted at St. Johns, and the engines were run at a less speed. Nevertheless, the craft performed successfully. In the course of the experiments large pontoons were also attached to either side of the boat flush with the bottom, and planing boards, making what was known as a sea-sled, were used, and the bottom of the hull was remodeled.

A third motor late in July was fitted in place, which, while it increased the weight, nevertheless increased the lifting power. The third motor propellers were mounted on the top of the upper plane in its center of lift. The experiments had as their object to determine whether the aeroplane flight was possible with two of the motors working and the third held for a reserve or for lifting power. In connection with the cruise of the America many aviators thought that the hardest task would he to lay and maintain a course from St. Johns to the Azores, as was finally decided on, a distance of about 1080 miles on Mercator'e Projection.

The Curtiss H-1 was the first multi engine flying boat made and derivatives of the type gave birth to the British Flying Boat industry. The America was very first multi-engine flying boat ever made. In 1914, Rodman Wanamaker provided Curtiss $25,000.00 to develop a flying boat capable of crossing the Atlantic. In June, 1914, the Navy Department ordered Naval Aviator No.3 Lieutenant John Towers to Hammondsport for duty in connection with the construction and proposed flight to Europe of the twin-engined seaplane America, with the understanding that he would be permitted to participate in that flight if success seemed feasible.

The seaplane was completed and tests were being made when the war broke out. The outbreak of war interrupted the project. In August 1914 when the "America" was set to cross the Atlantic, World War I broke out, and the plan was cancelled.

The flying boat America marked the beginning of big boat development. The seaplane did go to England in 1916, but in the hull of another boat. There it performed excellent service for the British Government hunting German submarines.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:32:23 ZULU