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Flying boats built by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation have replaced destroyers in the U.S. Scouting Force

A TAKE-OFF IN 18 SECONDS is achieved by the PBY flying boat

A TAKE-OFF IN 18 SECONDS is achieved by the PBY flying boat. Aircraft of this type can take off and alight in rough weather in the open sea.and they are capable of taking off on one of their two engines. The attested maximum speed at 12,000 feet is 194 miles an hour. The span is 104 feet, the length 62 ft 6-in and the height 18 ft 6-in.

A RADICAL change in battle tactics was made on October 1, 1937, by the Navy Department of the United States. All Scouting Force destroyers were transferred to the Battle Force and all patrol aeroplane squadrons were transferred from the Base Force to the Scouting Force.

Large numbers of these patrol aeroplanes are flying boats supplied by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, of San Diego, California.

The Navy Department, having appreciated the value of the Consolidated flying boats, carried out carefully checked manoeuvres and made stringent operational tests. The results of these tests encouraged the change of policy.

Throughout 1937 these fast patrol aircraft made numerous mass non-stop formation flights and demonstrated their speed and tactical efficiency.

The explorer Richard Archbold, granted special permission of the Navy Department, bought a Consolidated flying boat for use in his expeditions in New Guinea. His permission did not include the right to test his boat at sea, because of strict Government rules. He therefore made a non-stop trans-continental flight from San Diego Bay to New York Harbour, 2,700 miles, in 17 hours 3 minutes.

Archbold obeyed orders not to leave the United States with a duplicate of the newest patrol bombers, and at the same time gave his flying boat a severe test. She cost him £50,000, exclusive of full equipment of shortwave radio receivers and transmitters. He named her Guba. In the native tongue of Papua, British New Guinea, where he had been exploring, Guba means “Sudden Storm”.

Sir Hubert Wilkins saw the Guba in New York Harbour, and he was so much impressed that he persuaded Archbold to sell her to the Soviet Government for use in the search for the missing transpolar aviators, Levanevski and five others, who had left Moscow on August 12, 1937, to fly across the North Pole to America.

During August and September 1937, Sir Hubert flew from New York to Aklavik, North-West Territories of Canada, made five reconnoitring Polar flights and covered 19,000 miles in the Guba, often with a gross weight of 31,000 lb. The flying boat behaved splendidly in difficult conditions. Archbold acquired another Consolidated flying boat which he named Guba II. In this aircraft he left San Diego in June 1938 for his base in New Guinea. During the same month the U.S. Navy undertook their biggest massed flight with forty-eight twin-engined patrol bombers from San Diego to Seattle (Washington). Each bomber carried a crew of six and fighting equipment of machine-guns and bombs. Rough-water manoeuvres and operation from tenders at sea were fully tested.

Capable of continuous flight for thirty-five hours with a cruising range of 4,000 miles, Consolidated flying boats have been thoroughly demonstrated as an immediate defence line with easy concentration at any naval base.

The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation is ideally situated at Lindbergh Field, San Diego. With an excellent climate, San Diego is an important Pacific naval base. The concern moved in 1935 from Buffalo, N.Y., to its present location. Latest factory methods and improvements are evident; special attention has been given to maximum lighting advantages. Working conditions are excellent. Initiative is encouraged in every department. The policy is to promote from within the ranks.

HULL STRINGERS of the PBY flying boat

HULL STRINGERS of the PBY flying boat. The aircraft is of duralumin monocoque construction, except for the wing trailing edge and the movable parts of the control surfaces. The hull is divided into five main watertight compartments separated by four transverse bulkheads with watertight doors. Auxiliary bulkheads provide subdivisions.

The visitor going through the various departments of this great aircraft plant, with its floor space of 450,000 square feet, is impressed by the keenness and enthusiasm of the staff. Three thousand employees are steadily at work making flying boats for the U.S. Government.

Overhead monorails convey materials and products inside and outside the factory. Final assemblies are made in vast paved yards along the bay. Appearance has been considered by the formation of gardens and rock pools round transformers and gasholders.

The President and Manager of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation is Major Reuben H. Fleet, born in Washington in 1887. During the war of 1914-18 he was executive officer in charge of training with the Air Corps. He attended the Gosport School of Special Flying for Flying Instructors in England (see the chapter “Training Machines”) and became Officer in Charge of the air mail when it was inaugurated in 1918 between New York and Washington. In 1923 he organized the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation. Because skilled aircraft workers were available in Buffalo, N.Y., where the war-time Curtiss plant had been established, Fleet built his factory there.

The first Consolidated ships were the PTs and NYs, training aeroplanes for the Army and Navy. These aircraft were two-seater convertible landplanes or seaplanes, with reliable performance. Appearance and streamlining were sacrificed in favour of simplicity and neutral stability. Water-cooled Hiso and Wright air-cooled engines were used. These aeroplanes were remarkably safe. Of four bought by the Government of Cuba in 1923, three were still in operation in 1938.

Experimental Dive Bomber

Next came a series of low-wing PB-2A monoplanes, built entirely of metal. The fuselage was of monocoque type, with a smooth metal skin reinforced with six longerons. The full cantilever wings were of the stressed skin type, with reinforcing stringers running continuously along the span. The landing gear retracted into the wing. The Curtiss V-1570 Conqueror engines were supercharged. Fifty of these PB-2As were built for the U.S. Army.

The experience gained from designing and building training aeroplanes enabled Consolidated to enter the commercial field with the Fleet series. Simple, rugged in design, these aircraft were two-seater open-cockpit staggered biplanes, with a span of 28 feet. The engines, both of the in-line and radial type, ranged in size from 100 to 200 horse-power. Hundreds of these were sold. Many are still in use, particularly in Mexico and South America.

For the U.S. Navy there was built the XB2Y-1, an experimental dive bomber for shipboard use. It could dive at almost 400 miles an hour. The engines were Pratt and Whitney; the machine could climb to 12,200 feet in ten minutes and had a maximum speed of 181 miles an hour at 8,900 feet.

The U.S. Army ordered about two hundred of the 0-19 series. These were observation biplanes with fuselage and control surfaces of corrugated duralumin, powered with Pratt and Whitney Wasp engines of 450 horsepower; the maximum speed was 152 miles an hour. These machines were also adapted for use with floats.

Consolidated engineers had been designing flying boats for some time, but the first to be built was the Admiral, officially designated XPY-1. The Navy bought the first of this type for special patrol work. The letter “P” indicated patrol, the letter “Y” that the aircraft was made by Consolidated. With twin rudders, and designed for either two or three Pratt and Whitney engines, the XPY 1 was the largest flying boat of advanced type in the United States at the time of its construction in 1928. The wing span was 100 feet. There were three cockpits, two for the gunners and the third tor the pilot. The flying boat could not be tested at Buffalo as both Lake Erie and the Niagara River were frozen; so it was shipped to Washington by rail.

Again for the commercial market, the Commodore series was developed. This was a flying boat for thirty-two passengers and was used as a long-distance air liner on the former New York-Rio-Buenos Aires Airlines. Equipped with twin Hornet engines, the Commodore could maintain level flight on one motor. Gross weight was 17,600 lb. and payload was 5,100 lb.

In 1930 the New York-Buenos Aires route was the world’s longest air line — 9,000 miles through fifteen countries — and the new Commodores reduced the travelling time between New York and the Argentine, from twenty to seven days. This air line was absorbed by Pan American Airways. Today Commodores are still on duty, especially on the service to inaccessible places along the Amazon, where there are great advantages in the short take-off, a feature of these boats.

An experimental XP2Y-1 flying boat was satisfactorily demonstrated at Washington with three engines, then with two. After this, flying boats of the P2Y series were built. These were

twin-engined, air-cooled sesquiplane patrol or light bombers. They had a wing span of 100 feet and were 62 feet long.

An improvement was effected by moving the engine nacelles up in line with the wing. In January 1934 six P2Y-1 boats in the U.S. Navy flew the first successful massed flight from San Francisco to Pearl Harbour, Honolulu, a distance of 2,414 miles.

Designs Not Stereotyped

In the following year it was decided to move the factory to San Diego, about three thousand miles away. The design and construction of flying boats were Consolidated’s principal work. It had become costly to carry these flying boats by freight trains out of Buffalo during six months of the year. San Diego was chosen because of its facilities for launching all the year round, because of the good climatic conditions for final assemblies outdoors, and because it was possible for the machines to be immediately tested at the adjoining base.

All operations concentrated on the Navy PBY series. In 1936 preliminary designs for the XPB2Y-1 were begun. This huge, speedy, long-range patrol bomber was completed in June 1938, and was given comprehensive tests by naval experts. Powered with four Pratt and Whitney engines, it is regarded as the speediest flying boat yet built.

Consolidated engineers, having recognized the rapid changes in aeronautics, are not standardizing any given type of design or construction. The present riveted aluminium alloy construction

may be replaced in a few years by spot welding. Plastic material may be used for small aeroplanes; stainless steel for larger aircraft.

The Engineering Department is composed of groups headed by an engineering specialist. These groups are: Aerodynamics, Armaments, Beaching and Landing Gears, Electrical, Fixed Equipment, Hull and Fuselage, Power Plant, and Wing and Tail. A centralized Structures Group deals with all stress analyses. An allied group does all the weight control. Structures Group engineers approve all designs for strength; the Weight Department handles weight calculations before drawings and blueprints are released to the shops.

Engineering and design specialists constantly develop more efficient designs through the medium ol research and wind-tunnel testings. On any given project, coordination of all groups is the responsibility of the Project Engineer, chosen because of his wide experience in design and construction.

Aviation engineers and experts of the U.S. Navy work in full cooperation with every department. Navy test pilots take over the boats after final assembly; armament is mounted at the naval base; so is bomb equipment.

LAUNCH OF A PBY FLYING BOAT at San Diego, California

LAUNCH OF A PBY FLYING BOAT at San Diego, California. The U.S. Navy Department placed an order in 1935 for sixty PBYs. This order was followed in 1938 by one for two hundred more. On January 23, 1937, twelve PBY patrol bombers, with 83 officers and men, made a formation flight of 2,553 miles from San Diego to Pearl Harbour, Honolulu. In June 1933 forty-eight of these aircraft flew from San Diego to Seattle (Washington).

In designing the PBY, it was anticipated that full-weight flight would be possible on either of its two engines. No attempt to take off from the water on one engine was made until after considerable flight experience. Calculations supported the belief of the chief test pilot, in single-engine power. Single-engine take-off flights were made successfully and a distance of over 1,300 miles was flown on one engine. The PBY has fully proved its ability to take off and alight in rough water in the open sea — an absolute essential for the long-range flying boat. Retractable wing-tip floats and fuel tanks built integral with the wing contribute to higher load-carrying efficiency. Retracted floats cause no drag, but increase effective aspect ratio of the wing. In their landing position, these floats provide seaworthiness and stability for open waters, and serve effectively as air-brakes in the alighting approach.

Fuel tanks integral with the wing structure give large fuel capacity at a small fraction of the weight required for separately built tanks; their position prevents fuel fumes from reaching the hull or living quarters.

For short duration flights, seating arrangements for forty passengers can be made. For overnight flights there are seats for twenty-four, convertible into sleeping berths for twelve.

The beaching gear, with large pneumatic tyres, gives operation from sandy beaches. This gear may be stowed entirely within the hull, making the boat suitable for survey flights, explorations or service requiring operation from a temporary base not equipped with the usual beaching facilities. For defence, the PBY carries four machine guns, mounted one in the bow, one on either side of the deck just aft of the wing, and one, a tunnel gun, in the hull bottom, forward of the tail, giving full protection in any direction. Mounted in an armoured revolving turret, the bow gun covers the front hemisphere. The two deck guns, with fields of fire overlapping portions of the bow gun field and that of the tunnel gun, cover the upper hemisphere. The tunnel gun covers the lower hemisphere and its field overlaps that of the bow gun. F or offence, bombs or torpedoes are suspended from the wings outboard of the engines. The bomb racks are built within the wings as a permanent fitment without any additional drag. When bombs or torpedoes are carried, some of the 10,500 lb. of fuel space is not used. Thus fuel capacity varies with weight of bombs or torpedo load carried. The bomber’s station is in the bow immediately under the bow gunner.

The PBY is of duralumin monocoque construction except for the wing trailing edge and the movable parts of the control surfaces. These are of metal, fabric-covered.

The hull is divided into five main watertight compartments separated by four athwartship bulkheads with watertight doors. The boat has ample buoyancy to remain afloat with any of these compartments damaged and flooded.

Further divisions by auxiliary bulkheads provide the military arrangements from bow to stern as follows: bow gunner and bomber’s compartment, pilot’s compartment, radio operator and navigator, flight engineer’s compartment with storage lockers, berths and auxiliary power units, living compartment, galley and berths, deck gunners’ compartment and tunnel gunners’ compartment. As the bow gunner and bomber’s compartment has a large range of vision, it serves also a station for handling the anchor gear and taking navigational sights. The gun is retracted when not in use.

AFTER FINAL ASSEMBLY a new completed aircraft is awaiting delivery in one of the paved yards of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation

AFTER FINAL ASSEMBLY a new completed aircraft is awaiting delivery in one of the paved yards of the San Diego factory. The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation moved from Buffalo, New York State, to San Diego in 1935. The new site was chosen because of the excellent climate, permitting open-air assemblies, and because the site adjoined the U.S. naval base. Navy test pilots take over the flying boats after final assembly; armament and bomb equipment are mounted at the naval base.

There is the conventional arrangement in the pilot’s compartment, with the co-pilot on the right. Wheel and pedal controls are placed for maximum vision and freedom. Engine controls are divided between the pilot and the flight engineer. In the pilot’s compartment are those controls only which are necessary for complete safety and manoeuvrability. By means of a visual signal system and a telephone system, pilots and engineer are in continuous communication.

The navigation table and equipment occupy the entire port side of the next compartment. On the starboard side is the radio and electrical control panel.

Navigational sights may be taken at any of the gunners’ positions; there are installations at these stations for mounting navigational equipment.

The radio operator controls the electrical switchboard to the power supplies, lighting system, and telephone system. When necessary, he operates also the motor-generator auxiliary power supply.

The flight engineer has most of the engine instruments to observe from his station elevated into the superstructure between the hull and the wing. From here he has direct observation of the engines. He operates such engine controls as are not necessary for the pilot, also the retractable wing-tips, either electrically or manually.

In the deck gunners’ compartment, the gunners are protected from the airstream by sliding doors which open to form windscreens. Retracted guns on their hinged mounts are stowed in the hull.

The tunnel gun, also retractable, is on a flexible mounting; it projects through an opening in the hull bottom. It is fired from a kneeling pad adjacent to the aperture. In the retracted position, the gun remains on the flexible mounting and hinges inward. The opening is closed by a watertight door hinged inward.

The attested performance of the PBY flying boat is maximum speed at 12,000 feet 194 miles an hour, stalling speed 61 miles an hour, maximum range 4,200 miles, service ceiling 29,200 feet, climb to 15,000 feet 13.4 minutes, and take-off in calm water 18 seconds. This performance is that obtained from the Pratt and Whitney S-CG engines of 1,000 horse-power. Equivalent performance is given by Wright Cyclone engines of equal horse-power, or by others of similar specifications.

The Navy Department has placed orders with Consolidated for two hundred more PBYs. These will be powered with Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp engines.

On January 28, 1937, twelve PBY-1 flying boats flew non-stop from San Diego, California, to Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, as a routine transfer of equipment. Twelve other boats made this flight on April 12, 1937.

As a counterpart of the new long-range bomber, powered with four engines, which is known as the XPB2Y-1, Consolidated are designing a commercial air liner for transatlantic routes. Its range will be 3,500 miles, its weight 60,000 lb., and its load 8,000 lb.

Consolidated’s chief engineer, I. M. Laddon, foresees basic changes in design, structure and power plant arrangement. These changes may include minimum drag by retracting hull up against the wing, and wings increased to allow operating compartments, passenger accommodation, fuel and cargo, to be carried inside them, thus obviating the need for fuselage or hull except as an alighting or a floating means.

The objective is smooth flying in the stratosphere at well over 300 miles an hour in flying boats, with a safe reserve of fuel and range, carrying up to 300 passengers with baggage and mail.


AT WORK ON THE HULLS OF PBY flying boats. The aircraft plant at Lindbergh Field, San Diego, has a floor space of 450,003 square feet and 3,003 people are employed. Overhead monorails convey materials and products inside and outside the factory. Final assemblies are made in vast paved yard bordering San Diego Bay.

Click here to see the photogravure supplement to this chapter.

You can read more on “Floatplanes and Flying Boats”, “Flying Boats and Their Work” and “Seaplanes and Their Work” on this website.

Flying Patrol Boats