Friday, March 8, 2013

Wooden Seagull

The Curtiss MF Seagull (not to be confused with the later Curtiss SOC Seagull) was the culmination of Glenn Curtiss' early work in developing the seaplane concept. Curtiss had hit success with his Model E seaplane, which was bought by the U.S. Navy as the A-1 Triad (see our 31 Dec 2011 blog entry). He then improved on the design with the Model F in 1912, which replaced the main pontoon with a boat-like hull. The Navy selected the Model F as its standard flying boat training aircraft in April 1917, and ordered the type in large numbers. Our first photo shows a Model F leaving the beach for a water takeoff. The person I obtained the small print from said that the location was San Diego Harbor, but I can't confirm.

Any guesses to what the writing on the building says?
In 1918, the design was tweaked, with the upper wing now incorporating ailerons and having a different span than the lower wing; these aircraft were known as Model MF, or Modernized F. In addition, the MFs had bigger 100-hp OXX6 engines and sported sponsons on the sides of the hull to improve water handling. The Navy took delivery of 22 MFs from Curtiss and another 80 from the Naval Air Factory (which was established to license-build aircraft during WWI in quantities that the original manufacturers couldn't handle).

With the end of the war, many of the aircraft had never seen operation and were surplused to the civilian market. In addition, Curtiss built around 16 civilian versions which they called both the Model 18 and the Seagull.Many of the surplused Navy MFs were also rebuilt but Curtiss and others to the Seagull configuration. It is likely, though, that the aircraft in our second photograph is one of the original factory-built Seagulls.

Charlie Chaplin's brother Sid became a Curtiss dealer in Southern California, and bought one of the first Seagulls for use in a charter operation to Catalina Island (NASM has this great photo of a Chaplin Seagull).

Only five have survived into the 21st Century, and one of these was recently put up for auction at Bonhams in New York. The Hemmings Daily Blog carried a wonderful post on this spectacular aircraft, with a number of photos and some detailed background information. Gizmag also did a great piece on the auctioning of this MF. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum also owns a Seagull, and the restoration process of that aircraft is documented on their website.

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