Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The First Successful Sikorsky Boat

When I first acquired this 8x10 print, I was a bit puzzled...the configuration was similar to the Sikorsky S-34, but the engines were positioned differently. Most of the information I found on the subsequent S-36-B referred to it as an amphibian with an enclosed cabin, and the plane in our photo clearly has an open cockpit and doesn't have the landing gear that most S-36 photos show. Maybe something in between?

The S-34 was Igor Sikorsky's first attempt at a flying boat, and in early 1927, during a test flight, it suffered an engine failure, crashed and sank. Instead of building another, Igor advanced the design and a few months later unveiled the S-36-B. The breakthrough in the research came with this article in the October 20, 1927 issue of Flight magazine, which reveals that Sikorsky actually offered the S-36-B in open and closed cockpit configurations, and with or without landing gear. The article also includes a photo of our aircraft that appears to have been taken only moments before or after our photo was taken...the propellers are positioned exactly the same, only the pilot has moved slightly.

The S-36-B was offered in three configurations, all cargo, open cockpit and closed cabin, both of the latter which would carry six passengers and two crew. I couldn't find any information stating how many of the open cockpit version were built, but the fact that most photos show the closed-cabin configuration suggests that only one was built; the Flight article indicates that one open-cockpit version, likely that shown in our photo, was sold to Andean National, a Canadian company doing pipeline construction work along the Magdelena River in Columbia, South America, where there were no landing strips available (hence no need for wheels). One of the five production aircraft built was sold to the then-new Pan American Airways, starting a long tradition of Pan Am flying Sikorsky aircraft. A sixth aircraft was sold to the US Navy as the XPS-1 and even had a gunner's position in the nose.

The most famous of the S-36s was one named Dawn, which sold to Frances Grayson, the neice of President Woodrow Wilson, for her attempt to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic (albeit as a passenger). She and her crew departed on December 23, 1927 and were never seen again.

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