Saturday, May 28, 2011

USA - 1914 Curtiss Model F-4

Good morning, I hope you are having a great weekend. For Americans this weekend marks a solemn observance of Memorial Day, honoring all those who fell in war defending what they held precious. Common men who through their sacrifices became heroes we should never forget. May their memory always burn bright, and may we make a better world in their honor.

Glenn Curtiss Changes the Aviation World

Glenn Curtiss was one of the most influential of all American aircraft designers. He designed many of the aircraft used by the US Air Force. His research into amphibious aircraft was a game changer. It extended air power well beyond coastal regions and created flexibility of operational roles. Flying boats would be used as fighters, reconnaissance aircraft and cargo carriers during the Great War..

The Curtiss Model F-4 flying boat came about because The Daily Mail offered a large monetary prize for an aircraft with transoceanic range in 1914 prompting a collaboration between British and American air pioneers, resulting in the highly successful Curtiss Model H.

America Develops the Curtiss Model F-4

American Curtiss Model F-4 - 1913
American Curtiss Model F-4 - 1913

The Curtiss Models F made up a family of early flying boats developed in the United States in the years leading up to World War I. Widely produced, Model Fs saw service with the United States Navy under the designations C-2 through C-5, later reclassified to AB-2 through AB-5. Several examples were exported to Russia, and the type was built under license in Italy

In configuration, these were biplane flying boats powered by a single engine mounted amongst the interplane struts and driving a pusher propeller. The pilot and a single passenger sat side-by-side in an open cockpit. The wing cellule was derived from the Model E land plane and was of two-bay, unstaggered, equal-span construction with large ailerons mounted on the interplane struts and extending past the span of the wings themselves. The earliest examples of this design were built and sold by Curtiss in 1912 without any designation applied to them; the Model F name only coming into use the following year. Confusingly, Curtiss also used the designation Model E to refer to some early machines in this family, although these were quite distinct from Curtiss land planes that bore this same designation and all but identical to the Model Fs.

Model Fs built from 1918 featured a revised, unequal-span wing that incorporated the ailerons into the upper wing and sponsons on the sides of the hull to improve the aircraft's handling in water. These were known as the Model MF (for Modernized-F), and years later as the Seagull in the post-war civil market.

The US Navy initially purchased four of these aircraft in addition to the Freak Boat (C-1/AB-1) that it had already obtained and which was retrofitted to approximately the same design as the others. One of these, the C-2 became the first aircraft to fly under automatic control on 30 August 1913 when fitted with a gyroscopic stabilizer designed by Elmer Sperry. The same aircraft (by now redesignated AB-2) then became the first aircraft to be launched by catapult from a warship while underway when it took off from USS North Carolina on 5 November 1915. Her sister, AB-3, became the first US heavier-than-air aircraft to see military action when launched from USS Birmingham on 25 April 1914 on a scouting mission over Veracruz during the United States Occupation of Veracruz.

The US Navy bought another eight aircraft before the end of 1916, but orders in quantity only came following the type's selection as the Navy's standard flying-boat trainer in April 1917. An initial batch of 144 of the basic F model were ordered, followed by 22 MFs in 1918. Another 80 MFs were produced under license by the Naval Aircraft Factory. A small number of Model Es and Fs were also purchased by the US Army.

Russia Imports the Curtiss Model F-4

Russian Curtiss Model F-4 - 1913
Russian Curtiss Model F-4 - 1913

The Russian Navy purchased two batches of Model Fs in 1913-14 and operated them as part of the Black Sea and Baltic Sea fleets until they were replaced by the Model K shortly thereafter.

Italy Begins Producing the Curtiss Model F-4

Italian Curtiss Model F-4 - 1913
Italian Curtiss Model F-4 - 1913

In Italy, the Curtiss representative Enea Bossi secured rights for local license-production of the Type F by the Zari brothers, who built eight examples at their workshop in Bovisia, near Milan. The first of these was demonstrated to the Italian Navy on Lake Como on 22 September 1914.


  1. Curtiss Model F. (2010, October 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:59, November 1, 2010, from
  2. The Great War Society Aircraft of the A E F Curtiss F Boat Retrieved 12:59, November 1, 2010, from
  3. Virtual Aircraft Museum Curtiss Model F 1913 Retrieved 12:59, November 1, 2010, from
  4. Aerofiles Those Curtiss Boats Retrieved 12:59, November 1, 2010, from
  5. Bowers, Peter M. (1979). Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947. London: Putnam. ISBN 0 370 10029 8.
  6. Taylor, Michael J. H. (1989). Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation. London: Studio Editions. pp. 193, 278.
  7. The Curtiss Flyleaf. Hammondsport, New York: Glenn H. Curtiss Museum of Local History. 1987.
  8. World Aircraft Information Files. London: Bright Star Publishing. pp. File 891 Sheet 43.


kingsleypark said...

Given how risky it could be trying to land these early kites on the ground, you must have been completely fearless trying to land one of these on the water!!

W. I. Boucher said...

It is a bit of a good news bad news situation. The good news is it is a soft landing. The bad news is you can't walk away from it if something does go wrong.

Airmen did take risks however the survival rate for ground troops was not great either. World War One was a war of attrition instead of ground taken. War is always fought by those too young to know they are not invulnerable. When the war began both sides thought it would be a short war. It was when both sides found themselves trapped in a meat grinder did reality of the situation hit home.

Kurt P. Wheaton said...

"Any landing you can swim away from is a good landing", in the case of F boats, then?

W. I. Boucher said...

Yes it would be Kurt. Although with all the features that made them float you could just crawl up and sit on the hull till help arrived. I have not seen any information on flying boat crashes to say how many actually sank. Hurmmmm looks like another subject I need to research.. BTW welcome to the blog, great to read your post.