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Floating Airplanes or Flying Boats?

21 July 2010

Floating Airplanes or Flying Boats?

A float plane is an aircraft with attached floats — most often in pairs — the fuselage is distinct from the floats, and the floats can be replaced with landing gear.

A flying boat is an aircraft that has a boat hull which smoothly blends into the fuselage, there is no separation or distinction.

So, what about Grover Loening’s 1923 design, the OA-1A? It was novel in that there was a centerline pontoon that was smoothly blended with the fuselage. A single integral float. This aircraft was amphibious but could not directly alight on a runway — but it could deploy wheels and taxi up a ramp as needed. So … a flying boat?

Loening OA-1A "San Francisco" — photo by Joe May

Naval aviators in the United States flew the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N beginning in 1935. It had no official name but was widely known as the Yellow Peril by aviators since students were in danger of dropping out of flight school if they could not solo with a certain period. It had a center float but could be converted to be one of the conventional tail dragging land aircraft of the time. Would you say a float plane, almost certainly?

Naval Aircraft Factory N3N "Yellow Peril" — photo by Joe May

Grover Loening was successful as a designer and business man. He hired Leroy Grumman, who went on to form the partnership that became Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation after Loening sold his company to another, causing the relocation of the factory to Pennsylvania, and away from Long Island, New York. Grumman evolved the OA-1A design to the J2F Duck in 1936. The Duck had room within the fuselage and pontoon for two additional people or a single patient litter. Like its OA-1A ancestor, the J2F had retractable gear. I’m not sure if it was designed for landings but it looks to be stout enough for taking off from runways — though, with the gear’s narrow track, landing or taking off from a runway must be an endeavor! Perhaps a flying boat?

Grumman J2F Duck — photo by Joe May

Vought, in 1938, first flew the OS2U Kingfisher. The centerline pontoon connected to the fuselage with two pylons. The Kingfisher could easily be converted to a taildragger as needs came about. One of these land loving aircraft is displayed in the Museo de la Revolución in Havana Cuba and there are handful of the aquatic Kingfishers scattered across the world. Since the fuselage is distinct, shouldn’t we call the OS2U a float plane?

Vought OS2U Kingfisher — photo by Joe May

All of the aircraft pictured above, except for one, are on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum— Udvar-Hazy Complex. There are several posts in this blog that involve the NASM’s Udvar-Hazy Complex but the two that can help orient you are:

  • Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM) Udvar-Hazy Complex I — Boeing Aviation Hangar
  • Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Complex II — James S. McDonnell Hangar

The Grumman J2F Duck is on display in the Tillamook Air Museum and a post for this visit, Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and the Tillamook Air Museum

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 July 2010 09:13

    Great shots. thanks for posting.

  2. 23 July 2010 14:09

    I always thought these were the same thing, but now after reading what you’ve said it makes sense — they are different. Very interesting read and yes, great shots!!!

  3. travelforaircraft permalink*
    23 July 2010 16:38

    My thanks to you both.

    As far as whether they are floating planes or flying boats … it’s only a fun point to discuss 😉

  4. Larry L permalink
    22 February 2011 22:10

    Actually the oa-1a could land on it’s wheels,9171,718812,00.html

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      23 February 2011 10:49

      Thanks for the reference. Indeed, it imples that Loeining’s OA-1A was truly amphibious. The main gear looks dainty to me for that duty but then again I’m no expert on these matters. Thanks again for providing a valuable citation. Joe

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