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Thomas-Morse S-4C “Tommy” — or is it an S-5?

31 August 2011

Thomas-Morse S-4C “Tommy” — or is it an S-5?

Beginning in 1917, when it looked inevitable to the U.S. that entry into WW I was soon to be, the U.S. Army Signal Corps engaged the Thomas-Morse Aircraft Company to build a training aircraft called the S-4B and S-4C (sometimes simplified to S-4B/C). It became known simply as the “Tommy” — and the Navy purchased what was then called the seaplane version, or S-5. Today we would call the S-5 a floatplane as we might call the Tommy displayed in the National Naval Aviation Museum. Alas, we would be wrong as it is called an S-4C.

Sacrebleu — but how can this be! The S-4C is land bound — it has wheels — this aircraft has floats! Why does the museum have it labeled as an S-4C?

The Thomas-Morse S-4C modified with floats to resemble an S-5 at the National Naval Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

Well, the National Naval Aviation Museum is not playing three-card Monte with us though perhaps being so technical as to miss the point. This Tommy was originally a Signal Corps S-4C but was restored in the Navy livery of post-WW I. It now appears as an S-5 since S-5 aircraft (the ones with the floats) were simply S-4B aircraft with attached floats. Maybe the difference between the B-model and the C-model were differences in materials — depending upon a marine or terrestrial environment — or maybe one aircraft has more structural members? I do not know. But this S-4C looks like an S-5. More information can be found on this fact sheet from the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Aft perspective of the Tommy showing the simple design of the floats, including the unusual tail float — photo by Joseph May

Interestingly, the Thomas brothers began in Hammondsport NY  shortly after Glenn Curtiss got his aircraft business going in earnest there but moved to Bath NY in 1910. Merging with the Morse Chain Company in 1917 they were then absorbed by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation after manufacturing several successful designs, though these recollections are becoming lost to history.

Additional information:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 January 2014 11:13

    This is indeed a T-M S-4C Scout with floats added. No such animal existed, however some S-4B Scouts were equipped with floats, designated S-5, and the Navy used them that way. The S-4B differs from the C model most noticeably in the aileron and elevator shapes and areas, and also in using cables instead of torque tubes to actuate the ailerons. All the B Scouts, all the S-5s, and 50 of the C Scouts, were powered by 100 hp Gnome engines, while most of the C Scouts, including the one in the Navy museum, used 80 hp LeRhones. So this museum exhibit is not accurate, though few people would notice; apart from the ailerons, elevators and engine, the B and C models are very nearly the same. The B had metal fittings designed to accommodate floats, and the same fittings were retained on the C, even though they were not used. That means that the float installation in the exhibit is accurate even though the aircraft itself is the wrong model.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      4 January 2014 10:50

      Hello Jim and so glad to hear from you. What a wonderful and technically rich comment — like water to a desert traveler! I see the organization you are associated with is a deserving subject of a post so, if you don’t mind, I’ll contact you via email in the near future? Thanks again, Joe

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