Pen & Sword's Fabulous Flying Boats

Author/Artists: Leslie Dawson


Pen & Sword


$50.00 MSRP from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 320 pages,  Hardcover with photos.
ISBN: 978-1-781591-09-3

Subtitled ' A History of the World's Passenger Flying Boats', this book provides us with the story of the use of the flying boat from the 1930's until today. The subtitle is a bit misleading as it really only covers British flying boats though others are provided a passing mention, so I guess that qualifies.

The book starts off with a history of water borne planes starting during the early years of flight. According to the author, a Frenchman, Henri Farbe is the first to fly a plane from water, having done so in a huge and rather ungainly contraption from the bay at Monaco in 1910. It does touch on the Douglas Dolphin, the Huges H-4, and the Catalina to name a few as well as boats from some other nations, but it is pretty obvious that the focus is on British boats. Not that this is a bad thing as by far, it was the British who developed long range flying boat service to a high level.

Back then air travel in general and flying boats in particular were only for the wealthy. Shorts Brothers were the main driving force in the development of long range boats and for the time, these were very luxurious aircraft. They had to be as people would be in them for hours or days on end when flying from one location to the other. The planes carried two full crews so that the aircraft were able to keep flying.

It is as much due to the expanse of the British Empire, which at one time controlled 20% of the Earth's land masses that these aircraft were so important. The 1930s were probably the nadir of the long range passenger flying boat, operating from harbors, rivers and lakes. Shorts was kept quite busy producing and developing these boats, as like many other aircraft of the time, these seem to have succumbed to a rather large number of accidents, some fatal.

WWII brought an increase in the requirements for long range patrol boats and the Sunderland, which was based on their passenger boats. Post war, there was still a need and new boats were designed, though after the early 1950s and the increase in long range land-based airliners, the need for flying boats quickly diminished. However, they are not gone entirely. Some were used by smaller airlines, some were converted to charter flights and some were put in museums. Many Sunderlands were converted post war for passenger service. Even today, there are flying boats like the PBY and the Martin Mars that are used for fire bombers, though the numbers are steadily dwindling.

Some of the more interesting parts of the book are when the author describes the steps needed to get the boats ready to fly. This includes a rather detailed description of the amenities and sections of the boats. One would have wished for more interior photos, but perhaps they just aren't available. Then there are the stories. Much of the book is filled with tales of what it was like to fly the planes and what it was like as a traveler.

At over 300 pages, it takes a while to read, but it is well written and never fails to hold one's interest. I found every page to be interesting and informative. A book that enjoyed reading as the subject has always held some fascination for me. I'm sure you will find it equally absorbing;  a book that I highly recommend.

September 2017

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Review book courtesy of  Casemate Publishing, where you can order your copy of this and many other superb books. You can get this book at this link. Also available as an e-book.

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