Curtiss H-16 'Large America'

The Curtiss H-16 'Large America' was a biplane flying boat that was probably the Curtiss version of the Felixstowe F.2A, and was definitely an improved version of the H-12, which was itself an enlarged version of the H-4 ‘Small America’

Curtiss H-16 at Anacostia, 1920
Curtiss H-16 at Anacostia, 1920

The entire family was developed from the H-1 ‘America’, a flying boat that had been developed for a private customer for an attempt to fly across the Atlantic, but then purchased by the Royal Navy after the outbreak of the First World War. This had been followed by the Curtiss H-4, a very similar aircraft, and the Curtiss H-12 ‘Large America’. The H-12 was larger and generally more powerful, but in service it was found to be underpowered. In British service it was given 275hp Rolls Royce Eagle I or 375hp Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines and in American service 400hp Liberty engines. The British also used it as the basis of the improved Felixstowe series of flying boats, starting with the Felixstowe F.1. These also entered production in the States, where the Felixstowe F.5 was modified to American standards and entered production as the F-5L (generally known as the Curtiss F-5L).

Curtiss followed the H-12 with the H-16 (Model 6C). This had a stronger hull than the H-12, and wings with a longer span but slightly narrower chord, giving them a smaller area. Aircraft delivered to the US Navy were powered by two 360hp Liberty engines. Aircraft that went to Britain were shipped across the Atlantic in crates, and assembled in the UK, where they were given 345hp Rolls-Royce Eagle IV engines.

Some sources state that the H-16 was either based on the British F.2A, or was even Curtiss’s designation for the British design. An examination of plans of the F.2A, H-12 and H-16 would support this idea, with the H-16 looking identical to the F.2A, including having the sharper ‘V’ shaped hull. It would also make more sense for the Royal Navy to be ordering the proven F.2A than another new Curtiss design.  The two aircraft are recorded as having almost identical dimensions, with the differences minor enough to be accounted for by the difference in manufacturer.

In general sources written from the British point of view (British Flying Boats etc) call the H-16 the Curtiss designation for the F.2A, while those written from an American point of view

500lb under wing of Curtiss H-16
500lb under wing of Curtiss H-16

call it the Curtiss version of the F.2A or an improved version of the H-12. Of course both of these statements can be correct at the same time!

The H-16 was built in fairly large numbers, with 184 built by Curtiss and 150 by the Naval Aircraft Factory (originally the Navy Model C). The first production aircraft was completed at the Philadelphia Naval Factory in June 1918, but despite this comparatively late date both the British and American aircraft reached Britain in time to enter combat before the end of the First World War. Of these aircraft 124 of the Curtiss aircraft and all of the NAF aircraft were intended for the US Navy.  In service the H-16 joined the H-12, F.2A and F.3 on patrol duties, mainly over the North Sea and focused against the U-boats.

Curtiss H-16 in Flight
Curtiss H-16 in Flight

The British ordered 125 H-16s. Sixty of the Curtiss built aircraft were delivered, but only 25 of the British aircraft were completed, and the rest were either stored in their cases or cancelled at the end of the war. Two batches of serial numbers were allocated to the H-16 – N4060-N4074 (15 numbers) and N4890-N4950 (61 numbers). N4950-4599 may have been allocated to cancelled aircraft.

On 20 July 1918 RAF Killingholme became an US Naval Air Station. At least two H.16s were transferred from British to American control for service at the new base, along with five F.2As and four H.12Bs. They served alongside a number of the US Navy’s own H-16s.

In American service the H-16 replaced the H-12 after the war. Most American aircraft were given 400hp Liberty 12A engines after the war. Many were also modified using parts from the more robust F-5L. The H-16 remained in service with the US Navy until May 1930.

Two H-16s were used to test pusher engines. The H-16-1 used the same layout as the normal H-16, while the H-16-2 had swept back wings with an increased wing span. Neither experiment was a success.

Bow Gun on Curtiss H-16
Bow Gun on Curtiss H-16

Engine: Two Liberty 12A inline piston engines
Power: 400hp each
Crew: Four
Span: 95ft 0 3/4in
Length: 46ft 1 1/2in
Height: 17ft 8 3/4 in
Empty weight: 7,400lb (equipped)
Maximum take-off weight: 10,900lb
Max speed: 95mph at sea level
Climb Rate: 10 minutes to 4,700ft
Service ceiling: 9,950ft
Range: 378 miles
Armament: six .303in machine guns
Bomb load: 920lb of bombs (four 230bl bombs)

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 January 2021), Curtiss H-16 'Large America' ,

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