Felixstowe F.1

The Felixstowe F.1 was the first in a series of flying boats created by Commander John Porte of the RNAS, and was produced by fitting the wings from a Curtiss H-4 flying boat to a new hull, and was considered to be a great improvement over the original.

John Porte had served in the Royal Navy until 1911, when he was invalided out. He had developed an interest and expertise in flying boats, and early in 1914 moved to America to help Glenn Curtiss with the design of the Curtiss H-1 America (helping to design the hull and acting as the aircraft’s pilot). This was a long range aircraft built to a private order with the aim of attempting a trans-Atlantic flight. After the outbreak of war in 1914 Porte returned to the UK and rejoined the Navy, where he was soon appointed commander of the Felixstowe RNAS station. He was also able to convince the Admiralty to purchase the two Curtiss H-1s, and the very similar Curtiss H-4 (later known as the Small America).

In service the H-4 was judged to hand well in the water and on the air, but it was badly underpowered, and the hull wasn’t robust enough for service use. The engine problem was fixed by giving them Rolls-Royce Eagle engines, while Porte carried out a series of experiments on the hull. The most important of these was carried out on H-4 no. 3569. This aircraft was given a new hull with a sharp ‘V’ shaped planing bottom. The first version, with no step, couldn’t take off, but once it had been given a single step it took off successfully. The new bottom greatly reduced the shock of landing, and improved the aircraft’s ability to operate in rough seas.

This led to the development of the Porte I, which combined the wings and tail of H-4 no.3580 with a new 36ft long single-step hull, and two Hispano-Suiza engines. The new hull had a simple box-girder structure on top, with the important planing bottom attached to its base. Each side of the hull was built at an angle of 18 degrees from the horizontal. At first it was powered by two 100hp Anzani engines, but these were soon replaced with 150hp Hispano-Suiza engines. The enclosed cockpit of the H-4 was replaced with two open cockpits. It was originally built with a single step, but in this form the tail entered the water at high speed, preventing the aircraft from taking off. A second step was installed near the stern, which allowed it to take off, and after a series of flight tests a third step was installed, giving it the best performance. This aircraft was designated as the sole Felixstowe F.1.

The F.1’s main advantages came at take-off, where the new bows largely eliminated bow spray allowing the use of the open cockpits, and when landing, where it reduced the amount of shock. The single F.1 kept it’s original serial number 3580, assigned to it when it was a H.4. It remained in use at Felixstowe until January 1919, ending up at the Seaplane School.

The next Curtiss design to be purchased was designated the H-8 by the RNAS (although apparently not by Curtiss). The only aircraft built and delivered to the H-8 specification struggled to take off at full weight, and so Porte repeated his experiments, combining the wings of the H-8 with his new hulls. This resulted in the Felixstowe F.2, which entered production as the F.2A, a great improvement over the original Curtiss design. The H-8 was followed by the Curtiss H-12, which was a significant improvement on the H-8, and that was used both in its original configuration, and with the hull of the F.2A as the H-12 Convert. 

Engine: Two Anzani or Hispano-Suiza engines
Power: 100hp or 150hp each
Span: 72ft 0in
Length: 39ft 2in

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 January 2021), Felixstowe F.1 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_felixstowe_F1.html

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