Meet 3 Historically Important Flying Boats
A wide range of fascinating aircraft flew through Foynes during the flying boat days. Here’s a brief synopsis of three of the main aircraft. Learn more about these and other aircraft in our museum.
The Boeing 314 Clipper was a long-range flying boat made by Boeing in response to Pan American’s request for a flying boat with unprecedented range capability. It’s comparable to the British Short Empire (see below). One of the largest aircraft of the time, 12 were built for Pan American World Airways; three of these were sold to BOAC in 1941 before delivery. Unfortunately, no B314s remain. However, we have the world’s only full-size replica B314 flying boat, finished to faithful and accurate detail to the original.
Short S.30—Empire Boat
The Short Empire was a passenger and mail-carrying flying boat of the 1930s and ’40s that flew between Britain and British colonies in Africa, Asia, and Australia. Manufactured by Short Brothers, it was the precursor to the more famous Short Sunderland of World War II. In the United States, its contemporary was the Boeing 314.
The origins of the Empire boats lay in an Air Ministry need for passenger and mail carriers that could service the colonies, particularly making the connection to Australia. The S.30 series, Cabot, Caribou, Clyde, and Connemara, fitted with in-flight refuelling equipment and extra fuel tanks, could be used for transatlantic airmail service.
Sikorsky VS-44s were large four-engine American flying boats built to compete in the transatlantic air travel trade carrying 40 or more passengers. Only three were produced: Excalibur, Excambian, and Exeter, all ordered by American Export Airlines. Sikorsky’s standard of luxury boasted full-length beds, dressing rooms, a full galley, a snack bar, a lounge, and fully controlled ventilation.
During World War II, under a Navy contract, the three VS-44s continued flying between New York and Foynes carrying passengers, freight, and war material. The first VS-44, Excalibur, crashed on takeoff in 1942, ending her life early. After the war, the big Sikorsky flying boats continued to fly for the airline, which had renamed itself American Overseas Airlines (AOA) and was operated by American Airlines.
Click through to learn more about some of the key flying boat airlines, the pioneering pilots of these amazing machines, and some of the VIPs who rode as passengers.