GLENN CURTISS was the first in the U.S. to take off and land on water, January 26, 1911. And within a year, he commercialized this achievement with the Curtiss Model F. In one variant or another, this Curtiss flying boat continued in service for 15 years. Its aviation firsts include aerial military action, autopiloting, marine catapulting, and delivering newspapers to Catalina.
Model F Basics. The Curtiss Model F was a flying boat; that is, unlike a floatplane, the fuselage itself provided its buoyancy. Its biplane layout was typical of the period; its single engine driving a pusher propeller was mounted high above the waterline. A pilot and one passenger sat side-by-side in an open cockpit.
More than 100 Model F variants were produced for military use. Another 16, called the Model 18 and Seagull, were sold for civilian applications.
Image from Wings of History Air Museum.
An Autopilot First. On August 30, 1913, a Model F became the first aircraft to fly under automatic control. Elmer Sperry developed a gyroscopic stabilizer that evolved into today’s autopilot.
A Military First. A sibling of this Sperry-gyro Model F became the first heavier-than-air aircraft to be involved in a U.S. military action: It was launched from the U.S.S. Birmingham on April 25, 1914, in a scouting mission during the U.S. occupation of Veracruz.
On November 5, 1915, the Sperry-gyro aircraft became the first to be catapulted off a moving ship, the U.S.S. North Carolina.
Image from Florida Photographic Collection.
Civilian Use. Of the 16 Seagulls, 10 of them were sold to Rogers Airlines in Southern California. Emery Rogers was a partner with Syd Chaplin in Chaplin-Air-Line. The airline delivered Los Angeles newspapers to Catalina; Rogers’ Seagulls were in service as late as 1927.
Other early airlines employed Curtiss flying boats. Aeromarine Airways flew H-12 Curtiss craft, larger than Seagulls, on Key West/Havava routes as early as 1920. American Trans-Oceanic Company also flew H-12s on routes that included New York City/Palm Beach/Nassau/Havana. ds