• I've Flown Some Crazy Stuff For You!

    I've Flown Some Crazy Stuff For You!

    By Ron Blehm (18 May 2010)

    The little pocket guide to old and ancient aircraft described it as, "A ten-engine, 200-passenger, British Beast" - and here I was, 200 feet above the Mediterranean trying to figure out exactly WHICH engine was number seven and why I had a low oil pressure light coming on (photo below)! It was beginning to dawn on me that having a half-dozen or more crew members on these old birds was not just a safety or convenience thing, it was actually necessary. But ... there was no shared cockpit on the menu today so I'd have to make do with what I had - which wasn't much. While I can appreciate all this variety and aviation history, flying something that is, "more of a boat that can fly as opposed to an airplane that floats" really isn't where I ever would have voluntarily put myself!

    Like most of us, I love airplanes and/or flying ... I probably should have been a pilot but oh well, far too late for that now. When I used to see the flight simulator games on the store shelves I'd dream of flying 727's or 757's to far-off and exotic destinations. I still generally prefer commercial aviation to other types of flying - although I also really love those turboprop commuters (Dash-8, Do-328, ATR-42/72, EMB-120, etc.)!

    Anyway ... we all have our niche and in 2003 several of us formed a "Flight of the Month Club" at www.toomuchfs.com one of the motivations being to experience what other simmers might appreciate. As a result of that I have been blessed (in most cases it has been for my betterment) to fly some unique aircraft in places that I never could have imagined! Really, it's been an amazing learning experience; float planes around Hawaii, single-engine turboprops in the Alps or Himalayas, historic old crates over The Hump or into Berlin or out of La Paz. There has been some crazy stuff over the past seven and a half years! Even more than the simulated flying, when you hang out with a group of guys for that long you develop some real, long-lasting friendships. It has been an amazing experience. (Below, right, Peter Stark in, "Roo and Brew" from a PC Pilot article.)


    So, how is it that I was back at the engineer's panel of a Saunders-Roe (SR.45) "Princess" trying to figure out what was going on with number seven? Well, that's where things get sorta fuzzy. So ... I've been flying with this "Flight Club" for more than seven years and as someone pointed out, "A good many marriages don't last that long!" Last December one of our founding members, a guy by the name of Bill Smith (famous for the flightsim novel, "Get Real" as well as the, "Bride of a Flightsim Zombie" series in Computer Pilot Magazine) made his way from Australia to the United States to meet up with a couple of the other founding members of TooMuchFS. One of the stops on the itinerary was the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum which happens to be the home of Howard Hughes' famous H-4 flying boat, the "Spruce Goose" (photo below, left). After my wife hosted a Sunday morning breakfast for the group, we loaded up and headed out to McMinnville for a day of aircraft and history. (Photo below, center; Tony Radmilovich of PC Pilot left, this author center, Bill Smith right.) This then gets us back to my story of flying a large flying boat. I figured I couldn't very well host Tony and Bill at Evergreen without at least trying the sim version of the "Spruce Goose". So I downloaded a version from www.flightsim.com and took to the skies.


    The Spruce Goose is huge even by modern standards! Its wingspan exceeds that of the An-225 and its towering tail is matched only by the A380. As you can see from the diagram (above, right) the Spruce Goose makes the 747 look moderate at best. (Photo below left, dwarfing a DC-3.) One of the things we learned at Evergreen was that you really can't photograph this aircraft - it's too big to fit into the camera; you only grab bits and pieces of it here and there. (Photo below center, a B-17 could fit under the tail and the Fort's wings would be shorter than the Goose's horizontal stabilizer.) Anyway, from the beaches of Beirut I flew the sim version due west for two hours landing up on the far side of Crete. Okay, now I felt that I knew just a little more about this giant.


    Like any good researcher, you can't just go grabbing a piece of information and running with that; you have to dig deeper. So I went looking back into the history of the Giant Flying Boats. Because the "Spruce Goose" is still the largest of these flying boats it tends to overshadow some of the other pioneers of aviation history. I ended up back in the 1920's to find information on the Dornier Do-X flying boat (below, left). Conceived by Dr. Claudius Dornier, the Do X design took seven years to complete and two years to build. The giant flying boat was finally launched on July 12th 1929. The plane was built on the Swiss portion of Alternhein in order to avoid the Allied Commission. When complete, the Do-X was the largest, heaviest and most powerful aircraft in the world. One report that I read said that this maiden flight was made with 169 people on board, a record that wasn't even challenged for over 15 years (below, right)! In 1931 the plane made a flight all the way to New York - but with a blazing speed of barely 130 knots it took weeks for it to fly down to Africa, across to Brazil and then back up to New York. The plane was enormous for that era and as a result of the massiveness of the plane, passengers were asked to crowd together on one side to help the flying boat make turns! The Do-X was retired to the Berlin Air Museum in 1934 and tragically, was destroyed by an Allied air raid in 1943.


    So I went back to www.flightsim.com where I found a simulated version of this beast too. I loaded her into the sim and set-up, once again, off the beaches of Beirut. Wow, this thing sure makes a racket! Takeoff was ... I think I saw Cyprus before I was airborne (below)! Man, this thing is like a flying death-trap and two hours has never felt so long. I remain however, convinced that I am now better off for having experienced that flight.

    From one of the most extraordinary seaplanes in history to one of the biggest sea-monsters ever to fly; I next found myself downloading and taking off in the Blohm & Voss BV-238, another German design that came about during World War II (below, left). This was a giant, six-engine troop and cargo carrier. A third larger than the Do-X the BV-238 was twice as heavy and considerably faster. Again I returned to the sim, just off Beirut and into the sky, heading 270 (below, right). Two hours later I was a bit further beyond Crete but not yet to Italy.


    In another tragic ending, the sole BV-238 was strafed and sunk while docked on Schaal Lake in September 1944 (below, left). For the record, it was the largest aircraft destroyed in World War II but considering it was the largest aircraft ... (below, right)


    Finally we end up here (below, left), at the engineer's panel of the Sauders-Roe ("Saro") SR.45 Princess, the "ten-engine, 200-passenger, British Beast". She was more compact than the "Spruce Goose" (below, center) but she also weighed and could carry almost as much (within 100,000 pounds). She was a whole lot faster and had a far greater range, though not according to the simulated version I downloaded (below, right). The "Princess" was the pinnacle of a technology that died with the dawning of a new technology - long-range, land-based aircraft such as the B-17, B-24 and eventually the B-29, which was modified to become the Stratocruiser.


    It seemed obvious before World War II that transoceanic service would use flying boats. After all, airplanes were barely reliable so you would want one that could make an emergency landing on water. Both Howard Hughes and the Saro Company had hedged their bets on this seaplane theory that was eventually proven wrong and quickly became outdated. Three SR.45s were built but all three Princesses were broken up by 1967. As is so often the case, we have to look to our flight simulators to preserve a feel for these pioneers of aviation history (below, left).


    Well, after turning some pumps off and on a couple of times, the pressure on number seven came back up a bit and I was able to complete my two-hour flight, making it to nearly the same spot as the "Spruce Goose". You can compare the performance differences I got in my two-hour flights in (above, right).

    After a day at Evergreen our families worked our way north, ending up at the Boeing assembly plant in Everett where we toured the 747 and 787 assembly lines and got to see one of the first test flights of the newest pioneer of aviation history (below). All-in-all it was a fantastic week and I speak for Tony Radmilovich as well when I say, "Bill and family, we'd love to repay the favor and head to Oz!"

    I also wanted to give you a couple of different looks at the size comparison of these great and historic aircraft (photos below, view set at 500 feet).


    Finally, I thought it might be fun to compare the engines on these old boats:

    • Do-X -- 12 at 610 hp = 7,320 hp
    • BV238 -- 6 at 1,900 hp = 11,400 hp
    • Princess -- 10 at 2500 hp plus 820 lbf = 25,000 hp plus 8200 lbf boost
    • Goose -- 8 at 4000 hp = 32,000 hp

    And a little video.

    Ron Blehm
    [email protected]

    More Articles By Ron Blehm:

    35 Degrees North Latitude
    Twenty Degrees (Or So) East
    Engine 13 Is Moving Up
    Teddy Travels The World
    Novel Idea

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