Airborne Awesomosity

Of Flying Boats and Fighter Planes


Top Gun Would Have Been Much Different This Way.

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The British were looking for ways to modernize their fighter force and, being from an island, were sure that the water was the key.



Sr-a_1-3 airmuseum UK dot org

Saunders Roe SR A/1 At Rest In The Dry


[image credit ]


Your faithful writer has an odd fascination with flying boats and other monstrosities. First it’s important to understand that a flying boat and a float plane are two separate classes of aircraft. One has a hull and the other is a land plane designed to float. I tend to focus on flying boats for the shear absurdity of their designs.

You may remember that I have run a post about a fighter jet sea plane once before. The US Navy took the F-102 Dart and turned it into the Sea Dart. This was a float plane conversion and you can read about that here.

The American’s choose that design because they didn’t have carriers large enough to deal with an early jets quirks. The British approach was to look at an island chain as a prebuilt airbase. To be able to establish airpower with the least amount of men and material possible. A common British tactic at the end of both World Wars was to use airpower to control their colonies.  It would also show the differences between the Sea Dart and the SR A/1.




Both aircraft suffered from the issues with early jet engines. They used a lot of fuel and the engines spooled up slowly. Which didn’t lend them to use on short aircraft carrier decks.  Ultimately the Sea Dart would fail due to issues with its hydroskis. Issues caused by adapting a land plane to sea use. The SR A/1 didn’t fail for that reason.  It failed because Saunders Roe never put any effort behind it. Instead focusing on a monster aircraft that was known as the Princess. A monster aircraft of downright aHoward Hughesian like level that I will cover at a later date. More importantly it ate up the companies resources and pushed the SR A/1’s launch date back further and further until it was passed by modern technology.  Where it would become yet another footnote in military aviation history.




Sr-a_1-4 masportaviator dot com

SR A/1 Large and Airborne

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Specification (SR/A.1)

Data from British Flying Boats

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 50 ft 0 in (14.24 m)
  • Wingspan: 46 ft 0 in (14.02 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 9 in (5.11 m)
  • Wing area: 415 ft² (38.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 11,262 lb (5,108 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 16,000 lb (7,273 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl MVB.2 turbojets, 3,850 lbf (17.2 kN) each


  • Maximum speed: 512 mph (445 knots, 824 km/h)
  • Endurance: 1 hour 48 min
  • Service ceiling: 48,000 ft (14,600 m)
  • Wing loading: 38.6 lb/ft² (188 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.48


  • Guns: 4x 20 mm Hispano Mk 5
  • Bombs: 2x 1000 lb (455 kg) bombs or rockets




Looks So Right, Yet So Wrong


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It’s not hard to understand the desire to use flying boats and float planes as fighter aircraft. We are only a decade from World War II where fighter seacraft were not an unusual site. It addresses a lot of issues that the new technology would bring up. What was unusual was going with a flying boat versus a float plane. Saunders Roe had a long history of flying boats so the logic is there from the companies standpoint. Unfortunately technology would surpass the need for these aircraft quickly.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    Saunders-Roe (Saro) eventually merged with Gloster and ended their days making these:
    <img src=""&gt;
    before being Borged by BAE like the rest of Britain's avaition industry.

    • fodder650

      I'll be in my corner being depressed.

      I am going to focus on boats for awhile but the Princess had a land based contemporary I want to introduce people to.

    • pj134


  • jalopjackie

    "Mommy, why is that plane making a duckface at me?"
    "Hush baby, don't provoke it. Just turn around and walk to the other side of the museum."

    Fascinating background on the SR/A.1's Beryl powerplants… apparently, they're the same jets used by Donald Campbell to break the 200mph over-water record. Given it's rather large size for the time, it's somewhat unsurprising that Metropolitan-Vickers would push engineering & manufacturing to the edge; apparently, they also produced the engines which powered the Gloster Meteor, as well as the first commercial transistor-based computer, the Metrovick 950 (a name which could have been lifted from any sci-fi novel of the time.)

    <img src="; width="600">

    (From: <a href="” target=”_blank”>

    • fodder650

      never heard of the Metrovick before.

  • skitter

    Now that you bring it up, it would be very interesting to see a total comparison between a theoretical support chain for flying boats and an aircraft carrier, from capability, to adaptability, to expense, to expanse.

    • fodder650

      There are a couple people who could have that worked out for you. They just haven't found this thread yet.

    • Vairship

      Aerodynamics: the bottom of a flying boat is necessarily compromised to create a boat-shaped hull. Plus there are restrictions on air intake location, due to spray (especially harmful to jet engines). Aircraft-carrier based planes don't have those restrictions.

      Structure/weight: Both flying boats and carrier based aircraft need to be reinforced compared to land-based aircraft, the former due to wave impact loads and the latter due to catapult take-off and hard/restrained landings and tailhook forces. Carrier aircraft also usually have folding wings to reduce space needs aboard ship, and would be more limited in max weight due to flight deck length restriction and flight deck strength restrictions. In the case of bombers, flying boats also have issues with where to locate the bomb bay: the normal location in the bottom of the fuselage would have to be watertight when in the water, causing sealing issues. Other locations (sides of the fuselage, bottom of the wing) limit the size of the bomb bay and bomb delivery.

      Aircraft size: nearly unrestricted for flying boats, very limited for aircraft-carrier planes.

      Cost: flying boats stationed near land will be much cheaper. Yes, you still have to build a land base to drag the aircraft out of the water for maintenance and avoid damage during storms, but that base will be much cheaper than an aircraft carrier. Plus a land-based facility won't burn fuel to propel itself.

      Access to war zone: here is where the aircraft carrier makes its mark. It can go wherever there is deep enough water. Flying boat bases on the other hand need a large, protected bay for take-off and landing, and a ramp to drag the aircraft on land (which means steep cliffs are a no-no). There just aren't that many bits o' land meeting all these requirements in all the right places (such as the Middle East) that are friendly to the flying boat's nation of origin. This is why the US is starting to turn away from land bases and looking into seabasing.