WW1 Planes
An encyclopediae of 1914-18 aircraft types


Seaplane Experimental Station (RNAS Felixtowe)

The Felixstowe unit started on 5 August 1913 under commission and control of Captain C. E. Risk, RM. It was officially named Seaplanes, Felixstowe, and direction changed again for Lieutenant C. E. H. Rathborne, or the Royal Navy in 1914. Eventually the unit became famous under Lieutenant-Commander John Cyril Porte, in 1915, also from the Royal Navy. It was an emenation of the new naval branch of the Air Service 1 July 1914, called the RNAS or Royal Naval Air Service. This unit was created to design seaplanes and flying boats, test and improved them. The name Felixstowe stick bvecause of the location but in reality apart from the prototypes, actual production was managed by other aircraft little-known manufacturers: Short and Dick, Kerr & Co., Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company. Thanks to Porte management and lobbying, Curtiss flying boats were acquired and tested first. Improvements in their hull designs led to develop a line of seaplanes under the Felixstowe name. Later, many would be built under licence in the USA and they played a significant part in the latter part of the battle of the Atlantic, in search and destroy missions against U-Boats. The Felixtowe was indeed made for long-range patrols, and was equally employed in the North Sea, for reconnaissance, trying to spot German High Seas Fleet ships and Zeppelins. Most but not all were based at RNAS Felixstowe base. On 24 April 1916 there were tests to convert them as torpedo-bombers, and trials with the Submarine Service (Parkeston Quay) implied the loading and launching of two Sopwith Schneider seaplanes on board on submarine E22, sunk the next day off Great Yarmouth by SM UB-18. After joining the Royal Air Force on April 1918 as the "Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe", the unit was eventually disbanded in June 1919 and its assets taken over by the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment which operated from April 1924 to and throughout WW2, before closing on 21 June 1962. Schneider Trophy teams also trained there.

Felixtowe Baby
The Felixtowe "baby", an oxymoron given the size of the beast, was large enough to carry a parasite fighter, here a Bristol Scout.

Felixtowe aircrafts line

After the modified Curtiss models, the first proper domestic model was called "Porte Baby", a very large plane designed by John Cyril Porte at the naval air station as a prototype; Ten more were ordered and manufactured by May, Harden and May of Southampton in operation from November 1915 was a three-bay biplane with wood-and-fabric construction and powered by three Rolls-Royce Eagles alternating tractor and pusher configuration. Both pilots were seated in an enclosed cockpit and three gunners took place in open stations on the hull. These were big planes, large enough to carry their own escort, a Bristol Scout as parasitic plane. A successful launching test took place on 17 May 1916. The Felixtowe F.1 on its part ws a smaller derivative of the Curtiss H-4, Porte designing a proper hull better fitted for the conditions in the North Sea. In fact Porte has been working with Glenn Curtiss on a trans-atlantic flying boat in the US. He came back in the UK when the war broke out. So part of this knowledge went into the the choice of the plane, then design modifications by Chief Technical Officer John Douglas Rennie and including a single-step hull "Porte I". But only four were built ultimately as Porte swapped on the better Curtiss H-12. The latter led to the design of the F.2, with the same modification. And it was a tremendous success. The plane first flew in July 1916 and was introduced from early 1917 in many RNAS squadrons, RAF squadron, the US Navy and after the war the Chilean Navy and Dutch RNAS. It was declined into three sub-variants, the F.2A (Curtiss H12 with new hull), F.2B (same with open cockpit), and F.2C (lighter hull, only two prototypes). It naturally led to the next series, Felixstowe F.3, F.5 and F5L in 1917-18.

Felixtowe F3
Felixtowe F.3 in the Mediterranean, Malta.

The heavier and larger F.3 was also a success with more than 180 built by several manufacturers. In addition to the RNAS, RAF, and US Navy this model was also used postwar by the Spanish Aeronáutica Naval (Spanish seaplane carrier Dédalo), Portuguese Navy, and Australian and Canadian Air services. They were propelled by two Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII V12 inline piston, 345 hp (257 kW) each in tractor mode, had a semi-enclise cockpit, front, rear and side gunners, and could carry up to 920 lb (418 kg) of bombs beneath the wings to attack U-Boats. However it was less popular with its crews compared to the more agile F.2A. The Next F.5 introduced in mid-1918 was also mass-produced, by an array of manufacturers including the Short Brothers (23), Dick, Kerr & Co. (2), the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company (17), Gosport Aircraft Company (10), S.E. Saunders Ltd, Boulton Paul Ltd, and Aircraft Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The Imperial Japanese Navy also adopted it, and produced it through the Yokosuka Naval Air Technical Arsenal (10), Hiro Naval Arsenal (60) and Aichi (40) as Hiro H1H. This F.5 was a crossover between the F.2 and F.5, with power to match. It first flew on November 1917 and was also largely adopted by many naval aviations, flying until the 1930s. However its introduction seems to have been post-WW1 for most models, replacing the F2 and F3 in service. The F.5L was an American production model, made for the United States Navy and also built and operated by the Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company (as Aeromarine 75). They were built in addition by the Naval Aircraft Factory (137), Curtiss (60) and Canadian Aeroplanes Limited (30). Many also flew with the Brazilian and Argentine Navies and it flew as the U.S. Navy’s standard patrol aircraft until 1928. The last model was the Fury, a prototype destined to revive the Baby, and named "Porte Super-Baby". It was a very large five-engined triplane flying-boat built and tested at the Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe. It was the largest seaplane in the world and largest British aircraft on record and also the first to incorporate servo-assisted controls. In 1919 it flew from UK to South Africa, but when flying back it stalled into the sea on take-off and was wrecked beyond repair.

Felixtowe paintings
Felixtowe models often received brightly coloured liveries. Origin: Profiles by J. Gregovski

Models in detail

Production in bold, numbers between brackets.
  • Felixstowe Porte Baby 1915 (11)
  • Felixstowe F.1 1915 (4)
  • Felixstowe F.2 1916 (175)
  • Felixstowe F.3 1917 (182)
  • Felixstowe F.5/F5L 1918 (163+227)
  • Felixstowe Fury 1918 prototype
Felixtowe line
Felixtowe flying boats F.2Bs starting out on patrol, the photo also showed the towing motor boats.

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