NC-4 Flying Boat

08 Nov 18:

"The NC-4 was a Curtiss NC flying boat that was the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, albeit not non-stop. The aircraft was designed by Glenn Curtiss and his team, and manufactured by Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, with the hull built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Corporation in Bristol, Rhode Island. The design requirement emerged during WWI, the US Navy needed anti-submarine aircraft on the Eastern side of the Atlantic and a safe way to get them there, hence the need for an aircraft that could cross the Atlantic on its own versus being shipped across.
In May 1919, a crew of United States Navy aviators flew the NC-4 from New York State to Lisbon, Portugal, over the course of 19 days. This included time for stops of numerous repairs and for crewmen's rest, with stops along the way in Massachusetts, Nova Scotia (on the mainland), Newfoundland, and twice in the Azores Islands. Then its flight from the Azores to Lisbon completed the first transatlantic flight between North America and Europe, and two more flights from Lisbon to northwestern Spain to Plymouth, England, completed the first flight between North America and Great Britain."

We've been to see her in the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum and she is in beautiful shape.

(Image Credit: Small Boat Restoration)

From Catalogue Raisonne:
Name: [NC-4 Seaplane Hull]
Type: Navy Curtiss Flying Boat
Designed by: Curtiss, Glenn
Contract: 1918
Construction: Wood, Sitka Spruce hull planks, Ash
LOA: 45' (13.72m)
Beam: 10' (3.05m)
Hull Weight: 2,800 lbs
Displ.: 28,00 lbs (1,270 kg)
Propulsion: Four 400 hp Liberty V-12 motors
Built for: U.S. Navy
Current owner: Smithsonian Institution, on loan to National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL (last reported 2018 at age 99)

Trivia bits:
-The designation NC came from the cooperative effort of the Navy (N) and Curtiss (C) to build the aircraft.
-Two other Nancies (NCs) attempted the flight, but did not complete it. NC-1 was lost at sea, crew rescued. NC-3 was forced to land just outside the Azores and was damaged, the crew sailed her into port through gale force winds and 30-40 foot seas.
-The flight covered 3936 miles with 52 hours 31 minutes of flight time over 19 days.
-NC-4's first flight was April 31, 1919, only days before the departure.
-Chief Machinist Mate Eugene Rhoads was a pilot as well, but not a designated Naval Aviator. He went on to a fine career as a pilot.
-Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, a builder of the finest ocean crossing boats, built the hull and the wingtip pontoons.
-The engines' fuel supply is gravity fed. Small propellers behind the center Liberty V-12 engines are part of a windmill pump system that pumps fuel from the main tanks up to the gravity tank in the upper wing. There is also a hand pump.

-The aircraft had an intercommunications system.
-NC-4 is so cool that she has a march written for her!

From the HMCo Construction records, several flying boat hulls on order as well.

On the bow there is a night landing flare system, with a button inside the Navigator's compartment to fire them. There are several reports of the flares being inadvertently fired during ground service.

Several designs were considered for the hull step, the final decision was to have one step versus multiple steps. The hull is also very narrow for flying boats of the time, a weight saver that reduced drag as well. The aircraft also has a radical design for the tail, struts versus a continuation of the fuselage, another weight saver.

(Video Credit: Office of Information, US Naval Photographic Center)

Take a virtual flight in NC-4, through the magic of Garry's Mod game physics sandbox.

08 Feb 19:

NC-4 arrived in Plymouth, England on May 31, 1919 and tied up at the Barbican in Sutton Harbour. NC-4's arrival was scheduled as a tribute to the Mayflower voyage, there is a commemorative plaque placed next to the Mayflower Steps, where the Pilgrims set off for the New World in 1620. Our friend Doug E. snapped this photo of the plaque, and is on the prowl to take another. The area is currently under renovation for the 400th Anniversary celebration in 2020 of the Mayflower voyage.

13 Feb 19:

"During 1912 Naval Constructor Richardson conducted a series of model basin tests on the planing properties of seaplane floats and hulls which have proved to be perhaps the most important and fruitful research ever undertaken by the Navy. Richardson for the first time showed the effect of the form of the float on its water performance, and from these tests he evolved the lines of United States Navy seaplane floats and hulls which have since that date made them a standard for others to follow. Richardson's tests showed the advantages of Vee bottom, long easy form, spray strips, and single step with sharp rise of after body."

21 Feb 19:

So now you can build your own!

(Resource Credit: The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corp. National Naval Aviation Museum NC-4 Files. 2019)

23 May 2019:

100 years ago NC-4 was in the Azores, waiting to complete the next leg to Lisbon on her transatlantic flight, the first flight across. We stopped by to visit and take a few more pictures for a book we are writing.

From First Flight to First Step in just 50 years.

If you'd like to own a piece of the wing fabric, contact Mike at Aviation Relic Prints. We just received our square of wing fabric, relic print and historical information, a fantastic piece of flying boat history.

We are gathering information for an article, if you have any stories or photos from folks who built, maintained or flew the aircraft we'd love to hear them and add to the historical record. Leave a note below!

19 Oct 19:

NC-4 refueling from her support ship in Lisbon, during the 1919 transatlantic flight. The gents in the boat look pretty dandy.

05 Mar 20:

We picked up another nice vintage photograph of the US Navy Curtiss Flying Boat NC-4. She was the first aircraft to complete a successful Atlantic crossing in 1919. I like looking at the photos of the flying boat while she is getting maintenance, it must have been a challenge to maintain bot a boat and an airplane, in a saltwater environment. Flying was new, flying boats were new, the engines were new, radios, navigation gear, everything was new.

I lost count at about 12 of all the maintenance and flight crew personnel on the aircraft. She was big, 48 foot hull with a 126 foot upper wingspan. Takeoff weight was around 28,000 pounds.

We are working on a book, the Triumph of the NCs: Centennial. It will include a transcription of the 1921 Triumph of the NCs, old photos that we have collected that date 1919 and newer, and current day photos from the aircraft, which is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. We hope to publish it this Summer.

17 Apr 20:

I spoke at the Herreshoff Seminar series September 2019 on the flying boat hull that was built in Bristol 1918-1919. The hull was used on NC-4, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic.

13 May 20:

Fun podcast we did about the Nancies with Carter and Tyler of East Passage Boatwrights and Tyler Fields Photography.

"Today, we take trans-Atlantic flight for granted; jump on a plane in the early evening on the East Coast and arrive in London, Paris, or Amsterdam by sunrise. But shortly after the Wright Brothers flew in Kitty Hawk in 1903, sights were set to reach Europe by air, and as the world was mired in World War I, this achievement became even more vital to the success of the Allies.

The Navy tasked the Curtis Aircraft Company to accomplish this feat, and with help from the boat builders of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company and Lawley & Son, a revolutionary design of a flying boat was delivered — The NC, or the “Flying Nancies”. In this episode we talk with retired Marine Corps pilot and small boat builder, Kent Lewis, about the merger between these great companies and their groundbreaking achievements. Listen in!"

17 Jun 20:

We are the excited new owners of this photo of the Navy Curtiss Flying Boat NC-2, the first photo we have seen of her afloat. She is shown in an early configuration, with 4 motors in tractor/pusher tandem configuration on the wings, the early propellers with the large roots and the pilot pod suspended above the hull. NC-2 did not make the Transatlantic crossing attempt, but arguably played the most important role because she donated parts to the other Nancies just prior to their 8 May 1919 departure. (Photo dated 4.21.'19)

17 Jul 20:

F-5L Flying Boat built about the same time as NC-4. Several came out of the Bristol factory at the same time as NC-4, on the same page in the Hull Number record, Hulls 356-350. Here is a completed F-5L at NAS Pensacola, image credit unknown.

17 Dec 20: 

NC-4 at Ponta Delgada, next stop Spain, on the first Transatlantic flight.

We love the photos with the boats in them, of the non-flying type...the crew of NC-4 reported that one of their biggest concerns was having their hull damaged by one of the support boats or sightseers.

 15 Jan 22:

A boat that flies? Or is it a plane that floats? Here is an image of the US Navy's NC-4, circa 1919, one of the few shots I know of where she is floating on air vs water. 

In May of 1919 NC-4 became the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic, stopping at several points along the way. After reaching England she was disassembled, shipped back to the United States, reassembled and she then flew a victory lap around the eastern parts of the US. Photos of that tour would be amazing.

 11 Apr 22:

The US Navy developed the Navy Curtiss (NC) flying boat in the 1919 timeframe, in addition to spotting enemy submarines they figured out the could drop some ordnance on them as well. Here's a little greeting loaded onto NC-8. We love this photo, the Chief posing casually by the bomb while the junior sailor is looking at him and thinking "WTH are doing to that bomb?!"

Wouldn't one of those look good strapped to GANNET, to deal with stinkpots? 12 NCs were built, with NC-4 being the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic, hopscotching up the East Coast, Nova Scotia, Azores, the Spain, France and England. 

Truth be told, maybe they were just going to get some Laphroaig. 

to be continued...

NC-4 is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.

-A History of Naval Aviation
HMCo #341p Sea Plane Hull NC-4
HMCo #341p Sea Plane Hull NC-4 (1918, Extant); Navy Seaplane (hull only) designed by Curtiss, Glenn; built for U.S. Navy
Office of Information, US Naval Photographic Center. The Great Flight. 1970.
NC-4 Wikipedia
Silberg and Haas. 2011. Developing the Navy’s NC Flying Boats: Transforming Aeronautical Engineering for
the First Transatlantic Flight

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