Who doesn’t want a classic wooden 2-for-1 flying boat with incredible ties to U.S. and Canadian history?
One of the most unusual ‘boats’ in the world needs a new home, and this one takes the classic wooden boat concept to a whole new level.
Last week, the curators at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum announced that the unique and inimitable Curtis Seagull ‘flying boat’ was being “deaccessioned.” That’s another way of saying the boat will no longer be displayed and is now available privately.
“It has been decided,” said museum spokesperson Philippe Tremblay in a statement.
“The Curtiss Seagull will be deaccessioned from the collection.”
The museum said it simply no longer has space to display the iconic machine. They also said there were conversations with private buyers willing to preserve it. The Seagull has been on display at the museum since 1968.
The famous boat-plane, also known as the Curtis SOC Seagull in later versions, was part of a National Geographic expedition to the Amazon rainforest in 1925. The epic journey was part of a 19,000 km (11,800 mile) survey of the Amazon rainforest that had never been mapped.
The mahogany airplane features a boat-like hull and was designed with a set of sponsons beneath its wings — allowing it to transition between airborne flight and aquatic travel as needed. While it has all the hallmarks of an early ‘float plane,’ the Curtis Seagull was one of the few designs actually designed with aquatic travel in mind, not simply for landing on water. Later versions utilized a primary sponson directly under the cockpit, further modifying it for aquatic landings only.
The original concept was developed in the United States as a single-engine two-seater aircraft for civilian use, but was only in production briefly from 1919 to 1920 and retailed for a modest $6000 USD. It’s designer, Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, previous engineered airplanes for the U.S. Navy during WWI.
The Seagull’s unusual fuselage was made from mahogony plywood shaped around a wooden frame, fabric-covered wings, and what’s known as a pusher engine — a particular drivetrain assembly most commonly found in propeller planes and outboard motors.
While it was an eye-catching and popular aircraft to the public, it was relatively rare and not many were sold. The original Seagull design was built to complete with wartime surplus planes that flooded the market after WWI.
One of the most common applications for the Seagull during the 1920s and 1930s was among Canadian bush pilots for backcountry expeditions. It would have been an exhilarating ride for bushcrafters, no doubt, as the Seagull was small at only 28-feet long with with a 49-foot wingspan. It packed a meager 160 horsepower and had a cruising speed of only 97 km/h (60 mph) and a top speed of 122 km/h (76 mph), meaning landings and take-offs would have been extra tense with her 2000 lb airframe climbing at a rate of only 3000 feet every 10 minutes. That’s only 150 feet every 30 seconds.
One of the many later versions, the Curtis SOC Seagull, would go on to become a popular scout plane for the U.S. Navy from the mid 1930’s until after WWII.
As for its Amazonian expedition, the Seagull was used to survey and track headwaters deep in Brazil’s rainforest. The expedition was known as the Alexander Rice Hamilton Scientific Expedition and captured the public’s attention due, in some capacity, to its mythical potential. The New York Times published a headline on August 12th, 1924 entitled “Explorer to Seek Orinoco’s Source,” referring to the Orinoco River. The expedition’s primary task was to backtrack from the Orinoco’s previously discovered basin and find its point of origin. The crew, led by Dr. Alexander Rice Hamilton himself, a surgeon and explorer making his seventh journey to South America, returned safely in July 1925.
But the undercurrent of mythology hiding below the expedition’s stated goal may have been because of the mythical city of El Dorado. Another explorer, French scientist Charles Marie de La Condamine, who had previously explored the Parima range, a massive set of rivers and tributaries containing both the Orinoco River and the Parima River, claimed the Parima River got its name because it was believed to flow into the mythical Lake Parime — the reputed location of El Dorado. With both the Parima and Orinoco’s rivers hiding beneath a thick canopy of unexplored Amazonian rainforest, one can only wonder what Dr. Hamilton and his crew had hoped to find.
But, while the Canadian expedition wasn’t technically in search of a long lost golden city, the Seagull proved handy for navigating the expansive and winding rivers of the Amazon. When the Seagull wasn’t in the air for mapping purposes, it was able to travel up and down the river to coordinate with crews on the ground.
Upon its return home after the 1925 expedition, the Seagull was used as a training vessel for new pilots. It was eventually transferred to the Science Museum in London, UK but was damaged during a bombing raid on the city in 1941 during WWII. It was then rebuilt and transferred back to Canada in 1968 and put on display. It underwent a full restoration by Canadian museum staff between 1970 and 1974.
Now this unique piece of history that transcends 19th century exploration, South American mythology, WWI, and WWII can be yours. You’ll just need a pilot’s license to go with your boating license.
(You can see a later version of the Curtis SOC Seagull during WWII landing at sea with its triple sponsons in the video below. Note how the plane is setup for aquatic use only and has to be lifted by crane onto the ship.)