The humble Seagull

SOC Seagull aircraft just launched from Augusta's catapult, Casco Bay, Maine, United States, Jun 1942

SOC Seagull aircraft just launched from USS Augusta’s catapult, Casco Bay, Maine, United States, Jun 1942. Note the two bombs carried underwing.

In 1933, with aircraft carriers few and far between, helicopters nonexistent and radar in its infancy, if a surface ship wanted to see over the horizon this meant a seaplane. And the go-to for the U.S. Navy at the time was the Curtiss SOC (scout/observation SO aircraft produced by Curtis-Wright C) Seagull.

air_soc11This overgrown bumblebee could putter around at about 130 mph and stay aloft for about four hours or so. If needed, the big Pratt & Whitney R-1340 single-row 600 hp engine could be leaned down to give a one-way range of almost 900 miles to deliver mail and dispatches ashore or to other ships far over the horizon.

Armament? Yeah, about that– just one Browning M2 AN machine gun forward and another aft, each with 500 rounds ready. Don’t confuse these guns with the M2 .50 cal, as they were a .30.06-cal air-cooled gun that had a much higher rate of fire (1100 rpm) but a much smaller bullet that had about half the range. Besides this, the little scout could carry about 500 pounds of bombs or depth charges.

Some 315 Gulls were made in four marks by 1938 for the sea services and were used both from seaplane tenders, shore stations, and cruisers/battleships.

SOC-3A Seagull floatplane of US Navy Scouting Squadron 201 (VS-201) parked on the deck of escort carrier Long Island, 16 Dec 1941. Note the float has been replaced by landing gear

SOC-3A Seagull floatplane of US Navy Scouting Squadron 201 (VS-201) parked on the deck of the escort carrier USS Long Island, 16 Dec 1941. Note the float has been replaced by landing gear and a 325-pound aircraft Mk 17 depth charge is fitted centerline.

Long Island #2

Long Island #2

It was the latter that the Gull excelled, as since they could be “knocked down” to as small as 12-feet wide, a large cruiser or battlewagon could carry 8 of these seaplanes if needed (4 on the deck/catapults, 4 in the stowage).

SOC-3 Seagull aircraft stripped for maintenance in the hangar of light cruiser Savannah, 1938; note the close up of the Pratt and Whitney R-1340 9-cylinder radial engine and caster tracks to roll the planes out of the hangar on its truck and on deck for launch NH 85630

SOC-3 Seagull aircraft stripped for maintenance in the hangar of light cruiser USS Savannah, 1938; note the close up of the Pratt and Whitney R-1340 9-cylinder radial engine and caster tracks to roll the planes out of the hangar on its truck and on deck for launch NH 85630

Liberty party from battleship California prepared to go ashore, 1940; note SOC-3 floatplanes

Liberty party from battleship California prepared to go ashore, 1940; note at least three SOC-3 floatplanes on cats

USS Nevada at anchor at Lahaina Roads, Territory of Hawaii, pre-war. Note SOC Seagulls

USS Nevada at anchor at Lahaina Roads, Territory of Hawaii, pre-war. Note 3 SOC Seagulls

While the battleships soon had their Gulls replaced by monoplane Kingfishers, the simple Curtiss biplanes remained in service on cruisers as late as 1944 where they were used to scout, rescue downed pilots, and lost seamen and adjust naval gunfire.

SOC-3 scout-observation floatplanes off cruiser Honolulu flying in formation, circa 1938-1939, note the prewar scheme. United States Navy Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 82466

SOC-3 scout-observation floatplanes off cruiser USS Honolulu flying in formation, circa 1938-1939, note the prewar scheme. United States Navy Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 82466

Memphis' Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation aircraft hooked onto the recovery mat, in preparation for being hoisted on board, circa early 1942

USS Memphis’ Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation aircraft hooked onto the recovery mat, in preparation for being hoisted on board, circa early 1942

SOC-3 Seagull aircraft from cruiser Portland flying in a formation of four, circa 1944, note the wartime scheme United States Navy Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 81995

SOC-3 Seagull aircraft from cruiser USS Portland flying in a formation of four, circa 1944, note the wartime scheme United States Navy Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 81995

US Navy Aviation Machinist's Mate polishing the 9-foot propeller of a SOC Seagull floatplane at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, United States, circa 1940-41. Photographer Dayton A. Seiler, United States National Archives 80-G-K-13541

US Navy Aviation Machinist’s Mate polishing the 9-foot propeller of a SOC Seagull floatplane at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, United States, circa 1940-41. Photographer Dayton A. Seiler, United States National Archives 80-G-K-13541

 

Retired in 1946, the Seagull was perhaps the last biplane in front line regular U.S. military service.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.