Welcome to the flying boat gap you didn’t even know we had

Curtiss A-1, The first Navy seaplane at the Curtiss airfield, Hammondsport, NY, June 1911, with Curtiss employees and early Naval aviators. NARA #: 80-G-418895

Almost from the time of the Wright Brothers, the U.S. Navy utilized an increasingly complex series of amphibious “flying boat” aircraft. From hundreds of Curtiss C, F, and MF model flying boats acquired from 1911 through the Great War, the Navy in 1919 used the four huge NC boats to cross the Atlantic, making history.

The 1920s brought the PN flying boats while the 1930s saw the early P2Y-1 Clippers, followed by the PBY Catalina and PBY2 Coronado– with both of the latter going on to be World War II workhorses.

Then came the twilight of the U.S. Navy flying boat era with lumbering Martin PBM Mariner and P5M Marlin, which replaced the Catalina and Coronado, and the aborted Martin P6M SeaMaster, the latter a seriously capable jet-powered sea-based strategic bomber capable of dropping nuclear ordnance. With no desire to continue in the art of seaplanes and their associated tenders, the final flying boat operations of the U.S. Navy were the 1965 Market Time patrols of VP-40 in Vietnam.

USS Guavina (AGSS-362), refueling a P5M-1 Marlin flying boat off Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1955. Prior to World War II several submarines were fitted to refuel seaplanes.  

And just like that, the Navy was out of the seaplane biz.

Since then, the military use of seaplanes, once surplus USAF Hu-16 Albatrosses aged out, have been left to countries like Canada, Russia, and Japan.

However, the stirring dragon, China, is now getting very serious about a very serious flying boat, the AVIC AG600 Kunlong. The size of a 737, the AG600 had its first flight in 2017, and, while not in production yet, already has orders from the “little blue men” adjacent China Coast Guard.

Most importantly, the AG600 just had its first water takeoff last week. 

While pitched as ideal for civilian uses such as firefighting, you would have to be smooth brained to gloss over the potential of a giant seaplane with a 2,800nm range to China, a country that is increasingly looking to build its Spratly Island territory across the contested South China Sea.

As noted by Kyle Mizokami at PM:

The AG600, with a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 tons, can transport personnel and equipment to places like Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. The ability to take off and land from water will allow the PLA to keep Mischief Reef supplied even if the islet’s airfield is shut down by military action. Other military missions for the AG600 would include rescuing downed pilots at sea, convoy escort, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare.

It increasingly seems like we are in 1940 rather than in 2020.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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