Tag Archives: Felixstowe F5L

The big Roman off the Cape

Image from the Italian-built semi-rigid airship Roma, overflying the bombing of the unmanned ex-German Wiesbaden-class scout cruiser SMS Frankfurt off Cape Henry, Virginia, on 18 July 1921. Note the U.S. Navy Felixstowe F5L flying boats overhead and the white targets painted on the deck of the former Kaiser’s former warship.

The imagery is related to Part of the William Mitchell papers, transferred in 1953 to the Library of Congress, Lot 6079-1. Digitized in 2015.

From the same series is this shot, showing an exploding bomb port mid-ship, about 10:01 a.m., dropped by U.S. Navy F5L.

The big seaplanes, with a 103-foot wingspan, could carry up to 900 pounds of bombs while self-defense was provided by four Lewis guns. However, even with their two big Liberty L12 engines, it could only make about 70 knots at full rpms.

As for Roma, the unusual lighter-than-air aircraft purchased by the U.S. Army for $184,000 from the Italian government just three months prior to the above images. Over-powered by six Liberty engines (which replaced the four original Ansaldo engines), the big 410-foot airship could actually outrun the F5L in terms of speed, not to mention range.

U.S. Army airship Roma in November 1921 over Norfolk, Virginia. – NARA – 518863

However, being hydrogen-filled, Roma was a flying bomb and burst into flames when brushing against powerlines outside of Norfolk on 21 February 1922, killing 34 aboard, and was the worst U.S. aviation accident on record at the time. Following the incident, the U.S. military went with helium for LTA vehicles moving forward.

(Abbreviated) Warship Weds: Felixstowe edition

Sorry, am on the road in North Alabama at an industry event so we have a shorter than normal WW this week. Will return to full-sized installments next week when I have returned home to my “more defensible location.”

101 Years Ago Today: A British-designed American-built Felixstowe F5L flying boat underway to making spotting practice with battleships. The mightly new U.S. Navy dreadnoughts, USS Oklahoma (Battleship No. 37), and USS Florida (Battleship No. 30) are in the background. Photographed March 16, 1921.

U.S. Navy photograph, 80-HAN-53-16, now in the collections of the National Archives.

With an impressive 103-foot, 9.75-inch, wingspan (keep in mind a WWII PBY had a span of 104 feet, just a piddly 2.5-inches longer), the F5L was a huge albatross of a seaplane for its era. Capable of spanning over 800 miles on her pair of Liberty V12 engines, her four-man crew was both the eyes of the fleet and capable of dealing damage if needed, with the provision for bombs and two machine guns.

They would be used to help in the bombing and sinking of the captured German battleship SMS Ostfriesland.

From a design by John Cyril Porte, developed at the Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe (England), the F5L first flew in November 1918, just too late for the Great War. In all, just over 200 were built by Curtiss, Canadian Aeroplanes (later bought by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1919) and by the U.S. Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF) in Philadelphia. The F5L remained in service with the U.S. Navy until the late 1920s when they were replaced by the more advanced NAF PN series flying boats, although it survived with the Brazilain and Argentine Navies and as a mail carrier into the early days of WWII.

The hull of an F5L endures in the Smithsonian while the history of the USS Florida and Oklahoma, who outlived this species of lumbering flying boat in U.S. service, is much better known.