Friday, August 10, 2012

The leviathan of the skies

The prototype Princess emerges from the Saunders-Roe hangar at East Cowes.

TO THOSE who know little of aircraft, there appears to be striking similarity between Howard Hughes’s ill-fated Spruce Goose and an equally unlikely looking plane of the 1940s produced on the IW. 

Both clocked up precious few flying hours and when on the ground or in the water both had the appearance of lumbering leviathans.

One was not at home in the air either. Spruce Goose lifted off to a maximum height of just 70ft on November 2, 1947. It was on its brief third — and last — test flight.

The largest aircraft ever constructed was designed as a seaplane cargo carrier. Made of wood (hence the nickname), it was a heavy beast.

Two years before Spruce Goose took off, Saunders-Roe at East Cowes had been contracted by the Ministry of Supply to build a long-range civil flying boat designed to be operated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) across the Atlantic.

The company would draw on some of its experience of wartime construction of Supermarine Walrus and Sea Otter amphibious aircraft.

But this was an entirely different kettle of fish and the aluminium aircraft, the biggest then made, was to become an equal can of worms to Spruce Goose.

The Saunders-Roe SR.45 flying boat, known as the Princess, would have done all that was asked of it. Sadly, for the workforce who struggled against the odds to produce it, the project had been overtaken by a fast-changing industry.

By the 1950s, flying boats were in the shade of their land-based counterparts thanks to rapid airport development.

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