Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The "Flying Dreadnought" at NAS Norfolk, 1937

In the immediate years following World War II, the United States Air Force threatened the Navy with the deployment of the B-36 "Peacemaker," a large, six engine long range bomber.  The existence of such a weapon led many within the Department of Defense to question the Navy's request for large aircraft carriers.  Unfortunately, there was one factoid lost in debate.  The Navy attempted to deploy its own long range bomber in the mid-1930s.  Navy officials envisioned squadrons of large, flying boats capable of bombing enemy bases and fleets at long distances.  They subsequently began accepting proposals to meet this requirement.

Life magazine's 1937 photo of the XPBS-1's
tail, while the plane was at NAS Norfolk.
The Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company designed and manufactured a four engine, 124-foot wingspan plane.  The aircraft had a range of over 5,000 miles and a bomb load of 8,000 lbs (approximately the same bomb load as a B-17 "Flying Fortress").

Labeled the XPBS-1, this monster aircraft landed in the waters next to Naval Air Station Norfolk in 1937.  While there, Naval officers and engineers from the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics inspected the aircraft.  Life magazine sent a team of reporters and photographers down to NAS Norfolk to inspect the aircraft for themselves, taking the above photograph. 

While Sikorsky designated the plane the "Excalibur," Life labeled the plane "The Flying Dreadnought."  After seeing the "Flying Dreadnought" and Consolidated Aircraft's XPB2Y-2 (XPBS-1's main competition)Flying Magazine went one step further and asked, "Will the Aircraft Replace the Battleship?"  The answer of course would of course be "yes."  It would not, however, happen with monster-sized flying boats.  In the end, the XPBS-1 lost out.  The Navy chose the XPB2Y-2 as its long range flying boat. 

Civilian aviation magazines seemed to favor the XPBS-1.  Even after the Navy awarded the contract to Consolidated, Flying Magazine wrote that "Sikorsky is already at work designing an aircraft 2 and 1/2 times larger than the XPBS-1." 

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