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20th Century Passenger Flying Boats – Leslie Dawson

Review by Andrew Kitney.

Working in the airlines for more years than I’m prepared to admit, I’ve always been interested in the history of the airline world from its start, growth and development into what we see today. Of course, prior to the widespread development of airfields and airports with their hard runways, the only way for the burgeoning airlines to develop ocean crossing and global air routes was to use flying boats and have predetermined and configured stations down route on the world’s rivers, lakes and waterways, where previously none existed, to enable the aircraft to land/refuel/cater and take-off. Who can’t help but be mesmerised by the Pan American posters of the era offering exotic experiences to the South Sea Isles and beautiful pictures of the flying boats in those environments?

Sadly, wartime necessity for paved runways, to support the pace of operations, and long-range, pressurised land-planes overtook the need for flying boats and while the peak was a relatively short duration, it certainly was the most picturesque, luxurious and romantic.

The book, a pictorial account, charts and captures all of this, from the early days through the peak of flying boat operations, wartime, the post-war downturn, and reflecting on some of the aircraft still operating today.

A pre-war section explores these early days and reviews types and operations in each of the major countries building and operating flying boats, from the Americas and the United Kingdom to France, Germany and Italy, and on to Australia and New Zealand, together with details on the key routes of the Atlantic and Africa. The book finishes with an interesting appendix listing flying boat fleets and operators through the era. A chapter recounting a C-Class flight from Southampton to Africa is well worth the price of admission alone and is accompanied by suitably pleasing photos.

As advertised, this is a pictorial account, so is therefore understandably brief on text and detail; if that’s what you are looking for, you won’t find it in this book. By far the real attraction is the use of photographs from private, corporate and public archives from around the world, which beautifully illustrate the period of flying boat operations with some amazing photos of aircraft and associated documentation throughout the period.

If, like me, you enjoy this history of airlines and flying boats, you’ll enjoy this book.

ISBN 978-1-52674-4-203

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