Sikorsky VS-44

The Sikorsky VS-44 was a large four-engined flying boat built in the United States in the early 1940s by Sikorsky Aircraft. Based on the XPBS-1 patrol bomber, the VS-44 was designed primarily for the transatlantic passenger market, with a capacity of 40+ passengers. Three units were produced: Excalibur, Excambian, and Exeter, plus two XPBS-1 prototypes.[1][2]

Role Flying boat
National origin United States
Manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft
Designer Igor Sikorsky
First flight 13 August 1937
Introduction 10 February 1942
Retired 1968
Primary users American Export Airlines
Tampico Airlines
Avalon Air Transport
Antilles Air Boats
Number built 3 (plus 2 XPBS-1 prototypes)
Unit cost
$400,000 US


In the early 1930s, the primary mode of long-distance air travel over oceans was in flying boats, due to the ease of constructing docking facilities on shore without having to construct runways, and the possibility of malfunction forcing a sea landing. One flying boat designer was Russian immigrant Igor Sikorsky who had founded Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company when he came to the US in 1919. In 1930, his company became a subsidiary of United Aircraft.

XPBS-1 patrol bomber

In March 1935, the United States Navy was making plans for a new patrol bomber that would have increased performance and weapon load capability from their newly procured Consolidated YP3Y-1. Prototypes were ordered from Sikorsky in June 1935 and Consolidated Aircraft in July 1936. Sikorsky's entry, the XPBS-1 (Bureau Number 9995), made its first flight on 9 September 1937, the Consolidated XPB2Y-1 on 17 December of the same year.

Sikorsky XPBS-1 NACA 1938
The XPBS-1 patrol bomber, BuNo 9995, circa 1938.

The XPBS-1 was evaluated by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1938, but the Navy contract went to Consolidated. The XPBS-1 remained in naval service, temporarily operated by Patrol Wing Five at Norfolk, Virginia in 1939, then by Patrol Wing Two at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, until it was finally assigned to transport squadron VR-2 at Naval Air Station Alameda, in 1940. On 30 June 1942, the XPBS-1 hit a submerged log upon landing at NAS Alameda. Among its passengers was CINCPAC Admiral Chester W. Nimitz who suffered minor injuries. One member of the flight crew, Lieutenant Thomas M. Roscoe, died. The XPBS-1 sank and was lost.[2]

VS-44 commercial flying boat

By 1940 Sikorsky had merged with Chance Vought under the umbrella of United Aircraft and hoped to regain the Pan Am Clipper routes once serviced by their S-42 with the new Vought-Sikorsky VS-44, based on the XPBS-1.

A single deck seaplane with four twin-row Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasps rated at 1,200 horsepower (895 kW) each, the new aircraft was 80 feet (24 m) in length and weighed in at 57,500 lb (26,100 kg) for takeoff. The Boeing 314 Clipper was larger and had more powerful Wright Twin Cyclones of 1,600 horsepower (1,193 kW), but the VS-44 was 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) faster and could fly an average payload more than 4,000 miles (6,400 km), outdistancing the big Boeing by 500 mi (800 km), giving it the longest full-payload range of any aircraft. The VS-44 brought home several new world records after it went into operation, but missed out on a Pan Am contract, which instead purchased the Martin M-130 and later the Boeing 314 Clipper.[3] The VS-44's limited production would never recoup the development costs.

Operational service

Commercial service

American Export Airlines (AEA) ordered three VS-44s, dubbed ‘Flying Aces’ and named Excalibur (NX41880; later as NC41880), Excambian (no NX; later as NC41881), and Exeter (no NX; later as NC41882) after the parent company's Four Aces passenger liners. AEA had grown out of the American Export Lines steamship line, so naturally these planes gave nothing away to cruise ships. Sikorsky's standard of luxury boasted full-length beds, dressing rooms, full galley, snack bar, lounge and fully controlled ventilation.

Sikorsky VS-44 Windsor Locks CT 09.06.05R
Sikorsky VS-44 NC41881 displayed at the New England Air Museum wearing American Export Airlines colours in June 2005
Sikorsky VS-44A Excambian (2835377862)
Sikorsky VS-44A Excambian

World War II

With the American entry into World War II, 200 of the nation's 360 airliners were requisitioned for military service.[4] AEA's three VS-44's, now with the Navy designation JR2S-1, continued flying between New York and Foynes, Ireland, carrying passengers, freight and materiel. The first VS-44, Excalibur, crashed on takeoff in 1942 at Botwood, Newfoundland, killing 11 of 37 aboard.[5] A proposed licensed version of the VS-44 to be built by Nash-Kelvinator, the JRK-1, was cancelled due to the availability of the impressed JR2S aircraft.[6]

Postwar service

After the war, the two remaining VS-44s continued to fly for AEA, now renamed American Overseas Airlines (AOA) and operated by American Airlines.

In 1946, Exeter was sold to TACI of Montevideo, Uruguay, as CX-AIR. It crashed on August 15, 1947 while landing in the River Plate off Montevideo when (allegedly) returning from a smuggling flight to Paraguayan rebels. Four out of the five crew were killed, but both passengers survived.

In 1949, AOA sold Excambian to Tampico Airlines. A short-lived effort to restore the only remaining VS-44 to run freight in the Amazon was unsuccessful, leaving the flying boat stranded in Ancon Harbor, Peru.

By the late 1950s, two Southern California businessmen had heard of the Excambian's plight and had her ferried to Long Beach, where restoration work began. Dick Probert and Walter von Kleinsmid of Avalon Air Transport, (AAT) thought the VS-44 would be perfect for the Catalina tourist trade. AAT named her Mother Goose, to complement the line's Grumman Goose amphibians, and plans were made to utilize her for summer travel. In the winter, N41881 would undergo maintenance. Avalon Air Transport was later renamed Catalina Air Lines and continued to operate the aircraft until the late 1960s.[7]

Excambian carried thousands of passengers for AAT until 1967 when it was sold to Charles Blair of Antilles Air Boats. Blair, husband of actress Maureen O'Hara, acquired Excambian to ferry passengers among the Virgin Islands including service to the Charlotte Amalie Harbor Seaplane Base on St. Thomas and the Christiansted Harbor Seaplane Base on St. Croix.[8] On January 3, 1969 she was extensively damaged by rocks while taxiing at Charlotte Amalie, US Virgin Islands. Damaged beyond economic repair, it was beached in March 1972 and converted into a hot dog stand.

Restoration and museum

In 1976, Excambian was donated by Charles Blair, original Chief Pilot of the VS-44, to the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida. In 1983, the Navy transferred the aircraft on permanent loan to the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The heavily corroded Flying Boat was then shipped by barge from the Gulf of Mexico to Bridgeport, CT. Unloaded by crane, it was trucked a short distance to the Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, CT. A temporary Nissen hut-style hangar was erected at the airport in front of hangars three and four for the project. This put the VS-44A less than 1000 feet away from the original hangar she was built in, across the street at the (then) Avco Lycoming Engine Plant. In 1987 the restoration of the Excambian began, and it was decided to restore the rare flying boat to its post-WWII American Export Airlines livery. The restoration was conducted by a team of highly trained volunteers, many of them former Sikorsky workers who had originally built the VS-44As there 50 years ago. The combined support from Sikorsky and Avco Lycoming was crucial for the success of the restoration.[9] On June 18, 1997, after ten years of restoration, the VS-44A was transferred to the New England Air Museum.[10] It was there that the plane was assembled and painted. In October 1998 a ceremony was held to dedicate the aircraft. The "Excambian" is the last remaining American-built commercial trans-ocean four-engine flying boat.[11] After the project had been completed, the restoration team located in Stratford began looking at creating its own museum. With the assistance of local senator George "Doc" Gunther, the Connecticut Air & Space Center was founded in 1998. Today the museum is located in building 6, the former Chance Vought R&D Experimental hangar.

Specifications (VS-44A)

Data from Aerofiles : Sikorsky,[12] American flying boats and amphibious aircraft : an illustrated history[13]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4-5
  • Capacity: 24 to 47 pax
  • Length: 79 ft 3 in (24.16 m)
  • Wingspan: 124 ft 0 in (37.80 m)
  • Wing area: 1,670 sq ft (155 m2)
  • Airfoil: root: NACA 23018; tip: NACA 23009[14]
  • Empty weight: 26,407 lb (11,978 kg)
  • Gross weight: 48,540 lb (22,017 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 57,500 lb (26,082 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C3-G 14-cylinder two-row air-cooled radial piston engines, 1,200 hp (890 kW) each
  • Propellers: 3-bladed constant-speed propellers


  • Maximum speed: 210 mph (340 km/h, 180 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 175 mph (282 km/h, 152 kn)
  • Range: 3,598 mi (5,790 km, 3,127 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 18,996 ft (5,790 m)



  1. ^ Sharpe, 2000. p 309.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ "America by Air". Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Archived from the original on 2012-11-27. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
  5. ^ Oliver Moore, "The search for Excalibur, the doomed flying boat: The Sikorsky VS-44, a huge hulk of a plane, crashed and sank off Newfoundland in 1942. Now, a US team aims to recover its human remains,", Sept. 11, 2008.
  6. ^ Butler and Hagedorn 2004, p.175.
  7. ^, photo of Catalina Air Lines VS-44 at Avalon Harbor, California
  8. ^, photos of Antilles Air Boats VS-44 in the U.S. Virgin Islands
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Sikorsky VS-44A 'Excambian'"
  11. ^ "Sikorsky VS-44A 'Excambian'"
  12. ^ Eckland, K.O. "american airplanes: Sikorsky". Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  13. ^ Johnson, E.R. (2009). American flying boats and amphibious aircraft : an illustrated history. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. pp. 203–207. ISBN 978-0786439744.
  14. ^ Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". Retrieved 16 April 2019.


External links

Aircraft in fiction

Aircraft in fiction covers various real-world aircraft that have made significant appearances in fiction over the decades, including in books, films, toys, TV programs, video games, and other media. These appearances spotlight the popularity of different models of aircraft, and showcase the different types for the general public.

American Overseas Airlines

American Overseas Airlines (AOA) was an airline that operated between the United States and Europe between 1945 and 1950. It was headquartered in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.


Botwood is a town in north-central Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada in Census Division 6. It is located on the west shore of the Bay of Exploits on a natural deep water harbour used by cargo ships and seaplanes throughout the town's history.

Charles F. Blair Jr.

Charles F. Blair Jr. (July 19, 1909 – September 2, 1978) was an aviation pioneer who helped workout the routes and navigation techniques necessary for long distance flights. He served as a reserve officer, early in his career for the United States Navy, reaching the rank of Captain, and later for the United States Air Force, reaching the rank of Brigadier General. He died in a transportation accident in the Caribbean while captaining a Grumman Goose seaplane for his airline, Antilles Air Boats.

Charlotte Amalie Harbor Seaplane Base

Charlotte Amalie Harbor Seaplane Base (IATA: SPB, FAA LID: VI22), also known as St. Thomas Seaplane Base, is located in the harbor by Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. This private-use airport is owned by the Virgin Islands Port Authority.As per Federal Aviation Administration records, this seaplane base had 76,820 passenger boardings (enplanements) in calendar year 2004 and 71,555 enplanements in 2005.

Christiansted Harbor Seaplane Base

Christiansted Harbor Seaplane Base (IATA: SSB, FAA LID: VI32), also known as St. Croix Seaplane Base, is located in the harbor by Christiansted, Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. This private-use airport is owned by the Virgin Islands Port Authority.As per Federal Aviation Administration records, this seaplane base had 72,632 passenger boardings (enplanements) in calendar year 2004 and 68,386 enplanements in 2005.

First Flights with Neil Armstrong

First Flights was a half-hour televised aviation history documentary series. The series premiered on September 25, 1991, on A&E Networks and ran for three seasons. It was hosted by former test pilot and astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the Moon.The series initially aired Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on A&E in the U.S. The series focused on the technological history of aviation, from early balloons and gliders through war-time and mass commercial aviation, to experimental hypersonic flight at the edge of space. In the series, Neil Armstrong interviewed pilots and aerospace engineers. Archival footage and vintage aircraft were used to recreate historic takeoffs.

Four Aces (passenger liners)

The 4 Aces were the quartet of passenger-cargo liners Excalibur, Exochorda, Exeter, and Excambion, originally built for American Export Lines by New York Shipbuilding of Camden, New Jersey between 1929 and 1931. AEL placed the "4 Aces" in service between the US and the Mediterranean, offering cruises of up to 40 days.

During World War II, all four vessels were taken over by the U.S. Navy, renamed, and designated as AP- and APA-class troop transports. Excambion became USS John Penn (APA-23), Excalibur became USS Joseph Hewes (AP-50) and Exeter became USS Edward Rutledge (AP-52). These three of the original (pre-war) 4 Aces were ultimately lost to enemy action. The pre-war Exochorda was converted to military transport USS Harry Lee, later sold to Turkish Maritime Lines and renamed Tarsus.After World War II, American Export Lines purchased four [[Type C3-S-A3 ship|C3-class]] BAYFIELD-class attack transports built by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp. at Sparrow's Point, Maryland, had them refitted as passenger-cargo liners, and placed them in service as the new "4 Aces." USS Dauphin became Exochorda, USS Dutchess became Excalibur, USS Queens became Excambion and USS Shelby (APA-105) became Exeter. Carrying the names of the original quartet, the new "4 Aces" sailed under the AEL flag until the 1960s.

In 1968, the post-war SS Exochorda was purchased by Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey to alleviate a shortage of on-campus student housing. It was refurbished at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in Hoboken, renamed SS Stevens and anchored on the Hudson River adjacent to the campus where it served a dormitory. SS Stevens remained in service until 1975, when its continued operation became prohibitive due to skyrocketing utility costs. Before it was towed away and sold for scrap, one of Stevens' anchors was removed and permanently displayed [1] on campus as a memento of the institute's most popular dormitory.

In 1965, the post-war Excambion became USTS Texas Clipper for service with the Texas Maritime Academy until being sunk as an artificial reef on November 17, 2007.

The company's subsidiary American Export Airlines borrowed 3 of the names (excepting Exochorda) for its Sikorsky VS-44 flying boats, which it used in transatlantic service. Excambion is preserved on display at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.[2]

List of aircraft of World War II

The List of aircraft of World War II includes all the aircraft used by those countries, which were at war during World War II from the period between their joining the conflict and the conflict ending for them. Aircraft developed but not used operationally in the war are in the prototypes section at the end. Prototypes for aircraft that entered service under a different design number are ignored in favour of the service version. The date the aircraft entered service, or was first flown if the service date is unknown or it did not enter service follows the name, followed by the country of origin and major wartime users. Aircraft used for multiple roles are generally only listed under their primary role unless specialized versions were built for other roles. Aircraft used by neutral countries such as Spain, Switzerland and Sweden or countries which did no significant fighting such as most of those in South America (except Brazil), are not included.

List of civil aircraft

List of civil aircraft is a list of articles on civilian aircraft with descriptions, which excludes aircraft operated by military organizations in civil markings, warbirds, warbirds used for racing, replica warbirds and research aircraft.

List of seaplanes and amphibious aircraft

The following is a list of seaplanes and amphibious aircraft, which includes floatplanes and flying boats, by country of origin.

Seaplanes are any aircraft that has the capability of landing on water while amphibious aircraft are equipped with wheels to alight on land, as well as being able to land on the water. Flying boats rely on the fuselage or hull for buoyancy, while floatplanes rely on external pontoons or floats. Some experimental aircraft used specially designed skis to skim across the water but did not always have a corresponding ability to float.

This list does not include ekranoplans, 'Wing-In-Ground-effect' (WIG), water-skimmers, wingships or similar vehicles reliant on ground effect.

Short Sunderland

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a British flying boat patrol bomber, developed and constructed by Short Brothers for the Royal Air Force (RAF). The aircraft took its service name from the town (latterly, city) and port of Sunderland in North East England.

Developed in parallel with the civilian S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways, the Sunderland was developed specifically to conform to the requirements of British Air Ministry Specification R.2/33 for a long-range patrol/reconnaissance flying boat to serve with the Royal Air Force (RAF). As designed, it served as a successor to the earlier Short Sarafand flying boat. Sharing several similarities with the S.23, it featured a more advanced aerodynamic hull and was outfitted with various offensive and defensive armaments, including machine gun turrets, bombs, aerial mines, and depth charges. The Sunderland was powered by four Bristol Pegasus XVIII radial engines and was outfitted with various detection equipment to aid combat operations, including the Leigh searchlight, the ASV Mark II and ASV Mark III radar units, and an astrodome.

The Sunderland was one of the most powerful and widely used flying boats throughout the Second World War. In addition to the RAF, the type was operated by other Allied military air wings, including the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), South African Air Force (SAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), French Navy, Norwegian Air Force, and the Portuguese Navy. During the conflict, the type was heavily involved in Allied efforts to counter the threat posed by German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. On 17 July 1940, a RAAF Sunderland (of No. 10 Squadron) performed the type's first unassisted U-boat kill. Sunderlands also played a major role in the Mediterranean theatre, performing maritime reconnaissance flights and logistical support missions. During the evacuation of Crete, shortly after the German invasion of the island, several aircraft were used to transport troops. Numerous unarmed Sunderlands were also flown by civil operator British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), traversing routes as far afield as the Pacific Ocean.During the post-war era, use of the Sunderland throughout Europe rapidly declined, while greater numbers remained in service in the Far East, where large developed runways were less prevalent. Between mid-1950 and September 1954, several squadrons of RAF Sunderlands saw combat action during the Korean War. Around a dozen aircraft had also participated in the Berlin airlift, delivering supplies to the blockaded German city. The RAF continued to use the Sunderland in a military capacity up to 1959. In December 1960, the French Navy retired their aircraft, which were the last remaining examples in military use within the Northern Hemisphere. The type also remained in service with the RNZAF up to 1967, when they were replaced by the land-based Lockheed P-3 Orion. A number of Sunderlands were converted for use within the civil sector, where they were known as the Short Sandringham; in this configuration, the type continued in airline operation until 1974. Several examples were preserved, including a single airworthy Sunderland which has been placed on display in Florida at Fantasy of Flight.

Sikorsky Aircraft

The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is an American aircraft manufacturer based in Stratford, Connecticut. It was established by Igor Sikorsky in 1923 and was among the first companies to manufacture helicopters for civilian and military use.

Previously owned by United Technologies Corporation (UTC), in November 2015 Sikorsky was sold to Lockheed Martin.

Stratford Army Engine Plant

The Stratford Army Engine Plant (SAEP) was a U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command installation and manufacturing facility located in Stratford, Connecticut, where it was sited along the Housatonic River and Main Street, opposite Sikorsky Airport.

Sikorsky aircraft
Fixed-wing aircraft
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Fixed-wing aircraft
(military designations)
(company designations)
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Experimental aircraft
USN/USMC utility aircraft designations 1935–1955
Utility transport


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