Sikorsky VS-44A – take a bow!

By: shortfinals

Mar 08 2011

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, military, Museums, New England, Second World War, United States, warbird

1 Comment

Focal Length:18mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

It is rare that I feature back-to-back posts on the same subject, but the VS-44A is so rare, and so significant, that it is well worth doing so. There are so many ‘what ifs’ about the VS-44A. What if the XPBS-1 had not lost out in the Navy patrol bomber competition to the Consolidated XP2Y-1 Coronado in 1936? What if Juan Trippe had stayed with his ‘usual’ habit of buying Sikorsky flying boats, and ordered the VS-44A in quantity, rather than the shorter-ranged Boeing Model 314? What if the fledgling American Export Airlines had been successful in fighting Trippe and Pan American World Airways for a larger share of the trans-Atlantic routes? Finally, here is one for the allohistory buffs – what if Admiral Chester W Nimitz, USN, rather than suffering minor injuries in the 1942 landing accident at the end of the Pearl Harbor to NAS Alameda flight of the XPBS-1 – the one in which a member of the flying boat’s crew, Lt. Roscoe Turner lost his life – had been killed also? The loss of the immensely talented CINCPAC at a critical stage of WW2 could have been as important to the Allies as the shooting down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (just over 9 months later) was to the Japanese. 

However, speculation aside, there is no denying that the sole survivor of the VS-44A class is a splendid machine, and worthy of far better display placement. You can see the difficulty in getting a clear shot of the flying boat, from most angles, and on this particular weekend there were many temporary exhibits and educational displays blocking the sight-lines. Nevermind, at least this angle shows the finely shaped bow, the prominent beaching gear, and the No. 3 engine, one of the 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C3-G radials.

One last thing. Riddle me this –  what is the connection between the 1957 film ‘Wings of Eagles’, a hot dog, and Maureen O’Hara? It would be easy to say that you might think of eating a hot dog whilst watching Maureen O’Hara star opposite John Wayne in ‘Wings of Eagles’ (a movie about naval aviation), but the answer would be the VS-44A, ‘Excambian’. I know that Ms O’Hara was married to a noted pilot, Brigadier General Charles F Blair, Jnr., DFC, USAF (Ret’d) the CEO of Antilles Air Boats (who were the last owners of ‘Excambian’), and that she took over from him as CEO following his death in the crash of a Grumman Goose near St. Croix in 1978. However, what might not be too well-known is that after being declared as beyond repair, ‘Excambian’ was beached in 1972…..and turned into a hot dog stand!

One comment on “Sikorsky VS-44A – take a bow!”

  1. Thanks so much for the photos of the VS-44. It certainly looks good from the hangar floor! I empathize with your having to accept the various items so closely surrounding the aircraft — on e museum visit I experienced quilts hanging from the aircraft on display! And I see one need to bring a chair lift to see into the VS-44, too bad about that one! I’ve seen one flying boat (a Solent) with a gantry along the starboard side that allowed one to look into the main deck as well as the flight deck — and other large flying boats one could venture into. Unfortunate the visitor to the VS-44 gas to be somewhat afar from it.
    Mostly, thank you for reminding me of Maureen O’Hara. She was before my time but I enjoyed her sarcasm and red hair 


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