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EAA Young Eagles - Ask the Expert

Question :
I just read one of your answers where you said that the Boeing 314 never had wheels. How did they get into the water? Were there trolley cars or lifts or cranes? Thanks for your time and all that you do!
Answer :
You’re right, getting a 48,400 pound (24 ton) airplane (and that’s when it’s empty!) from the shore to the water takes some planning. With a wingspan of 152 feet (a Boeing 767-400 spans 170 feet and weighs 229,000 pounds when empty) the Boeing 314 is quite an airplane to move on land when it doesn’t have any wheels of it’s own. When a Pan American Clipper came to its base at the end of a long overseas flight, over 200 men would be needed to prepare the airplane for its next flight. Those ground crewmen included those who would make sure the flying boat was handled properly as it was brought on shore for inspection and maintenance.
Typically, a multiple-wheel cradle with large tires was used to move the flying boat from the shore-based factory in Seattle or at the Pan American Airlines stations that had on-shore maintenance capabilities. The aircraft would be towed nose in towards the ramp, with the cradle submerged in the same way a boater backs a trailer into the water. A long cable was hooked to the front of the cradle, with a tug on the other end. The tug was located on level ground at the top of the ramp, which gave it better traction as it slowly pulled the Boeing flying boat and cradle out of the water.
The massive cradles were built with multiple-wheeled “landing gear” so that the weight of the flying boats could be properly distributed on the paved ramp.
The flying boats were built without landing gear to save weight that could be used to carry more passengers and fuel, extending their range and allowing trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic flights with fewer fuel stops. Since the airplanes were being flown to coastal cities which had ample harbor facilities, an airplane that needed a long water takeoff could use as much “waterway” as it needed, instead of the airline going to the trouble and expense of requiring new airports with very long runways.
Large flying boats for commercial passenger service were obsolete by the end of World War II, when advances in engine and aerospace engineering gave land-based aircraft the range needed to cross the oceans.

Here's a photo: http://wwww.youngeagles.org/Boeing_314.jpg

Caption: In 1938, Pan Am leased Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay for use as the west coast base for their Pacific operations. Looking south-southeast, with the Oakland -San Francisco Bay bridge in the background, this is the Pan American California Clipper resting on a berthing dolly perched over the Bay.

Unfortunately there are few clear photographs of the Boeing 314 on one of the beaching dollies, and none that I found that show the actual operation taking place.

Here’s a link to another photo taken at the same location, perhaps on the same day:http://pro.corbis.com/images/IH020558.jpg?size=67&uid=%7B49548DBE-E0B0-44EB-B561-DEBEF2342CED%7D

In this film posted on YouTube, you can catch a glimpse of the dolly used to transport the Boeing 314 to the harbor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRYzFjift2Q

Thanks for asking!
H.G. Frautschy
EAA Vintage Aircraft Association

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