top of page

#WeirdBoats - Historic 'Flying Boat' that Led Amazon Expedition is Up For Sale


Who doesn't want a classic wooden 2-for-1 flying boat with incredible ties to U.S. and Canadian history?


One of the most unusual 'boats' in the world needs a new home, and this one takes the classic wooden boat concept to a whole new level.


Last week, the curators at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum announced that the unique and inimitable Curtiss Seagull was being "deaccessioned." That's another way of saying the boat will no longer be displayed and is now available privately.


“It has been decided,” said museum spokesperson Philippe Tremblay in a statement.


“The Curtiss Seagull will be deaccessioned from the collection.”


The museum said it no longer has space to display the iconic machine. They also said there are ongoing conversations with private buyers willing to preserve it. The Seagull has been on display since 1968.


The famous 'flying boat,' also known as the Curtiss SOC Seagull in later versions, was part of a National Geographic expedition to the Amazon rainforest in 1925. It was used to conduct a 19,000 km (11,800 mile) mapping survey of an area deep in the Amazon that had never been explored.


The mahogany craft features a boat-like hull and was designed with a set of sponsons beneath its wings -- allowing it to transition between airborne flight and aquatic travel. While it has all the hallmarks of an early 'float plane,' the Curtiss Seagull was actually designed with aquatic travel in mind, not simply for landing on water. Later versions utilized a primary sponson directly under the cockpit, further modifying it for aquatic use.

The original concept was developed in the United States as a single-engine aircraft for civilian use, but it was only in production from 1919 to 1920. At the time, it retailed for a modest $6000 USD (or roughly $105,000 USD by today's standards). It's designer, the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, already had significant aeronautical experience designing and building airplanes for the U.S. Navy during WWI.


The Seagull's unusual fuselage was made from mahogony plywood shaped around a wooden frame. It used fabric-covered wings and what's known as a pusher engine -- a particular drivetrain assembly most commonly found in propeller planes and outboard motors.


While it was eye-catching and popular amongst the public, it was relatively rare and not many were sold. The original Seagull platform was intended to complete with surplus airplanes flooding the market after WWI.


One of the few vocations the Seagull gained traction during the 1920s and 1930s was among Canadian bush pilots. As a small, relatively cheap aircraft capable of landing on water, it opened the burgeoning market of the commercial outfitting industry, allowing guides to bring customers to locations previously inaccessible. That being said, it would have been a white-knuckle ride for bushcrafters and guides alike as the Seagull was just 28-feet long with with a 49-foot wingspan. With only two seats placed side-by-side, it packed a meager 160 horsepower, had a cruising speed of 97 km/h (60 mph), and a top speed of only 122 km/h (76 mph). That meant landings and take-offs would have been extra tense with her 2000 lb airframe climbing at a rate of only 3000 feet every 10 minutes. That's only 150 feet every 30 seconds.


Despite her quirks, the Seagull concept proved incredibly adaptable, and one of her later versions, the Curtiss SOC Seagull, was a very popular and inflential scout plane for the U.S. Navy during the 1930's until after WWII.


As for its Amazon expedition, the Seagull in question was used to survey and track headwaters deep within Brazil's rainforest. It was known as the Alexander Rice Hamilton Scientific Expedition and it captured the public's attention, at least in some capacity, because of the potential for mythological discovery. The New York Times published a headline on August 12th, 1924 titled "Explorer to Seek Orinoco's Source," referring to the Orinoco River. The expedition's primary task was to backtrack from the Orinoco's previously discovered basin to its point of origin - a trip that lead deep into an area never before accessed by anyone except native tribes. The crew, led by Dr. Alexander Rice Hamilton himself -- a surgeon and explorer making his seventh journey to South America -- returned safely in July 1925.


But the beneath the expedition's stated goal may have been the chance to uncover the lost city if El Dorado. Another explorer, French scientist Charles Marie de La Condamine had previously explored the Parima range - a massive set of rivers and tributaries that contains both the Orinoco River and the Parima River - and he claimed that the Parima River got its name because it was believed to flow into the mythical Lake Parime -- the reputed location of the golden city of El Dorado. With both the Parima River and Orinoco River hiding beneath a thick canopy of unexplored Amazonian rainforest, one can only wonder what Dr. Hamilton and his crew had hoped to find.

While the Canadian expedition wasn't technically in search of the golden city, the Seagull proved handy for navigating the expansive and winding rivers of the Amazon. When it wasn't mapping the terrain, it was used to travel up and down the river to coordinate with crews on the ground.


Upon its return home, the Seagull took on a second career as a training vessel for new pilots. It was then transferred to the Science Museum in London, UK but was damaged during a bombing raid on the city in 1941 during WWII. It was rebuilt soon after the war and then transferred to Canada in 1968 to be put on display. It underwent a full restoration by Canadian museum staff between 1970 and 1974.


Now this unique piece of history that transcends 19th century exploration, South American mythology, WWI, and WWII is up for grabs. You'll just need a pilot's license to go with your boating license. (You can see a later version of the Curtiss SOC Seagull during WWII landing at sea with its triple sponsons in the video below. Note how the plane is setup for aquatic use only and has to be lifted by crane onto the ship.)

3,151 views1 comment
bottom of page