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Curtiss H-16

Seaplane / Flying Boat Aircraft

The H-16 Flying Boat was the final evolution of the Curtiss Model H design.
Authored By: Dan Alex | Edited: 5/15/2019
National Flag Graphic


Year: 1917
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Manufacturer(s): Curtiss Aircraft / Naval Aircraft Factory - USA
Production: 334
Capabilities: Navy/Maritime; Reconnaissance (RECCE);
Crew: 4
Length: 46.13 ft (14.06 m)
Width: 98.36 ft (29.98 m)
Height: 17.72 ft (5.4 m)
Weight (Empty): 10,900 lb (4,944 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 14,330 lb (6,500 kg)
Power: 2 x Liberty 12-cylinder V-type engines developing 400 horsepower each.
Speed: 95 mph (153 kph; 83 kts)
Ceiling: 9,951 feet (3,033 m; 1.88 miles)
Range: 378 miles (608 km; 328 nm)
Rate-of-Climb: 400 ft/min (122 m/min)
Operators: United Kingdom; United States
In 1911, the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company unveiled their Model D, a biplane aircraft powered by a single Curtiss E-4 engine of 40 horsepower (in a "pusher" configuration) and featuring a tricycle undercarriage. The type was produced in some number and went on to see use by the United States Army Signal Corps and the United States Navy. Work soon began on an improved form and this produced the Model E of enlarged dimensions and these went on to serve the United States Navy, appearing in three distinct model forms - E-4, E-8 and E-8-75. This particular type did much to further the development of seaplanes concerning the US Navy for lessons learned there played a major role in the upcoming designs leading up to World War 1.

In response to the Daily Mail's 1913 contest for an aircraft that could cross the Atlantic Ocean (for a 10,000 pound prize), Curtiss evolved its Model E line to a much more larger and modern form. The larger dimensions were necessitated by the need for more internal fuel volume required of long distances. Two prototypes were completed and designated as "Model H-2". First flight occurred in June 1914 and the aircraft made ready for its transatlantic flight by being shipped to England. British test pilot John Cyril Porte was selected to be its pilot.

Design-wise, the H-2 was a very competent aircraft design featuring a boat-like hull perfect for sea operation (landing and taking-off). The wings themselves were equal-span biplane assemblies with dual bays. Between each wing plane were the powerplants (in a "puller" configuration), each rotating two-bladed propellers.

Everything changes on June 28th, 1914 when Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, bringing to a head the built up tensions that had existed between European powers for decades prior. As such, alliances and secret treaties came into play, pitting nation against nation to finalize the participants of World War 1. With war in Europe now a full-fledged reality, the Daily Mail competition was obviously cancelled and the H-2 never got to prove its worth on a global stage.

Fortune in war soon found the Curtiss product, however, for Porte - a serviceman of the British Royal Navy - pushed for the Royal Navy's adoption of the Curtiss seaplane design. The Royal Navy, sensing the need for such aircraft, purchased the two existing airframes and ordered a further 12 examples, these later forms to be designated as "Model H-4". Within time, the British engineered their own Curtiss-inspired version of same seaplane aircraft to become the Felixstowe F.1 line. 62 total Model H-4 aircraft were ultimately produced.

As the war progressed, Curtiss took to furthering its Model H-4 design into the "Model H-8" which was even larger dimensionally than the preceding marks. Both the United States Navy and British Royal Navy took note of the type and acquired it in number as the "Model H-12". The numerically superior H-12 mark was completed with 2 x Curtiss V-X-X engines of 160 horsepower each. The Royal Navy offered up a slightly different version powered by 2 x Rolls-Royce Eagle engines of approximately 275 horsepower each. American versions fitted with Liberty engines were known as "Model H-12L" (note the "L"). The H-12 formed the basis of the British Felixstowe F.2 series of which 175 were produced.

In 1917, the Curtiss H-series seaplane family reached its design pinnacle with the introduction of the "Model H-16". The wings were lengthened for better control and the hull was strengthened while overall dimensions were once again enlarged. The crew was increased to four personnel. Power was derived from Liberty (or Rolls-Royce Eagle) V12 engines of 360 horsepower. 334 of this mark were produced with manufacture coming under both the Curtiss Aeroplane and Naval Aircraft Factory brand labels. Two "one-off" designs then appeared, the "Model H-16-1" with pusher engine configuration and the "Model H-16-2" with pusher engine configuration and redesigned wings though these never materialized into serious production marks.

The H-16 crew consisted of two pilots and two dedicated machine gunners. The pilots sat in the partially-enclosed cockpit flight deck at the front end of the fuselage. One machine gunner was seated in the forward-most open-air cockpit at the front of the fuselage. The other managed a dorsal gun position amidships aft of the wing assemblies. The wings were high-mounted on the fuselage. The fuselage tapered off at the rear and was capped by a triangular vertical tail fin with applicable horizontal tailplanes. Cabling was apparent throughout the wing surfaces of the design as was common for the time period concerning aircraft. The H-16 maintained the earlier Curtiss boat-like hull which enabled the aircraft to land on water. By now the wingspan of the H-16 required no fewer than four bays with parallel struts. Weaponry included up to 7 x 7.7mm Lewis machine guns on flexible mountings. The H-16 could carry a bomb load of up to 460lbs.

During wartime, aircraft such as the Curtiss H-series certainly displayed their much sought after value. Their seaplane nature allowed them free use of water landings as needed while their inherent designs allowed for long "over-water" endurance. These qualities served well when hunting down enemy surface ships or submarines or in the locating of downed airmen or seamen. Patrols of such types were extremely common and seaplanes were also charged with hunting the slow and plodding Zeppelin airships. As control of waters between England and Europe was critical to Allied success in the war, seaplanes certainly played an important part in the ongoing struggle. Nearly all available Curtiss seaplanes used in World War 1 were operated by the British. American versions were limited to local use in anti-submarine patrolling though some arrived in Europe prior to the Armistice in November of 1918.

The Curtiss H series of seaplanes managed a short operational existence beyond World War 1, to which then they were retired in favor of more modern types. Some 478 total H-series aircraft were ultimately produced.


5 to 7 x 0.30 caliber Lewis Machine Guns on flexible mounts about the fuselage.

Up to 460lb of conventional drop bombs.

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition

Variants / Models

• H-2 - Initial Prototype Seaplane Models; 2 examples produced.
• H-4 - Royal Navy production forms of the H-2; 62 examples produced.
• H-8 - Based on H-4; dimensionally larger.
• H-12 - Production version of the H-8 for Royal Navy and US Navy use; 2 x Curtiss or Rolls-Royce engines; 104 examples completed.
• H-16 - Base Series Designation; based on the H-8; longer wings; dimensionally larger; reinforced hull; Liberty or Rolls-Royce engines; 334 examples completed.
• Model 6C - Alternative Designation
• Model H-16-1 - One-off prototype; fitted with engines in "pusher" configuration.
• Model H-16-2 - One-off prototype; fitted with engines in "pusher" configuration; revised wings.
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