A recent article in The Engineer magazine has brought our attention to the 60th anniversary of the Saunders-Roe Princess Flying Boat. It should first be mentioned that the article needs some clarification as August 22, 1952 was the actual first flight according to Wikipedia while it was in November 1951 when The Engineer magazine profiled the preparations for the flying boat’s launch.
The Saunders-Roe Princess flying boat was originally intended as a luxury transatlantic passenger plane that could comfortably accommodate 100 passengers with sleeping berths and cocktail bars. Unfortunately, it ended up being another impressive example of British aviation innovation that ended in failure due to the fact it simply could not make enough money to justify its existence.
However, The Engineer article from the time seemed to anticipate future problems by noting that the government had forced Saunders-Roe to adapt the flying boats into transporters without going into much detail about why. The real problem turned out to be that flying boats were (by then) already in terminal decline due to the progress civil aviation had made over the previous half century to get runways and airports up and operating on land.
Ultimately, three Saunders-Roe Princess flying boats were built but only one flew – flying a total of 46 test flights or roughly 100 hours of flying time. After no buyers were found, the aircraft were cocooned while several plans, ranging from converting them to fly with nuclear power to turning them into NASA rocket transporters, were drawn up.
When the Saunders-Roe Princess flying boats were finally sold in 1964, it was discovered that they had corroded so badly because the contract for maintenance and inspection had been allowed to lapse that they had to be scrapped in 1967.
A quick search on YouTube revealed this interesting video containing a collection of short newsreels about the Saunders-Roe Princess flying boats:
In addition, the following video is of the 60th anniversary commemoration ceremony (including a seaplane flypast at the 11:30 minute mark or so) which took place on the East Cowes waterfront on the Isle of Wight last August:
Finally, Eric Verdon-Roe also gave this nearly one hour long talk about the life and achievements of his grandfather, Sir Edwin Alliot Verdon Roe, the Roe in Saunders-Roe:
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