CURATOR’S LOG: Looking Up and Back 104 years
By Rita Serotkin
Have you ever looked up at the museum’s main ceiling and noticed a seaplane flying high above? That would be SBMM’s ¼ model of the original F-1 Flying Boat built right here on State Street in Santa Barbara by the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company in 1917 and 1918. And it all started with brothers, Allan and Malcolm Loughead. Inspired by their half-brother Victor’s fascination with aviation, Allan learned to fly and Malcolm developed a reliable automotive hydraulic brake system. Today their legacy lives on in the aerospace company Lockheed Martin; but our story begins in 1913 when the brothers built their first seaplane, the Model G, which reached an altitude of 300 feet and a speed of 60 miles per hour (mph).
Building on that success, Allan founded the Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Company. In 1916, the brothers moved the company to Santa Barbara and renamed it the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company. At the same time, they hired Santa Barbara High School graduate Jack Northrup and began work on the F-1 Flying Boat, which was launched on West Beach and made its inaugural flight on March 28, 1918. And, yes, that is the same Jack Northrup who left his legacy on Northrup Grumman, still represented in Goleta! On April 12, 1918, the brothers flew the F-1 from Santa Barbara to San Diego (211 miles) and set speed and distance records with their flight of three hours and one minute.
The original F-1 was a twin engine, three-bay biplane flying boat that was operated by a 2-man crew and, ultimately, was configured to carry 8-10 passengers. The brothers used it primarily for sight-seeing and for the early film industry. The plane was 35 feet long, 12 feet high, had an upper wing span of 74 feet, and had an empty weight of 4,200 pounds. It was powered by two water-cooled six-cylinder engines with two-bladed propellers mounted on steel struts between the upper and lower wings. It had a cruising speed of 70 mph and a maximum speed of 84 mph! While that may not sound impressive, consider the fact that the Ford Model T, which was produced between 1908 and 1927, only reached speeds of 40-45 mph
Sadly, after World War I ended, the availability of surplus aircraft eliminated the market for the F-1 and the S-1 single-seat biplane. Loughead Aircraft closed in 1920, and the F-1 was abandoned on a beach on Santa Catalina Island. Allan Loughead changed his name to Lockheed and established the Lockheed Aircraft Company in 1926, which later merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin in 1995.
In 1997, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum contracted with the Santa Barbara Radio Control Modelers (SBRCM) to develop a Quarter Scale Model of the F-1 Flying Boat. According to their agreement, SBRCM would build the model in two phases. Phase I would consist of the building and testing of a 1/12th scale radio-controlled model to “define the aerodynamics for a 1/4th-scale model” and successfully demonstrate stable flight off the water.” Phase II was construction of the larger 1/4th model currently on display.
Every effort was made to build this model with techniques, materials and hardware designs used during the construction of the original F-1, a task made considerably more difficult because no plans existed for the F-1 in 1997. According to SBMM volunteer John Hill, “the team had to re-create the plans from photographs and extensive research on the materials and techniques of the day.” The hull, built of balsa wood sheeting over plywood bulkheads and covered with fabric, has a forward open observation turret and an open cockpit that seats two. The superstructure that supports the tail, wings, and fuselage was replicated in spruce exactly as seen in existing photos of the original plane. The entire assembly is 11’9” wide by 8’11” long.
On Wednesday, March 16, 2022, the F-1 model was taken down for cleaning in preparation for the 104th anniversary of its inaugural flight. Members of SBRCM were on hand to do the cleaning, including Dick Curtis, who was on the original team that built the model in 1998. SBMM volunteers Tom Elliott, John Hill, and Mark Waldman also helped to raise and lower the F-1. In the photo on the left, the men of SBRCM lined up with the now sparkling model. From left to right, they are Glen Dorfman, Peter Nickel, Dick Curtis, Tom Ochsner, and Bill Hallier (Photo from Bill Hallier).