A Project of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

1932 – The Flying Life Boats

A Coast Guard Aviation Section had been established at Headquarters under the direction of CDR. Norman B. Hall in 1928. The potential of aviation had been proven and aircraft with increased capabilities were desired. A statement of requirements was presented to aircraft manufacturers:

“An aerial ‘eye” capable of extended search, radio equipped to maintain constant contact with surface, thus saving hours and possibly days of search; an aerial ambulance capable of a speed of 100 miles per hour, able to land in a rough sea, equipped with hatches large enough to admit of stretcher cases and to be able to take off on rough water; a demolition outfit to effect the destruction of sea derelicts and obstructions to navigation within a few hours after the report of location; a high speed flying patrol for observation, landing and returning with rescued crews of distressed small craft and capable of taking aboard fifteen or more passengers from distressed craft and standing by for lengthy periods on the surface, maintaining in the meantime radio communication with surface craft until transfer can be made of its passengers”

In 1931 a Schreck/Viking 00-1 built by the Hydravions Schreck-FBA Company was obtained and evaluated. The Viking Flying Boat Company of New Haven, Connecticut acquired manufacturing rights to build this aircraft in the United States. Although this aircraft did not fully meet the criteria as a “flying lifeboat”, the Coast Guard, based on this evaluation ordered five additional Viking OO-1s in 1936. During the same period an evaluation of a flying boat designed and built by Donald Douglas took place. This aircraft, a pure seaplane, was originally intended as a luxurious air-yacht. From this aircraft a line of amphibians were developed. The Coast Guard purchased the modified prototype and two other Dolphins during 1932. The Coast Guard purchased ten additional Dolphin amphibians in 1934.  LCDR Elmer Stone became the Inspector of Naval Aircraft at the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1934.

General Aviation FLB – PJ-1 and PJ-2

In 1932, five flying boats manufactured specifically for the Coast Guard were obtained.  They were a result of a design competition involving eight different companies. Known as FLBs, they were a Fokker design and built by General Aviation Corporation. Later when General Aviation became North American, the PJ-1 and -2 designations were adopted.

These aircraft, like the RD Dolphins were numbered and were also named for stars; the name appearing on each side of the nose. Each aircraft was allocated an International Wireless Telegraphy call sign as a means of identification. The first PJ aircraft, named Antares became operational in June. The next four, Altair, Acrux, Acamar, and Arcturus were operational by the end of the year. The PJs were large airplanes for the day. A seaplane, they were high wing monoplanes with a gross weight of just over 11,000 pounds and a range of 1000 nautical miles. The engines were mounted in a pusher configuration.  The Antares was completely modified in 1933 and was equipped with P&W 1690 engines installed in a tractor type configuration.  The primary function of these aircraft was search and rescue.

PJ1 Miami 4
Coast Guard PJ-1 Arcturus on the ramp at the Miami air station

The fuselage was divided into two parts:  The hull proper divided into three compartments that provided floatation; a cargo space and support for the wings and tail surfaces; The body, divided by three water tight bulkheads into four separate compartments, access from one to the other by watertight doors. Beaching operation from water operations was accomplished by dropping the two light aluminum alloy legs pivotally secured to the forward spars and had low pressure tires secured to their lower ends

PJ-1/2 Table

Manufacturer                      General Aviation

Engine                          P&W Wasp R 1340

Designation                         PJ-1/2

T.O. Power                    2 x 400 hp

Type                                  Seaplane

Top Speed                    120 mph

Wing Span                          74ft  2in

Fuel Capacity                 440 gal

Height                                15ft  6in

Range                           1000 nm

Length                                55ft

Propellers                      Ham Std fixed pitch

Wing Area                           754 sq ft

Crew                             4

Empty Weight                      7000 lbs

Passengers                    3

Gross Weight                      11,200 lbs

Cost                              $73,343

PJ-2 engines – Pratt & Whitney T1D1 Hornet   R-1690    2 x 500 hp at T.O. power

Douglas RD -1/2/4 Dolphin

RD 1 2 4


Three of the 13 RD Dolphins were obtained in 1931/1932. The first was the original Donald Douglas Sinbad that was flight tested and modified for Coast Guard use. This was a seaplane and designated RD. It was named Procyon, operational in March 1931, and assigned to the Cape May air station. All of the Dolphins to follow were amphibians. The Adhara, Designated RD-2 came on board in July of 1932 and was based out of the Gloucester air station. The Sirius, designated RD-1 followed a month later and was based at the Miami air station.  These were actually three distinct aircraft, each one an improvement over its predecessor. The RD had a top speed of 136 mph, the RD-1 a top speed of 152 mph and the RD-2 a top speed of 162 mph. The power plants differed as did the range. The remaining 10 aircraft were acquired between November 1934 and April 1935. Each of these aircraft was also named for stars. Designated RD-4, these aircraft were all standard production models.                                                                    

RD -4 table

Manufacturer                        Douglas Engine                            P&W Wasp R-1340
Designation                          RD-4 Dolphin T.O. Power                      2 x 454 hp
Type                                        Amphibian Top Speed                       147 mph
Wing Span                            60ft Cruise Speed                   110 mph
Height                                    14ft 7in Stall Speed                       63 mph
Length                                    45ft 3in Fuel                                   240 gals
Wing Area                             592 sq ft Range                               660 nm
Empty Weight                       6467 lbs Crew                                  3
Max Gross weight                 9737 lbs Passengers                       6
Service Ceiling                       14,500 ft Unit Cost                          $60,000


These aircraft were used extensively by the Coast Guard for search and rescue missions often flying far out to sea to rescue stricken mariners or seaman in need of urgent medical care. In the picture on the left, the PJ-1 Antares is shown transferring a critically injured seaman from the merchantman SS Samuel Q. Brown. The transfer was made by small boat using a specially designed stretcher which was placed aboard the aircraft through the forward hatch.  This landing and transfer was made under favorable conditions. Many times this was not the case and resulted in a very hazardous undertaking.

The danger in landing an aircraft in the open sea had to be evaluated against the possible loss of life if the rescue was not attempted. Weather and sea conditions were major factors. The vectoring of a surface vessel to assist was preferred if time and availability allowed. In many cases, the urgency of the situation dictated that a landing and subsequent take-off be made.

Hall Boat CrashThe photo on the left is of a Hall Boat that crashed on attempted take-off after picking up a crewmember from the research ketch Atlantis 150 miles off the New Jersey coast. The crewmember, George Priest, was suffering from severe pneumonia and doctors had requested he be transported to a hospital. Weather was severe with thunderstorms in the area. A landing was made but during take-off the aircraft was struck by an unusually large wave during lift-off and plunged back into the sea. Lt. Clemmer, the pilot; AP-1 Radan, the copilot; and Mr. Priest, the evacuee; were killed. Five crewmembers survived but crewmembers Evers and Hayes suffered broken backs.  

The first Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Coast Guard aviators was awarded by the United States Army to Lieutenant Carl B. Olsen, in recognition of outstanding heroic action in flying an airplane 300 miles to sea under the difficulties of darkness, storms and rough seas for the purpose of removing and transporting to a hospital on shore an officer of the Army, on board the United States Army Transport Republic who was critically ill with acute appendicitis, saving his life. The second and third Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded by the Secretary of the Treasury.   Lt. Frank Leamy was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the evacuation of a seaman with a severed right arm from the fishing Vessel White Cap. The landing and takeoff was made at night in heavy seas. Lt. Richard Burke was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for successfully removing a critically injured man from the fishing vessel Shawmut 160 miles off the Massachusetts coast under extremely difficult conditions.