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Curtiss MF Flying Boat Sold at Auction




 Photos courtesy Bonhams

April 15, 2010 — A rare Curtiss MF flying boat was auctioned by Bonhams in New York City this week to an unidentified bidder for $506,000. The final price for the flying boat, (S/N A-5543) which had been on display for a month in the atrium of the former I.B.M building, exceeded all expectations for the aircraft, which is one of only five airframes known to exist.

“It was interesting to see a rare, museum-quality aircraft from the 1910-1920 era auctioned; there are only five Curtiss F boats left, and we can only hope that the buyer will allow this amazing seaplane to be displayed so the public can enjoy it,” said the Executive Director of EAA’s Vintage Aircraft Division H. G. Frautschy.

Records are sketchy, but it appears that A-5543 had a single owner, William H. Long, the owner and longtime operator of the Lorain, Ohio, airport. Long is said to have based the MF at Sandusky Bay, from which he made frequent trips to Cedar Point Amusement Park, presumably flying joyriders and sightseers.

Some thirty-odd years later, Long’s pilot, Albert J. Engel, and his friend, Bill Long, refurbished the MF with new wing fabric and varnished the hull. They subsequently donated their vintage aircraft to Cleveland's Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum on June 21, 1945. On display for many years at the Western Historical Reserve Society, the MF was retired from public exhibition in recent times.

The engine appears to be the 100-hp Curtiss OXX6, outwardly identical to the ubiquitous OX5. There are no log books and its service history is undocumented, but an effort is underway to ascertain as much as possible from naval archives and records in FAA dead storage. Almost certainly A-5543 was posted to a naval aviation training station, possibly at Pensacola or Atlantic City. It is thought to have been released for sale as government surplus in 1923 or '24.

The MF was the culmination of Glenn Curtiss's greatest contribution to aviation; namely, the perfection of the seaplane. Glenn didn't invent the flying boat as some biographers would have us believe, but he was among the first to experiment with pontoons and flying boat hulls.

The U.S. Navy's fleet of F-boats, used almost entirely for training, remained essentially unchanged from the original design dating from 1912-13. By 1918, an improved model was needed, which resulted in the Model MF (for “Modernized F-boat”). It was powered by the 100-hp Curtiss OXX6, and had many improvements, including sponsons borrowed from the "America," which greatly improved planing and stability. Curtiss delivered an order for six MFs to the Navy and 16 more on a second order for 47, which was terminated in November 1918 by the Armistice.

The Navy procured 80 more from the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia, which had been created in 1917 to offset lagging deliveries from both foreign and domestic suppliers. The NAF had in fact produced under license at least as many Curtiss types as the Curtiss company itself. The MFs were delivered in 1919-20, primarily to naval training units at Pensacola, Miami, Key West and the Curtiss-managed flying schools established at Atlantic City and Buffalo.

More information and photos at Bonhams.

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