Float Planes and Flying Boats: The Coast Guard and Early Naval Aviation
by Captain Robert B. Workman Jr., USCG (ret.), Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 2012, $41.95.
The U.S. Coast Guard gets short shrift in most military histories, but in Float Planes and Flying Boats, Coast Guard aviation finally receives its due. Written by a former USCG aviator, it tells the story of the Coast Guard’s contribution to the development of naval aviation from its earliest days, before World War I, up to the beginning of World War II.
Robert Workman’s narrative focuses on the career of one Coast Guard aviator in particular, Commander Elmer F. “Archie” Stone. Early in 1916, Lieutenant Stone requested permission to undergo flight training at the Navy flight school at Pensacola, Fla. On April 10, 1917, he qualified as Naval Aviator No. 38 and Coast Guard Aviator No. 1. During World War I, when the USCG came under operational control of the Navy, Stone helped develop and test new naval aircraft and aviation equipment, and became a prominent test pilot. In 1919 he was selected to pilot the Navy’s Curtiss NC-4 flying boat on the first flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The successful completion of that flight brought the Navy great prestige; not surprisingly, the fact that the plane’s pilot had actually been a member of the Coast Guard was played down.
Stone was at the forefront of naval aviation developments such as airplane catapults for use on surface warships, as well some of the equipment used on the flight decks of early aircraft carriers. In addition to his work for the Navy, he pioneered the use of aircraft in Coast Guard operations, personally flight-testing many prospective airplane types. By the time of 49-year-old Commander Stone’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1936, the use of aircraft in the Coast Guard—landplanes, floatplanes and flying boats as well as amphibians—was firmly established.
Workman has done a superb job of researching obscure material to chronicle a hitherto unexplored aspect of aviation history, including nearly 300 rare photographs of early aviators and aircraft, as well as reproductions of original documents. Float Planes and Flying Boats is sure to be as well received by anyone interested in early aviation in general as it is by students of Coast Guard history.
Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.