“Ours is the commencement of a flying age" - The Flying Boat Dornier Do X in 1930

27 August 1930, the biggest airplane of her time, the flying boat Dornier Do X, landed after a promotional flight of several months at her final destination in New York.

“Ours is the commencement of a flying age, and I am happy to have popped into existence at a period so interesting.“ (Amelia Earhart)

A contemporary photo of the Dornier Do X in New York harbour*

The origins of one of the most unconventional airplanes of all times were a bit shady. While her spiritual father Dr Claude Dornier probably never had any military use for his colossal brainchild in mind, it was financed with money from black accounts of the Reichsmarineamt, the Weimar Republic’s department of the navy. They might have thought of something along the lines of a large, long range sea reconnaissance plane or a bomber. Forbidden, however, to construct fast or large airplanes even for civilian use under the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty, Dornier began the development of the 50-ton flying boat Do X in a shipyard on the Swiss side of Lake Constance in 1926 and when the press got wind of it, along with other secret re-armament plans, the republic’s defence minister Otto Gessler was out on his ear in 1928. The Reichsverkehrsministerium (Ministry of Transport) stepped in, though, and the Do X was realised as a passenger plane. She made her first test flights on Lake Constance in 1929 and, with Dornier’s workers and their families on board, the “Flugschiff” (flying ship) set the world record for the number of persons carried on a single flight, 10 crew and 159 passengers, that would hold until the Lockheed Constellation broke it 1948.

Do X approaching New York

A couple of years before the large Short flying boats of Imperial Airways and Pan Am’s Sikorsky clippers set standards for long range flights, Do X’s main competitor were zeppelins. And with a length of 131’ for 66 passengers, along with a dining salon, a wet bar and a smoking room on her main deck and large seats that could easily be converted into sleeping berths, her accommodations could easily match those of the big blimps as well as the luxury offered to passengers of most ocean liners. In 1930, she started for her first transatlantic flight, just four years after Lindbergh flew the “Spirit of St Louis” across the pond, and the Do X set forth with a cruising speed of 109 mph, via Amsterdam, Lisbon, Western Africa, across the Atlantic to Natal in Brazil and up north to New York. The giant flying boat was greeted everywhere with enthusiasm and thousands came to see her at New York’s Glenn Curtis Airport where she spent the winter.

A short contemporary film showing the sea plane in flight, a bit of her interior and her unusually smooth way of taking off and landing on water.

Claude Dornier’s marketing plan did not come to fruition, though. Hoping for a large order from the US, the still virulent Great Depression put a spoke in his wheel and only Italy ordered two more Do Xs. Back home in Germany, the political situation went belly up in the meanwhile and the new regime saw no further use for the big sea plane, made up a story about her technical unreliability and had her mothballed in the Third Reich’s new aviation museum in Berlin. She was destroyed during a RAF raid in 1943, having set the pace for the intercontinental flights and opened the short era of the wonderfully romantic flying boats in the time between the wars, before travelling to far away places became an easily available commodity.

* image found onhttp://navalarchitecture.tumblr.com/post/18800604469/scanzen-dornier-do-x-seaplane-in-new-york