“They don’t make them like that anymore.” Such sentiments are generally reserved for the wistful daydreamers of times long since past. They are rarely applied to operational seaplanes making takeoffs and landings from Seattle’s own Lake Washington.
Yet Kenmore Air has turned “generally” on its head. The recent restoration of the only surviving, functional Hamilton Metalplane H-47 has given this bird back its sea legs (aka its EDO floats).
“Shortly after I bought [the H-47] we were able to determine the floats were last seen in Alaska. It was important to me to get it back on floats. That was my whole interest in purchasing it,” the Hamilton Metalplane’s owner explained while we sat in the Kenmore Air Harbor lobby.
That’s how he found himself climbing around a junk pile in Fairbanks, Alaska. He was accompanied by Kenmore Air’s Director of Maintenance, Rob Richey. Together, they discovered the floats buried in a snow bank behind an Everts Air Cargo service hanger.
These weren’t just any EDO floats. They are the plane’s originals from 1929.
“Finding the original 1929 Edo floats was a lucky stroke of geography, as Kenmore owns Edo Floats now, allowing the rebuilding work to be done on the so close to home,” said the owner.
With the floats re-built and reattached, the owner took the H-47 for it’s first spin on August 28, 2013.
Not Quite an H-47
Is it an H-47? Is it an H-45? “It’s kind of both,” the owner told me with a shrug.
The owner had the H-47’s engine removed and replaced with the engine originally installed in an H-45. Why? Parts.
The H-47 was originally built with a Pratt & Whitney Hornet. This was the only difference between it and its H-45 sister which was built with a Pratt & Whitney 1340 Wasp. Parts for the H-47’s engine are no longer available, making it all but impossible to service.
On the other hand, parts for the H-45 aren’t quite as elusive. In fact, Kenmore Air’s popular de Havilland Otters were originally built with the same 1340 engine. As Otters are increasingly upgraded to PT-6 turbines, the surplus of 1340’s is increasing, making it easier for 1340 operators to find parts.
Is the metalplane an H-47 or an H-45? You can decide for yourself. Either way, it’s serviceable.
The Beauty of Floats
For the owner, getting the H-47 back onto floats wasn’t just about preserving history. It was about travel. “Floatplanes get you places wheeled planes just can’t,” the owner told me.
Where does he like to go? Anywhere, pretty much. He and his wife love the outdoors, especially the coastal regions north of Seattle. They frequently visit the San Juan Islands. They love to explore the Canadian wilderness. Wondering just where he is now?
Origins of the Metalplane
Initially airplane manufacturers faced quite the conundrum. They needed a material which was light enough to fly and strong enough to withstand high speeds. In the case of seaplanes, they also need a material which would float. Wood was the only logical option.
Unfortunately, even with manufacturers best efforts to increase its strength through lamination, high speeds caused the wooden propellers to disintegrate. Additionally, wooden floats faced the inevitable attack of Mother Nature’s pests.
Fortunately, things changed in the mid-1920s. The aluminum alloy Duralumin was introduced. It offered manufacturers a high strength, low weight option. This new aluminum could handle the high speeds of flying. It held up during the strong impact of water landings. And, it wasn’t the same tasty treat for pests as its wooden counterpart.
And so, in 1927 the Hamilton Metalplane Company built their first all-metal aircraft – the Hamilton Metalplane H-18. The original model was a wheeled plane, but just two years later it was redesigned.
The upgraded models, the H-45 and H-47, were built to accommodate both passengers and mail. Their landing gear was tailored per each customer’s desire with skis, wheels or floats.