Aviation History

Naval Flight Officer explains why the US Navy doesn’t use jet seaplanes like the Martin P6M SeaMaster

The Martin P6M SeaMaster

The Martin P6M SeaMaster jet seaplane was an experimental strategic bomber flying boat developed and built for the US Navy that almost entered service.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, in the early days of the cold war, the US Navy was feeling left out. The future was nuclear, and the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command seemed to have a lock on the delivery systems. The Navy’s first bid for a piece of the strategic pie, the supercarrier USS United States, was killed by the Pentagon in favor of the Air Force’s B-36 bomber, so the admirals came up with a plan for a force of nuclear-armed seaplanes.

The P6M Seamaster was a top- performing aircraft for its time—and the last flying boat developed for the US Navy. As reported by US Naval Institute, it was intended primarily for long- range minelaying and reconnaissance missions, with a secondary nuclear strike capability. In the minelaying role, the Seamaster was to mine the approaches to Soviet submarine bases, denying access to the sea and preventing submarines already at sea from returning for replenishment.

The P6M first flew on Jul. 14, 1955, production aircraft were built and Navy crews were undergoing operational training, with service entry expected in about six months, when the program was cancelled on Aug. 21, 1959 because it was eclipsed by the Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

Would the US Navy ever consider the development of a jet seaplane again?

Would the US Navy ever consider the development of a jet seaplane like the P6M SeaMaster?

Andy Burns, US Navy Surface Warfare & Flight Officer, explains on Quora.

‘As cool as the P6M was to look at, it wasn’t an example of a “proven concept.” The program was a development hell, two prototypes suffered catastrophic in-flight structural failures (in other words, they disintegrated) and it pretty much drove the venerable Glenn Martin Company out of the airplane business.

‘Jet seaplanes are feasible. Limited numbers of the Russian Beriev Be-200 are in active service, mostly as fire-fighting water bombers. It was developed from the prototype A-40 patrol bomber.

‘There are a few more turboprop flying boats in service, such as the Japanese US-2.’

Burns concludes;

‘As to whether the US military would consider using such aircraft again, while the concept has been nudged around from time to time, I highly doubt it will ever come to anything. No current US defense company has any experience with designing flying boats, and it would represent a large, risky investment for a limited return – there’s almost no commercial market, and the military would only need a small number. Aircraft like the Be-200 and US-2 are only sustained because their programs are heavily subsidized by their respective governments.’

Photo credit: United Aircraft Corporation, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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