PortandTerminal.com, January 16, 2021
Called a Flugschiff (“flying ship”) in German, the aircraft was more luxury flying yacht than a ship.
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Part luxury yacht, part 747 airplane, the Dornier Do-X was the most powerful flying boat in the world when it was produced by the Dornier company of Germany in 1929.
The largest and heaviest aircraft of its day, the aircraft was powered by 12 engines arranged in tandem atop its huge wings that spanned 157 feet.
The engines were supervised by a flight engineer, who also controlled the 12 throttles and monitored the 12 sets of engine gauges.
The pilot would ask the engineer to adjust the power setting, in a manner similar to the system used on maritime vessels, i.e. an engine order telegraph. Indeed, many aspects of the aircraft echoed nautical arrangements of the time, including the flight deck, which bore a strong resemblance to the bridge of a vessel.
Financed by the German Transport Ministry, the aircraft was actually built in neighbouring Switzerland in order to comply with terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which forbade Germany from building certain classes of aircraft. Only three of the massive aircraft were built. None survive today.
A luxury yacht in flight
Dr. Dornier designed the flying yacht to carry 66 passengers on long-distance flights or 100 passengers on short flights. Called a Flugschiff (“flying ship”) in German, the aircraft was more luxury flying yacht than a ship.
Passengers were flown in absolute comfort and luxury with no expense spared. Within its spacious hull were three decks containing a bar, writing rooms, bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining room salon nearly 60 feet long. Seating for the 66 passengers could be converted to sleeping berths for night flights.
Introduction to the American market
To introduce the airliner to the potential United States market the Do-X took off from Germany on 3 November 1930 for a transatlantic test flight to New York.
The route took the Do-X to the Netherlands, England, France, Spain, and Portugal. The journey was interrupted at Lisbon when a tarpaulin made contact with a hot exhaust pipe and started a fire that consumed most of the port side wing. After sitting in Lisbon harbor for six weeks while new parts were fabricated and the damage repaired, the flying boat continued onwards. It finally reached New York on 27 August 1931, almost nine months after departing from Germany.
Once in America, the Do-X and crew spent another nine months there as the plane’s engines were overhauled.
The economic effects of the Great Depression dashed Dornier’s marketing plans for the Do-X, however, and it departed from New York on May 21, 1932, via Newfoundland and the Azores back to Germany where it arrived after only 4 days.
Short of cash, Dornier was forced to turn the aircraft over to Deutsche Luft Hansa (precursor to today’s Lufthansa). While the type was popular with the public, a lack of commercial interest and a number of non-fatal accidents prevented more than three examples from being built.
In the end, the Do-X was eventually turned into the centrepiece exhibit at Germany’s new aviation museum Deutsche Luftfahrt-Sammlung in 1936. It was almost completely destroyed by an Allied bombing raid during WW2. Fragments of the torn-off tail section are on display at the Dornier Museum in Friedrichshafen.
A successor, the Do-XX, was envisioned by Dornier, but never advanced beyond the design study stage.
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