Perhaps the most dramatic flying boat ever built was the giant Dornier
Do X. Conceived by Dr. Claudius Dornier, the Do X design took seven
years to complete and two years to build. The giant flying boat was
finally launched on July 12th 1929. Financed by the German transport
ministry, the plane was built on the Swiss portion of Altenrhein in
order to avoid the Allied Commission. When complete, the Do X was the
largest, heaviest and most powerful aircraft in the world.
On October 21st, the plane took off carrying 169 people consisting of
150 passengers, 10 crew and 9 stowaways, easily breaking the world
record for the number of people aboard a flight. A record that would
not be tested for 15 years. Weighing 48 tons, the plane taxied for 50
seconds before slowly ascending to only 650 feet. It flew for 40
minutes at a maximum speed of 105 mph finally landing on Lake
The luxurious accommodations and service on the Do X were in keeping
with the standards of transatlantic liners. Several cabins on the main
deck held passengers comfortably on 32 double seats and two single
seats, while the cockpit, captain's cabin, navigational office, engine
control room and radio office could be found on the upper deck along
with quarters for the 14 man crew. The lower deck held fuel and stores.
The plane was enormous with a wingspan of 157 feet 5 inches, a length
of 134 feet 2 inches and a height of 33 feet. As a result of the
massiveness of the plane, passengers were asked to crowd together on
one side to help the flying boat make turns! The plane had an all-metal
hull with wings comprised of a metal framework covered in fabric.
Powered by twelve 525 horsepower Siemens Jupiter engines mounted in
tandem on the wing, the plane was designed carry 66 passengers on long
distances or 100 on short trips. The Jupiter engines were only able to
lift the plane to an altitude of 1,400 feet, preventing the plane from
making trans-Atlantic crossings. After completing 103 flights in 1930,
the plane was refitted with water-cooled Curtiss Conqueror engines at
610 horsepower each. On the August 4, 1930 flight, newly fitted with
Curtiss engines, the plane reached 1,650 feet, a height that was deemed
suitable to cross the Atlantic.
The Do X took off from Freidrichshafen, Germany on November 2, 1930
commencing its trans-Atlantic proving flight. The route took the Do X
to Lisbon, down the Western African coast, across the Atlantic to South
America, and north to the United States finally reaching New York on
August 27, 1931. The final leg of the trip began again on May 21, 1932
from New York to Newfoundland, on to the Azores, and finally to Berlin
where the Do X was met by a cheering crowd of 200,000.
Two other Do X planes, the Do X2 and X3, were completed and delivered
to Italy in 1931. Because of their monstrous weight, all three planes
were deemed unsuitable for commercial flight. The Do X was retired to
the Berlin Air Museum in 1934 and was destroyed by an allied air raid
in 1943. The X2 and X3 were used primarily by the Italian military for
prestige flights but were quickly retired from service in 1934. While
the Do X was not a commercial success, it was an important experiment
in early aviation. It remains, by its sheer physical strength and size,
one of the most extraordinary seaplanes in history.