The 1920s ushered in the era of the massive “Flying Boats” that opened up passenger travel to parts of the globe only before imagined. Their design was dictated by the lack of land based runways capable of servicing large commercial aircraft. These “Ships of the Sky”, grew to a size never before seen. It was to be the birth of todays modern airline industry.
1929 saw the introduction of the Consolidated Commodore. They were an all metal design with a wingspan of one hundred feet, a range of 1,000 miles and the ability to carry 22 passengers plus a crew of 3. Her finishings were luxurious, with large picture windows, two 8-passenger compartments, two 3-passenger drawing rooms and even a lavatory. They were “state of the art”, the finest, largest transport planes available, years ahead of their time.
A total of 14 were produced, all purchased by the New York, Rio and Buenos Aires Line, later to be merged with Pan American Airways, who ultimately acquired the aircraft. Pan Am used the Commodores to open up long haul, over ocean routes, with Charles Lindbergh flying most of the proving flights. All of these historic aircraft were believed to have been lost or scrapped, . . one exists!
Thought to have sunk in over 600 feet of water after catching fire during a refuelling stop on a remote Northern Lake, the last surviving Commodore was discovered at a depth of only 100 feet in 1963. Fuelled by stories of a cargo of rum, a military payroll and rumours of being scuttled by her crew, Harold Hewlett acquired the salvage rights and attempted to drag the aircraft to shore with small boats. She wouldn’t budge. Due to the isolated location, the lack of road access and large equipment, Harold was forced to abandon his attempt to recover the massive Flying Boat. He vowed to return one day and finish the job.
In 1983, Phil Hewlett, Harold’s son, flew North to try and positively identify the aircraft by finding a serial number somewhere on the hull. After “grappling” the wing from a small boat, he dove the wreck site and managed to recover a strut from the submerged aircraft. The same cold water, depth and pitch black conditions that had frustrated his father, once again became insurmountable and Phil also had to abandon his efforts. Find out what happened next...