Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
ON TOUR: Boeings Latest ” The B314
Drive west along the main costal road (N69) from Ireland's third city Limerick in the direction of Tralee and if it is in 2007, right in the middle (on the left hand side) of the small village and port of Foynes you will see an airport control tower and what appears to be the rear tail plane of an aircraft. You would have arrived at the world”s only flying boat museum, and in its own way one of the finest aviation heritage sites anywhere in the globe. From Shannon Hertz will hire you a car for the day (E25) and the journey will take just 45 minutes.
On 9 July 1939, Pan Am”s luxury flying boat ”Yankee Clipper” Boeing 314, landed at Foynes. It was the first commercial passenger flight on the direct route between the United States and Europe. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, this quiet town on the Shannon Estuary became the focal point for air traffic on the North Atlantic. Many famous politicians, international businessmen, film stars, active-service men and wartime refugees passed through Foynes. From 1939 to 1945 Foynes really was the centre of international aviation.
Whilst Ireland was neutral, most passengers coming through Foynes were top-level military and diplomatic personnel with high priority on transatlantic flights. Many were on active duty and travelling with false passports, the most famous one of all being Sir Winston Churchill. Humphrey Bogart, Bob Hope and Gracie Fields were other celebrities and VIPs who chose the air as a way to cross the Atlantic in those dark war years.
On 22 June Charles Blair, chief pilot for American Export Airlines, took off from Foynes for the United States. His flight plan included the usual refuelling stop at Newfoundland ” but this was to become the first non-stop commercial flight from Europe to New York. His Vought-Sikorsky VS44 flying boat needed a little less than one gallon of fuel per mile. Approaching Newfoundland, Blair had about a thousand gallons of fuel left and as many miles to go to New York but, as he wrote later, he was ”beginning to toy with the idea of going all the way”. As he taxied into the flying boat base at La Guardia 25 hours and 40 minutes after leaving Foynes, there were just 95 gallons left in the reserve tank. Amongst his passengers on this occasion was Admiral Cunningham of ”Sink the Bismarck” fame ” A remarkable voyage” said the hero of the Royal Navy. Charles Blair, who was sadly killed in 1978 flying a Grumman Goose amphibian, married the Dublin born Hollywood movie icon Maureen O”Hara.
With the opening of the international airport across the estuary Foynes closed as a seaplane base in 1946 and it was not until 1989 that a group of enthusiastic locals managed to open a small museum in memory of the past, and, being Irish, an eye to tourism and the future.
The museum has been a great success but the one thing it lacked was a real seaplane. All has now changed. Two weeks back the museum, and it was Miss O”Hara, now a sprightly 86 who did the honours, unveiled its new self, including a full scale replica of one of the Boeing 314 flying boat, of which only 12 were ever built. With a E2m investment it is set to become a major tourist attraction for south west Ireland. The B314 reproduction, built by top film industry set builder, Bill Fallover, will have its tail plane added any day now, and funds for the control tower have been found. Even without these two bonus items the museum is remarkable with its 60 seat film theatre, fascinating historical displays, simulators, special children's area and a Treasures Room. Plus a large covered central area suitable for receptions and conferences. But the real star is the B314 Yankee Clipper seaplane, exact in every detail and complete with its luxurioushoneymoon suite. The aircraft sits in a special water pool display area. The aircraft challenged the ocean liners and provided the same class of luxury. Seven course meals were provided in the 14-seat dining room and a very well equipped galley, 1930”s in style of course. By today”s standards, the flight deck is enormous, in theory at least nearly able to take a full sized billiards table. The washrooms are large and the seating, whilst hardly meeting FAA safely standards, very comfortable. There was sleeping accommodation too, much the same as proposed in Boeing”s new 747-8 intercontinental. Cruising speed ofthe aircraft was a stately 190 mph and whilst on the North Atlantic only 35 passengers were carried in five separate cabins, the aircraft could accommodate 75. Of the 12 aircraft built three were lost in accidents (only one with fatalities) and the last of all was destroyed by fire in 1951. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Harrison Ford film, featured what was supposed to be a Boeing B314 but in fact was a Shorts Solent.
Next up for the Foynes Museum? A real Shorts flying boat (there are some about, but gaining a loan is a problem) and perhaps the re-openingof the railway line to Limerick, and on to Dublin. 50,00 tourists are expected next year.
POSTSCRIPT: Irish coffee is supposed to have been invented at Foynes. After a long night flight from Newfoundland it was one way of warming up passengers and crew.