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John Cyril Porte
Born (1884-02-26)February 26, 1884
Bandon, County Cork, Ireland.
Died November 22, 1919(1919-11-22) (aged 35)
Brighton, England
Cause of death Tuberculosis
Nationality United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Occupation Aviator
Company director
Known for Air racing
Trans-atlantic flight
Seaplane Experimental Station
Anti-submarine warfare
Flying boats
Religion Church of Ireland (Anglican)

Porte aboard the 100hp Deperdussin monoplane

London 4 February 1914, announcement of the Woman's Aerial League $5,000 prize and silver trophy

Porte and Glenn Curtiss as they appeared in the New York Times 10 March 1914

Porte and George Eustace Amyot Hallett, Hammondsport, New York 22 June 1914, day of the naming ceremony for the Curtiss America

Colonel John Cyril Porte CMG, FRAeS, Royal Navy (26 February 1884 – 22 October 1919) was a flying boat pioneer associated with the World War I Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe.[1]


He was born on 26 February 1884 to Reverend Dr. J. R. Porte in Bandon, County Cork, Ireland. At an early age Porte joined the Royal Navy Submarine Service, but contracted tuberculosis, and was discharged in 1911 with the rank of Lieutenant, RN. He learnt to fly by the end of 1910 using a Santos-Dumont Demoiselle that he built himself and gained his flying certificate (No. 548) with the Aero Club de France 28 July 1911, flying a Deperdussin monoplane at Reims airfield. Six days prior, Porte took part in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain from Brooklands with the first British built 60hp Anzani Deperdussin Type B monoplane, but suffered an unfortunate accident on take off. With Admiral Fremantle as Chairman, Porte was accepted as Test pilot, and joint Managing director of the British Deperdussin Company alongside Italien, D. Lawrence Santoni who went on to found Savoia. They were the first to establish a British factory for the manufacture of a foreign aircraft. Porte flew Deperdussin aircraft in air races at Hendon Aerodrome and later became a director of British Anzani, with Santoni, Captain J. C. Halahan (Royal Dublin Fusiliers and RFC), W. Ridley Prentice and Claude Scholfield, who supplied engines for the British built Deperdussin.

Transatlantic challenge

Pursuing an interest in flying boats, over October 1913 he met American aircraft designer Glenn Curtiss with Eric Gordon England at George Volk's Seaplane Base on Brighton sea front. Porte and Curtiss then worked together on a design in the USA during 1914 funded by Rodman Wanamaker for the America flying boat with which they intended to cross the North Atlantic Ocean and win a $50,000 cash prize put up by the Daily Mail, supported by Lord Northcliffe; in connection with the London, Anglo-American Exhibition beginning 14 May 1914, Victoria Woodhull Martin offered a further $5,000 and silver trophy on behalf of the Woman's Aerial League of Great Britain. The commencement of hostilities stopped this plan on 4 August 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany and Porte boarded the Lusitania at New York bound for Liverpool.

War service

His health notwithstanding, on return to England he was recommissioned in the Royal Naval Air Service and given command of a training unit at Hendon Aerodrome followed by the naval air base at Felixstowe during 1915. While in this position he encouraged the purchase of Curtiss H-4 flying boats, a military version of their earlier twin 100 horsepower America flying boat design, and permitted the assistant U.S. naval attache to London, Lieutenant John H. Towers, to fly RNAS aircraft on a regular basis between 1914 and 1916.[2] These early flying boats did not have sufficient power, and the Naval Station soon re-engined them with Anzani 10-cylinder powerplants. More Curtiss aircraft were ordered, but their 160 hp Curtiss engines were soon replaced with 250 hp Rolls-Royce Falcon engines, being known as H-12s or Large Americas. Porte's first design to be implemented in Felixstowe was the Felixstowe Porte Baby, a large, three-engined biplane flying-boat powered by one central pusher and two outboard tractor Rolls-Royce Eagle engines.

Porte modified an H-4 with a new hull whose improved hydrodynamic qualities made taxiing, take-off and landing much more practical, and called it the Felixstowe F.1. Porte then modified the hull of the larger Curtiss H12 flying boat, creating the Felixstowe F.2, which was greatly superior to the original Curtiss boat. Under his supervision the Seaplane Experimental Station continued to enlarge and improve the design of the Felixstowe aircraft independently of Curtiss, through the F.3 and the F.5; Porte's final design was the 123 ft-span five-engined Felixstowe Fury triplane (also known as the "Porte Super-Baby" or "PSB").

Bristol Scout C (No. 3028) from HMS Vindex atop a Porte Baby, RNAS Felixstowe, May 1916

Felixstowe Fury and Sopwith Camel comparison at the Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe c.1918, Porte in the foreground

The Felixstowes were mainly used on long range patrols to look for the High Seas Fleet or submarines of the Imperial German Navy, however the aircraft were also initially used successfully to intercept Zeppelins. To keep away from this danger Zeppelins were forced to fly higher, resulting in Porte developing the first composite aircraft experiments in 1916, with a Porte Baby carrying a small Bristol Scout fighter piggyback. The flying boat would provide the long range while the fighter would be able to climb rapidly to engage the enemy. With Porte at the controls of the flying boat, on 17 May 1916 Flight Lieutenant M. J. Day successfully flew the Baby launch craft over Harwich in its one and only trial flight, and, although on this occasion the parasite was successfully released, the scheme was abandoned as impractical for North Sea conditions.[3]

Several hundred seaplanes of Porte's design were built for war-time patrolling of the east coast of England, for naval reconnaissance around the Mediterranean Sea, and were even sold to the US for coast patrols. Armed with torpedoes and depth charges they could attack ships and U-boats. A measure of the success of Porte's work is that the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company manufactured the F.5 as the F5L and Aeromarine 75.

During his tenure at Felixstowe, due to the reorganisation of the different aerial services, Porte received various Naval, RNAS and RAF ranks, and was known variously as Lieutenant Commander, Wing Commander and Lieutenant Colonel. He was pensioned with the rank of Colonel.

Profiteering trial

On 25 July 1917 William Augustus Casson, Porte and Lyman J. Seeley were indicted in London's Central Criminal Court on charges of profiteering under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. Before the war, Porte arranged to receive a 20-25% commission on all Curtiss flying boats that he sold. Porte continued to receive monies secretly through Casson, as a commission agent between August 1914 and 24 July 1917, when he was in the position of ordering aircraft on behalf of the Navy, and was accused of receiving £48,000 in this manner.[4] Casson admitted guilt but, on return of the money, charges against Porte were dropped in light of his failing health and important war service.[5] Seeley did not appear.

In November 1917 Porte was recommended for the Distinguished Service Order, but this was refused at the highest level: "In view of the special circumstances of this officer's case the First Lord is not prepared to consider any decoration for past services".[6]

Later life

Porte joined the Gosport Aircraft Company in August 1919 and designed a series of flying boats.[7]

Following the destruction of the Felixstowe Fury in an accident, Porte died in Brighton, England of tuberculosis on 22 October 1919 age 35.[1][8] He was buried in Brighton then reinterred at West Norwood Cemetery beside members of his family, where his monument is a cross and anchor.[9]


Walter Raleigh in his book The War in the Air summed up the importance of Porte's work during the First World War as follows: "The shortest possible list of those who saved the country in its hour of need would have to include his name." [10]

On 19 September 1919, shortly before his death, Porte was awarded the U.S. Navy Distinguished Service Medal by Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy on behalf of the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.[11] The award was announced posthumously in the London Gazette 12 December 1919.[12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "British Airman Porte Tuberculosis Victim". The Atlanta Constitution. 29 October 1919.,+1919&author=&pub=The+Atlanta+Constitution+(1881-2001)&desc=BRITISH+AIRMAN+PORTE+TUBERCULOSIS+VICTIM&pqatl=google. Retrieved 23 November 2010. "Lieutenant Colonel John Cyril Porte former wing of the Royal Navy air service and inventor of the of flying boat known as Felixstowe Fury is dead here ..." 
  2. Reynolds, Clark G., Admiral John H. Towers: The Struggle for Naval Air Supremacy (1991), 90.
  3. Composite Aircraft, Flight PDF Archive, 11 November 1937
  4. Admiralty Aircraft Contracts The Times 13–20 August 1917
  5. The Admiralty Contracts Case, Flight PDF Archive, 22 November 1917
  6. UK National Archives ADM 273/2/17
  7. "Some Gosport Flying Boats for 1920". 25 December 1919. p. pp.1657–1658. 
  8. Notice of Death, Flight PDF Archive, 30 October 1919
  9. The RAF utilised some Army ranks in its early days, and Porte is recorded on his headstone as "Colonel, John Cyril Porte CMG, late Wing Commander RNAS, formerly Commander RN, who after a life of strenuous endeavour and glorious achievement in the service of his King and country, died in Brighton on 22nd Oct. 1919, aged 35 years".
  10. Felixstowe Flying Boats, Flight PDF Archive, 23 December 1955
  11. "RAF Museum". 19 September 1919. pp. AC78/13/4/2. 
  12. "No. 31691". 16 December 1919. 

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