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Sikorsky S-38 being positioned for display at AirVenture, Oshkosh in 2006. This is a replica.
Role Flying boat
Manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft
Designer Igor Sikorsky
First flight 25 May 1928
Introduction October 1928
Primary users Pan American Airways
New York, Rio, and Buenos Aires Line
Number built 101
Unit cost
$37,000 in 1930
Developed from Sikorsky S-34
Sikorsky S-36

Sikorsky PS-3, serving as a transport for the Eleventh Naval district. VJ-5 D11-4 (8285), photographed in March 1930.

The Sikorsky S-38 was an American twin-engined 8-seat amphibious aircraft. It was sometimes called "The Explorer's Air Yacht" and was Sikorsky's first widely produced amphibious flying boat which in addition to serving successfully for Pan American Airways and the U.S. Army, also had numerous private owners who received notoriety for their exploits.

Design and development

The S-38 was developed from the Sikorsky S-34 and S-36. The S-38 first flew on May 25, 1928. The United States Navy ordered two aircraft (designated XPS-2) and Pan American Airways were an early customer.

A total of 101 aircraft were built, manufactured originally by the Sikorsky Manufacturing Corporation of Long Island, New York, and by the Sikorsky Aviation Corporation in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Sikorsky was acquired by United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (now United Technologies Corporation) in mid-production.


A C-6A

11 Built
10 place model, 80 Built
12 place model, 10 Built
United States Army Air Forces designation for the S-38A for evaluation, one aircraft later used as a VIP transport.
United States Army Air Forces designation for a C-6 with minor changes, 10 aircraft.
United States Navy designation for the S-38A, two aircraft later converted to XRS-2 transports.
United States Navy designation for the S-38B, four aircraft later converted to RS-3 transports.
United States Navy designation for two XPS-2 converted as transports.
United States Navy/Marine Corps designation for the S-38B transport version, three aircraft and conversions from PS-3.
United States Navy designation for two civil S-38A impressed into service.


Some famous owners include:

Osa's Ark S-38

  • Aviator and businessman Howard Hughes
  • Aviator Charles Lindbergh – Surveyed South American and Pacific Ocean routes for Pan Am with Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
  • Robert R. McCormick - Newspaper publisher– Surveyed commercial air routes between North America and Europe.[1]


One of the two remaining S-38s, N28V appears in the movie The Aviator (2004), a story loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes. Hughes owned an S-38 during his lifetime. N28V is not a real survivor but rather a reproduction, built in the early 2000s. As of September 2010 N28V bears the Osa's Ark paint scheme.[2] N28V is now owned by Kermit Weeks and located at the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, Florida.

Accidents and incidents

A SCADTA (a Pan Am subsidiary) S-38, NC9107, crashed in the Colombian jungle near Pereira, killing all but one on board; the survivor was carried for seven days through the jungle to civilization.

T. Raymond Finucane, a wealthy Rochester, NY business man, and three others disappeared over the sea aboard a Sikorsky Amphibian after departing Norfolk, Virginia for New York City March 22, 1929. In Miami, Florida, Finucane had wagered a friend who was traveling ahead by train that he (Finucane) would reach New York first. He chartered Curtiss Flying Service to fly him to New York from Miami. Also on board the missing aircraft were Frank Ables and J. Boyd, Curtiss mechanics, along with Harry Smith, the pilot. A massive search by Curtiss planes, American military planes, coast guard cutters, and even the airship Los Angeles failed to turn up anything. Mrs. Finucane, founding president of the Rochester Community Players, visited the Curtiss operation at Rooseveldt Field, the destination of the flight, for updates.[3] Wreckage presumed to be from this plane was found eight years later by a fishing schooner.[4]

On September 25, 1932, a Panair do Brasil Sikorsky S-38 registration P-BDAD still bearing the titles of Nyrba do Brasil was seized in the company's hangar by three men, who took a fourth as one hostage. None were aviators but they managed to take-off. However the aircraft crashed in São João de Meriti, killing the four men. Apparently the hijack was related to the events of the Constitutionalist Revolution in São Paulo and it is considered to be the first hijack that took place in Brazil.[5][6]

Specifications (S-38-A)

General characteristics

  • Crew: Two
  • Capacity: 10 passengers
  • Length: 40 ft 3 in (12.27 m)
  • Wingspan: 71 ft 8 in (21.85 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.22 m)
  • Wing area: 720 ft² (68.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 6,000 lb (2,727 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 10,480 lb (4,764 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp 9-cylinder air-cooled radial engines, 400 hp (298 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 104 knots (120 mph, 192 km/h)
  • Range: 648 nm (750 miles, 1,200 km)
  • Service ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,878 m)
  • Rate of climb: 750 ft/min (229 m/min)
  • Wing loading: 14.5 lb/ft² (69 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.08 hp/lb (0.13 kW/kg)

See also

  • Keystone-Loening Commuter
  • Keystone–Loening Air Yacht
  • Grumman Widgeon
  • Grumman Goose
  • Piaggio P.136
  • Sikorsky RS, a designation used by the United States Navy for a number of different Sikorsky twin-engined amphibious flying boats


  1. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Panorama Publications. January 1999. ISSN 1025-2657. 
  2. "See World's Only Flying Sikorsky S-38 at AirVenture" 2012 AirVenture Oshkosh Oshkosh, WI USA: EAA archived from the original on 2011-07-24 
  3. New York Times: March 25, 1929, March 26, 1929, March 27, 1929, and March 28, 1929
  4. New York Times, Feb. 22, 1937
  5. Pereira, Aldo (1987) (in Portuguese). Breve História da Aviação Comercial Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Europa. p. 337. 
  6. Germano da Silva, Carlos Ari César (2008). "Uma verdadeira aventura" (in Portuguese). O rastro da bruxa: história da aviação comercial brasileira no século XX através dos seus acidentes 1928-1996 (2 ed.). Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-85-7430-760-2. 

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  • Davies, R.E.G. (1987). Pan Am: An Airline and its Aircraft. New York, NY USA: Orion Books. ISBN 0-517-56639-7. 
  • Yenne, Bill (2003). Seaplanes & Flying Boats: A Timeless Collection from Aviation's Golden Age. New York, NY USA: BCL Press. ISBN 1-932302-03-4. 

External links

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