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Martin P6M SeaMaster: Half Flying Boat, Half Strategic Jet Bomber, 100 Percent Awesome
If the U.S.Military wants something done, it gets done. This is the seemingly eternal paradox of the military-industrial complex. You or I might find a jet-powered strategic bomber with a ship's hull for an underside to be a silly idea. But before ballistic missiles were readily available, such an idea wasn't so ridiculous.

Martin P6M SeaMaster: Half Flying Boat, Half Strategic Jet Bomber, 100 Percent Awesome

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This was the story of the Martin P6M SeaMaster in a nutshell, but the full story deserves mentioning too. It more or less sums up the proverbial demise of seaplanes as military weapons in a nutshell. Let's take a look at how this bonkers jet-powered flying boat almost ushered in a brand new age of military flying boats. Alas, this was not to be.

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, there was a sense that the United States Navy was playing second fiddle to the Air Force. The successful atomic bombings on Japan coordinated by the USAF's predecessors, the Army Air Corps, only further hammered home this notion.

With the perception that their national pride and their federal budget could be in jeopardy, the Navy spent much of its post-war R&D on novel ways of dispatching nuclear ordinance. More than a few proposals came across the Navy's top brass, with intriguing and ambitious plans that ultimately attempted to solve the same problems.

If there were two things the Navy had in abundance at the end of World War II, it was freshly poached German jet engine technology and aircraft carriers. The problem was that launching heavy strategic jet bombers off of World War II carriers simply wasn't going to happen.

A proposal for the gargantuan USS United States, intended to launch future Navy bombers similar in size to USAF heavy bombers, was ultimately canceled in 1950. Many believe this was largely due to meddling by the Air Force to keep the Navy firmly in its coattails.

In direct response to the USS United States being killed in the cradle, the Navy proposed another solution. Jet-powered seaplanes. There was a litany of manufacturers for the Navy to sort through capable of bringing them the flying boat bomber design they wished with the designs they were looking for.

Companies like Chance Vought, Convair, Grumman, Douglas, and the Glenn L Martin company had spent decades providing the U.S. Navy not only with visually stimulating items like fighter planes but also with float planes, flying boats, and seaplanes of all varieties. It was an embarrassment of aeronautical riches without overselling things. 

In the end, it was Convair, with their F2Y Sea Dart jet fighter, and Glenn L. Martin with their P6M SeaMaster that answered the call to give the Navy what it wanted. With the case of the P6M  in particular, there was a sense that this warbird could reshape U.S. naval doctrine in unforeseen ways.

Powered by quad Pratt & Whitney J75-P-2 turbojet engines cranking out 17,500 lbf (78 kN) of thrust each, the SeaMaster was comparable in size, speed, and range to most U.S. Air Force strategic bombers. More or less in between the Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress.

Indeed, the Glenn L. Martin Company utilized some of the very same technology used in their failed XB-Martin XB-51 land-based twin-engine jet bomber to turn the SeaMaster into the most advanced vehicle in the water by mid-1950s standards. Items like the all-moving t-shaped tail and pneumatically sealed rotating bomb bay found their origins on the defunct experimental jet bomber.

First taking to the skies on 14 July 1955, the SeaMaster impressed test pilots and Navy personnel alike with its stunning nearly supersonic top speed. The 184,280 lb (83,588 kg) airframe was also noted to take off from the water with the grace and the composure of a flying boat half its size. With twin 20 mm autocannons for self-defense operated by a remote-controlled turret in the cockpit, this was far from a defenseless airplane.

Apart from its ability to carry either a twin Mark 11 or a single Mark 28 thermonuclear bomb, it could also carry an array of sea mines ranging in size from 540 lbs (245 kg) to 2,030 lbs (921 kg) each. Even in the event the Air Force was once again favored to carry nuclear weapons, the P6M still seemingly had a vibrant career as a high-speed mine layer planned out for it.

That was, until the advent of intercontinental and short-range ballistic missiles in the late 1950s. At which point, the comparatively expensive flying boat jet bomber suddenly didn't look like such a viable platform. Of the six P6M airframes constructed, none survive today. In doing so, the Navy more or less cast out flying boats as a viable weapon of war. A status it hasn't gained back even almost 70 years later.

Check back soon for more from Sea Month here on autoevolution.


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