Ten of aviation's most famous hitch-hikers.
- By Lynn Keillor
- Air & Space magazine, July 2012
Hitchhiker: Bristol Scout C
Mothership: Felixstowe Porte Baby flying boat
The single-seat Bristol Scout C was a screamer. At the outset of World War I, it was one of the fastest airplanes available, reaching a top speed of nearly 100 mph. The Scout’s light weight and agility made it an especially effective fighter. It had one frustrating fault: the underpowered 80-horsepower Le Rhône engine could last only about two hours in the air without maintenance.
As an experiment, British aviation entrepreneurs mated the Scout with an oversized hulk of an airplane called the Felixstowe Porte Baby. The idea to use a longer-range aircraft (the Porte Baby performed oversea operations between England and the rest of Europe, but its top speed was a plodding 78 mph) as a host for a speedy, shorter-range one was a first in aviation.
In the spring of 1916, in the county of Essex, England, a Scout was loaded onto the upper wings of the Porte Baby. The smaller airplane’s fuselage rested flat on the wing, with its wheels hanging over the front edge, propped up by crutches braced on the Porte Baby’s central engine. The Scout pilot controlled the quick-release mechanism that held its tail.
The airplanes took off with designer Commander John C. Porte piloting his eponymous mothership and Flight Sub-Lieutenant M.J. Day in the Scout. At 1,000 feet, Day fired up the Scout engine, released the aircraft, and flew away. If successful, the little fighter could have hitched a ride to protect the slower, more vulnerable Porte Baby on reconnaissance missions in which it might encounter enemy fire.
For unknown reasons, the Scout–Porte Baby pairing was flown only once, but the first host-parasite mission launched an era of experimentation that continues to this day.