Jan 10 2018

William K. Vanderbilt, Jr.‘s Douglas Dolphin “Amphibion” Seaplane

In the early 1930s, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. purchased a Douglas Dolphin "Amphibion" for his travels with his Alva yacht. Inspired by an email from Tom Gibson and his amazing vintage Douglas Amphibion ads, below are details on Willie K's flying yacht.

The "Amphbion" was the brand name for Douglas' line of amphibious aircraft or amphibians, seaplanes equipped with retractable wheels.


Howard Kroplick

Douglas Dolphins

RD-Dolphin Source: National Aviation Museum

Douglas Dolphin Originally designed as a flying yacht capable of operating only from water, Douglas's RD Dolphin ultimately entered production with amphibious capability in 1931. The Navy and Coast Guard took interest and ordered several as transport and search and rescue aircraft. Only 58 Dolphins were built, and between 1931 and 1935, the Coast Guard took delivery of 13 of them, four of which operated into World War II.
Though one was used as an administrative aircraft by the Secretary of the Treasury, the majority of the Coast Guard RDs spent their service flying search and rescue missions, including two notable open sea rescues of fishermen in the 1930s for which the pilots received the first Distinguished Flying Crosses ever awarded to Coast Guard Aviators. Dolphins also assisted in rescue and recovery operations in the wake of the 1935 hurricane that decimated the Florida Keys. Those aircraft that remained operational during World War II flew security patrols along the coastline of the United States. Interestingly, all of the RDs assigned to the Coast Guard bore the names of stars such as Rigel and Vega.
The Museum's RD-4 Dolphin is the last known surviving example of the venerable amphibian. It was originally purchased in 1934 by William E. Boeing, founder of Boeing Airplane Company. Dr. Colgate W. Darden, III, eventually acquired the plane and, after flying it for many years, donated it to the Museum. Though the RD-4 on display never flew in the Coast Guard, it is painted in that service's markings to commemorate an airplane that greatly advanced lifesaving capabilities during the 1930s

Willie K's Douglas Dolphin

Vanderbilt’s Air Journey in South America, 1937  Source: Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum

William K. Vanderbilt II saw the oceans of the world from the decks and wheelhouses of his ocean-going yachts, while he circumnavigated the globe in 1928-1929 and in 1931-32.
In the early 1930s, while on the Alva expedition, Vanderbilt flew several routes in South America, in his own amphibious Douglas Dolphin. The plane traveled with him on his 264-foot yacht in a cradle suspended over the quarter-deck.

“These little nips at the magnificent countries that lie to the south of us only whetted our appetites for the really comprehensive voyage we had in view,” he later wrote. After several years of dreaming about a trip by air around South America, he purchased a 12-passenger Sikorsky S-43 amphibious airplane, similar to those operated by Pan-American Airways.

William K. Vanderbilt II's Douglas Dolphin at his Alva Base estate on Fisher Island, Florida Source: Navsource.org

Douglas Amphibion Ads (Courtesy of Tom Gibson)

Tom Gibson:  A response to the July 24, 2013 post about the ALVA.

The book McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft since 1920, Vol. 1, by Rene Francillon states that two Douglas Dolphin Amphibions Model 119 were purchased by Alfred Vanderbilt II and Wm. K. Vanderbilt II, and operated from the ALVA. I don't have the book, but that explains the Dolphin in the photo.
I've had these 1931 FORTUNE ads for years and was looking for info on the planes, and found a Wiki note about the book noting two Dolphins bought by the Vanderbilts.
Very evocative ads of a plane with very limited production.

In 1934, Vanderbilt purchased this much larger Sikorsky-43 seaplane for his journeys.


Jan 14 2018 Mitch Hackett 10:25 AM

Is that former Pan Am guy Tom Gibson?  If so I know him.  I just finished the Tucker article in Hemmings.  You are getting a lot of press these days Howard!  Regards…Mitch
Howard Kroplick

Mitch, I am not sure about Tom’s professional career. He did document Chrysler’s Chrysler in 1986:

Hemmings Classic Car really does a great job!

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