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Did seaplanes ever land on the Cape Fear River?

Ben Steelman

Skip Fry of the Wilmington Marine Center, 3410 River Road, Wilmington [Map this], says he’s never seen one or heard of a landing.

This question also stumped spokesmen at Air Wilmington and the Wilmington International Airport. Gary W. Broughton, the airport’s operations manager, said that seaplanes could land there if they also had conventional landing gear, but he didn’t know of any docking ports for seaplanes in this area.

For the real answer, we had to turn to local aviation pioneer Anna Pennington, who remembers that seaplanes used to land in the Cape Fear periodically before World War II. The most famous occasion was on April 24, 1927, when a U.S. Army seaplane squadron landed near the site of the World War I shipyard, on the way back to Fort Bragg and Hampton Roads, Va., from a goodwill tour of Mexico and Central and South America.

The earliest seaplane landing may have been in 1915, when aviator Howard M. Rhinehart landed a Wright “Hydro-Aeroplane” at Price Aviation Co. in what is now Sunset Park. The plane, the Wilmington Morning Star reported, was “equally at home on the water as on the land.” Rhinehart advertised a series of exhibitions of his plane for Jan. 22-24, 1915, including a “race” with a motorboat. While preparing for the event, however, Rhinehart “hit an air pocket” over Swann Street, apparently went into a stall and crashed. The pilot emerged from the river, uninjured, but the plane was damaged, and the exhibition was postponed again and again. Eventually, the New Hanover County sheriff seized the Hydro-Aeroplane for default on a contract. Its eventual disposition went unrecorded.

User-contributed question by:
David Staebler

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2 Responses to “ Did seaplanes ever land on the Cape Fear River?”

  1. On March 30, 2016 at 11:46 am Sandy Mitchell wrote:

    Probably twenty-something years ago there was a chap participating in Riverfest that was flying an ultra-light aircraft equipped with floats. He landed on, and took off from the river downtown many times during the festival.

  2. On April 26, 2016 at 7:13 pm Jeff Marlow wrote:

    I used to work aboard the US Army Corps of Engineers vessel GILLETTE and recall seeing a sea plane on the CFR. This is confirmed on page 359 in the book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder. The seaplane Republic RC-3 SEA BEE landed with provenance for the SS CENTRAL AMERICA. Pilots name was Steve Gross.

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