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The S-43 first flew in 1935, and was a smaller version of the Sikorsky S-42 "Clipper". It accommodated between 18 and 25 passengers, with a separate two-crew forward cockpit. The S-43 was known as the "Baby Clipper" in airline service.
On April 14, 1936, an S-43 with a 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) payload, piloted by Boris Sergievsky, set an altitude record for amphibious aircraft when it reached an altitude of 27,950 feet above Stamford, Connecticut. Also aboard was designer Igor Sikorsky.
In total, approximately 53 S-43s were built, including examples of the twin-tailed S-43B.
Five aircraft were acquired by the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1937 under the designation OA-8 and were used for transport of freight and passengers. 17 aircraft were procured by the U.S. Navy between 1937 and 1939 as the JRS-1, two of which served the U.S. Marine Corps. One JRS survived in service at the end of 1941.
Two aircraft went to private owners: Harold Vanderbilt and Howard Hughes. Hughes' S-43 N440 remains the last example of this aircraft type flying . It is now owned by Kermit Weeks and has been relocated from Texas to the restoration facility at the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, Florida where it is awaiting reassembly and restoration.
Accidents and incidents
June 2, 1937
A Chilean Air Force S-43 (No. 2) capsized off Ancud, Chile, killing all nine on board.
August 2, 1937
A Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) S-43B (NC15065) crashed in the vicinity of Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone; all 14 on board died. The plane spiraled into the water at approximately 90 mph and was destroyed by an immediate explosion and fire. Most probable cause of the crash was failure of one or both of the engines due to a faulty gasoline system and/or sudden and severe rain, as the pilot indicated losing altitude two times in the three minutes prior to the crash.
August 8, 1937
A China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) S-43W (named Chekiang) ditched at Chilang Point, Bias Bay, China, killing three of four crew; all seven passengers survived. The flying boat was forced to ditch due to bad weather. High waves broke one wing off; the eight survivors clung to the other wing until rescued.
April 25, 1938
Pan Am Flight 105, an S-43B (NC16932) stalled and crashed on landing off Kingston due to engine failure; all 18 passengers and crew survived, but the aircraft was written off.