Tom Swift and His Flying Boat

or, The Castaways of the Giant Iceberg

By Victor Appleton ©1923  Book #26

Review by JP Karenko, September 2005

Note: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct, today.



No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:

Tom has decided that seaplane technology is in need of the Swift Touch. What is currently "out there" is not big, fast or advanced enough to suit Our Hero. A new, large and typically luxurious flying boat is designed from scratch and is built in record time. Just in time, as it turns out, to mount a rescue mission to the Artic in an attempt to save Wakefield Damon and Tom's future father-in-law, Amos Nestor. These unfortunates have been stranded on an ice berg after the schooner they were traveling on was wrecked.

In addition to the usual hazards of wind and weather, it seems agents of the newly formed Soviet Peoples' Republic are out to boat-nap Tom's creation.

How these problems are resolved, you will have to locate a hard cover copy of the book to find out.


If this book is available on line I have yet to find it. Sorry.



Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)


Tom Swift-Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Home-schooled at a college level by his father, Barton Swift. Athlete and hunter. Familiar with how to stalk game and firearms.  Loves all things mechanical. Is a decent cook, too.

Barton Swift-Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor master machinist and holder of numerous patents.  In this episode, he is described as "old," Mr. Swift, has enjoyed improved health of late.

Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro manservant. "Eradicates dirt." Eradicate has now "become too old to do much," He is described as "grey and asthmatic." He remains faithful to Tom and helps out where he can. Constant rival and antagonist of giant Koku.

Koku-Giant manservant of Tom. Devoted, loyal, and possessed of great strength, but apparently somewhat limited cognitive facilities. Described as "savage and only half-tame," he is antagonist and rival of Eradicate. In this episode, his eyes are described as "yellow, and slitted like a cat's." Much is made of his great strength, nocturnal eyesight and acute hearing.

Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. Never fully described, except as "portly" in an early episode, here we find out he has a moustache and wears "tortoise-shell glasses." Appears to be quite wealthy, but in this episode, he observes that the "gasoline people are robbing him." See Attitudes.

Mr. Aman Dele-No description given. Visitor to NYC from Iceland. Adrift and helpless, unable to make himself understood, as he has no language skills other than his native tongue. Befriended by Wakefield Damon, above.

(Rev.) Erick Brodak-No description given, other than "old." Missionary pastor of a Reykjavik parish church. Executor of Aman Dele's Estate.

Miss Mary Nestor-Betrothed love interest who lives on the east side of Shopton. Described as a "very pretty young woman with flashing brown eyes, and a sweet trilling laugh." Blushes easily, especially around Tom. Also described as "plucky."

Dr. Goslap-NFN or description. Shopton GP who treats Amos Nestor.

Norwalk Chauffeur- No name or description given. Employed (for the moment) by Pelton Brothers Garage. Inebriated and dangerous, he causes an automobile wreck.

The Prima DoŇa-Passenger in the wrecked auto (above.) Foreigner, bushy hair, large spectacles and a supercilious attitude. (Think Ivana Trump but with an attitude...) Later determined to be one Dr. Simon Raddicker, a famous diagnostician from NYC. Needs a serious dose of good manners and probably, an extra-strong laxative.

Clerk, Shopton House Hotel-No name or description given. Walk-on part.

Harry M'Connell-Shopton Slaughterhouse Chandler. Purveyor of Prize Porcine Parts.

Mr. (Amos) Nestor-Mary's father. In spite of major roles in several of these adventures, his description is never given, and his first name was only mentioned in passing, in episodes #1 and #6. In this tome, he is suffering from a potentially fatal, but unspecified malady and must travel to the far North to heal in the cold dry climate.

Mrs. (Amos) Nestor-Mary's mother. In spite of major roles in several of these adventures, her description is never given, and her first name is never mentioned. The only thing known about her is that she is a good cook and wife, caring deeply for her husband, and is more or less helpless without a man around to take care of her.

Mrs. Wakefield Damon- In spite of significant roles in several of these adventures, her description is never given, and her first name is never mentioned. The only thing known about her is that Mr. D thinks she objects to his travels and adventures with Tom & Co. It is said she has "given up" objecting and lets her husband do as he pleases. She spends a lot of time at her mothers' house. Said lady must be very aged, as Damon is described as "elderly," himself.

Damon's Manservant- No name or description given. Walk-on part.

Ned Newton-Chum & companion of Tom. No description given. He has resumed his position as Swifts' financial advisor and CFO (Treasurer) of  Swift Construction Company. Voice of caution regarding Tom's expenditures, sometimes obnoxiously so. In the last two tales, he is uncharacteristically doom-and-gloom and sarcastic. Needs a girl friend, or something...

Carney- No name or description given. Faceless, but trusted Swift employee. Experienced older mechanic. Walk-on part.

The Familiar Stranger-Wears a frock coat, top hat and wears a Gardenia in his buttonhole. Facial hair includes a "Charlie Chaplain" moustache and goatee. Speaks with a French accent. Is said to be named Polansky and to be working for the newly-formed Soviet Government. We never do find out why he seems "familiar," as this is his first appearance in the series.

Brannigan-No first name or description given. Faceless, but trusted Swift employee. Chief of aircraft crew & "mechanician."

Kingston-No first name or description given. Faceless, but trusted Swift employee. Radio/wireless operator. Walk-on part, with lines.

Danish Military Officer- No name or description given. Faceless leader of a gaggle of Icelandic Militia.

Soviet Bureaucrat- No name or description given. Faceless, blustering and bumbling bureaucrat. Walk-on part.

Captain Olaf Karofsen-Master of sunken MY Kalrye. Tall, burly, shaggy sea captain. A simple soul and nearly as large as Koku.

Karofsen's Kool Krew-Three faceless and nameless sailors, stranded with Mr. D & Mr. Nestor on the berg.

Uncle Frosty and Cousin Chilly-Brother and Nephew of Karofsen, both thought to be killed in a tumble down a crevasse. No descriptions or names. Walk-on parts.

Admiral Gilder-Navy Board Chairman. Passing mention.



Major Inventions:  

The Winged Arrow is a twin-engine seaplane of 110ft span and 60ft long hull. It is powered by two 400hp "Liberty" motors, has a top speed of about 100mph and a 2000 mile range. It sports a glass nose control/observation area, forward, with radio "coop" just behind the pilots' seats. It has berths for eight passengers, a cabin (presumably for Tom) and galley. The several crew are housed in hammocks, aft. Whatever heater(s) are on board are inadequate, as it is said that drinking water freezes at altitude and all must wear heavy coats to remain warm.

Engineering features include twin Searchlights (presumably Tom's ultra-bright Great variety,) and detachable wing outriggers that can double as motor-dinghies. The hull is double walled, and is initially said to be built that way for floatation safety in rough water, which is logical and innovative for the time. Later, it is said to be evacuated, (vacuum) which would exacerbate any water leaks.  Still later, pumping compressed air into these spaces is said to "stabilize" the aircraft when it rolls uncontrollably during the test flight. This wonderful, if impractical technique is called an "equilibrator." See Errata.

The other feature that makes this craft unique is the (usual) ability to lift stupendous loads without logical or visible means. The performance and endurance of the craft are also significantly better than the state of the art, but with 50% less horsepower used. See Specifications.



Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata


It's amazing how much technology and society have changed. Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of some of the modern gadgets that I've come to take for granted.  Society's attitudes (or at least the authors') have changed, greatly, too. I wonder what people will be taking for granted 100 years from now, and what they  will think of our "modern" society and its' mores (or lack of them...)


Attitudes and Prejudices-Language usage was quite modern, with numerous colloquial aphorisms being used, and quite a few slang terms, too.  There was one reference to piazza, three cases of spontaneous ejaculation, and a couple of "swifties." The author was familiar with small details of Electric Locomotive-or at least he had read it recently. This leads me to conclude that "Ejaculatin'Jones" is the ghost writer of choice in this episode. This seems to be the same writer who did Land of Wonders, Undersea Search, and Electric Locomotive, the other stories where the E-term is used repeatedly.

Missionaries and things spiritual also show up repeatedly in the tome. Rad is said to object to Koku's "voodoo" chants while they are fishing, and calls him a "heathen." All work at Swift Construction shuts down on the Sabbath. It's 24/6-3 shifts the rest of the week. These religious attitudes could be a tie-in to the author of Electric Rifle, Great Searchlight and Wizard Camera. Coincidentally, Wizard is another tale where Mary's dad played a major role. I'm going to have to start a matrix. If Harold Garis actually wrote all of these tales, (which is considered to be a given in some circles) he has multiple personalities and writing styles to go with them. Methinks not. Too many things  change from tale to tale. Not just details.

Women are still pretty much relegated to the role of helpless ornamentals, with the possible exception of Mary Nestor. She is atypically "plucky" and able to withstand the social pressure of doing things like flying, going un-chaperoned after dark and driving an automobile. On the other hand, she is apparently at a loss in the kitchen, which means she is limited to hooking up with someone wealthy enough to afford Tom. I envision a young Amelia Earhart.

Rad, Koku and even Ned Newton are referred to in denigrating terms (Rad's description(s) would be termed racist or "hate speech," nowadays.) All are called "boy." I suspect calling a 9ft 400lb club-wielding giant "boy" to his face would be a wonderfully expensive and painful way, at least nowadays, to learn proper race-relations.

Interestingly, Mr. Damon complains about how the "gasoline people are robbing him." This was in the days when petroleum products sold for pennies a gallon. Some things don't change, much. (Fuel in Michigan peaked at $3.69 a gallon in 2005 and was 50% higher still in areas where opportunists were even less inhibited. Now, that's robbery...)

There is significant emphasis and importance placed on patents, courts, compensation, stocks, speculation and bankruptcy in this tale. Police are now apparently effective, and "thrashing" your enemies no longer seems to be de rigeur.

Tom "arms" his crew with empty rifles during a confrontation. Probably a wise move from a diplomatic standpoint-after all, who wants to start a war over an accidental discharge? It also resembles some of the tactical wisdom of Sun Tzu in The Art of War, to whit: "Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."  I wonder about the effectiveness of waving an empty gun around, though, when the other guys have rifles, too. If you threaten and posture and the other guy just doesn't "get it," it may be necessary to return fire. An empty rifle then becomes merely an expensive and not very effective club.

Don't bring a club to a gun fight is my tactical wisdom-but then, I'm from Detroit....

Shopton hotel rooms do not come with individual bathrooms.


Errata-In this tome, Mr. D's home remains in Waterfield. The current tally of Damon's many moves stands at 13-Waterfield, 6-not recorded or confused, and 10-Waterford, for 26 volumes, to date.  The numbers don't total, because two volumes have him residing in both places at the same time. Six others either do not specify a town name, or have multiple references that change.

Red Cloud, Tom's original combo dirigible/aeroplane, was destroyed in episode #8 Caves of Ice. The author refers to it as if it still resides in a shed, somewhere on the Swift property.

Typos and malaprops were very limited. P35 has Tom being skil(l)ful, p51 has Rad stringing fish on a withe (wire) and p67 has Tom's dad named Barton Hopkins. [Correction: 'withe' is a real word, meaning 'band or rope made of twisted twigs or stems.'] It's possible that this may be his middle name, as it has never previously been mentioned, but the sentence structure pretty-much precludes that.

After a polar bear is killed, it is suggested they salvage the meat. Polar bear meat is considered delicious, but it is never eaten raw like other meats because it carries many parasites, like trichina. The polar bear liver is never eaten or fed to animals because it causes Vitamin A poisoning, which results in severe illness or even death.


Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy- Short of liquefying it and using the liquid for ballast, I don't see how any amount of compressed air pumped into an aircraft fuselage, is going to stabilize it, once airborne. Tom's "equilibrator" is somebody's pipe-dream. Roll stability in an aircraft is governed by three things: How much dihedral is built into a wing, the airfoil shape and how high the wing is mounted on the fuselage.

The current seaplane technology of the 1920's was represented by the Curtiss NC-4 flying boat. It had remarkably similar specs, to the Winged Arrow but 4 Liberty power plants, to Tom's two.


Flying Boat Specifications

NC-4                                                                                       Swift Winged Arrow

General Characteristics

      Crew: six                                                                           Eight, plus 8 passengers

      Length: 68 ft 3 in (20.8 m)                                                60 ft

      Wingspan: 126 ft (38.40 m)                                              110 ft

      Height: 24 ft 4 in (7.40 m)                                                 Not specified

      Wing area: 2,380 ft (221 m)                                             Not specified

      Empty: 16,000 lb (7,257 kg)                                             Not specified

      Loaded: 27,386 lb (12,448 kg)                                         Not specified (but LOTS!)

      Maximum takeoff: lb ( kg)                                               Miraculous

      Powerplant: 4x Liberty engines, 400 hp (298 kW) ea.       2x Liberty Engines



      Maximum speed: 95 mph (152 km/h)                               100 mph

      Range: 1,470 miles (2,352 km)                                         2000 miles

      Service ceiling: ft ( m)                                                      Not specified

      Rate of climb: ft/min ( m/min)                                            Not specified

      Wing loading: 11.5 lb/ft (56.3 kg/m)                                 Not specified

      Power/Mass: 0.06 hp/lb (0.01 kW/kg)                              Not specified


Tom smashes the wing-tips of the Winged Arrow, not once, but twice into the wall of a glacier. Both times, the pontoons are damaged, but his mechanics manage to fix the damage with little problem. The idea of smashing hard enough to do that much damage without ground-looping into a wall of ice & rock bodes well for Tom's flying skills.

( Note where the pontoons ride on the NC-4, below. )


Curtiss NC-4 Flying Boat ca 1920

Tom takes off from a deep valley or canyon on the iceberg with a short run and has to climb out with limited space around him. (He has "pranged" the wingtips several times already.) He does this with a full overload of passengers, and no flaps. Why could some of them have not hiked out to the plain where the castaways had their camp, and then been picked up? They hiked in without difficulty. This would have reduced the risk to the aircraft and passengers.


Geography- Lake Carlopa is back. Rad and Koku go fishing there for White Perch. Winged Arrow is said to "cross 3 states" on the way to Cape Cod. That would be Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Looks like Shopton is back up near Lake George, again.

Denmark Strait Image Courtesy Microsoft MapPoint

JP Karenko 9/18/05

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