In 1934, the French air ministry issued a specification for a long-range flying boat to be used by Air France to operate services over the South Atlantic between Dakar in Senegal and Natal in Brazil.
As such, the specification required that the new transport be capable of flying 3,000 kilometers (1,900 mi) at a speed of 250 km/h (155 mph) while carrying a payload of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). Lioré et Olivier received an order for a prototype of its design to meet this specification, the LeO H-47 on 10 August 1935.
The H-47 was a conventional, high-wing design with the cabin and flight deck fully enclosed within a streamlined hull. The four engines were mounted in two tractor-pusher pairs on the upper wing.
The prototype H-47 first flew from Antibes on 25 July 1936, and was destroyed in a crash in May 1937 that was attributed to a wingtip float breaking away whilst the aircraft was in flight. Nevertheless, Air France went ahead with the purchase of five similar (though strengthened) machines, designated H-470, which were put into service as mail planes. These machines were impressed into the French Navy at the outbreak of the Second World War.
The four remaining aircraft remained in use with the Vichy French Navy following the French Armistice, being used for transport between France and Tunisia, before being transferred to Dakar in Senegal in June 1941. The last H-470 was scrapped in August 1943 when stocks of spares ran out.