Short Empire

The Short Empire flying boats met needs of the British Air Ministry for a long-ranged four-engined flying boat, and of the major contemporary airlines for an aircraft suitable to serve a link between Britain and Australia. The results were the S.23, officially the 'C-Class', but known to Shorts as the Imperial Flying Boat; and the S.25, which became famous in WW.2 service as the Sunderland.

The Imperial Flying Boats became known by the less cumbersome 'Empire' title, and were christened with names beginning with 'C'. The first aircraft completed was G-ADHL 'Canopus', in June 1936, launched on 2 July. The type entered service that October.

Initial orders from Imperial and Qantas led to construction of 42 aircraft. 31 of these were the S.23 version, nine were the S.30 (815 hp/610 kW Bristol Perseus XIIc) and two were S.33s, also ultimately powered by the Perseus XII. The S.33s were the end of the series, launched in April 1940.

Empire flying boats not only served the England-Australia route, but also flew a trans-Atlantic service via Ireland and Newfoundland, using G-ADHM 'Caledonia' and G-ADUV 'Cambria', with increased fuel capacities and reduced payloads. In August 1939 a weekly service from Southampton to New York was begun, with the flying boats G-AFCU 'Cabot' and G-AFCV 'Caribou' relying on air-to-air refuelling from Handley Page Harrow bombers converted to tankers, and stationed in Ireland (G-AFRL) and Newfoundland (G-AFRG and G-AFRH). The service terminated at the end of September 1939.

Australia showed reluctance on a number of grounds to accept the costly to run Empire boats. Nonetheless, they could outperform the DC-2s on the Australian end of the Qantas-Imperial route, and finally, Qantas' first 'Empire' service took off from Sydney's Rose Bay on 5 July, 1938, flown by VH-ABF 'Cooee'. The inaugural Empire Airmail flight, flown by G-AEUB 'Camilla', followed on August 4.

World War 2 meant that the existing air route from England to Australia had to be diverted, to become the Horseshoe Route from Sydney to Durban via Cairo. Qantas, initially responsible for the Sydney-Singapore section of the service, extended its portion to Karachi, where BOAC (formerly Empire) took over. At the end of 1941, with Singapore under attack, the route terminated. It was reopened when, later, Japan lost Burma and Malaya. Qantas operated a number of the Empire boats under Australian registration, as well as several owned by Imperial / BOAC. With the outbreak of war, three of their aircraft were in India and three of the BOAC flying boats were in Australia, so ownership was exchanged.

The RAAF used five examples, numbered A18-10 to A18-14. Two initially went to 11 Sqn. - G-ADUT 'Centaurus' and G-AEUA 'Calypso', which became A18-10 and -11. In June 1940 VH-ABC 'Coogee' and VH-ABB 'Coolangatta' followed on contract with Qantas. Finally, the S.33 VH-ACD 'Clifton' joined them in March 1942. They performed coastal patrol and transport duties with 11, 13, 20, 33 and 41 Sqns. Only 'Clifton' and 'Coolangatta' returned to civil service, the others being lost in accidents or, in the case of 'Centaurus', in a Japanese air raid on Broome, WA, on 3 March 1942. G-AEUC 'Corinna' was also destroyed at moorings in Broome the same day.

VH-ABD 'Corio' went to Imperial as G-AEUH and was shot down near Koepang on 30 January 1942, and G-AETZ 'Circe', another British aircraft sometimes operated by Qantas, was believed to have been lost due to enemy action on 28th February, 1942, between Tjilitjap and Broome.

With their dramatic wartime careers, it was appropriate that the first Qantas aircraft to enter the liberated Singapore was VH-ABG 'Coriolanus', on 8 October 1945. Post-war, the same aircraft inaugurated the Sydney / Brisbane / Noumea / Fiji route on 19 November, flying it until December 1947. 'Coriolanus' was the last Empire flying boat in operation in the world. It was broken up in Rose Bay during 1948.

  • TYPE; Passenger flying boat
  • ENGINES: Four Bristol Pegasus Xc radial piston engines, each of 910 hp / 680 kW at 2470 rpm.
    • Wing span: 114 ft 0 in / 34.77 m.
    • Length: 88 ft 0 in / 26.84 m.
    • Height: 31 ft 9 in / 9.70 m.
    • Empty: 24,500 lb / 11,125 kg
    • Loaded: 40,500 lb / 18,338 kg (later, 43,500 lb / 19,750 kg)
    • Max. speed; 174 kts / 321 kph at 5,000 ft.
    • Max. cruise; 142 kts / 264 kph
    • Min. flying speed; 63 kts / 117 kph
    • Rate of climb; 950 ft/min at sea level
    • Absolute ceiling: 20,000 ft.
    • Range in still air: 705 / 1305 km.
  • CAPACITY: 5 crew, 17 passengers, and 4,480 lb. / 2035 kg of mail. Sleeping accommodation on night flights for 12 passengers.