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Archive 45
Flying Boats - part 2

We continue with the second part of this feature.
Part 1 can be seen in our Archives pages under Feature 42 - Flying Boats.

The empire flying boats were operated jointly by three organisations, IAL (who become BOAC - British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1940), QEA (QUANTAS Empire Airlines) and TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Ltd). Both QEA and TEAL mainly operated the India to Australia and New Zealand legs. During service, nine of the Empire flying boats were lost or damaged in accidents, but public confidence remained high nonetheless.

   Imperial Airlines also had an eye on the lucrative transatlantic route and experimented with Short’s Mayo composite. This arrangement consisted of a the small seaplane which was ‘piggybacked’ on the S21 Maia and carried to cruising height where it was launched for the 3,000 mile flight to Montreal, and then New York, to become the first commercial (if rather impractical) crossing of the Atlantic.

   In August, 1939, IAL started a weekly transatlantic service from Southampton to New York via Ireland and Newfoundland using flying boats fitted with larger fuel tanks, but a correspondingly reduced payload. Some aircraft were refuelled in mid-air by Handley Page Harrow bombers, converted to tankers, flying out of Ireland and Newfoundland; however, this service was comparatively short-lived ceasing the following month.

   Interestingly, Pan American Airlines also operated a mail and freight flying boat service from the USA to the Solent from 1937 using Sikorsky S-42 and Boeing B-314 flying boats.

A typical scene in the late 1940s as this flying boat
gradually gains height.

   When war was declared in 1939 some of the flying boat’s were fitted with gun turrets and used for long range reconnaissance duties in the western approaches and elsewhere. During WW2 existing air routes, as described earlier, were modified to Durban (through Cairo and Karachi) and onto Sydney. It became known as the Horseshoe route with BOAC operating the section to Karachi and Qantas covering the Far East sector.  

   Sixteen Empire ‘C’ class flying boats survived the war, but most were then broken up at Hythe in 1947. The final example was put on static display at Auckland, New Zealand, until 1954 when it too was scrapped.

   The IAL passenger terminal was moved to Hamworthy in Poole Harbour, Dorset, for the duration of the Second World War. After hostilities ended flying boat operation commenced full time from Poole and, in April 1948, the whole operation moved back to Berth 50 in Southampton old docks until termination of flying boat services in November 1950.

   Post-war flying boat aircraft were mainly ex-RAF Sunderland 3’s (Hythe and Sandringham classes) and S45 Short Solents (a new and more luxurious flying boat). Services were operated to Australia, Hong Kong, Karachi, Tokyo and Johannesburg.

   Probably the main reasons for the demise of flying boat services in the late Forties was the availability of wartime airfields (with long runways) converted to civilian use; a plentiful supply of ex-military transport aircraft and the continuing development of the jet engine were also major factors. Furthermore, passengers were no longer prepared to travel to the coast, nor pay outrageous sums for luxurious air travel.

   But the era of the flying boat was not quite over and Aquila Airways took over what remained of the ex-BOAC flying boat aircraft and operated a European service out of the old BOAC Terminal 50 in Southampton Docks from March 1949 to September 1958. Their eventual demise was blamed on the rising cost of maintenance, lack of flying boat spares and other similar reasons that led BOAC and others to pull out years earlier.

Part One of this feature detailing the development of
flying boats in the years between the wars can be seen by selecting Archives in the left-hand column above,
then 'clicking on' Archive 42.


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