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The Flying Boats

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

An extract from BOAC and the Golden Age of Flying

In 1924, Short Brothers, Britain’s oldest aircraft manufacturer, produced the first of a series of three flying boat designs known as the Singapore. In 1927, the Singapore I was made famous by Sir Alan Cobham, when he, his wife, and crew made a survey of Africa, and covered about 23,000 miles. By 1928, Short Brothers had delivered the first of their three-engined Calcutta flying boats, which could carry fifteen passengers and had a range of 650 miles. Imperial Airways used them to fly the Mediterranean to Karachi leg of the Britain to India route.

Imperial Airways Short S.17 Kent Flying Boat - Sea of Galilee, Palestine circa 1930's.

By 1931 Shorts had developed the S.17 Kent flying boat which had enough range to fly from Mirabella in Crete, to Alexandria in Egypt, without the need for refuelling stops. Its increased payload also meant that they could carry a steward and serve light inflight meals. Imperial Airways finally had aircraft that could properly meet the challenge of serving their far-flung Empire routes and the flying boat era came of age.

The Short Kent marked the beginning of another tradition which would be maintained by Imperial Airways and later BOAC. Each of the three aircraft was christened with its own unique name: Scipio, Sylvanus and Satyrus, and they were referred to within the company as the Scipio Class flying boats. The senior management of Imperial Airways would then have been classically educated, and so would most of the passengers. There was no embarrass-ment about using their aircraft to commemorate figures from Roman and Greek antiquity, even though their names would have meant little to the common man. As late as the 1970s, BOAC maintained the tradition of always having an aircraft in their fleet named Canopus. The last was a Super VC10 (registration number G-ASGD); her Canopus name plate was re-discovered when she was finally broken up by the RAF for spares in the 1990s.

In order to take off and land on water, the flying boats needed large, bulbous hulls, which meant they had considerably more internal space than the pencil-like fuselages of land planes. Imperial Airways put that additional space to good use – not only did flying boat passengers benefit from large seats with very generous leg room, but they could also enjoy lounges, sleeping berths, food freshly prepared in spacious galleys and even promenade decks. On a flying boat, which generally flew quite low, you could sit in a comfortable lounge while sipping your favourite cocktail and watching, from a panoramic window, the migrations of animals across the vast African plains below.

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