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Short Empire

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The Short Empire was a passenger and mail carrying flying boat, of the 1930s and 1940s, which flew between Britain and British colonies in Africa, Asia and Australia. It was manufactured by Short Brothers and was the precursor to the more famous Short Sunderland of World War II. In the United States, its contemporary was the Sikorsky S-42.

Design and development

The origins of the Empire boats lay in an Air Ministry requirement for passenger and mail carriers that could service the colonies particularly to make the connection to Australia.

The Empire was officially known as the C-class and each aircraft was christened with a name beginning with C. The first aircraft, G-ADHL Canopus, was completed in June 1936 and launched on 3 July. A total of 42 Empires were built, all at Short's Rochester factory.

Imperial Airways (and its successor BOAC), Qantas and TEAL operated the Short Empire.

The first series of the Short Empires, the S.23, could carry 5 crew, 17 passengers, and 4,480 lb (2,035 kg) of cargo at a maximum speed of 174 knots (320 km/h).

The Short Empire was designed to be operate along the Imperial Airways routes to South Africa and Australia, where no leg was much over 500 miles. After the design was finalized and production was started it was realized, with some pressure from the US, that it would be desirable to offer a similar service across the Atlantic. The range of the S.23 was less than that of the equivalent US Sikorsky "Clipper" flying boats and as such they could not provide a true trans-Atlantic service. Two boats (Caledonia and Cambria) were lightened and given long range tanks and experimented with in flight refuelling so they could make the trip but that meant they could carry fewer passengers and cargo. In an attempt to manage the Altantic crossing a piggy-back approach was tried. Using a heavily modified S.23 design as the main carrier and a smaller four-engined floatplane design, the Short S.20, mounted on its back. Only a single example was built of a carrier aircraft, the S.21 (Maia) and one S.20 (Mercury) together known as the Short Mayo Composite[1] A successful mid-air launch of Mercury was made in 1938, and it was to set a number of long distance records however a launch aircraft was required for both sides of the Atlantic and it was limited to carrying mail, and no further development of this concept occurred in the UK.

The S.30 series were fitted with the slightly more efficient, but lower powered 815 hp Bristol Perseus sleeve valve engines and had a strengthened airframe allowing the take off weight to be increased to 46,000 pounds and giving a range of 1,500 miles. Cabot, Caribou, Clyde and Connemara were fitted with in-flight refuelling equipment and extra fuel tanks so they could be used for a regular trans-atlantic airmail service. The idea behind this was for the aircraft to take off and once airborne take on extra fuel to an all up weight of 53,000 pounds giving a range of over 2,500 miles. The extra fuel did reduce the payload to 4,270 pounds against the 6,250 pounds of the standard craft. The refuelling was by three converted Handley Page Harrow bombers, one operating out of Ireland and two out of Newfoundland. The S.33 was a further follow-on to the S.30 with a later version of the Pegasus to what had been fitted to the S.23

While originally deemed unable to takeoff with sufficient fuel, wartime experiences at operating in overload resulted in the realization that the Empires could be flown at considerably higher weights than the very conservative estimates provided by Shorts and by late in the war were flying across the Atlantic without resorting to in-flight refuelling, and while still carrying a reasonable cargo.

In addition to the C class flying boats there were also three S.26 type built; these were known as the "G class" and had names starting with "G": Golden Hind, Golden Fleece and Golden Horn. They were considerably larger than the C class and benefited from improvements to hull design made after the finalization of the S.23 design but aside from a general resemblance were an entirely new design which had been intended for provide a regular trans-Atlantic service. They had a wing span of 134 ft (40.9 m) and a length of 101 ft. (30.9 m).


  • S.21 : (Maia) Carrier aircraft of the Short Mayo Composite
  • S.23 : Passenger and mail flying-boat, powered by four 920-hp (686-kW) Bristol Perseus radial piston engines. 31 built.
  • S.23M : Two S.23's were fitted with an ASV radar, and armed with guns and bombs.
  • S.26 'G' Class Empire Passenger and mail flying-boat. Three built.
  • S.26M 'G' Class armed VIP transport, modified from S.26.
  • S.30 : Passenger and mail flying-boat, powered by four 890-hp (664-kW) Bristol Perseus radial piston engines, Derivative of S.23. Nine built.
  • S.33 : Passenger and mail flying-boat, powered by four 920-hp (686-kW) Bristol Perseus radial piston engines. Derivative of S.23. Two built.


During the Second World War the UK-Australia route was stopped and a new route was established which ran from Sydney to Durban via Cairo. This was stopped after the loss of Singapore but restarted when the Japanese were ousted from Burma and Malaya.

List of aircraft

Registration Name Operator
G-ADHL Canopus Imperial Airways/BOAC
G-ADHM Caledonia Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-ADUT Centaurus Imperial Airways, to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1939 (as serial A18-10)
G-ADUU Cavalier Imperial Airways, lost January 21, 1939 on route to Bermuda. 3 Fatalities, 10 Survivors. Rescue carried out by ESSO Baytown.
G-ADUV Cambria Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-ADUW Castor Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-ADUX Cassiopea Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-ADUY Capella Imperial Airways
G-ADUZ Cygnus Imperial Airways
G-ADVA Capricornus Imperial Airways
G-ADVB Corsair Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-ADVC Courtier Imperial Airways
G-ADVD Challenger Imperial Airways
G-ADVE Centurion Imperial Airways
G-AETV Coriolanus Imperial Airways, later BOAC, to QANTAS in 1942 (as registration VH-ABG)
G-AETW Calpurnia Imperial Airways. Crashed, sunk & wrecked, Lake Habbaniya, Iraq, 27 November 1938.
G-AETX Ceres Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AETY Clio Imperial Airways, later BOAC, to Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1940 (as AX659)
G-AETZ Circe Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AEUA Calypso Imperial Airways, to QANTAS in 1939 not used directly, to RAAF (as serial A18-11)
G-AEUB Camilla Imperial Airways, later BOAC - to QANTAS (as VH-ADU)
G-AEUC Corinna Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AEUD Cordelia Imperial Airways, later BOAC, to RAF in 1940 (as AX660), returned to BOAC in 1941 (as G-AEUD)
G-AEUE Cameronian Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AEUF Corinthian Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AEUG Coogee Imperial Airways, to QANTAS in 1938 (as VH-ABC), to RAAF in 1939 (as A18-12)
G-AEUH Corio Imperial Airways, to QANTAS in 1938 (as VH-ABD), to Imperial Airways in 1939 (as G-AEUH)
G-AEUI Coorong Imperial Airways, to QANTAS in 1938 (as VH-ABE), to Imperial Airways in 1939 (as G-AEUI)
G-AFBJ Carpentaria Imperial Airways not used, to QANTAS in 1937 (as VH-ABA), to BOAC in 1942 (as G-AFBJ)
G-AFBK Coolangatta Imperial Airways not used, to QANTAS in 1937 (as VH-ABB), to RAAF in 1939 (as A18-13)
G-AFBL Cooee Imperial Airways not used, to QANTAS in 1937 (as VH-ABF) to BOAC in 1942
G-AFCI Golden Hind Imperial Airways, to RAF in 1940 (as X8275), to BOAC in 1941 (as G-AFCI), retired 21 September 1947
G-AFCJ Golden Fleece Imperial Airways not used, to RAF in 1940 (as X8274), sank 20 June 1941
G-AFCK Golden Horn Imperial Airways not used, to RAF in 1940 (as X8273), to BOAC in 1941, sank Lisbon 9 January 1943
G-AFCT Champion Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AFCU Cabot Imperial Airways, to RAF in 1939 (as V3137)
G-AFCV Caribou Imperial Airways, to RAF in 1939 (as V3138)
G-AFCW Connemara Imperial Airways
G-AFCX Clyde Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AFCY Captain Cook Imperial Airways, to TEAL in 1940 (as ZK-AMC Awarua)
G-AFCZ Australia then Clare Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AFDA Aotearoa Imperial Airways, to TEAL in 1940 (as ZK-AMA)
G-AFKZ Cathay Imperial Airways, later BOAC
G-AFPZ Clifton BOAC, to RAAF (as A18-14), to QANTAS in 1942 (as VH-ACD)
G-AFRA Cleopatra BOAC


Shorts S30

File:Short S-23.jpg
Short S23 Cooee of Qantas - this aircraft is also pictured at the top of the page while later serving with BOAC

Civil Operators


Military Operators


Specifications (Shorts S.23)

Data from The Encyclopedia of World Aircraft[2]

General characteristics


See also

Related development


  1. Robert Mayo – Short Aircraft Engineer's Concept
  2. Donald, David(Editor) (1997). The Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Aerospace Publishing. ISBN 1-85605-375-X. 
  • BOAC At War - Part 2 - Aeroplane Monthly - August 1975
  • Sims, Phillip, Adventurous Empires. Airlife Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-84037-130-7
  • Vector site development of Sunderland through Empire boats
  • Barnes C.H. & James D.N. Shorts Aircraft since 1900. London (1989): Putnam, 560. ISBN 0-85177-819-4. 

External links

Template:Short Brothers aircraft

de:Short S.23 ko:쇼트 엠파이어 비행정 it:Short S.23 Empire

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Short Empire".