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Short Seamew

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The Short SB.6 Seamew was a "curious-looking" British aircraft designed in 1951 by David Keith-Lucas of Shorts as a lightweight anti-submarine platform to replace the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA)'s Grumman Avenger AS 4 with the Reserve branch of the service. It first flew on 23 August 1953, but, due to poor performance coupled with shifting defence doctrine, it never reached service and only 19 were built before the project was cancelled. It has been described as a "camel amongst race-horses".[1]

Design and development

The Short Seamew was selected to fulfill Admiralty Specification M.123D for a simple, lightweight anti-submarine aircraft capable of unassisted operation from any of the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers in all but the worst of conditions. Although specifically designed for naval operations, the Seamew was also intended for land-based use by the RAF.[2]It was to be suitable for mass production and operation by the Air Branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). This specification was in response to the alarming increase in capabilities of the Soviet submarine forces following the Second World War.

File:Short Seamew landing at Farnborough.jpg
Seamew prototype XA209, natural metal finish, landing at Farnborough SBAC Show in September 1953

Three prototypes were ordered in April 1952 and the first flight (XA209), piloted by its test pilot, Sqn. Ldr. Walter J. "Wally" Runciman,[3] took place on 23 August 1953. This same aircraft, also piloted by Runciman, took part in the 1953 Farnborough Airshow three weeks later. In 1954 both XA209 and the second prototype XA213 took part at Farnborough, where the following year both prototypes and two production AS Mk 1 models (XE171 and XE172) gave a formation display. [4]

The MR Mark 2 was similar in every respect to the AS Mk 1 except that it was optimised for land-based use from hastily prepared airstrips. Naval equipment was deleted although manual wing folding was retained. Slightly heavier than the naval version, the MR Mk 2 had oversize tyres and could carry a higher weapons load.


File:Short SB6 Seamew XA209 first flight.JPG
"Wally" Runciman climbs into the cockpit for the first flight of the Seamew XA209 prototype
File:Short SB6 Seamew XA209.JPG
Prototype XA209, without radome
File:Seamew folded.jpg
Prototype XA209 with wings folded
File:Seamew Side view in flight.jpg
A production AS 1 in flight
File:Short Seamews SBAC Show 1955.jpg
A flight of Short Seamew AS 1s

The pilot and observer were located in tandem cockpits located high up in the front of the deep, narrow fuselage. They sat atop the Armstrong Siddeley Mamba turboprop in front and the weapons bay to the rear of them. The design had originally called for the tried and tested Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine but the Royal Navy had made it policy to phase out piston engines, in order that supplies of highly flammable high octane aviation fuel need not be carried in large quantities on ships. The turboprop engine also caused less airframe vibration and would therefore have less impact on the performance of the radar scanner mounted below the engine housing.

For simplicity, and so that a nose wheel would not obscure the forward field of the radar scanner, a fixed tail wheel undercarriage was used. The long stroke necessary on the main undercarriage to give the radar scanner and propeller adequate clearance from the ground resulted in an alarming attitude on the ground and the cockpits mounted at a seemingly perilous height. The pilot and observer sat very far forward in order that the pilot could have a reasonable field of downward vision for takeoff and landing and so that both he and the observer had a good field of view e.g. for spotting submarines even when in level flight.

The large, broad-chord wings featured power-folding and pylons for the carriage of rockets, depth charges, flares and small bombs. The large, slab-like, tailplane was mounted high on the vertical stabiliser, requiring the rudder to be split into upper and lower sections. The fixed undercarriage legs could be jettisoned in the event of ditching.[5]

Handling Characteristics

The handling characteristics of the Seamew were poor. The prototypes were heavily modified with fixed leading-edge slats, slots added in the trailing-edge flaps, alterations to the ailerons and slats added to the tailplane roots. Although something of an improvement over the initial models, the handling was never wholly satisfactory. Arthur Pearcy wrote "only Short Brothers' test pilot Wally Runciman seemed able to outwit its vicious tendencies and exploit its latent manoeuvrability to the limit."[6][1]

Operational service

An order was placed in February 1955 for 60 aircraft (split evenly between the FAA and RAF), with Seamew XA213 successfully completing carrier trials on HMS Bulwark in July and December 1955. Naval service flight trials with two Seamews were carried out with 700 Naval Air Squadron in November 1956, which included catapult trials and around 200 takeoffs and landings on HMS Warrior.

The RAF lost interest after four Mk 2s were built[5] with three of them converted to AS1 standard; the fourth (XE175) was flown by S/L W. "Wally" J. Runciman for a series of sales tours in 1956 to Italy (March), Yugoslavia (April) and West Germany (May). It was this same aircraft in which Runciman was killed when he crashed during the Sydenham (Belfast) Air Display on 9 June 1956. Rumours that the crash had been caused by a material failure were current at the time but the accident investigation board did not confirm them.

"My father was in contact with Shorts during the morning prior to the crash that afternoon. I remember something being mentioned about fixing one of the control surfaces. I think it was an aileron.", recollected Phil Runciman. John T. Davis, an Irish filmmaker, included film of the crash in his own film "The Uncle Jack" 1996. "John was in my sister's class at school and he too was deeply affected by the event. The shots in this film appear consistent with a problem with the controls."

Meanwhile the FAA decided that the RNVR Avengers would be replaced by Seamews, but only four had been taken on charge by the time the RNVR squadrons were disbanded in March 1957 in keeping with the 1957 Defence White Paper, before any Seamews were allocated to them. Seven aircraft eventually delivered to the FAA were scrapped at RNAS Lossiemouth, and the other 11, complete and awaiting delivery, were scrapped at Sydenham. The last surviving Seamew, XE180 which had been purchased by Shorts on 31 August 1959 for ground instruction at its Apprentice Training School, was scrapped in 1967. [7]

The Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust has preserved a Seamew engine, which is found at its Coventry branch.



Specifications (Seamew AS 1)

Data from [6][8]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Payload: 1,844 lb (836 kg) of weapons
  • Length: 41 ft (12.50 m)
  • Wingspan: 55 ft (16.75 m)
    • Wings folded 23 ft (7.01 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 5in (4.09 m)
    • Wings folded 15 ft 7.5 in (4.76 m)
  • Wing area: 550 ft² (51 m²)
  • Empty weight: 9,795 lb (4,443 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 14,400 lb (6,804 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 15,000 lb (6,790 kg)
  • Powerplant:Armstrong Siddeley Mamba turboprop engine, 1,590 shp (1,190 kW)



See also

Comparable aircraft

Designation sequence

Related lists



  1. 1.0 1.1 Winchester 2005, p. 46.
  2. Flintham, Vic. "Short Seamew". Cancelled Types, 2007. Retrieved: 12 August 2008.
  3. Sqdn.Ldr. W.J. Runciman, A.F.C, D.F.M
  4. Barnes and James 1989, pp. 450–453.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Winchester 2005, p. 47.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pearcy 1990
  7. XE180
  8. Winchester 2005, pp. 46–47.


  • Barnes, C.H. with revisions by Derek N. James. Shorts Aircraft since 1900. London: Putnam, 1989 (revised). ISBN 0-85177-819-4.
  • Green, William and Gerald Pollinger. The Observer's Book of Aircraft. London: Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd. 1956.
  • Pearcy, Arthur. "Short Seamew". Aviation News 6, 19 July 1990.
  • Runciman, Squadron Leader W.J. Pilot's Flying Log Book. "Squadron Leader W.J. Runciman, A.F.C., D.F.M." Original held by his family, a copy held by P. Sortehaug, 4, William St., Dunedin, NZ.
  • "The Seamew Calls a Halt to the Rising Cost of Air Power." Shorts Quarterly Review, Vol. 2, No. 3, Autumn 1953.
  • The Short Seamew Light Anti-submarine Aircraft (promotional brochure). Belfast: Short Brothers and Harland Limited, c. 1953.
  • Williams, Ray. Fly Navy: Aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm since 1945. London: Airlife Publishing, 1989. ISBN 1-85310-057-9.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Short Seamew". The World's Worst Aircraft: From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2005. ISBN 1-904687-34-2.

External links

Template:Short Brothers aircraft

ja:ショート シーミュー

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