This was the first book by the late Phillip Sims who joined the RAF in 1966 and held a great interest in the history of aviation. Originally published in 2000 by Airlife, this excellent book has been republished in a new format by Pen & Sword.
NAME: Adventurous Empires, The Story of the Short Empire Flying Boats
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Phillip E Sims
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Long range passenger aircraft, flying boats, route proving, Empire air routes, WWII, Wordl War Two, Second World War, RAF Coastal Command, Imperial Airways, End of Empire, New Zealand at War, Pacific, monoplane flying boats, mail planes, airmail, composite aircraft.
DESCRIPTION: This was the first book by the late Phillip Sims who joined the RAF in 1966 and held a great interest in the history of aviation. Originally published in 2000 by Airlife, this excellent book has been republished in a new format by Pen & Sword.
In modern terms, an aircraft that was only produced as a run of 42 aircraft would be considered a failure commercially when an aircraft such as the Boeing 737 has already been produced in the thousands and could remain in production for some time to come. It would also be considered today that a new aircraft design should fly in computer simulation for hundreds of hours before the first metal was cut for one of several prototypes, to be followed by pre-production models, and sold in the hundreds before the first production models began construction. The Empire flying boat was put directly into production from the drawing board, which is all the more surprising to modern eyes when it represented such a huge step forward technically.
Imperial Airways was the pre WWII national airline of Great Britain, developing a network of long distance routes to link up the British Empire. The airline issued a specification for a long-range passenger and mail plane that resulted in the design by Shorts of the Empire flying boat.
This very large four engine flying boat was a monoplane, built in metal at a time when its contemporaries were fragile biplanes that owed their lines to the WWI Curtis flying boat that was also built in Great Britain from American hulls, shipped past the U-Boats to Liverpool and then fitted with wings and equipment in British aircraft factories. The Empire was not only an amazingly clean form with a deep hull and integral work platforms that hinged out to allow the engines to be worked on while still afloat, but it offered new standards of accommodation for passengers and crew. The surviving Sunderlands, that were developed for military use from the Empire, still look large today but in the 1930s they looked enormous.
Shorts built the Empires at Rochester, one of the Medway towns, next to the famous Chatham dockyards that had built warships for Nelson and supported the Nore Fleet. The production run was short but, at that time, few aircraft were built in larger numbers. It was a time of aviation pioneers and the land plane was still some way behind the flying boat. For any long range routes, the ability to land and take off from water was still essential. The weight of long-range aircraft would have required longer runways, but rivers and lakes, or the coastal waters of distant countries provided the space to safely operate. Even so, conditions were often primitive and accidents during landing and taking off were still common. When an aircraft was seriously damaged there were unlikely to be adequate repair facilities, but that did not deter Imperial Airways from flying in engineers and spares to rebuild wrecks in the open and even to carryout major work afloat.
The author wrote what must be considered the definitive work on the Short Empire flying boat. There have been a number of excellent works, including the innovative Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual, but none have provided the depth of detail that the late author achieved, making this republishing even more welcome. The story is told in full from the starting point for the specification through to the breaking up of Empires after WWII. The pioneering route proving flights are covered, the time in airline service and the important service provided during WWII. After 1945 the Empires life was short because land planes were then proving more capable and cost effective, having achieved rapid development as bombers and then the conversion of surplus bombers and the hybrid production, such as the Boeing Stratocruiser, where new fuselage designs were mated to the wings and engines of successful heavy bombers. Completely new piston engine airliners were being designed and British aircraft manufacturers were already starting to design and build the first jet and turboprop airliners.
The crisp text is ably supported by some excellent and rare photographs. For anyone wanting to learn more about the Short Empire, this is a very good place to start and to see how the Empire led to the wartime Sunderland that was to prove an immensely capable maritime patrol and anti-shipping aircraft that provided vital service to RAF Coastal Command in Norway, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.