Ships are my first love, and I have always had an affection for aircraft too. But there is one aircraft that transcends both land and sea, and that is the flying boat. I was very amazed to discover one in Southampton at the Solent Sky Museum, and I shifted my priorities slightly to be able to experience this piece of aviation history.
Technically the aircraft is a Short Sunderland, but she was converted into a Sandringham in 1947. She is a chunky aircraft and on land she looks clumsy, and it seems as if she is looking out of the window at the distant water and dreaming of the days gone by.
Her passenger accommodation is spacious, and much better than the “knees up your nose” sardine tin accommodation on todays mass market aircraft. But back in those days long distant travel was a much longer affair, and it could take many days to get to your destination. Going by ship was a very viable alternative too.
In 1947 she made the long trip out to New Zealand and remained in service with various operators until withdrawn in 1974. A further career in the Caribbean kept her going until 1978. She was then placed in storage.
She finally arrived in Calshot in 1981, having flown a total of 19500 hours. In 1982 the aircraft was purchased by the Science Museum and was destined to be the centre piece of what is now the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton.
The aircraft is in the Ansett Flying Boat Services “Delta” colours, and is registered as VH-BRC, and carries the name “Beachcomber”.
The aircraft could carry 30 passengers, and it must have been quite a thrill to be on board during take-off and landing. She is a big aircraft and it is difficult to imagine her taxing across the water.
The aircraft is “open” for viewing and a guide will take you up into the cockpit to see the view outside from “the office”.
And, you can stick your head out of the hatch for a view of the tail…
It must have been quite an experience to sit up there with those 4 engines so close to your head, and just blue sea below, or even just standing on that maintenance platform working on the engines.
Even her wing floats are big, and compare with some of the smaller aircraft in the museum.
And being a working aircraft she had lots of hidden areas too, which were the domain of members of her crew.
Like many other Sunderlands this particular aircraft saw service during World War 2, and as such would have looked very different inside. They were particularly feared by U-boats and earned the nickname “the Flying Porcupine” by those who ended up on the wrong end of the stick.
Sadly, there are very few of these big flying boats left, they were part of a unique part of world and aviation history and as such have faded into memory. However, I am glad that I got to visit this sleeping beauty in a city that they would have called home. I just wish that I had been able to see her in her natural element.
Solent Sky is a wonderful museum and it is worth going there just to see this old lady. I have more pics of the museum on allatsea
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 10/04/2016