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In December of 1934, after British postal authorities announced plans to deliver all overseas Empire mail by air without surcharge, Imperial Airways placed an order with Short Brothers Ltd. of Rochester, England for 28 large flying boats. At that time flying boats, rather than land-based aircraft, were used for overseas air travel, for they have proven their effectiveness in 1919, when the U.S. Navy flying boat NC-4 made the first successful aerial crossing of the Atlantic.
As a result of the Imperial Airways' order, the Canopus, the first Short S.23 "C" class flying boat, was delivered for service at the end of October 1936. It was the largest British-built passenger-carrying monoplane of its time.
The Short "C" class boats, as they came to be known, were initially powered by four Bristol Pegasus nine-cylinder radial engines developing 910 horsepower each. The plane had a wingspan of 114 feet, a length of 88 feet and weighed over 20 tons when fully loaded for takeoff. Its maximum speed was 200 miles per hour at 5,500 feet, with an absolute ceiling of 20,000 feet.
The hull of the giant flying boat was divided into two decks. There was space for 3,000 pounds of mail and cargo on the upperdeck and seats of 24 passengers on the lower deck.
The porpoise-shaped Short flying boat was a handsome and airworthy craft that extended the United Kingdom airmail service to the farthest corners of the empire. On July 5 and 6, 1937 it crossed the Atlantic on a test flight that proved to be a prelude to regular transatlantic service inaugurated on August 8, 1939. The service was interrupted after only eight flights because of the outbreak of World War II. Short"C" class flying boats were used throughout the war, and several remained in operation until 1947, when they were withdrawn from service.
By that time the 42 "C" class flying boats built by Short Brothers Ltd. had flown almost 38 millions miles, and the Canopus, flagship of the fleet, flew about 2,800,000 miles during its career. Finally, the development of larger, faster ocean- and continent-spanning aircraft rendered the Short "C" class flying boat obsolete, but during the ten years it was in use this dependable transport compiled an outstanding record of service.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004