Short S.23 Empire


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Short S.23 Empire

In 1935 the British government took the bold decision to carry all mail within the Empire at the ordinary surface rate (in Britain then equal to 0.625 p). Combined with.increasing passenger traffic, this called for a sudden expansion of Imperial Airways and the equally bold decision was taken to buy 28 of a totally new flying-boat 'off the drawing board' from Short Brothers. Flying-boats were then favoured because they could be more heavily loaded than landplanes, the latter being constricted by the small and rough fields available. The prototype S.23 made its very successful maiden flight on 4 July 1936. It was named Canopus and all sister-ships had names beginning with C, the boats also being known as the C class.

Features included light-alloy stressed-skin construction; a cantilever high wing with electric Gouge flaps; four 685W Bristol Pegasus Xc radial engines driving DH Hamilton two-position propellers; and a streamlined nose incorporating an enclosed flight deck for captain, first officer, navigator and flight clerk. A steward's pantry was amidships and in the normal configuration seats were arranged in front and rear cabins for 24 passengers. On long hauls sleeping accommodation was provided for 16, with a promenade lounge. On some routes experience showed that the mail capacity had to be raised from 1.5 to 2 tonnes, reducing the passenger seats to 17.

All 28 were delivered, plus three for Qantas (Australia). Two were long-range boats with increased weight and transatlantic range. Eleven S.30s (eight for Imperial and three for Tasman Empire Airways) had 663kW Perseus XIIc sleeve-valve engines and greater range - the first four also being equipped for flight refuelling to greater weight. The final two boats were S.33s with increased weight and Pegasus engines.

During World War II most of these great aircraft served on long routes all over the world. Four were impressed for RAF use with radar (two being destroyed in Norway in May 1940) and most were re-engined with the same 752kW Pegasus 22 engines as the Sunderlands (the derived military version). Their achievements were amazing: one made 442 crossings of the Tasman Sea, two evacuated 469 troops from Crete and one was flown out of a small river in the Belgian Congo in 1940. Others maintained schedules on the North Atlantic, between Britain and Africa, the dangerous Mediterranean route from Gibraltar to Malta and Cairo, and the Horseshoe route between Australia, India and South Africa. Most were retired in 1947

Short S.23 Empire

 ENGINE4 x Bristol Pegasus XC, 686kW
  Take-off weight18370 kg40499 lb
  Empty weight10659 kg23499 lb
  Wingspan34.75 m114 ft 0 in
  Length26.82 m88 ft 0 in
  Height9.7 m32 ft 10 in
  Wing area139.35 m21499.95 sq ft
  Max. speed322 km/h200 mph
  Cruise speed265 km/h165 mph
  Ceiling6095 m20000 ft
  Range1223 km760 miles

Short S.23 EmpireA three-view drawing (602 x 779)

Comments1-20 21-40
Derek Hughey, e-mail, 24.07.2017 10:01

This message is for Charles Woodhouse. A number of years ago, I acquired a large grouping of your father's career papers and his uniform insignia. I would be very interested in asking you some questions about his career. You can contact me at Thank you.


DON CARLINE, e-mail, 20.07.2017 08:19

I was Apprenticed to TASMAN EMPIRE AIRWAYS LTD (TEAL) from 1953 to 1958, working on SHORT SOLENTS S45 Mark IV. One is preserved at Auckland, NZ Museum of Technology and Transport (MOTAT). RMA stood for Royal Mail Aircraft as mails were more important than passengers in those days!


Warwick Pryce, e-mail, 20.04.2017 15:15

Answer for Trevor More -- the last S.23 to be broken up was Qantas VH-ABG "Coriolanus" at the end of 1947 /beginning of 1948. The one you mention as lasting till 1954 was TEAL S.30 ZK-AMA "Aotearoa" which had ended service in mid-1947 & was used as a tearooms at Mission Bay, Auckland NZ from August 1948 till October 1950 when it was scrapped in that month in 1950. The 1954 date is a much repeated mistake, and a visit to the library copies of the NZ Herald & Auckland Star daily newspapers of Oct 1950 will confirm the facts.


Robert Egerton, e-mail, 02.12.2016 00:23

I flew from Poole to Karachi in Canopus on 16 May 1940,
I know we landed at Biscarosse then Marseilles then near Rome.
I remember landing at Alexandria and know we broke a float strut wire at Habbanayah.... My mother and I left the flying boat at Karachi and went on, I believe by land plane, train and dugout canoe to Pasi Ghat in Assam...


Doug Lambert, e-mail, 14.05.2015 22:34

Ken-- Presumably R.M.A. stands for Royal Mail Aircraft.


Charles Woodhouse, e-mail, 14.04.2015 16:55

My father, Hugh Oswald Woodhouse, forever known as "PG" from his Point Cook days was a Senior Captain on S23's and S30's from January 1938 to November 1946, having notched up nearly 2,000 hours on HP42's. In December 1946 just before my third birthday I and my family flew from Durban to Paris in a C Class 'boat and on to Southampton in a Sunderland conversion and I can still remember snippets of this journey, including being put out on the wing on Lake Vitoria to dry out after my brother and I vomited on Captain Parker and were subsequently hosed down!
I have all my father's log books from Point Cook, 16 Squadron RAF and Imperial Airways /BOAC until he was grounded in November 1946 with suspected Glaucoma, and they make fascinating reading. I also have a few small parts from S23's which I am donating to the Imperial Airways Museum in the UK.


Ken Simmons, e-mail, 22.12.2014 05:23

I have a postal cover that was carried on the Cavalier in its first flight from Bermuda to New York (16 June 1937). Stamped on the cover is R.M.A. Cavalier. Does anyone know what the abbreviation R.M.A. stands for?


Patricia, e-mail, 25.05.2014 07:02

I flew from Australia to Singapore on 24th July, 1941 with my mother in the Empire flying-boat "Canopus" G-ADHL and have a Qantas Empire Airways certificate re having crossed the equator in it. I was not quite 2 years of age, so have no recollection of the journey. Mum told me it took 3 days to get there (don't know if that's a fact).
More information can be found on:-
Short Empire, C Class Flying Boat - Museum Victoria (Australia) /collections /... /short-empire-c-class-flying-boat
The Short S.23, C Class Empire flying boat was designed for long-range ... Class flying boat G-ADHL ' Canopus' was donated to the Museum by Qantas Empire ...


Beverley Dawes, e-mail, 07.10.2013 11:48

HI, My grandfather was crew on the Canopus but thats all we know. We would really love any details, photographs etc. If anyone has anything at all we would appreciate it.
His name was Joseph Hibbs and he worked for Imperial Air.
Thank you.
Bev Dawes, Buckinghamshire, UK.


Brian Tilley, e-mail, 27.01.2013 13:36

I was in the RAF and flew in th Canopus flying boat from Cairo in Spring 1946 to Dubai landing to refuel on the Dead Sea and on lake Habbaniyah for an overnight stop then Kuwait & Bahrain Onto Dubai. For duty at RAF Sharjah It truly was a wonderful experience for a young man of 18 . Canopus was the first C Class to be built and was dismantled in December 1946 the year in which I flew in her.


David Gurney, e-mail, 21.11.2012 22:17

My father Captain 'Mack" Gurney was a senior captain flying these aircraft from Durban to England. He also ran the Imperial Airways Flyingb Training School at Vaal Dam. Have some literature and history about thewse wonderful machines.


Tom Heald, e-mail, 26.06.2012 17:25

I also servrd my apprenticeship in Shorts 1951 /56 and had many flights on the Sunderland as ballast?? We had 2015 Air Training Squadron and apprentice supervisor was Squadron Leader that's why we got the flights. Even had one landing in bomb aimers position. Quite an experience landing in Belfast Lough


John White, e-mail, 05.03.2012 11:55

I served on the last of the R.A.F. Sunderlands of 205 /209 Sqdrn in the Far East from 1956
to 1959 when they were finished . They were wonderful aircraft to work on, and fly in.


Doug Rodrigues, e-mail, 06.07.2011 21:37

I don't know if Shorts made more than one type of Flying Boat, but there is a Shorts flying boat on display at the Air Museum located next to the Oakland International Airport in Oakland, California, USA. I got to walk through the plane a couple of years ago. It's still there.


Jeff Renshaw, e-mail, 27.09.2010 18:26

My father, E. W. "Ted" Renshaw, was navigator /radioman on the Canopus and other "C" class flying boats. Used to enjoy listening to him tell of flights throughout Africa and the east. I believe there is a front section, including cockpit, of a Short Brothers flying boat at the museum in Southampton, not sure which model.


Yoel Sher, e-mail, 16.03.2010 03:52

I have wonderful memories from a five day flight as a child on both the oldest boat Canopus and the newest one Cleopatra in January 1941, from Lourenco-Marques (Maputo, today) to Tiberias. Part of the trip was a fantastic safari, flying probably not higher than one thousand feet.We "landed" wherever there was some water, and stayed overnught at Mombassa, on Victoria Lake at Kisume, on the Nile at Khartoum and then in Cairo.
Would it be possible to find photos and the names of the crew members operating at that time?


Lyle Beavers, e-mail, 23.06.2020 Yoel Sher

I have two certificates of contemporary travel from the Canopus dated 14 /1 /1939. The commander George C. Bults. Would be happy to send you a picture if you are still around and interested.


Martin Holmes, e-mail, 12.09.2009 22:30

What a way to travel. How I wish it were still possible! My Dad worked on these beautiful machines up and down Africa and along the Nile during the War with Imperial Air /BOAC...Cairo, Khartoum, Wadi-Halfa, Durban,and other places. At one time, both he (Stanley) and his elder brother (Dick), were "web-footers".


JACK CAIRNS, e-mail, 18.04.2009 04:42



Geoff Gurr, e-mail, 30.10.2008 23:38

I flew as passenger in a C Class 'boat from Cairo to Nairobi, then later from Mombasa to Diego Suarez in Madagascar in 1944. Is there any way to trace the names of these 'boats, please?


sandra.walters, e-mail, 31.10.2007 12:30

Can you please give details of which flying boats were used on the Southampton - Vaal Dam South Africa route. Also what speed did she travel, how many passengers and the exact route (with stops) many thanks


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