Beachcomber (VH-BRC) waits for departure at Sydney's Rose Bay flying boat base.
Beachcomber was built in the United Kingdom as a Short Sunderland Mark 3 flying boat in 1943 (Short Bros construction number 2018). Sunderlands were a military flying boat, the design being based on the Empire flying boat. They were slightly smaller than the Empire flying boat, but still a big aircraft for the time. This one did not operate as a Sunderland, being kept in reserve. In 1947 it was converted by Short Bros to a Sandringham Mark IV Tasman class flying boat.
The Sandringham flying boat was a major rebuild of the Sunderland for civilian service. It had seating for thirty passengers, and from October 1947 to December 1949 was used by Tasman Empire Air Lines (TEAL, now Air New Zealand) on the Australia — New Zealand route.
In 1950 this flying boat was refitted with 41 seats for domestic service on the Australian east coast. In that service it had various owners. The seating was arranged in compartments, as in a railway carriage, with passengers facing each other. There was plenty of space, and leg room. It provided a civilised form of air travel.
Meanwhile Islander (VH-BRF) waits in Rose Bay, and will follow Beachcomber, after its departure for Lord Howe Island. At this time two flying boats — Islander and Beachcomber were in service on the Lord Howe Island run. The timetable varied from day to day, and was dictated by the tides at Lord Howe Island. One flying boat followed the other, apparently one on its own was insufficient to carry the load.
Islander was built in the United Kingdom as a Short Sunderland Mark 3 flying boat in 1944 (Short Bros construction number SH.113). It worked in the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Norwegian Air Force, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force before being taken out of service in New Zealand in 1959. It was sold to Ansett in 1963. They refitted it at Rose Bay in 1964 as a passenger flying boat, seating 42 people. Unlike Beachcomber, the seating was arranged in the normal aircraft way, all facing forward. This made travelling on Islander less interesting than Beachcomber. On Beachcomber you could strike up a conversation with your fellow travellers, and have more leg room.
Ansett purchased Islander to replace Short Sandringham flying boat VH-BRE Pacific Chieftan which had been damaged beyond repair in July 1963, when it broke its moorings during an overnight storm at Lord Howe Island.
Close up of Islander's tail.
And the front end.
On board Beachcomber with window seat downstairs in cabin A or B — an ideal location for photography. As the long slow lumbering take-off begins, Islander can be seen outside the window.
The take-off continues ...
and another view of Islander during Beachcomber's take-off.
An interesting view of the non-flying boat Shintai.
At last Beachcomber is airborne, whilst a Sydney harbour ferry goes on its way.
After about 2-1/2 hours the island came into sight. This is Balls Pyramid, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Lord Howe Island. The flying boats cruise speed was about 150 mph (240 km/h), and top speed around 200 mph (320 km/h). .
Fortunately — from my viewpoint — we ran into a storm on the way, and the flight became exceedingly rough, which made the trip far more interesting and therefore better value for money! It is the only time I have been on an aircraft where the rain has leaked in through the windows.
Coming in to the lagoon at Lord Howe Island.
Beachcomber at Lord Howe Island with the service launch under its wing.
Beachcomber at Lord Howe Island with a smaller service launch under its wing.
A view of Lord Howe Island near the airport.
Islander with a service launch departing.
Beachcomber on the left, and Islander at Lord Howe Island
Close up of Beachcomber.
The departure jetty at Lord Howe Island. Passengers were ferried to the flying boat on the launch. Beachcomber can be seen in the top left already on its way, whilst Islander waits to take its passengers on board.
"Landing" in a flying boat was interesting. As the hull made contact with the water it sounded as if the hull was being pounded by rocks, and there was a lot of spray temporarily obliterating vision through the windows.
Fortunately both Beachcomber and Islander have survived and been preserved in museums. Neither have operated since the early 1990s, and neither now have airworthiness certificates. Beachcomber belongs to the Science Museum, London, and is on display at the Southampton "Hall of Aviation". It has been returned to the condition and livery it was in when last operated by Ansett on the Lord Howe Island service. Islander is on display at the Fantasy of Flight Museum, Miami, Florida, USA.
This link gives a concise but detailed life history of the Short Sandringham flying boat VH-BRC Beachcomber illustrated above, and includes many photographs including pictures of the interior.
This link gives a concise but detailed life history of the Short Sunderland flying boat VH BRF Islander illustrated above, and includes many photographs including pictures of the interior.
This link lists all Short flying boats known to have operated in Australia, with links to details of each of them. Note, the flying boats are listed by registration code, not construction number. As most flying boats had a number of registration codes during their life the number of entries on the list far exceeds the number of flying boats which actually operated.
This is a pdf containing images of international and Lord Howe Island flying boats, and other memorabilia, which featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney in 2008.
This is a detailed article on the era of flying boats in Australia.
Another detailed article on the flying boat era - this one in reCollections, Journal of the National Museum of Australia.
This is a webpage of the current owners of Islander. It includes many photographs, technical specifications, and a very interesting description of how Short flying boats were manoeuvred in the water.
This is a webpage of the current custodians of Beachcomber.
This is a website operated by a flying-boat enthusiast. If you select "Walk-Rounds" on the home-page menu, then go down the list to "SHORTS" and find "Sandringham" click on this and it will lead you to a wonderful collection of detailed photographs of Beachcomber preserved in the Southampton "Hall of Aviation" museum. These include all parts of its interior.
Now go back to the home page and select "References" on the menu, then select "Short Empire Reference Archive". You will now find a marvellous collection of information on Short Empire flying-boats, including the full maintenance manual in pdf form (20 Mb), and two books in pdf format.
This link gives details of Lord Howe Island
Links to YouTube videos
This is an excellent 8 minute 40 second film taken towards the end of the Lord Howe Island operation. It includes cockpit scenes, taking-off and "landing" at Sydney and Lord Howe Island, and views of the flying boats in flight. The in-flight views around Sydney are particularly interesting as the flying boats are shown with Sydney harbour bridge, the opera house, and modern high rise buildings as backdrops.
If you only watch one of these videos — this is the one to watch!
This is a 43 second extract from the film above. It shows Beachcomber taking off, and includes a glimpse of Islander waiting to follow.
This shows the former Beachcomber in flight and landing on the Solent River, Southampton in 1977, in preparation for its preservation at the Hall of Aviation, Southampton, England.
This is a 10 minute item made up of extracts from a number of 1937 and 1938 newsreel films showing Qantas and Imperial Airlines Short Empire flying boats doing test and demonstration runs in England, Ireland, Newfoundland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
This is a 3-minute addition to the previous item. It is a 1938 newsreel film the Empire flying boats of Qantas and Imperial Airways in Australia, New Zealand and England.
This is a 4 minute documentary recording the use of Sunderland flying boats in 1948 operating between Hamburg and a lake in the western sector of Berlin, to help provide vital supplies to the residents of West Berlin at a time when the USSR had blocked all land access to West Berlin.
All photographs Copyright Frank Stamford who may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: 29 December 2009