Short S.25 Sunderland / Sandringham


Sunderland: The S-25 Sunderland was a development by Shorts of the 'C' class flying boat. Intended to meet a specification for a 4-engine coastal patrol/ long range reconaissance aircraft, production was ordered by the Air Ministry in March 1936 even before the prototype was complete. The design incorporated Fraser-Nash turrets in the nose and tail, a re-positioned flight deck to accomodate the changes to the nose, and a sweep back on the wings to allow for a shift in the centre of gravity. The fuselage was split in two decks with a bomb room beneath the wings - bombs or depth charges being winched out on racks below the wings. The crew comforts included rest bunks, a galley with two primus stoves, and a naval style flushing head. The prototype (K4774) flew in October 1937, and the type entered service with the RAF in the following year. The aircraft was produced as a Mk.1 with Pegasus XXII engines (75), Mk.II with more powerful XXIII engines (58), Mk.III with modified planing hull and a dorsal turret (407), and in 1943 the Mk.V with 1200 hp P&W R-1830 Twin Wasp engines (143). The Mk.IV was later designated the Seaford and was the progenitor of the Solent (1 completed as a Seaford, 6 converted to Solents).

The RNZAF initially operated Four Mk III Sunderland Transport aircraft (NZ4101-4104). The transport variant of the Sunderland was originally developed for BOAC from the standard Mk.III in 1942, and began international operation in March 1943. These unarmed aircraft had the military equipment removed, fairings over the turret positions and an improved interior catering for 24 to 30 passengers. In January 1944 the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs offered the New Zealand Government four at a very reasonable rate. Although the sale was initially opposed by the US (which saw the aircraft as potential post-war airliners), the aircraft were delivered by air (taking a westerly route through Africa and the Americas) between October and December 1944. Officially brought on charge on December 4th, the aircraft were allocated to the Flying Boat Transport Flight and based at Hobsonville. After repainting and interior reconfiguration for the combined passenger/freight role, the aircraft began operation in February 1945. The routes were primarily Auckland-Fiji, and Auckland-Noumea-Espiritu Santo. With the end of the war the aircraft were heavily involved in repatriating service personnel until they were laid up at the end of 1945.

The four aircraft were:

The next phase in their service began in early 1946. During February and March, NZ4101 and NZ4102 were used by TEAL for training crews while they awaited delivery of their Sandringham aircraft. Representations to Government resulted in the re-establishment of a service to Fiji and on June 6, 1946 a weekly flight schedule commenced using NZ4102. In the meantime NZ4103 was converted for civil service, the work taking till October and the first post-conversion flight occuring on October 26th. By December 1946, 90% of the passengers on the Fiji service were fare paying civilians, and the government was under pressure to turn the operation over to a civil airline. The New Zealand Government had 'nationalised' domestic airline services and the New Zealand National Airways Corporation officially began operation on April 1 1947. However NAC lacked suitable international agreements and until these were finalised, the RNZAF continued to operate the services. On November 1 1947 NAC officially took over the South Pacific services being conducted by the RNZAF. In preparation for this the four aircraft were transferred to NAC on September 30. NZ4102 was registered as ZK-AMF and NZ4103 as ZK-AMG. However ZK-AMF was returned and its registration cancelled on December 22. In its place NZ4104 was civilianised and became ZK-AMK. (NZ4103 had been carrying out the service and NZ4102 was the 'standby'. Engineers considered NZ4104 to be the better airframe). In early 1948 NAC also began scheduled services from Wellington to the Chatham islands. However NAC were never very happy with operating the Sunderlands (they were underpowered and suffered numerous engine problems, as they had in RNZAF service) so they sought to pass the routes to TEAL. This occurred on June 6, 1950. The final service was by ZK-AMK over May 30-31. The aircraft made its final flight on June 1 after which it was delivered to Hobsonville.

The remaining aircraft were returned to the RNZAF (NZ4101 had been broken up for spares in 1949). The three beached aircraft were put up for tender by the Government stores board in May 1951. NZ4103/ZK-AMG and NZ4104/ZK-AMK were subsequently readvertised. NZ4102 was broken up in 1953-54. NZ4104 had a brief return to service in 1952 for use in conducting water and beaching drills as the RNZAF prepared for the arrival of GR Mk.5 Sunderlands. The remaining two Mk.III Sunderlands were broken up in 1955.

The RNZAF received 16 refurbished RAF MR.5 aircraft (NZ4105-4120) in 1953. These aircraft were allocated to No's 5 and 6 SQNs which operated them in long range maritime reconnaissance, ASW and SAR duties. Although chosen to meet New Zealand's commitment to patrol large areas of the South Pacific, the aircraft are probably best known for their 'Angel of Mercy' role - conducting mercy flights, delivering aid to civil disasters and carrying out searches. The aircraft were based at Hobsonville, and at Lauthala bay in Fiji. No 6 SQN was disbanded in 1957, and No 5 SQNs strength was steadily reduced until the Sunderlands were phased out in 1967. Two aircraft were lost in service - NZ4111 struck a reef in the Chathams in November1959 (where some of the wreck remains) and NZ4117 was written off after an accident at Tarawa in April 1961. NZ4108 was sold to Australian interests in 1963. Two aircraft (NZ4116 and NZ4119) had been dismantled for spares. NZ4110 became INST183, but was scrapped in the mid-1960's. One aircraft was given to MoTaT in 1966, and the remainder were sold for scrap (1965-67).

The aircraft were:

IdentityBuilderRNZAF ServiceFate
  • NZ4105
  • ex PP110 Shorts (Rochester) 13/06/53 - 02/08/66sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville
  • NZ4106
  • ex RN280 Blackburn (Dumbarton)24/04/54 - 03/05/67reduced to spares, Lauthala Bay
  • NZ4107
  • ex VB883 Blackburn (Dumbarton)22/09/54 - 03/05/67sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville
  • NZ4108
  • ex ML814 Shorts (Belfast) 13/06/53 - 12/12/63see below
  • NZ4109
  • ex DP191 Shorts (Windemere) 21/07/53 - ??/??/65sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville
  • NZ4110
  • ex PP129 Shorts (Rochester) 05/10/53 - 14/10/59became INST183, scrapped 1964 Hobsonville
  • NZ4111
  • ex VB880 Blackburn (Dumbarton)06/09/53 - 04/11/59wrecked Te Whaanga Lagoon, Chatham Islands.
  • NZ4112
  • ex VB881 Blackburn (Dumbarton)02/04/66 - 02/04/66sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville
  • NZ4113
  • ex PP124 Shorts (Rochester) 07/08/54 - 03/05/67sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville
  • NZ4114
  • ex SZ561 Shorts (Belfast) 02/08/54 - 06/02/67sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville
  • NZ4115
  • ex SZ584 Shorts (Belfast) 17/11/53 - 09/12/66see below
  • NZ4116
  • ex EJ167 Shorts (Belfast) 27/07/53 - 06/02/67sold to Northland Coastguard, displayed Whangarei, scrapped after being heavily vandalised
  • NZ4117
  • ex RN286 Blackburn (Dumbarton)09/05/55 - 18/8/61Damaged at Tarawa, and scrapped Lauthala Bay
  • NZ4118
  • ex RN306 Blackburn (Dumbarton)13/05/54 - ??/??/65sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville
  • NZ4119
  • ex PP143 Blackburn (Dumbarton)22/04/54 - 02/10/62Reduced to Spares
  • NZ4120
  • ex RN291 Blackburn (Dumbarton)06/05/54 - 02/08/66sold for scrap, broken up Hobsonville

    The survivors are:

    In addition parts of NZ4111 (ex VB880) and NZ4112 (ex VB881) are on display in several locations in Christchurch. The flight deck and nose of NZ4112 is held by the Ferrymead Aeronautical Society, while various other parts of NZ4111 recovered from the Chatham Islands are on display at the RNZAF Museum. (illustrated below).

    Sandringham: The S.25 Sandringham had its origin in the Mk.III Transport variant of the Sunderland described above. BOAC had operated twenty-four of these during the war. After refurbishment of these aircraft to a more 'airline-like' standard, these were known as the 'Hythe' class. One of these (G-AGKX ex ML788) was rebuilt at Rochester to produce the Sandringham Mk.I in November 1945. The changes were primarily to add a more streamlined nose and tail structure in place of the previous fairings. A more streamlined windscreen was added and a mooring compartment in the nose more like the earlier S.23 'Empire' boats was fitted. The interior of the aircraft was fitted out for 24 seats or 16 berths on two decks and had seperate bar and dining facilities. The sole example of the Mk.I was fitted with Pegasus XXIII engines. The remainder were fitted with P&W R-1830 Twin Wasp engines. Twenty-eight further Sunderlands were converted.

    The P&W R-1830-92B powered Mk.II was fitted out for 43 passengers. Three were converted for Flota Aerea Mercante Argentina (FAMA), an Argentinian operator. The Mk.III which went to the same operator was originally distinguished by a smaller number of passengers - but the two aircraft were later changed to the Mk.II configuration. Four of the P&W R-1830-92C powered Mk.IV with Accommodation for 30 and an extended range were converted for TEAL (more on these below). The Mk.V had Accommodation for 30 (later reduced to 22) on a single deck and was powered by P&W R-1830-92D engines. Nine were converted for BOAC who operated them as the 'Plymouth' class. The three Mk.VI aircraft were converted for Det Norsk Luftfartselskap (DNL) in Norway. The 30 seat Mk.VII was originally intended for the BOAC New York-Bermuda run. Three were converted and although actually flown on South African and Far Eastern routes were known as the 'Bermuda class. (JM719 G-AKCO/VH-APG/F-OBIP survives at Le Bourget)

    When the war ended Tasman Empire Airlines (TEAL) looked to replace its two S.30 Flying Boats which had been in operation on the Tasman route since 1940. Airline preference was for DC-4 aircraft, but political pressure meant that flying boats would be retained. At that time the Solent was still under development, so in the interim four Sandringhams were leased from the British Ministry of Supply. The aircraft had been converted at Short Bros & Harland's factory in Belfast, and were then flown to New Zealand. Operations from the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland to Rose Bay in Sydney commenced in September 1946 and the S.30s were withdrawn on October 29). TEAL went from 9 scheduled services per fortnight in August to daily services (except Sunday) at the end of September. The Auckland-Sydney services were later expanded to include Wellington-Sydney

    The services were not without difficulty and the aircraft engines were found to be prone to overheating. The aircraft were not pressurised so could not go above 10,000 feet and were subject to the vagaries of the weather (the Tasman is noted for its bad weather). On December 3 1947 a near disaster occured when ZK-AME suffered engine problems and with one engine out was forced to within 100 feet of the sea. The descent was arrested by the jettisoning of freight (including mail) and luggage. A subsequent commission of inquiry found irregularities in the issuing of a CoA for the Sandringhams as some performance figures had not been supplied by the manufacturer. All four aircraft were grounded on February 23 1948 while paperwork and mechanical problems were sorted out Changes were subsequently made to the engine cowling and baffles which solved some of the problems. (In sweeping the wings of the Sunderland, Shorts had not changed the angle of the engine to the leading edge - this was rectified with the Solent IV). Sandringham operations resumed on June 17, 1948. In the interim, scheduled services were carried out with leased DC-4 aircraft. In another incident an aircraft made a hurried landing after suffering engine failure while taking off from Rose Bay in Sydney. It was subsequently found that Air Ministry supplied barrels of lubricating oil contained tanning oil.

    The long awaited Solent IVs began delivery in September 1949, and went into service on November 14. The last TEAL Sandringham scheduled service was made (ironically by ZK-AME) on December 19. The aircraft were subsequently sold off, as detailed in the aircraft histories below. The aircraft were:

    The fouth and final TEAL Sandringham is the sole survivor:

    Last Update:- 29 November, 2001

    Technical Data

    Data is for Sunderland MR.5


    ZK-AMH / VH-BRC : On October 4, 2001 I had the pleasure of visiting the Southampton Hall of Aviation. The Sandringham aircraft is in excellent condition, and is only one of a number of interesting exhibits. More pictures from my visit can be found here. The museum staff are happy to guide visitors around the Sandringham (including the flightdeck). The pictures below give an idea of the beauty of the aircraft.

    NZ4115 : These pictures of NZ4115 show the aircraft between 1993 and 1998 - the improvement in the state of the aircraft in the intervening period is quite noticable. Restoration is continuing - the major work is expected to take another 2-3 years. Plans are also underway to get the aircraft permanently under cover.

    port front quarter side view starboard nose starboard nose port nose port nose port float port stern quarter restoration at work

    Close Up

    Not too specific yet - but I intend adding to this set. Remember to let me know if you have a request for an image of a particular part of the aircraft!

    port float beaching gear beaching gear nose nose turret nose turret cockpit

    stern turret

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