Short Solent

The Solent was a development of the Short S.45 Seaford, which was in turn a development of the Sunderland ( and originally designated Sunderland IV). The first aircraft produced was a civilianised Seaford, and after trials, 12 aircraft were ordered for BOAC service. These Solent II's carried a crew of seven and 30 passengers. In 1948 six unfinished Seafords were completed as Solent III's, capable of carrying 39 passengers. In 1949 TEAL ordered four of what would be the final model, the 44 passenger Solent IV. This featured a number of changes to meet TEAL specifications, including the 2040 hp Bristol Hercules 733 engines (compared to the 1690 hp Hercules 733) on improved mounts which made the engine thrust line parallel to the airframe centreline (rather than splayed outward 3 degrees as on the earlier models), a maximum all up weight of 36,742kg (81,000lb) compared to the 35,643 (78,600lb) Solent III, and a range of 3745km. Two and a half years after the BOAC Solents entered service, BOAC ended all its Flying Boat operations and the aircraft went into storage. One of these Solent III's was purchased by TEAL in 1951 as Solent production had ended.

The Solent was the final flying boat type operated by TEAL, an airline best remembered for such services. In 1935 the Chairman of the Union Steamship Company Ltd (Norrie Falla) had raised the possibility of a Trans-Tasman air link with Imperial Airways services. In 1937, after protracted discussions, the Short S23 Empire Class flying boat 'Centaurus' (G-ADUT) was used to prove the route, arriving in Auckland on December 27th. Subsequently Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL) was formed with a shareholding split between the New Zealand Government, Union Airways, Imperial Airways and QANTAS (the three airlines effectively operating TEAL for their respective governments). An order of three S30 flying boats (a development of the S23 with Bristol Perseus XIIc engines, a 2400km range and higher all up weight) for QANTAS was diverted to TEAL - although only two were eventually delivered, the third being diverted for wartime services with Imperial Airways and BOAC. The two aircraft ZK-AMA (c/n S886) 'Aoteoroa' and ZK-AMC (c/n S884) 'Awarua' went into service in 1940 and flew Tasman and Pacific routes until 1947. In 1946 the decision was taken to replace the S30's with Sandringhams IV's (a civil modification of the Sunderland III). The decision was a political one, overiding a preference amongst TEAL's senior personnel for land-based DC-4's. The 'Tasman Class' Sandringhams (ZK-AMB/ML761 'Tasman', ZK-AMD/NJ255 'Australia', ZK-AME/NJ719 'New Zealand', and ZK-AMH/JM715 'Auckland') only remained in service until 1949, proving to be underpowered and prone to overheating in the trans-Tasman environment. They were replaced in 1949 by the Short Solent IV. Again the decision had political overtones as TEAL's senior personnel still preferred land-based DC-4's or DC-6's.

TEAL's trans-Tasman Solent services commenced in November 1949, beginning with Auckland-Sydney and then Wellington-Sydney in 1950. The RNZAF Sunderland services to Fiji were also taken over by TEAL, as well as services to the Chatham Islands. In December 1951 the Coral route was established - this was primarily a mail service, but provided one of the last 'luxury' tourist routes. The journey harked back to the 1930's with the twin deck flying boat carrying a relatively small number of passengers. Initially a monthly service, the journeys were made fortnightly in 1952, and the route extended to include Samoa. The route and typical flying times were: Auckland - (7.30hrs) - Fiji - (3.45hrs) - Samoa - (5.00hrs) - Cook Islands - ( 4.05hrs) - Tahiti.

In March 1954 three DC-6's were transferred to TEAL after the winding up of British Commonwealth Pacific Airways. This sounded the finale for the trans-Tasman flying boat services as the Solents were replaced on the Tasman and Fiji routes. One Solent IV, ZK-AMO was retained for the Coral route and the Solent III ZK_AMQ provided a reserve. The final flight from Fiji occurred on September 15th, 1960. After due ceremony, the aircraft departed from the flying boat base at Lauthala Bay carrying somewhat modified markings to return to Mechanics Bay in Auckland. From there it was towed to Hobsonville for storage before being beached for display at MOTAT.

The other TEAL Solent IVs were ZK-AML 'Aoteoroa II' (c/n SH-1556), ZK-AMM 'Ararangi' (c/n SH-1557), and ZK-AMN 'Awatere' (c/n SH-1558). The sole Solent III was ZK-AMQ 'Aparima (c/n S-1296) which was originally G-AKNR 'City of Belfast' with BOAC. AMQ was scrapped at Auckland in 1957 after making its last flight in October 1956. AMM was broken up for spares after being damaged in a fire during maintainance in May 1954. AML and AMN were sold to Aquila Airways - an English company formed to provide air support during the Berlin Airlift in 1948 which went on to fly from Southampton to various Mediterranean destinations. Unfortunately the company failed in 1958 and the flying boats were left to become derelict on a beach in the Tagus Estuary near Lisbon, Portugal. They were eventually scrapped in August 1971.

The aircraft illustrated below, ZK-AMO 'Aranui' (c/n SH-1559) is the world's sole surviving Solent IV. (although there are also several Solent III's in existence). Built by Short Bros & Harland of Belfast, the aircraft was delivered in November 1949. As noted above, after entering service in December 1949 Aranui remained in operation until 1960, flying the 'coral' route. This is the last purpose built large commercial flying boat, and as such has an important place in aviation history.

Design Company:

Short Brothers & Harland Ltd

First Flight:

11 November 1946

Solent 2:

12 - Short, Rochester

Solent 4:

4 - Shorts, Belfast

Type Specification

Applies to:

Short Solent 2

Type:

Commercial flying boat

Wing:

High wing cantilever monoplane. All metal structure

Hull:

All metal structure, single step hull

Tail Unit:

Cantilever monoplane type. Single fin and rudder

Landing Gear:

None

Power Plant:

Four 1,690 hp Bristol Hercules 637 radial air cooled engines, four bladed metal airscrews

Accommodation:

Crew of seven and 34 passengers

Dimensions

Span:

112 ft 9 in

Length:

87 ft 8 in

Height:

Unknown

Wing Area:

1,487 sq ft

Weights

Empty:

47,760 lb

All-up:

78,000 lb

Performance

Max Speed:

273 mph

Range:

1,800 miles