Supermarine Stranraer – the last flourish of the military biplane flying-boat

By: shortfinals

Sep 10 2011

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, British Isles, Great Britain, military, Museums, RAF, Royal Air Force, Second World War

1 Comment

Focal Length:18mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

During WWI, both Britain and the United States built numbers of large, biplane flying-boats and used them to patrol far out over the oceans, searching for enemy surface fleets, downed aviators and the new menace, enemy submarines. By the 1920s, the original stocks of early flying-boats were just about worn out. Even though the Royal Air Force had very little money to spend, it recognized that control of the sea lanes and maritime reconnaissance was vital for an island nation (with an Empire, no less), so a new generation of sea-worthy flying-boats was proposed. One of these was the Supermarine Southampton, the first examples of which were delivered to No. 480 (Coastal Reconnaissance) Flight in 1925. The Southampton, and a long line of successor biplane flying-boats from Supermarine, were hardly the epitome of streamlined elegance, yet they were all designed by the very man who was to give us the ultimate in sleek fighter design, Reginald J. Mitchell, the ‘father’ of the Supermarine Spitfire! Not only that, the test pilot who performed first flight of the prototype Stranraer, on 27th July, 1934, the legendary Captain Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers, also performed the same task with the prototype Spitfire!

In 1935, an official specification was issued (Spec. 17/35) for a general reconnaissance flying-boat. Supermarine replied to the request with a developed version of the Southampton called the Stranraer (it was originally called the Southampton Mk. V). Powered (in its production version) by two Bristol Pegasus X radials of 875hp, it carried up to 1,000lb of bombs and was armed with three Lewis .303 machineguns in open positions at the nose, tail and amidships. The first examples were taken on charge by No. 228 Squadron, RAF at Pembroke Dock in Wales during 1936. The Stranraer was already obsolescent as it entered service, the Consolidated PBY Catalina having begun flying with the U S Navy in 1936, but it continued to patrol the coastal waters around Britain with No. 201 and 209 Squadrons until late 1940 when modern flying-boats, such as the Short Sunderland, arrived. Some were used for second-line duties in ‘home waters’ until 1941, at least.

Across the Atlantic, the Stranraer had a longer and even more interesting career. Forty examples were built by Canadian Vickers Ltd, at their St. Hubert facility in Montreal, Quebec, and used to patrol both Pacific and Atlantic coasts, for example, by No. 5 (BR) Squadron, Eastern Air Command, RCAF out of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, from 1939-1941. The last 23 aircraft were fitted with Pegasus XXII engines, offering (briefly) 1,010 hp at take-off. However, range was always a problem (around 800 miles, maximum, at a cruising speed of 105mph, using 91 octane fuel), and the Stranraer was slowly replaced by a Canadian-built version of the Catalina, called the Canso. The Stranraer was finally declared surplus to RCAF requirements in 1946. Thirteen aircraft were sold to to civilian operators, including Queen Charlotte Airlines of British Columbia, and three were acquired by Aero Transport Ltd., of Tampa, Florida under an export Type Certificate No. 2-574 (revised, 15th October 1945). Two aircraft were modified with Wright R-1820-G202GA engines of 1,000 hp, and known as ‘Super Stranraers’. The final civilian versions were withdrawn in 1957.

Here we see the sole surviving complete Stranraer, ex-CF-BYO (c/n 209), in the Royal Air Force Museum, London, as part of the ‘Wings over Water’ exhibit (the remains of another Stranraer are in the Shearwater Aviation Museum, Halifax, Canada). After service with No. 5 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron, it was transferred to Western Air Command, where it was used by No. 13 Operational Training Squadron, and No. 3 Operational Training Unit at Patricia Bay, British Columbia, as well as No. 7 (BR) and No. 9 (BR) Squadrons in Western Air Command. It has been fitted with Wright R-1820 engines, a larger entrance door and other modifications to suit its civilian operations with Canadian Pacific Airlines, Queen Charlotte Airlines and other operators. The aircraft is wearing the codes and aircraft number it wore when with No. 5 (BR) Squadron, RCAF.

The Stranraer was outmoded before it even reached either RAF or RCAF units, however, it gave valiant service, under extremely difficult weather conditions. We are extremely fortunate to be able to see this last flowering of a long line of biplane flying-boats, which once spanned the globe.

One comment on “Supermarine Stranraer – the last flourish of the military biplane flying-boat”

  1. What nice lines this aircraft has … and the ladder up to the port engine 🙂 Thanks for a photo of a rare seaplane 🙂


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