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Short Sunderland at 80

Photo: The first Sunderland prototype, K4774. [Key Collection]

 

80 years ago today, as the prototype Short Sunderland Mk.I flying boat (K4774) left the waters of the River Medway in the hands of chief test pilot John Lankester Parker, Britain was close to introducing what was perhaps the most advanced maritime patrol aircraft of the time into RAF service.

Two Sunderland in formation. [Key Collection]

Although developed from the famous and luxurious Empire Flying boats of the inter-war years, the Sunderland was very much designed for war and would prove invaluable as Britain struggled to keep the vital sea-lanes open during the early years of the Battle of the Atlantic, a pivotal and deciding campaign of the Second World War.

The scourge of the U-boats, the rugged Sunderland earned the nickname ‘The Flying Porcupine’ from Luftwaffe crews who learned to treat the well-armed giant with healthy respect. It was, without doubt, one of Britain’s most impressive aircraft of the Second World War, able to conduct lengthy 13 hour patrols over vast expanses of hostile ocean and deliver a heavy payload.

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