On the Waterfront: Flying boat's trip to Sunderland in 1929

Earlier 'On the Waterfront' columns (Echo, February 20, 2007 and May 15, 2014) have described the thrilling sight of flying boats landing in the River Wear.
The Southampton flying boat S1231 visiting North Dock Basin.The Southampton flying boat S1231 visiting North Dock Basin.
The Southampton flying boat S1231 visiting North Dock Basin.

In 1936, RAF Stranraer flying boat K3973 made an emergency landing due to bad weather. Then in 1947, Norwegian airline Vingtor Luftveier’s Consolidated Catalina LN-OAR paid two visits bringing in the crew of the new Short Bros-built steamer Aida from Sweden.

But these were not the first flying boats seen on the Wear.

Eighty-nine years ago on the night of June 13, 1929, Wearsiders were surprised to see Supermarine Southampton S1231 taxi into North Dock Basin. In charge of Squadron Leader Burling and Flying Officer King, the RAF flying boat had arrived at Sunderland from Felixstowe as part of a RAF survey of East Coast ports.

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Their aim was to collect information to produce a guide to help RAF pilots who might land on the Wear in the future. Details of water depths, positions of buildings, hazards such as moorings were recorded, together with the availability of fuel supplies and hotel accommodation. Assistance was provided by the Harbour Master’s launch.

The verdict of Flying Officer King was that landing facilities both inside and outside the harbour were “good.”

While moored in North Dock basin (where present Sunderland Yacht Club moorings are), the aircraft aroused considerable interest with spectators chartering boats to inspect the craft at close quarters. Its pneumatic dinghy also proved interesting, this being one of the first of its kind to be seen on the Wear.

Built in 1927, the Southampton bi-plane was a Mk II type. She left port the following afternoon to fly to the Tyne.

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These aircraft had been introduced in 1925 with the wooden-hulled Mk I version. They were superseded by the Mk II, which was a five-seater twin-engine bi-plane with a duralumin (aluminium alloy) hull. Produced by the Supermarine Aviation Works Ltd at Southampton, they were powered by Napier Lion engines and had a wing span of 75 feet.

Supermarine had been acquired by Vickers (Aviation) Ltd to become Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd.

Designed by aeronautical engineer Reginald Joseph Mitchell, famous for his Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane, the Southampton became the second longest serving RAF flying boat behind the well-known Short Sunderland, being a development of the earlier Swan type. Used for coastal reconnaissance, the Southampton became noted for long distance “flying the flag” flights to far-flung corners of the British Empire.

Seventy-eight were produced, 18 of which were Mk 1 versions, most of which were later converted to the metal hulled Mk II standard. The last was retired from RAF service in 1937. Armaments consisted of three Lewis guns and a 1,100-lb bomb load.