Skip to content

Short Sunderland

  • Engine: One 2,100-hp BMW 801D-2 radial piston engine
  • Weight: Empty 6,989 lbs.
  • Max Takeoff 10,802 lbs.
  • Wing Span: 34ft. 5.5in.
  • Length: 29ft. 1.5in.
  • Height: 13ft. 0in.
  • Maximum Speed: 408 mph
  • Ceiling: 37,400 ft.
  • Range: 500 miles
  • Armament: Two 7.92-mm (0.31-inch) machine guns in nose. Up to four 20-mm MG 151 guns in wings. Wide range of underwing and under-fuselage bombs, guns and rockets.
  • Number Built: 20,051 (All variants)

The Sunderland was a military flying boat, designed in parallel to the civilian Empire Flying Boats that pioneered long distance travel to India and South Africa – linking Britain to its Empire. The Sunderland design also formed the basis of a whole family of large flying boats.

The primary function of the aircraft was maritime reconnaisance, which included their use as an anti-submarine weapon with Coastal Command. They were also used as transport aircraft and even served during the Berlin Airlift.

The first Sunderlands were built at the Seaplane Works in Rochester but expansion of production included disperal to other locations with new lines at Belfast and Windermere as well at Blackburn aircraft’s works at Dumbarton on the Clyde.

During the war the Sunderland’s main role was convoy protection during the Battle of the Atlantic and also off West Africa and over the Indian Ocean. Postwar they continued in use with the RAF at home and overseas, particularly in the Far East. They also saw service in the air forces of France, Norway, South Africa, Australia and the Royal New Zealand Air Force which ordered a fleet of 16 as late as 1952 – they were all refurbished from former RAF aircraft.

Belying its somewhat unwieldy appearance, the Sunderland was heavily armed and able to give good account of itself when attacked, which led to German aircrew nicknaming it “the flying porcupine”. Many improvements were made to the Sunderland during its career, including the fitting of air-to-surface radar, increased armament, and more powerful engines. Several of these modifications resulted from trials carried out by the RAAF Sunderland squadrons.

In all, 749 Sunderlands were manufactured up until production ended in 1946. The last Sunderland was retired from Australian service in 1947 although the type continued serving with the RAF until 1959.