Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rose Bay flying boat base

Rose Bay flying boat base - Sydney's forgotten international - and domestic - airport. Convcniently located on Sydney Harbour!

I can remember visiting the base in the 60s and 70s, when Ansett ran 2 Short S25 Sandringhams (one a converted Sunderland) on trips to Lord Howe Island. Being young at the time and a bit short of cash I was hesitant to actually fly in the darn things (regrettably!) but I watched them land and take off and sitting beached on wheels outside the hangar. I should have at least gone on a charter to Lake Macquarie, to the old RAAF base Rathmines, but I didn't. Oh well. That's life I guess.

This is one of 2 ex-Ansett Sandringhams prior to handover to Antilles Airboats in late 1974. There were 2 of these 'boats. VH-BRC had the rounded nose of a more 'pure' Sandringham (even though it was a converted Sunderland) and was called 'Beachcomber', becoming N158C with Antilles Airboats in 1974. 'BRC is now landlocked, at Southampton, UK. And VH-BRF, named 'Islander', was a 'near-converted' Sunderland with a blunter nose. It's now landlocked at Miami, Florida.

Rose Bay was the place to see these big commercial flying boats. For safety, when reliability and fuel range were far more critical - read "risky" or "marginal" - the flying boats represented a popular form of "life insurance", especially when operating over water. They could land just about anywhere there was stretch of reasonably protected water. So for international operators like QANTAS, BOAC and Pan Am the flying boats represented a good investment on long overseas routes, despite their bulky, compromised hybrid aircraft-and-boat design. And for domestic operations they could use rivers, opening up destinations like Grafton, NSW, to regular services without the need for dedicated, developed landing strips. Of course that all changed in the decades immediately following WWII as aircraft and engine design improved, safety margins increased and fuel range improved. As the land-based aircraft frew ever more efficient and lighter the design compromises of the flying boat began to weigh much more heavily on the concept. Their days were numbered.  

Ansett's route to Lord Howe Island remained a rare anachronism into the 1970s due to the lack of a suitable airstrip. But again, that changed and the service was terminated.

Many thanks to the late James Davidson who helped me get access to the base in the 1970s.       

There's not much left to investigate at Rose Bay, sadly - but enough to get a feel for it. There's actually a lot more at Rathmines. Worth a visit!

And worth a read:

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