Short Brothers Aviation Pioneers

1917 – 1947

Rochester: 1917 - 1947

Rochester 1937

A modification of the Empire flying boat was chosen for one of the most daring aeronautical experiments ever undertaken – The Short Mayo Composite.

This combination of two aircraft had a standard Empire flying boat – ‘Maia’ as the lower component and a light seaplane Mercury’ as the upper.

The challenge facing the designers was to get mail long distances such as across the Atlantic Ocean to the U.S.A. The lighter aircraft was mounted on the top of the flying Maia boat that was used to get lighter aircraft into the air and at a predetermined height and position (e.g. Foynes on the west coast of Ireland) the pilot of each aircraft would release the restraining catches and the lifting force of Mercury would raise her clear and away from the carrier Maia.

This meant that the long distance lighter aircraft had a full tank of fuel on its’ release and that would enable the long distance flight such as the Atlantic crossing to be accomplished.

The truly exceptional qualities of the design of the Empire flying boats was soon recognised by the Royal Air Force and orders were made for a military version.

Hence the Sunderland military flying boat was built and proved to be a major weapon in the World War II North Atlantic battles with German U-Boats.

Royal New Zealand Airforce SUNDERLAND
Royal New Zealand Airforce SUNDERLAND
a SUNDERLAND at work
a SUNDERLAND at work


The employee’s welfare had always been a number one priority with Oswald Short and they repaid him over and over again.

By the end of 1937 no less than twenty -two Empire flying boats had been built and delivered to Imperial Airways.

Workshop space was at a premium due to the completion of the remaining Singapore contracts as well as other projects such as the Mayo Composite and the early Sunderlands.

Maximum output was achieved by very careful planning, by good management and the determined and wide recruitment of unskilled labour from the Medway towns.

These unskilled workers were individually ‘attached’ to the older skilled craftsmen that Shorts were famous for. These men were widely recognised and commended for their dedication to maintaining the quality of their work, good craftsmanship, adherence to schedules and a loyalty second to none that was bred from Oswald’s reciprocal arrangements of continuity of employment during the lean times, a few years before when work was hard to come by.

“This practice I experienced when later (1941) I was enrolled as an apprentice at the Swindon Works working on the wartime schedules of the Short Stirlings [the only four engined heavy bomber in service at the start of World War Two.

The capability of the whole works was inspired by craftsmen despatched from Rochester to impart their skills and attitudes to locally unskilled trainee labourers who became fitters, sheet metal workers, coppersmiths and other trades imbibed with the same standards and pride in the product.”

‘Flying Boats Over Rochester’ by David Ellwood

Test flight of a STIRLING at Shorts Rochester Airport Works
Test flight of a STIRLING at Shorts Rochester Airport Works