Imperial Airways - The Piggy Back Airmail Venture - January 25, 2013

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Imperial Airways – The Piggy Back Airmail Venture – January 25, 2013

“Robert Novell’s Third Dimension Blog”

Good Morning and Happy Friday—I hope everyone had a good week and the weekend will provide a little rest and relaxation. Today I want to add one more piece to the Imperial Airways story and I think you will find it very interesting how the British solved an overweight takeoff problem.


The North Atlantic was an almost insurmountable barrier as the British Government, and Imperial Airways, contemplated service to Canada and the US. So, Imperial Airways came up with two proposals. The first was assisted take-off, and the second was in-flight refueling. The in-flight refueling is straight forward enough, considering our knowledge of the concept today, but assisted take-off was not being done with the use of JATO bottles. The concept employed was that of a smaller airplane being deployed from the back of a larger airplane much the same way the space shuttle was deployed from the back of a Boeing-747 during the initial proof of concept phase. Below is a portion of an article I found on the web:

"Short Mayo Composite"

The assisted take-off came in the form of the Short-Mayo composite aircraft, which was a large four-engine flying boat similar to the Empire design called 'Maia', with a smaller seaplane ' Mercury' mounted on top. The 'Mercury' was designed to carry mail over long distances but when fully laden with fuel and mail, could not take off unassisted. Therefore the sole purpose of 'Maia' was to take-off with 'Mercury' on its back (all engines on both aircraft would be used for take-off), and when they got to a suitable height they separated and 'Maia' would return to base, while 'Mercury' set off on its journey.

The first trial of 'Mercury' was on 21st July 1938, when it left 'Maia' near Foynes and flew non-stop to Montreal. A distance of 2,930 miles and a flight time of twenty hours and twenty minutes. After unloading cargo, 'Mercury' flew to New York with newspapers and news photographs, making a total time of twenty-five hours and eight minutes. These flights had set three new records: the first commercial flight across the North Atlantic by a 'heavier-than-air' machine, the first east to west crossing from the British Isles to Montreal and the fastest east to west crossing of the North Atlantic. The time taken from Foynes to the Newfoundland coast was thirteen hours and twenty-nine minutes

So, when you think about the Space Shuttle being deployed from the 747, and other similar tests, I want you to remember what President Harry Truman said: “The only news is the history you haven’t read.”

Enjoy the weekend, enjoy the video below, be safe, and thanks for letting me be a part of your week.


Robert Novell

January 25, 2013