James Peers - Empire pilot - RIP

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James Peers - Empire pilot - RIP

Postby antipodeanandy » Mon May 24, 2010 11:03 am

A man of the golden age. I wish I had learnt about him earlier.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/commen ... 132215.ece

The last of the airline captains who flew the majestic Short Empire flying boats that had pioneered long-distance passenger and mail routes in the prewar years, James Peers transferred to the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) from the RAF during the war after he had been posted to South Africa. As such he flew some of the famous aircraft of the C-class on the “Horseshoe” route, which staged from Durban to Sydney via the Middle East, India and Singapore, until the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942 compelled BOAC to seek other routes.

Peers flew many of the Empire C-class flying boats (each of which had its own name) including the class leader Canopus and his favourite Cleopatra, throughout the war years, and continued both with them and their successor G-Class, until BOAC ended its flying boat operations in the late 1940s.

The Short Empire had come into its own in the mid-1930s when the British Government regarded flying boats as being the future for long-distance air travel and air freight, since they could be more heavily loaded than landplanes, given the aircraft technology of the era. In a bold government initiative Imperial Airways (BOAC’s predecessor) was permitted to buy 28 of the new aircraft, all of whose “sister-ships” were christened with names beginning with C. The Australian airline Qantas also acquired three of the boats. The Sunderland maritime reconnaissance patrol flying boat, which became the mainstay of RAF Coastal Command during the war years, was effectively a military version of the Empire.

James Peers was born in Cardiff in 1917 and educated at Penarth Grammar School. At University College Cardiff he learnt to fly and when war came he joined the RAF. Posted to South Africa, where he sailed from Southampton in the Union Castle liner Capetown Castle, he gained his RAF pilot’s wings at a flying school in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and subsequently flew Wellington bombers in the Middle East.

Since seeing his first flying boats in the Solent in 1939 Peers had been keen to fly one. Consequently he jumped at the chance to join BOAC for whom he flew several of the 700-mile legs of the Horseshoe route, most frequently Durban-Cairo and Cairo-Karachi. In June 1944 he returned to the UK in the bomb bay of a Wellington to collect the Short G-class Golden Hind, a development of the C-class, and fly her from Poole back to Durban.

Until 1945, based at Durban, he flew many of the new transoceanic routes that had been created by the demands of the war. Finally he returned Golden Hind to Poole, which had become the marine terminal for BOAC’s flying boats in 1940. Peers was involved in the postwar shuttle service to Cairo until 1947 and he subsequently piloted the Short Hythe and Sandringham classes — themselves civil versions of the wartime Sunderlands — on the UK-Cairo-Karachi route, and Short Solents on the “Springbok” route to South Africa.

When it became apparent in the late 1940s that the landplane was after all the future for long-range commercial transport, BOAC sold its remaining Short flying boats, many of which continued to have a lease of life with other airlines, notably Aquila Airways. Peers remained with BOAC, flying many of its new types of airliner, notably the De Havilland Comet. He ended his career with Gulf Air as a senior pilot and instructor.

In retirement he enjoyed flying light aircraft, was a keen supporter of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust which has maintained the only flying example of the famous Cold War delta-winged

V-bomber, and was an honorary air commodore of the charity Poole Flying Boats Celebration, which keeps alive the memory of the great days of the commercial flying boat.

Captain James Peers, airline pilot, was born on November 15, 1917. He died on May 1, 2010, aged 92
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