Empire S.23 Survey Flights

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Empire S.23 Survey Flights

Postby Bootle » Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:15 am

Been looking through a late relative's postcards and found several from her friend "Gladys" who travelled on an Empire survey flight from Southampton to Karachi in September 1937. Gladys obviously was either well connected or rich. She went on to travel round the world, by sea (and air?).

We are intrigued who Gladys was. Our theory is that she might have been Gladys Cobham, wife of Sir Alan Cobham who was investigating in-flight refuelling with Imperial Airways at the time.

Anybody got any other ideas? Who would have travelled on survey flights?


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Re: Empire S.23 Survey Flights

Postby Bootle » Wed Feb 27, 2013 9:35 pm

An update from me.

I have been investigating this postcard and journey on the Internet. For anyone interested in investigating flying in the 1930s:-


Some newspapers such as the Glasgow Herald are available on line and they recorded daily the movements of individual Imperial Airways flights. I presume the flight movements were identified because the aircraft were carrying urgent Royal Mail. Not sure whether this Forum site permits links but a search on britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk will find more information. For example the September 18, 1937 issue states that Camilla (Empire Flying Boat) ex-Southampton on September 16 left Athens on Sepember 17th for Alexandria. We know from the postcard that the mystery Gladys left Southampton by Flying Boat on the 16th of September. It must have been the Camilla because there were only about two flights a week at this time. From Alexandria/Cairo the September 16 ex-UK mail is conveyed via Handley Page 42 land biplane Hannibal as far as Karachi. After Karachi the mail is transferred to the Armstrong Whitworth monoplane Aurora which goes on to Singapore arriving on the 24th September. From subsequent postcards we know that Gladys left the flight at Singapore and travelled on to Hong Kong, Japan and Vancouver by ship. Aurora continued to Australia.


Flying by air was such a novelty in the 1930s that the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times reported the names of individual passengers as they arrived. Again a search on newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Issue/straitstimes19370927-1.aspx will find more information. Thus the Straits Times of 27th September reports that two passengers from London arrived on the Aurora from Karachi; Mr F J Francis and Miss G Larter. And Eureka; we have found Gladys’s surname.

"Experimental" Flight

Gladys sends a Flying Boat postcard and refers to her flight being “experimental” but the implication from the above would be that by the time she reached Sharjah she would be on an HP42 land plane, not a flying boat. The Empire Flying boats did not take over the Alexandria to Karachi sector until later in October.
However, a note in Flight magazine of September 23rd 1937 (look for flightglobal.com) states that “The Imperial Flying Boat Centaurus left Alexandria during the weekend on the second survey flight to India; the first was made by Ceres a fortnight ago. Needless to say, these flights are being made to test the new flying boat bases – such as that on Lake Habbanyieh (fifty miles from Baghdad) and at Sharjah on the Persian Gulf – and both the new and old DF equipment on the route.”
The date puts the Empire flight from Alexandria at around the same time that Hannibal left and the flying boat, being much faster than the lumbering HP 42, would reach Karachi much quicker.
So we think Gladys’s surname was Larter and we believe she was probably on the Centaurus flying boat survey flight to India. She carried on around the world over the next few weeks. She might have flown back across the Atlantic but we currently have no such information. We still don’t know who Miss Larter was or how she was able to afford to travel round the world in 1937 but we’ll keep looking.
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