Explore our past: 1930 - 1939

Armstrong Whitworth AW15 Atalanta.
Explore our past: 1930
Imperial Airways introduced combined air and rail freight service. Consignments were accepted at UK railway stations for forwarding by Imperial Airways’ services.
16 June Imperial Airways inaugurated a London-Birmingham-Manchester-Liverpool thrice-weekly service with Argosy aircraft. This service was to provide continental connections at Croydon and was withdrawn on 20 September.


During the late summer, Imperial Airways operated, for six weeks, an experimental Alexandria-Haifa-Famagusta service at the request of the Air Ministry and the Government of Cyprus. Short Calcutta flying boats were used.
Explore our past: 1931
28 February

G-ABFA Scipio, the first of three Short S17 Kent flying boats for Imperial Airways, made its first flight from the Medway at Rochester. It left the UK on 27 April for its mediterranean station.


Imperial Airways introduced a weekly England to Central Africa service terminating at Mwanza on Lake Victoria, taking ten days to cover the 5,124 mile route.

29 April TRH Prince of Wales and Prince George flew by Imperial Airways Argosy G-EBLF City of Glasgow (Captain Gordon Olley) from France to Smith’s Lawn, Windsor Great Park, on their return home from a South American tour.
11 June The Handley Page HP42 four-engined bi-plane, a notable aircraft, was introduced by Imperial Airways on the Croydon to Paris route. With two passenger cabins this safe, slow but stately aeroplane brought new standards of safety and comfort to air travel.
25 August The London Gazette published an Order in Council establishing a Civil Air Ensign.
9 December The Imperial Airways’ service that day for Central Africa extended experimentally to Cape Town for the carriage of Christmas mail. The aircraft used on the last sector, DH66 G-AARY City of Karachi arrived in Cape Town on 21 December.
Explore our past: 1932
20 January Routes to East Africa via Cairo were also being developed and on this day a mail-only route to Cape Town was opened. On 27 April the route was opened to passengers. The flights left Croydon on Wednesday and landed at Cape Town on Sunday, ten days later.
16 April Imperial Airways’ England to India services leaving London from that date called at Limassol, Cyprus.
30 May There was a London to Edinburgh race by Imperial Airways’ Handley Page 45 G-AAXC Heracles (Captain O P Jones) and London and North Eastern Railways’ Flying Scotsman. During the race radio communication was used between the aircraft and the train.
26 September Imperial Airways introduced the Armstrong Whitworth AW15 Atalanta, four engined aircraft for a short period on London to Brussels and, subsequently on Paris-Basle-Zurich before it went into service on Empire routes.
Explore our past: 1933
5 January - 14 February Imperial Airways’ Armstrong Whitworth XV G-ABTI Artemis flew from Croydon to Cape Town. This was the first flight to South Africa by this type of aircraft. Shortly afterwards, Atalantas replaced DH66s on the Kisumu to Cape Town sector of the London to Cape Town route.
18 February Imperial Airways completed its first 10,000,000 miles of flying.
29 May An England to Australia survey flight took off, operated by Imperial Airways Armstrong Whitworth XV Atalanta G-ABTL Astraea. Major H G Brackley, Imperial Airways’ Air Superintendent, was in charge of the flight. Astraea flew Croydon-Paris-Lyons-Rome-Brindidsi-Athens-Alexandria-Cairo where it followed the normal route to Karachi then onwards to Jodhpur-Delhi-Calcutta-Akyab-Rangoon-Bangkok-Prachuab-Alor Star-Singapore-Palembang-Batavia-Sourabaya-Bima-Koepang-Bathurst Island-Darwin-Newcastle Waters-Camooweal-Cloncurry-Longreach-Roma-Toowoomba reaching Eagle Farm, Brisbane on 23 June. Sydney was visited on 26 June, Canberra on 28 June and Melbourne on 29 June.
1 July The UK to India route extended from Karachi to Calcutta in conjunction with Indian Trans-Continental Airways. The trans-India route was Karachi-Jodhpur-Delhi-Cawnpore-Allahabad-Calcutta. On 23 September the route was extended Calcutta-Akyab-Rangoon. On 9 December the route was extended Rangoon-Singapore.
Explore our past: 1934
21 March Railway Air Services Ltd. (RAS) was registered. Formed by the four mainline railways, London Midland & Scottish, London & North Eastern, Great Western and Southern and Imperial Airways, the company was “to provide and operate air services in the British Isles and elsewhere, and to form connecting links with the services of Imperial Airways.” Each railway company and Imperial Airways provided a director; the Chairman was Sir Harold Hartley (LMSR). RAS’ and the first flight on 7 May was Plymouth-Haldon-Cardiff-Birmingham operated by Dragon G-ACPX.
16 May Imperial Airways commissioned the first of two Short L17 Scylla four engined bi-planes for use on European routes. This was G-ACJJ Scylla. Its first service flight was on the London to Paris route with mail and passengers for the Africa service (Captain A B H Youell).
26 May The first official Royal Air Mail pennant was presented to Imperial Airways. It was handed to Sir Eric Geddes, Imperial Airways’ Chairman, by the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood. The pennant was flown that day by G-AAXE Hengist when departing from Croydon for Paris with the Indian mail.
17 November The Government introduced an unsurcharged airmail scheme to many parts of the Empire. The 'Empire Air Mail Scheme' created a huge demand for cargo space on aircraft. Imperial Airways, therefore, took the bold step of ordering from the drawing board 31 large, modern, four-engined flying boats from Short Brothers, of Rochester, Kent, the famous C Class Empire Boats. These boats carried a large volume of mail, whilst passengers were accommodated in luxurious cabins with a promenade area in which they could relax and gaze down at the passing scenery. By the mid 1930s all the mainline Empire routes were operated by these flying boats.
8 December The UK to Australia mail service opened, operated by Imperial Airways (Croydon to Karachi), Indian Trans-Continental (Karachi to Singapore) and Qantas (Singapore to Brisbane).
Explore our past: 1935
11 March The Avro 652 G-ACRM Avalon was delivered to Imperial Airways. This and G-ACRN Avatar (later Ava) were the first low-wing monoplanes with retractable undercarriages to be delivered to a major airline.
1 April Imperial Airways opened London-Brussels-Cologne-Halle/Leipzig-Prague-Vienna-Budapest service with DH86A Diana class aircraft.
13 April Imperial Airways and Qantas Empire Airways opened the 12,754 mile London to Brisbane route for passengers for a single fare £195. There were no through bookings on the first service because of heavy sector bookings, but there were two through passengers on the subsequent service, which left London on 20 April. The route was opened for passengers from Brisbane to London on 17 April. The frequency of service was weekly and the journey time was 12½ days.
Explore our past: 1936
1 January British Airways Limited was formed from United Airways, Hillman’s Airways and Spartan Airlines. They started operations from Heston, Middlesex, moving on 17 May to Gatwick. The airline operated to Paris, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Malmo and also received a government subsidy to develop routes to North and East Europe. They mainly used American-built Lockheed monoplanes.
9 February The trans-Africa route was opened by Imperial Airways between Khartoum and Kano and, later, Lagos.
14 March The Hong Kong route was opened via Rangoon and, later, Bangkok.
17 March An Imperial Airways passenger was fined £10 at Croydon Police Court for smoking in Heracles on a Paris to London flight. This was the first case of its kind in Britain.
2 July G-ADHL Canopus, first of Imperial Airways’ fleet of Short S23 C Class Empire flying boats launched on the Medway at Rochester.
30 July H.M.'s government announced its plans for North Atlantic air services. It had decided, after discussions with the Canadian, Irish and Newfoundland governments, that a joint operating company would be responsible for operations and that this company would have three directors from each nominated Canadian, Irish and UK company. The British nominated company was Imperial Airways. Preference was given for a direct route from the UK via Ireland, Newfoundland and Canada but it was considered that initially winter services might have to operate via Bermuda. Experimental flights were to be made by Imperial Airways with the results of the experiments being placed at the disposal of the joint company when it was formed. In fact, no joint company was involved in North Atlantic operations.
15 October Imperial Airways’ London-Kano service extended via Kaduna, Minna and Oshogbo to Lagos.
30 October G-ADHL Canopus made the first scheduled flight from Alexandria to Brindisi by a C Class flying boat on Imperial Airways’ trans-Mediterranean route from Alexandria to Brindisi via Mirabella and Athens in 7 hours 20 minutes. Canopus (Captain F J Bailey) had left Rochester on delivery to the Mediterranean on 22 October. The first southbound C Class service operated on 2 November.
21 December Imperial Airways C Class flying boat G-ADHM Caledonia carried Christmas mail 1,700 miles non-stop from Alexandria to Marseilles in 11¼ hours. The following day Caledonia flew Marseilles-Southampton in 4¼ hours.
Explore our past: 1937
7 February British Airways Ltd transferred its operational base from Gatwick to Croydon Airport.
8 February Imperial Airways began regular operation of Southampton to Alexandria services with C Class flying boats. The first service was by G-ADUW Castor. The aircraft had departed on 6 February but returned with oiled plugs, and rough water prevented the departure on 7 February.
5 March Imperial Airways opened Hythe flying boat base, on Southampton Water, for operation of its Empire services. From that date only the airline’s European services operated from Croydon.
5 April British Airways Ltd introduced Lockheed 10 Electras on the London to Paris route with a 1½ hour schedule.
5 April Imperial Airways’ London to Budapest services rerouted to call at Frankfurt instead of Cologne and Leipzig. This was to provide a connection with the German transatlantic Zeppelin services at Deutsche Zeppelin - Reederei to Rio de Janeiro and to New York (Lakehurst).
19 April British Airways Limited introduced Lockheed 10 Electras on its reopened London to Stockholm service which then operated to a 7 hours 20 minutes schedule.
2 May Imperial Airways’ HP45 G-AAXC Heracles made the airline’s 40,000th thousand channel crossing.
Juin Sir George Beharrell became Chairman of Imperial Airways on the death of Sir Eric Geddes.
2 June Imperial Airways’ first through flying boat service to South Africa left Southampton, G-ADHL Canopus. The route was Marseilles-Rome-Brindisi-Athens-Alexandria-Cairo-Wadi Halfa-Khartoum-Malakal-Butiaba-Port Bell-Kisumu-Mombasa-Dar es Salaam-Lindi-Mozambique-Beira-Lourenco Marques-Durban. The route had optional stops at Macon, Mirabella, Luxor, Kareima, Laropi, Quelimane and Inhambane. The first northbound service by G-ADVC Corsair left Durban on 6 June.
16 June Imperial Airways and Pan Am opened joint Bermuda to New York services. Imperial Airways C Class flying boat G-ADUU Cavalier flew from Bermuda to New York and Pan Am’s Sikorsky S-42 NC16735 Bermuda flew New  York to Bermuda.
19 June Imperial Airways operated its first New York to Bermuda flight.
29 June The Empire Air Mail programme was inaugurated by the Secretary of State for Air, Viscount Swinton, and the postmaster general, Rt Hon G C Tyron MP in a ceremony aboard MV Medina on Southampton Water. Imperial Airways flying boat G-ADVE Centurion left Southampton with 3,500lbs of unsurcharged mail.
5 July The first commercial survey flights across the North Atlantic commenced, operated by Imperial Airways long-range C Class flying boat G-ADHM Caledonia which left Foynes at 1857GMT and alighted at Botwood at 1000GMT.
23 July Imperial Airways HP45 G-AAXC Heracles completed one million miles flying in 10,200 hours having carried about 80,000 passengers.
9 August British Airways Ltd began a London to Berlin night mail service in co-operation with Lufthansa. This service, an extension of the London-Cologne-Hanover service, carried all British first class mail for Central and Eastern Europe and was operated with Junkers-Ju/3m aircraft.
6 October Imperial Airways C Class flying boat G-ADHM Caledonia made the first survey flight from Southampton to the Azores.
10 November Imperial Airways announced its order for three De Havilland DH91 Albatross airliners. These were G-AFDI Frobisher, G-AFDJ Falcon and G-AFDK Fortuna. Subsequently, two more were ordered.
Explore our past: 1938
20 January The first flight refuelling test with Imperial Airways C Class flying boat G-ADUV Cambria was completed when the aircraft was refuelled from Armstrong Whitworth AW23 K3585. The test was under the direction of Sir Alan Cobham.
6 February The first separation test of the Short-Mayo Composite aircraft took place. The Short S20 aeroplane G-ADHJ Mercury separated from the Short S21 flying boat Maia over Rochester.
8 February

The Cadman Committee (formed on 17 November 1937) presented its report. Its recommendations included:

  • Steps should be taken to expand UK air services to Europe
  • Imperial Airways should first and foremost be concerned with the development of Empire air routes
  • British Airways Ltd should in general develop air services in Europe
  • Certain changes in organisation of British Airways Ltd and in internal management of Imperial Airways (this led to the resignation of George Woods Humphrey as managing director of Imperial Airways)
  • Personal contact between employer and employee in air transport companies should be supplemented by collective representation.
23 February The Empire Air Mail scheme was extended to Egypt, Palestine, India, Burma, Ceylon and Malaya. The first unsurcharged air mail left Southampton in Imperial Airways C Class flying boat G-ADVE Centurion and Qantas’ VH-ABB Coolangatta. Both aircraft flew to Karachi arriving on 27 February; VH-ABB continued to Singapore.
29 May British Airways Ltd. transferred all daytime operations from Croydon and Gatwick to Heston. Night mail services continued from Croydon.
26 June Imperial Airways’ first through flying boat service to Australia left Southampton. C Class flying boats G-AEUB Camilla and G-AEUD Cordelia operated the Southampton to Singapore sector; G-ADVD Challenger operated the Singapore to Sydney sector.
1 July Sir John Reith was appointed to the Board of Imperial Airways and succeeded Sir George Beharrell as Chairman.
20 July The first 'heavier than air' commercial crossing of the North Atlantic. Imperial Airways’ Short S20 floatplane G-ADHJ Mercury (Captain D C T Bennett). The aircraft separated from the Short S21 flying boat G-ADHK Maia near Foynes and then flew non-stop to Montreal, 2,930 miles in 20 hours 20 minutes. From Montreal the flight continued to Port Washington, New York. Mail and newspapers were carried. The return flight was 25-27 July via Botwood, the Azores and Lisbon with a flight time of 25 hours.
28 July The Empire Air Mail programme was extended to Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Fiji, Papua and other local points. The first mail left Southampton in Imperial Airways C Class flying boat G-AEUA Calypso. From the same date Qantas Empire Airways flying boats began operating the whole route from Sydney to Southampton but Qantas crews worked only between Sydney and Singapore. From this time, there were eight services weekly from the UK to Egypt, three to Central Africa, two to South Africa, five to India and three to Australia.
18 September British Airways Ltd. made non - stop flights London-Stockholm-London with Lockheed 14 G-AFGN which had been delivered to Heston on 3 September. The outward flight took 4¼ hours, the inbound 6 hours 10 minutes.
29 September Proclaiming “peace in our time,” Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain MP returned from Munich to Heston by British Airways Limited Lockheed 14 G-AFGN after his final meeting with Hitler.
5 October Imperial Airways took delivery at Croydon of the first of their Armstrong Whitworth AW 27 Ensign class aircraft, G-ADSR Ensign.
6 - 8 October Imperial Airways’ Short S20 floatplane G-ADHJ Mercury set a world long-distance record for seaplanes by flying non-stop from Dundee to the Orange River, South Africa covering 6,045 miles in 42 hours 5minutes. The Mercury was assisted from the Tay at Dundee by Maia.
7 October British Airways Ltd made survey flights London (Heston) to Lisbon (Cintra) with two Lockheed 14s, one direct and one via Bordeaux. Another nonstop flight was made on 25 October and then, on 27 October a flight from Lisbon to Seville. These flights were in connection with the projected route to West Africa and South America.
24 October Imperial Airways’ Armstrong Whitworth AW27 Ensign G-ADSR Ensign began operating ad hoc London to Paris services following a demonstration flight to Paris on 20 October.
1 November From this date it became an offence to operate air services in the UK without a licence issued by the Air Transport Licensing Authority.
25 November The De Havilland DH91 Albatross aircraft entered service with Imperial Airways and G-AFDI Frobisher flew from Croydon to Paris in 53 minutes.
11 November The British government announced its intention to merge Imperial Airways and British Airways Limited to form a single chosen instrument, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The necessary Bill received Royal Assent on 4 August 1939, just prior to the commencement of World War II.
18 - 19 December Imperial Airways DH91s G-AFDI Frobisher and G-AFDJ Falcon flew from London to Alexandria with Christmas mail. During December, Imperial Airways and Qantas Empire Airways flew 1,158,000 miles of which 282,000 were flown on special Christmas mail operations in addition to scheduled flights with Christmas mail. In the seven weeks up to Christmas 240 tons of mail was carried.
Explore our past: 1939
10 January The Imperial Airways’ DH91 G-AFDJ Falcon set a record by flying from Croydon to Brussels in 48 minutes.
16 April

A joint Imperial Airways/British Airways Ltd London to Paris service began. Frobisher class aircraft were used and operated to a 70 minute schedule. There were eight services each way on weekdays and five on Sundays.


Imperial Airways cut the UK to South Africa route time to 4½ days and UK to Hong Kong route time to 5½ days.

12 June The British Overseas Airways Corporation Ltd Bill, providing for the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd, was introduced in the House of Commons by Sir Kingsley Wood.
17 June The first Short S26 G Class flying boat G-AFCI Golden Hind launched on the Medway at Rochester. Its first flight was on 21 July. Three G Class flying boats were constructed for transatlantic operations.
3 July Short S30 C Class flying boats began operation of Imperial Airways’ UK to India terminating services. This was intended as a stop-gap until the AW Ensigns were ready. The first Southampton to Karachi service was by G-AFCX Clyde.
5 August The first regular weekly experimental return commercial (air mail) Southampton-Foynes-Botwood-Montreal-New York transatlantic flights began, using two modified C Class flying boats Cabot and Caribou, which refuelled in flight.
3 September Following the formal declaration of war by the British Government on Germany, all civil flying ceased. The head offices of Imperial Airways, British Airways Ltd and the Civil Aviation Department of the Air Ministry were evacuated to Bristol. The airlines’ landplanes were moved from Croydon and Heston to Whitchurch and Imperial Airways’ flying boats from Hythe to Poole.
22 September Imperial Airways reopened the UK to Egypt landplane route at the request of the Air Officer Commanding in Egypt. The route was Shoreham-Bordeaux-Marseille-Tunis-Malta-Sollum-Alexandra. The first flight was operated by a DH91 G-AFDK Fortuna. The route was later extended to India and remained open until Italy entered the war in 1940.
30 September Imperial Airways C Class flying boat G-AFCU Cabot arrived at Poole completing the 1939 North Atlantic programme. 16 flights had been made. On 23-24 September Cabot had set a North Atlantic record by flying from Foynes to Botwood in 13 hours.
24 November British Overseas Airways Corporation was established under the BOAC Act, and Sir John Reith was appointed its chairman.