Story and photos by Ken Kula, except the Belfast transport photos by John Freedman
Short Brothers plc (referred to as “Shorts” here) is based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The aircraft manufacturer was founded before World War I, and has made quite a name for itself over the years. Inter War years seaplanes like the civilian Calcutta airliner, and later in World War II – the Sunderland patrol bomber flying boat were great successes. After World War II, multiple factories were closed, and the company set up their headquarters in Belfast by the end of 1948. Post World War II, Shorts developed the SC1 VTOL testbed and produced over 100 Canberra bombers under license, amongst many projects.
The Shorts SC.7 Skyvan was one of these many projects; its first flight was in 1963, using piston engines. Later, it was fitted with Turbomeca Astazou engines. The later Series 3 utilized Garrett AiResearch TPE331 engines. The smallish twin turboprop transport had a rear cargo ramp utilized for freight movement and parachute drops. One hundred forty seven airframes, plus two prototypes were constructed for both military and civilian operators.
Ten Shorts SC.5 Belfast large cargo transport was built for the Royal Air Force; the first flight of the totally different four-engined transport occurred in 1964. Only ten were produced. After they finished their military transport duties, they served with the civilian operator HeavyLift for a number of years.
Based upon the Shorts SC.7 Skyvan, a civilian stretched airliner was designed. Known as the Shorts 330 (sometimes called the SD3-30), the type made its first flight in 1974. It is a thirty seat unpressurized transport whose box-like structure of the fuselage lent itself to a nickname of the “tool shed”. Some airframes were modified into freighters after passenger use, capitalizing on the type’s spacious interior. One hundred forty one airframes would be produced.
In the early 1980s, a modified 330 Skyvan variant came to be known as the Shorts 360. It is an airliner capable of carrying thirty nine passengers, with a longer fuselage and aerodynamic improvements from the 330. It dispensed with the twin tail configuration and any rear ramp, and the new design used just one vertical stabilizer. First flight of the type occurred in 1981, and some one hundred sixty five were produced.
A military version of the Shorts 330 was known as the Sherpa, and has the US military designation of C-23. The first C-23As were built for the US Air Force as a European intra-theatre transport for parts and people. The –A had no fuselage windows and a cargo door; eighteen were built.
The next variant, the C-23B, did have passenger transport-style windows as well as a ramp, and sixteen aircraft were delivered to the US Army.
The Army was satisfied with their transports, and ordered more C-23Bs. Unfortunately, the production line had closed by the time of the order, and Shorts had to remanufacture retired Shorts 360s into the new C-23B+ version. The B+ removed the conventional tail of the -360 and inserted the twin tail configuration again, plus a cargo ramp too. Twenty eight C-23B+ aircraft were delivered.
When the Air Force retired their –A versions, some went to the US Army and some to a government agency – the US Department of the Interior’s Forest Service. The Forest Service uses the aircraft to transport smoke jumpers to their jump zone, as well as moving other personnel and equipment. Many of the Army’s C-23s were upgraded with improved cockpit equipment and called the C-23C, still a few more became C-23Ds with even more cockpit upgrades.
From the first flight of a Shorts SC-7 Skyvan in 1963 to the final delivery of the last Shorts 360 in 1991, slightly more than 500 airframes were delivered by the Belfast-based company.