x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Time Frame: When London to Karachi was a weeklong trip

With a range of just over 900km, the Imperial Airways Handley Page HP42 airliner required several overnight stops on its way from the UK to India in he 1930s – which included one in Sharjah.

The Imperial Airways Hannibal Class Handley Page HP42 passenger plane Hanno, surrounded by an armed guard provided by the Sheikh of Sharjah during a refueling stop in Kuwait.
The Imperial Airways Hannibal Class Handley Page HP42 passenger plane Hanno, surrounded by an armed guard provided by the Sheikh of Sharjah during a refueling stop in Kuwait.

Was there ever a more romantic way to fly to the East than in an Imperial Airways Handley Page HP42 airliner?

Entering service in 1932, the aircraft linked the imperial capital (via Croydon Airport) and Karachi, then part of British India.

The HP42 had a range of just over 900km, so the journey took almost a week with several overnight stops. A pressing difficultly was that the Shah of Persia had withdrawn permission for the British to land in what is now Iran.

Initially the airline planned to use flying boats, but a deal struck that year allowed Imperial Airways to land at Sharjah, after flying from Bahrain.

An article in Flight magazine from September 1932 noted: "The local sheikhs, although quite friendly, are rather conservative gentlemen, and fear that their people would not be too enthusiastic about the advent of such a modern innovation as a regular air service.

"Then the sheikh of Sharjah made an offer of a land aerodrome in his territory and this practically settled the matter."

Aircraft did not fly directly across the Gulf, but followed the coast, where there was a backup RAF landing strip on Yas Island for emergencies.

As the image shows, the ruler of Sharjah also offered his own security services. Eight aircraft were operated by Imperial Airways, all named after historical characters. Hanno, shown here, was named after a Carthaginian explorer who sailed down the west coast of Africa.

In 1939, Imperial Airways became BOAC and the following year the service suffered its only serious accident; the mysterious loss and disappearance of the aircraft Hannibal somewhere off the east coast of the UAE.

 

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae