A Brief Look at Short Brothers Turboprop Transports
Story and photos by Ken Kula
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.
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.