Canadian Warplanes 4: Handley Page Harrow

Handley Page HP 54 Harrow

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203451)

Handley Page HP 54 Harrow Mk. I , RCAF (Serial No. 794), on the ramp at Gander, Newfoundland, 19 August 1941.

This Harrow Mk. I originally carried the United Kingdom civilian aircraft registration G-AFRG. It was first used by the RCAF's Test & Development Flight and later served with Eastern Air Command, Halifax's Communications Flight and with Station Flight at Dartmouth.

Gander was one of the first places in the world where air-to-air refueling took place, with two civilian Harrow refuelers were based in Gander in 1938. Short C class S23 flying boats were modified for in-flight refuelling by the Harrows to enable Imperial Airways to provide regular Atlantic mail service to the UK.

(RAF Photo)

Handley Page HP 54 Harrow Mk. I flown by No. 115 Squadron, RAF.

Handley Page HP 54 Harrow Mk. I (2), (Serial Nos. 794, 795).

(RAF Photo, Toronto Public Library)

“Taken on charge 21 October 1940. Ex RAF K6933, ex G-AFRG.  In Newfoundland for in-flight refueling trials when war broke out, purchased by RCAF.  With the Test and Development Establishment at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, dates unknown.  May have been operated initially with civil registration.  Assigned to Eastern Air Command, no record of use. Struck off 17 Nov 1941.” (

Handley Page HP.54 Harrow Mk. II G-AFRG Air Refueling, Ltd, ex RAF K6933 modified as refueler for Empire Flying Boats, impressed by RCAF in 1940 as 794.  Flight Refuelling Limited was registered by Sir Alan Cobham on 29 Oct 1934, carrying out air-to-air refueling experiments from Portsmouth, Flight Refuelling moved their operations to Ford, Sussex on 1 Jan 1936.  The company operated an extraordinary variety of aircraft, including three Harrows.

These three were converted by Handley Page at Radlett from K6933, K7027 and K7029, and all three were transferred to the civil register, K6933 and K7029 as G-AFRG and G-AFRH respectively on 5 Feb 1939, and K7027 as G-AFRL on 6 Mar 1939.  They were equipped with fuselage tanks of 1,000 gallons capacity and the necessary valves for controlling rapid fuel transfer through long hoses which could be reeled out and back by powered winches, also large observation transparencies in the front fuselage fabric covering.

Imperial Airways Empire flying boats were able to fly a transatlantic service via Ireland and Newfoundland, only with increased fuel capacities and hence reduced payloads. To increase payload again, experimental fuel transfer from Harrows to Empire flying boat receiver aircraft were successfully conducted.

For transatlantic trials Harrows G-AFRG and G-AFRH were then shipped as deck cargo to Montreal on the Canadian Pacific 'SS Bedford', they were re-erected by Fairchild Aircraft at Longueuil and on June 2 flown to Hattie's Camp (later Gander), Newfoundland, where they were based. G-AFRL was based at Rineanna (later Shannon Airport), Ireland and refueled the Empire flying boats G-ADHM 'Caledonia' and G-ADUV 'Cambria' after take off from Foynes, Ireland. On their return flights the flying boats were refueled by G-AFRG and G-AFRH, after take off from Botwood, Newfoundland.

On 5 August 1939 a weekly service from Southampton to New York was begun, with the Empire flying boats G-AFCU 'Cabot' and G-AFCV 'Caribou' relying on the Harrow tankers, after sixteen transatlantic flights were completed the service terminated at the end of September 1939.  G-AFRL was returned to Ford, where it was destroyed by enemy action on 18 August 1940, along with others of the Flight Refuelling fleet.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3390667)

Handley Page Harrow (Serial No. G-AFRH) refuelling Short Empire flying boat (Serial No. G-AFCU) 'Cabot' of Imperial Airways, 30 July 1939.

Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3390950)

Short 'Empire' flying boat (Serial No. G-AFCU )'Cabot' of Imperial Airways Ltd., used for experiment trans-Atlantic flights, 1939.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3390952)

Short 'Empire' flying boat (Serial No. G-AFCV) 'Caribou' of Imperial Airways Ltd. inaugurating trans-Atlantic airmail service, Boucherville, P.Q., 6 August 1939.