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The Southampton flying-boat was one of the most successful ever used by the Royal Air Force. With a reputation for reliability, its service life of eleven years was surpassed only by that of the Sunderland.
By the mid-twenties the RAF was desperate to replace their First World War vintage Felixstowe flying boats and had almost given up the search when R J Mitchell's development of his civilian Swan design was offered. It proved an immediate success and established not only the name of the designer but that of the company in military circles.
The first eighteen Southamptons delivered were MkIs with wooden hulls. However a lengthy marine research programme had convinced the Royal Air Force of the superior qualities of metal over wood and so the final forty-eight were delivered as Southampton MkIIs with metal hulls. In a programme begun in 1929 all surviving wooden-hulled Southamptons were re-built with metal hulls.
Southamptons first entered service in August 1925 and quickly became famous for long-distance formation flights, 'showing the flag' in many parts of the world. The most notable was a 43500km (27000 mile) cruise of the Far East Flight's four Southamptons from Felixstowe to Singapore via the Mediterranean and India in 1927 and 1928.