An article by Keith Bradshaw to celebrate the arrival in the British Airliner Collection of a Britten-Norman BN-2 111 Trislander. All photos by the author and Steve Jeal unless noted.
Britten- Norman BN-2A Mk 111Trislander, G-BEVT, was delivered on Thursday 22 June by Aurigny to the British Airliner Collection here at Duxford. Our sincere thanks go to the Channel Islands based Aurigny, their CEO Mark Darby and all concerned for their very kind donation of Europe’s last flying Trislander. Thanks are also due to the Guernsey States government, the IWM and DAS Chairman David Hands for all coming together to enable this iconic example of the UK’s most successful airliner series to be preserved here at Duxford as part of the British Airliner Collection.
Photo: Mark Russell
G-BEVT departing from Southampton to Alderney during its last couple of months in service
Aurigny have operated Islanders and Trislanders continually since 1968 on flights between the Channel Islands and the UK and France. The Islanders left the fleet some years ago but the Trislanders, which had arrived in 1971, soldiered on as they were perfect for the small runway at Alderney, however they to have now been retired, replaced by Dornier 228s. There were just three Trislanders left in recent times and the first to go was the iconic G-JOEY named after a character in a children’s book.
Photo: W. Dollivier
As this aeroplane had such a following on the Channel Islands, Aurigny vowed to keep it there and as such it has found a home in a theme park on Guernsey. The second example to be retired, G-RLON, was donated to the Solent Sky museum in Southampton, leaving just G-BEVT flying as the last airworthy Trislander in Europe. In May Aurigny organised a number of charity farewell flights from Alderney, Guernsey and Southampton. These were twenty-minute flights for £40 and sold out in a flash, such is the affection the Channel Islanders hold for the Trislander. She then made her last ever flight into Duxford to join our airliner collection. So let’s look back at what makes this new arrival such an important part in the history of the British airliner industry. Britten-Norman based at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight took their brand new John Britten and Desmond Norman designed BN-2 Islander to the Paris airshow in 1965. It was an instant winner and orders began to come in from all around the world for this rugged little ten-seater.
Photo : RuthAS
The prototype at the Paris Airshow in 1965.
Demand for the little airliner was so great Britten-Norman could not keep pace and another production line was set up in Romania to fulfil the orders. After a while Britten -Norman looked at the possibility of making a stretched version to carry up to 18 people. It took the second Islander prototype, G-ATWU , and converted it into the Trislander showing it at Farnborough in 1970 under the name of Islander Mk 3. With a third engine stuck on top of the fin and a lengthened fuselage it could not be called a pretty aeroplane, however production versions had an extra piece of fin mounted on top of the rear engine together with a lengthened nose profile to provide some more baggage room. These changes helped the aeroplane to recover some of the good looks of its smaller sister. Of the two prototypes the original was written off and the Trislander conversion was withdrawn from use a couple of months after its Farnborough appearance. The third Islander built ,G-AVCN, is at present being restored on the Isle of Wight by the Britten-Norman Aircraft Preservation Society who hope to have it finished this year in time for its fiftieth birthday.
The prototype Trislander at a wet and grey Farnborough Airshow in 1970. Note the small nose and lack of fin on the top of the tail mounted engine, also the sign shows it was yet to be named ‘Trislander’.
With the proof of concept in the bag Britten-Norman started to produce the Trislanders alongside the Islanders on the Bembridge production line. They were not as popular as the smaller Islanders so the production rate was very slow with just over 70 airframes being built between 1970 and 1980 when production stopped. The final few were built and placed into storage as there were no buyers at the time. Our example, G-BEVT c/n 1057 was one of these having its first flight on 1 July 1977 but not being delivered to Aurigny , with whom it would spend its entire career of over 86,000 flights, until 22 July 1983 . The successful Islander however was still being built with many new versions including an experimental Dowty ducted fan example, registered appropriately G-FANS. This was a one-off and the project did not go any further.
Photo: Steve Fitzgerald.
Trislanders continued to trickle out of the factory and were used, just like the Islanders, by airlines all around the world. A UK example was LyddAir who flew a scheduled service from Lydd in Kent across the Channel to Le Touquet in France.
LyddAir Trislander at its home base.
But one of the biggest operators of Britten-Norman’s products was Aurigny in the Channel Islands. With the Islands being something of a tax haven, many financial institutions did business there, so a smart move by Aurigny’s commercial team saw some of the Trislanders repainted in the house colours of some of the bigger institutions.
Capitalising on the Islander success Britten-Norman started looking at versions for the military, Named the Defender, these could be light transports or special mission aircraft including this one configured with a 360 degree radar for use as an Airborne Early Warning platform.
Defender with nose mounted AEW radar at Farnborough.
These military versions also attracted customers from around the world including the British Army who use some of them for Electronic Intelligence gathering.
British Army Defender at Fairford for the 2013 Tattoo.
The civil Islander was still a big success and a steady stream of orders continued to arrive at Bembridge. Several of these were for UK operators but nowadays Scotland and the Scilly Isles are the main hunting grounds for this little 10 seat plane. Just across the Irish Sea Aer Arann use a small fleet to service the Aran Isles from their mainland base at Connemara, offering an almost bus-like timetable as they link the small islands just off the coast.
One of Aer Arann’s Islanders taxies back onto the ramp at Connemara after its short flight to one of the Aran Isles.
Further afield both the Islander and the 18 seat Trislander are used for flights from the Great Barrier island airport to Auckland and elsewhere in in New Zealand. Islanders have also found a home serving the smaller islands of the Caribbean. Our picture shows an Air Anguilla example taxying out at the airport at St Maarten for a flight home to Anguilla.
Times moved on and a major upgrade was carried out on the Islander model with the introduction of the BN-2T which replaced the old Lycoming piston engines with new Allison turboprops making the aircraft more attractive to the modern market. This modification was not carried over to the Trislanders which were becoming a bit long in the tooth. However, being capable of landing and taking off in only fifty feet, they filled a STOL niche market for many years which has only recently started to have competition from aircraft like the Dornier 228. Slowly the UK operators such as Willow Air and Blue Sky started to dispose of their Trislanders until only Aurigny was left flying the flag for this three-engine mini airliner.
Willow Air Trislander at Southend
Aurigny was known for many years for using a mainly dark yellow colour scheme with red and black cheat lines. However after their dalliance with the corporate schemes they smartened up the Trislanders with a new white and yellow livery to match the other aircraft in the Aurigny fleet.
Photo: Udo Hafkei
Photo: W. Dollivier
The last scheme worn by the Trislanders is shown off to good advantage on G- RBCI parked on the ramp at Guernsey.
So have we come to the end of the story? No, not yet it seems, as Islanders/Defenders are still slowly rolling out of the factory on the Isle of Wight and Britten-Norman’s other facility at Lee-on-Solent. In fact since that first flight in 1965 over 1250 aeroplanes have come through those doors. This makes the Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander/Trislander the longest continually produced British aircraft ever made and also the British aircraft with the biggest ever sales. Truly the UK’s most successful airliner and there is no sign of it ending just yet.
Photo: Nicolas Herpeux
G-BEVT seen climbing out of Dinard on its way back to Guernsey in March 2017.
With a pedigree like that we are delighted to be able to display an example to the public here at Duxford . It is also interesting to note that a new start up airline called Air Alderney will appear shortly on the Channel Islands operating guess what … BN-2T Turbine Islanders !
So the long-standing connection between Britten-Norman’s finest and the Channel Islands will hopefully live on. Once again many thanks to Aurigny and all those involved for bringing the last Trislander flying in Europe, G-BEVT, to Duxford to join the British Airliner Collection.
From a personal point of view I was lucky enough to fly on a Trislander around the Channel Islands a couple of times. Being a lightweight they always stuck me on the last seat in the cabin just in front of the mid- engine ! It was always a bit noisy but being such a charismatic little plane I always disembarked with a smile on my face, they will be sorely missed.
So let’s finish with a few pictures of G-BEVT at its new home at Duxford.
Official handover of Trislander to DAS.
Trislander and Sally B basking in the Sunshine, a beautiful view.
G-BEVT with Rapide taking of in the background.