HOMAGE TO THE HERALD………….
A short article by Keith Bradshaw, with assistance from John King, to celebrate the reuniting of our Herald’s fin and tailplane after seven years of forced separation. Photographs supplied by Steve Jeal and Keith Bradshaw.
In the mid 1950’s Handley Page proposed a new short range airliner to be called the Herald. Powered by four Alvis Leonides piston engines it gained much interest from airlines from around the world with several orders being placed before the prototype first flew on 25th August 1955. However before the second example had taken to the sky these orders had evaporated in the wake of airlines now wanting modern Turbo-prop aircraft.
Now in the unenviable position of having two prototypes but no orders Handley Page did a rapid piece of redesign work and replaced the four Leonides with two Rolls Royce Dart turbo props. Rebranding the aeroplane as the HP Dart Herald, the first of these , the original prototype G-AODE, flew in May 1957. However on its way to the following years Farnborough airshow the aircraft lost a turbine blade which damaged a fuel line causing a major engine fire. It was only by a supreme example of airmanship that the pilot , Sqd Ldr Hazelden, managed to crash land the burning plane in a field near Godalming with no loss of life. The aircraft however was destroyed and the sales department lost a year of sales tours as a result. Still with no orders pending the government stepped in and placed one for three examples to kick start the production line. At the same time BEA was looking for a new aircraft for its Highland and Islands routes in Scotland, so an agreement was made and the government was happy for BEA to lease the three aircraft from the Ministry. Finally the orders began to trickle in.
It is interesting to note that with its order of 6 aircraft, Jersey Airlines was the only UK based airline to order and receive new aircraft direct from the production line, all other aircraft produced were either ordered or delivered initially to foreign buyers.
The RAF was in the market for a new transport aircraft to replace its aging Valettas and the Herald was pitched against the offering from Avro, the Avro 748. Despite the Herald coming out well in this contest the government took the political decision to place the order with Avro’s. This was because Handley Page had steadfastly refused to enter into the government scheme to merge all the British aircraft manufactures into just two large concerns, Hawker Siddeley and BAC.
With orders drying up it was not long before all production ceased. The last Herald built was delivered to the Israeli airline Arkia in August 1968, at this point Handley Page had made 50 Heralds with 36 of them delivered overseas.
The following year Handley Page ceased trading unable to keep up with mounting development costs of its new Jetstream feederliner aircraft. As an aside the rights for this were sold to Scottish Aviation who developed the aeroplane into one Britain’s most profitable ever with sales all around the world.
So where does our example G-APWJ fit into this story? The tenth Herald 201 to be built at Radlett it took to the air the first time in May 1963. It had been originally ordered by Transair but their cancelled order was taken up by British United (Channel Islands) Airways and it flew from Radlett to the BU(CI)A base in Jersey on 13 June 1963. British United (CI) Airways was merged into the parent company in 1968 so she was then repainted in the standard BUA scheme.
These were the colours she wore for just under two years plying the routes to and from the Channel Islands and beyond for BUA. ‘PWJ then passed in 1970 to British Island Airways who continued to operate this trusty workhorse for another 10 years until BIA and Air Anglia merged to become AirUk on 1st January 1980 moving her base to Norwich. At that time AirUk was a major Herald operator having obtained 13 aeroplanes from around the world for its extensive UK and European route network. However time was catching up with the Herald and by the time 1984 was nearly out AirUk had just four examples left in service including ‘PWJ. Their places in the AirUk fleet having been taken by Fokker F27’s one of the Herald’s main rivals way back in the 50’s when production had first started.
By the summer of 1985 AirUk had disposed of all its Heralds other than ‘ PWJ with most of them being converted by other airlines such as Channel Express and British Air Ferries into freighters for night time parcel services. So it fell to our Herald to operate, in June 1985, the types last ever scheduled passenger flight when it flew from Leeds to Belfast. Its final flight was a charter on Sunday 7th July 1985 when it carried a full load of AirUk employees from Norwich on a short hop to Duxford where it was handed over to us for preservation. During its 22 year career ‘ PWJ had flown more than 33,000 hours carrying an estimated 2 million passengers over a distance of 6 million miles.
It fell two years later to British Air Ferries to fly the final Herald passenger charter flight followed by an astounding further 12 years of freighter operations before the last ever Herald flight was flown by Channel Express with G-BEYF in March 1999. So ended 44 years of worldwide Herald operations. There are now only four Heralds left and one of those is hanging on by its finger tips at Gatwick airport.
Having been outside at Duxford for nearly a quarter of a century the old girl was beginning to look rather forlorn and in need of renovation, so in 2008/9 the decision was made to commence a complete restoration inside and out. As part of this work in 2009 the tailplane and fin were removed so that the removal of this weight at the back would allow the engines to be removed without the plane tipping over backwards. A decision was also made that unlike the restoration of the Ambassador (the previous long term DAS restoration) the interior and exterior would be restored at the same time not separately.
By 2014, with all removable units having been taken to the workshops, the job began to strip the years of old paint off back to bare metal ready for a repaint into the blue and white AirUk scheme she so proudly wore when ’ PWJ was donated to DAS back in 1985. What takes only a few seconds to write took most of the summer to achieve with all the DAS volunteers plus students from ESTACA , a Paris Technical college, taking turns in painting on the stripper and scrapping off the gungy paint and stripper mix. The whole fuselage then had to be washed down to remove any traces of the stripper before the primer could be put on using brushes and rollers.
Whilst all this was going on the engines and props had been refurbished, all the interior trim and cabin floor was removed as some of it had been damaged by water leaks. The various control surfaces were also being worked on back in the workshops ready for their eventual replacement. The fuselage was surprisingly mainly corrosion free a testament to the sturdy Handley Page design, but any that was found was removed and the area treated. The following year saw the application of the blue and white paint to the fuselage, again with help from another group of French students, and again all done outside.
This year has seen a massive visible improvement with the engines and props being refitted, with the help of the DAS Military Vehicle Wing. All new cabin windows and cabin trim panels, the refitting of the carpet and some of the seats, new cockpit DV windows and an almost completely renovated cockpit instrument panel. Also the red and white stripe has been painted along the fuselage. The fin, with its proud AirUk logo, and the tailplane have been fitted back in position seven years since they were removed.
There is still a long way to go before the restoration is finished, but with ‘ PWJ once again looking like a complete aeroplane thanks to the hard work of all the DAS volunteers and French students, the end is in sight, just !!!
In writing this piece I would like to thank fellow DAS member John King who as a Handley Page apprentice from 1957 was there through every step of the Herald’s often painful development and entry into service. His comments and suggestions have been most helpful.
If you would like to help us complete the restoration of this fine British airliner, then please drop something in the donations box next time she is open to the public, or go to the Donate button on the website home page, every penny helps. Thank you.