RAMP RAMBLINGS………..By Keith Bradshaw. All photos by the author and Steve Jeal unless noted.
Firstly I hope you all had a good Christmas and as this is the first Ramp Ramblings of the year, may I wish you a belated Happy New Year for 2018. The very good news to start the year off is that the Britannia has been officially signed over to DAS. The paperwork was underway last year just as Monarch went into administration so it was all up in the air as to whether or not the aeroplane would become ours or would be scrapped. It had come as quite a surprise to the Monarch board early last year to find they actually still owned the aeroplane! It was at that point they decided to hand it over to us, thankfully all has turned out well and VT will now grace the Duxford skyline for many years to come.
Photo: Robin Stevens.
The cockpit of ‘OVT, which will now stay at Duxford owned by DAS.
What with our group Christmas lunches and the holiday shutdown there is not a lot to bring you up to date with. As you will have seen in the Christmas special edition of ramblings, this year sees a number of anniversaries for aircraft in the airliner collection. There are an additional couple that I failed to mention last time, the 70th anniversary of the Berlin airlift that featured our York plus the 60th anniversary of the first flight of our Britannia.
I thought we would start by looking at another important anniversary, the first flight and success of the Viscount.
Seventy years ago on a summer’s day in July 1948 the peace of the Surrey countryside was shattered by the whine of four Dart Turboprop engines, a noise the public were not yet used to hearing as these engines were fitted to the world’s first Turboprop airliner, the Vickers Viscount. Flown by Vickers test pilots Jock Bryce and Mutt Summers the prototype Viscount 630 registered G-AHRF lifted off from the grass of the Vickers airfield at Wisley to start what was to become a world beating success with 445 aeroplanes following in HRF’s wake. It soon became apparent that the Viscount 630 was too small, with just 32 passenger seats, and too slow. So, a quick redesign was carried out to stretch the airframe and fit more powerful Darts to become the Viscount 700/700D series carrying up to 48 passengers It was this version that first went into production with the 700-series prototype first flying in 1950. The second of the original 630 series prototypes was used as a test bed for the new Tay jet engine.
Photo credit RuthAs.
The second of the Viscount 630 prototypes fitted with Tay jet engines.
The prototype for the production version the, Viscount 700, was registered G-AMAV and was used in the London to New Zealand air race in 1953 setting the fastest time in the airliner category but was beaten into second place by a DC-6 on handicap.
Now operated by BEA the 700 series prototype is seen here at London Airport being readied for its part in the London-New Zealand air race.
BEA had now placed a large order with Vickers for the Viscount and at the end of 1951 the constructors number 5, which would be the second production aircraft, was under build at the Vickers factory at Weybridge. With construction complete in December 1952 the aeroplane’s first flight took it the sort distance from the factory airfield at Weybridge to the Vickers test airfield at Wisley. This aircraft was registered G-ALWF and delivered to BEA at London Airport in February 1953.
The Viscount was becoming a huge success with orders coming in from all around the world even the USA. With airlines such as Trans Australia, Ansett and NAC in New Zealand flying them down under and Trans Canada Airlines and Capitol Airlines and Continental in the US flying them the other side of the Atlantic.
A NAC Viscount seen at Wellington New Zealand.
Nearer to home, airlines such as Alitalia, KLM, Air France and Air Inter had also bought the new Turbo prop airliner. Vickers responded to this huge demand by upping production and by 1957 a new Viscount was being rolled out of the factory every three days.
With Viscounts being sold all over the world it was common to see them at almost any airport. Air Inter flew their fleet from Paris Orly airport.
A further development of the Viscount saw the fuselage stretched yet again to carry a load of up to 75 passengers with the extra weight being compensated for by more powerful Dart 510/530 engines. This version was designated the 800/810 series and was the final incarnation of the Viscount design. Many of the smaller UK airlines also operated Viscounts and in 1996 it fell to one of them, British World Airways, to operate the world’s last ever Viscount passenger flight. Some of the few remaining airframes soldiered on for some time as freighters mainly in the UK and South Africa. It is believed the last Viscount flight was sometime in 2007/8.
Photo: Milbourne one.
An Alidair Viscount 700. This is the airline that donated a pair of outer wing panels to LWF when it came to Duxford.
Photo: Pedro Aragao.
Once flown by BEA/British Airways this Viscount 810 ended its days with British Air Ferries who, renamed as British World Airways, used one of its sister ships on the last ever Viscount passenger flight in 1996.
So what of that second production series 700, G-ALWF? It had been modified to carry 47 all-tourist seats before entering service with BEA. On its initial arrival at the airline it, like the few others that had been delivered, was used for crew training and route proving. The world’s first ever scheduled Turbo prop service was on the route London to Nicosia in Cyprus in April 1953. The second turboprop scheduled flight there was operated by LWF.
BEA used Blackbushe airport for crew training and it was during one of this sorties that in 1955 LWF suffered an undercarriage collapse which culminated in it being dismantled and shipped to Marshall’s at Cambridge for repair. Little did we know at the time that LWF would end its days just a few miles from Cambridge at Duxford. In 1959 BEA converted the interior to carry a maximum of 63 seats and by the early 1960s had repainted their Viscount fleet into the familiar BEA red square livery.
Photo: Adrian Pingstone.
A BEA Viscount 800 at London Heathrow Airport.
By 1963 BEA began to retire its Viscount 700s, however the 800 series aeroplanes would continue for many years flying in the colours of BEA, Cambrian, Northeast and finally British Airways.
Photo: Eduard Marmet.
This was the final livery worn by the British Airways 800 series Viscounts before they were all sold to British Air Ferries in the early 80s.
By March 1964 G-ALWF was now at Southend with its new owners Channel Airways. They would only use it for a few months for in November of the same year it was leased to British Eagle. A year later it was back with Channel Airways, but was in store with a For Sale sign in the cockpit window. In December, looking to replace their aging Dakotas, it was snapped up by Cambrian Airways and was again back at Cambridge with Marshall’s for overhaul before entering Cambrian service.
Channel Airways Viscount 800.
After overhaul WF was flown down to the Cambrian base at Cardiff to begin flying for the Welsh Airline. Cambrian had strong links with, indeed was partially owned by, BEA and in 1967 Cambrian was absorbed into the BEA owned company British Air Services operating a number of routes on behalf of BEA. As the 1970s drew near BEA started to retire a number of its Viscount 800s, these were passed onto Cambrian and Northeast who in turn retired the older Viscount 700s. G-ALWF had come to the end of its career, so on Christmas Eve 1971 it made its last commercial flight from Belfast to Cardiff.
A Cambrian Airways Viscount 700 at Bristol in 1963, this aeroplane G-AMON was one of the last 700 series operated by Cambrian who used it in BOAC colours in Scotland.
Cambrian recognised the fact that LWF was the oldest Viscount still in existence with 19 years of flying under its wings so decided it should be preserved if possible. A deal was done to sell the aeroplane, for its scrap value, to the Viscount Preservation Trust at Liverpool. Thus it was in April 1972 that LWF once again felt the wind beneath her wings when she took off from Cardiff to Heathrow and then on to her final landing at Liverpool Speke airport and was placed in the hands of the Viscount Preservation Trust. After flying nearly seven million miles and carrying 800,000 passengers LWF’s registration was finally cancelled on 18 April 1972. At which point Cambrian removed several components for use on its other Viscounts.
At first WF was kept in a hangar and regular public access was allowed. However in 1973 changes in airport security arrangements required that she be parked outside and public access ended. At this time Cambrian also removed both the outer wing panels for use on their two remaining 700 series Viscounts, MOG and MON, that they were using for contract flights for BOAC in Scotland. The future for the world’s oldest Viscount looked bleak.
In 1975 an agreement was made to loan the aeroplane to the Duxford Aviation Society to be restored and displayed in their airliner collection. By mid-1976 the airframe had been dismantled and shipped south to Duxford and formally placed on loan to DAS for 99 years. The work then commenced to find the missing parts and rebuild the aeroplane after dealing with the many corrosion issues. Alidair, a UK airline still flying Viscounts, donated a pair of outer wings to replace those removed by Cambrian and a decade later in 1986 LWF looked again as if it had just rolled out of the Weybridge hangar resplendent in the old style BEA livery, the colours she still wears to this day.
Still going strong in 2018 , Sixty six years since her first flight.
The interior of the world’s oldest Viscount showing the large windows and five- abreast seating.
Photo: John Overhill.
The cockpit of G-ALWF.
The Viscount Preservation Trust decided in 2011 to pass ownership to DAS and to this day, volunteers of the Duxford Aviation Society strive to keep ahead of the jobs that constantly require doing to keep an old lady of the skies in tip top condition. This is not helped by the fact the WF has ended her days being displayed outside but every effort is made to preserve her as a member of the British Airliner Collection. The aim is to enable future generations to marvel at this icon of aviation – the world’s first Turbo prop airliner to enter service, 70 years since the type’s first flight. Many thanks to John Overhill, the DAS Mr Viscount, for his help in the writing of this piece. As Cambrian Airways featured quite strongly in this story lets continue almost seamlessly into a quick look at that airline which was around for many years but alas no longer with us.
Formed in 1935, flying a De Havilland DH60 Moth from Cardiff airport the company was first known as Cambrian Air Services. In 1956 the company changed its name to Cambrian Airways now operating a mixed fleet of De Havilland Rapides, Doves and Douglas DC3s. In the 1960s the DC3s were replaced by Viscounts with the last DC3 flight being operated in 1968. A year earlier BEA had bought the airline but it continued to operate as Cambrian adding BAC1-11 jets to its fleet.
Photo: Ralf Monteufel.
BAC 1-11 400 series, one of three operated by Cambrian.
In 1972 BEA merged it’s subsidiary airlines into British Air Services, but all still carried their own colour schemes with the airline name replaced by that of BAS. In 1974 with the formation of British Airways all the British Air Services fleet were merged into the new airline, however it was another two years in 1976 that the name Cambrian finally disappeared as the last of their BAC 1-11s and Viscounts were finally repainted in the British Airways corporate scheme.
Around the collection a few things have been going on, but I hope you saw the Channel 5 TV documentary about Concorde last month. Our own XDN and Concorde Heritage member John Dunlevy featured quite prominently in the first of the two part story that covered the design and testing of the aeroplane. Our Concorde came across very well on the TV and thanks must go to all of those who have been involved with its revamp over the last 12/18 months.
The lifting platform renovation I mentioned a couple of months ago is now finished. With the frame stripped and repainted, all the safety rails have been removed cleaned and repainted along with the steady jacks that stabilise the unit when it’s in use. The old wood decking has been removed and replaced with a lightweight composite material as used on aircraft floors. As the platform weighs so much any reduction in weight is welcome when it comes to pushing it along the tarmac!
The lifting platform tucked away in the DAS yard ready for action.
Projects like this are not very glamorous but are essential to the running of the society. Even some jobs on the planes can seem tedious, but the volunteers just buckle down and get on with it. Ian has been working removing corrosion and cleaning the VC10 undercarriage legs for week after week and Chris has been repairing and replacing lower wing panels on the Trident for some time. Elsewhere our electrician, Alan, has been working on updating the electrical supplies to both the Hermes and the York to ensure they conform to all the present day safety regulations. It’s thanks to efforts like this that a fully restored aeroplane comes about. You can now see why these restorations take so long. Thanks guys to you and all the others that are patiently getting on with the job in hand.
A rare in-flight picture of a Hermes landing at Manchester in 1962. Our Hermes fuselage is now the only substantial piece of any Hermes remaining in existence and now boasts a new electrical supply.
Mention of the Trident brings to mind the fact, that thanks to a family friend, I was lucky enough to attend several of the Hawker Siddeley family days at Hatfield. This of course was also where many De Havilland types including the Mosquito were built, but not being quite that old I was there when the Tridents and HS146s were being manufactured!
The De Havilland factory at Hatfield in 1943 building Mosquitos. Subsequently types such as the Vampire, Comet, Vixen, Trident and BAe146 would also be built here.
This seems like a lifetime ago now but they were great days with the factory being open for public inspection during the morning when the employees all earned half a day’s overtime. You could see aircraft being assembled, with some on jacks having the undercarriage tested up and down, and roam all around the factory watching guys at various machines making components. You could even visit the plating shop with its huge baths of chemicals. All so impressive to a youngster and not a H&S official in sight! At lunch time there was a short flying display of mainly Hawker Siddeley types. It was all very casual compared with today’s arrangements. Not even a fence between the runway and the crowd. Just a white painted line on the grass, heady days.
Well that’s about it for this month, next time we will look at the BAC 1-11 which celebrates two anniversaries this year. 55 years since the types first flight and 25 years since our 1-11s arrival at Duxford. Hopefully next time there will be more news to share about the British Airliner Collection. See you then, Keith.