In the depths of World War Two, the Brabazon Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Brabazon of Tara (the holder of the Royal Aero Club Pilot’s Licence No. 1), was charged with producing specifications for transport aircraft suitable for use by British airlines following the resumption of civil aviation at the end of hostilities.
Some of the so-called ‘Brabazon types’ were marginally successful, such as the Airspeed Ambassador, Type IIA, some were total failures, like the Bristol Brabazon, Type I, and some, such as the Vickers Viscount, Type IIB, were a positive triumph. The Type II specification was split into two designs, one piston-engined (Type IIA) and the other (Type IIB) powered by as-yet untried turboprop engines.
Originally intended as a 24-seat short-medium haul airliner to service ‘thin’ European routes, the intervention of British European Airways caused the initial design to be ‘stretched’ to 32 seats. The prototype Viscount 630, G-AHRF, (originally called Viceroy, but changed for political reasons) made its first flight on 16th July 1948, and quickly completed both a flight test programme and a series of proving flights between London and Paris and London and Edinburgh with its intended operator, British European Airways. The four Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops (in their original R.Da Mk 501 form of 1,380 eshp) proved themselves to be utterly reliable, but the airframe was just not big enough to be viable on European routes.
It was back to the drawing board, and the first stretched 700 Series Viscount, G-AMAV flew in August, 1950, and could carry up to 53 passengers at over 300 mph. The Viscount proved very popular with passengers, and airline sales around the world were very brisk. A comprehensive list of airlines who used this aircraft, either as a passenger airliner or freighter would take up the rest of the page, but included Air Canada, British Midland Airways, Air France, British Airways, Cyprus Airways, South African Airways, TAP Portugal, Dan Air and many others. The final ‘stretch’ of the Viscount, the 800 Series, could seat up to 74 passengers, and was powered by uprated RR. Dart R.Da7/1 Mk 525 engines producing 1990 eshp. This design proved an economical ‘start-up’ turboprop for many Third World national airlines, as well as being used for inclusive charter work to holiday destinations from many northern European airports. As well as civil operators around the world, various air forces used the Viscount including the Indian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Brazilian Air Force and the RAE, or Royal Aircraft Establishment. The total production run was 444 aircraft, ending with a batch of six for the PRC airline CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) in 1964.
The Viscount shown above is displayed at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford Airfield. G-ALWF ’R.M.A. Sir John Franklin’ is the world’s oldest surviving Viscount (c/n 5), and is estimated to have flown nearly 7 million miles and carried 800,000 passengers! It is shown in the colours of British European Airways (an early scheme) and is lovingly maintained by members of the Duxford Aviation Society.
One personal note. When I was on staff at East Midlands International Airport (ICAO – EGNX), I used to be on the rota for conducting airport tours on weekday evenings. These tours allowed visiting groups to be shown behind the scenes at EMIA (this was obviously in the days before the current high-security regime now in place at airports). Whenever possible, I used to finish the tour by conducting the party onboard a British Midlands Airways Viscount (they had acquired Viscounts of many sub-types, from all over the world) and giving them a brief history of the airline, which had started life as Derby Airways. It was always a popular finale to the evening.