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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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I seem to remember seeing Viscounts in Continental (7+ / 0-)

    livery in Houston in the 50s and later.

    Also, I seem to remember that the Dart had a plain journal bearing in it in at least one of its versions, am I wrong?

    Great plane, one of my most favorites. A real screamer with those darts, isn't it? More high frequency in the sound than with many other turboprops I think.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 04:10:42 PM PST

    •  Dart - plain bearings... (6+ / 0-)

      ....certainly! At least the Dart 532 (as fitted to the Fokker F.27) had a bronze/copper/lead alloy plain bearing.

      Noisy on the ground, less so once you got it into the air!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 05:55:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was on an F.27 once. (6+ / 0-)

        When I was about 16. My dad was driving us down from the Bay area to Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station for an airshow. Then he decided to take a shortcut. We headed for the Salinas airport, I think it was, and flew to Santa Barbara. The approach to that airport I remember as involving an interesting let down over the mountains and what looked like a pretty short runway. Then a rental car, and the airshow. I don't remember too much about that except seeing a demo of an F8 crusader doing a loop and firing the 20mm cannon out into the sea, which was a firing range for that base. Then he made a fast pass down the runway at a few hundred feet and tried to fire 2 zuni rockets, but somehow the signal went awry and the whole rack came off the aircraft and eventually went cartwheeling down the runway. I remember one of the airshow workers sprinting to get out of its way. They also fired a sidewinder and that went ok, hitting a parachute flare out over the sea.

        Also saw a P&W J-48 from a Cougar, without realizing its British origin until years later.

        See, that's what my memory jogs are like. you say F 27, I remember Pt. Mugu.....I don't know how I would ever write a diary of my reminiscences like that. Maybe a random aircraft list or something.    lol.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 07:44:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You say F.27, and I think of G-BMAU... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenBee, billmosby

          ..a Fokker F.27 of British Midland Airways. Oh, the joy of finding out that you have run out of Scotch, calling your boss in the next city, and asking him if you can take a 2 hour break at lunchtime, to undertake some aviation research, calling BMA Ops, finding they have a jumpseat available on the noon flight to Amsterdam!

          Dashing to the terminal with your passport and finding out its a crew you know....smooth flight to AMS, dash into the duty-free, buy 2 x 1 litre of the Macallan, back on the turned-around Fokker! THOSE were the days.........

          'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

          by shortfinals on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 10:44:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Much better than my dream flight! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            shortfinals

            I was on a Western Airlines flight on New Year's Eve from Los Angeles to Detroit where the crew outnumbered the passengers. So did the champaign supply. I was not yet of drinking age, though...

            But it sounds like you had access to your dream any time you wanted while mine only happened once.

            A version of their famous commercial from at least 10 years before that flight of mine in 1969:

            Moderation in most things.

            by billmosby on Tue Dec 25, 2012 at 07:09:14 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wow! Smoking on a 'plane.... (0+ / 0-)

              ....who knew!?

              Yes, I was lucky; British Midland had their HQ about a mile from EGNX, so the airport staff had a cosy relationship with them. Heathrow was served by a 5 times a day shuttle, and took 45 mins! We lived high on the hog, let me tell you! grin

              I also got a 10% privilege fare whenever I wanted....ANYWHERE........

              'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

              by shortfinals on Tue Dec 25, 2012 at 09:37:27 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Popular in Australia too, (6+ / 0-)

    and played a central role in Australia's worst air disaster, I believe.

    For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

    by Anne Elk on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 04:14:06 PM PST

  •  Fun stuff SF (6+ / 0-)

    Little known type on this side of the pond.  Was there a sibling that had a front end that looked like a chipmunk with cheeks full of nuts?

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 04:26:25 PM PST

  •  hey can you do one on the Gloster Grebe? that's (4+ / 0-)

    my new favorite British interwar fighter aircraft.  Mostly, I admit, because of the name--I love that the british used all available (alliterative) bird names, regardless of whether the bird itself was a badass predator or, like the grebe, a cute tiny waterbird.  Possibly I would feel differently if the Grebes had starred in the Battle of Britain.  Or not...

    Seriously, though-- I think your series is wonderful.  The next time you're looking at the American side for WWII-era planes, and want to do something slightly more esoteric than Hellcats, Thunderbolts, Lightnings, Mustangs, Corsairs, etc, here some suggestions:

    Bell P-39 Airacobra
    Northrop P-61 Black Widow
    Douglas TBD Devastator

    I seem to have a general interest in slightly woebegone aircraft these days.

  •  United Airlines Flew on East Coast USA (6+ / 0-)

    I remember flying on the Viscount under United Airlines livery when in college in the 1960s.  United flew it on the shorter hauls along the East Coast.  In particular, the would fly out of the Middle Atlantic state airports, jumping from airport to airport out to the Upper Midwest.  For those of us fortunate enough to fly, this was the period when student fares which were 50% of coach were available, but that fare also applied to the Viscount and Caravelles United flew, which were all first-class.  They still served meals - real meals - back in those days with real dinnerware.

    Flying the Viscount at the time also offered me one of the strangest flights I've ever experienced.  This particular flight started in Baltimore Friendship International Airport, as it was known at the time, and stopped at Washington Naitonal before continuing to Cleveland Hopkins, my destination.  The Viscount lifted off from Friendship, never retracted the landing gear and barely retracted the flaps before it descended into Washington National while flying at probably no more than a thousand fee the entire time.  We landed normally at National, stopped briefly and then took off for Cleveland normally.  But, flying over Washington DC pretty much down on the deck with plane never having left its landing condition still surprised me.  The Viscount was  nice plane to fly, quieter than the DC-6s that United also flew on this route, despite the turbo-props.

    "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

    by PrahaPartizan on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 04:58:28 PM PST

  •  Being on this side of the pond (6+ / 0-)

    I have seen very few Viscounts, despite being an habitual planespotter.  They remind me a bit of the Lockheed Electra, and to the untrained eye, could be mistaken for one at a distance.

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 05:11:29 PM PST

  •  I grew up in a suburb of Montreal (7+ / 0-)

    on the landing flight path for Dorval (now Pierre Trudeau) airport in the 50s and 60s and there was always a steady stream of Vickers Viscounts and Vanguards flown by Trans Canada Airlines/Air Canada. On cold winter days they were quite a bit louder.

  •  I recall (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shortfinals, billmosby

    Airborne Express had some YS-11s, which was a Japanese aircraft fitted with two of those Rolls Royce Dart engines.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Tue Dec 25, 2012 at 03:07:09 AM PST

  •  Might have been my first airline flight (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shortfinals

    One of my earliest flights anywhere was in a Viscount, to Pittsburgh, PA. That pronounced dihedral in the elevators was distinctive.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Tue Dec 25, 2012 at 09:01:19 PM PST

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