The Handley Page H.P. 67 Hastings was an anachronism. At a time when most other large four-engined transports were being designed with tricycle undercarriages, the Hastings betrayed its WW2 roots and stuck with the ‘taildragger’ conformation, which makes ground-handling trickier, and imposes stricter cross-wind limitations on landing. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Hastings the step-child of the excellent WW2 heavy bomber, the Handley Page Halifax. Immediately post-war, some of these had been converted to freighters, and others were modified as Handley Page H.P. 70 Haltons, a civil version aimed at rebuilding the pre-war air routes. Indeed, the Hastings uses so much WW2-era technology that the only surviving complete Halifax in the U.K., at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, used a set of Hastings wings in the rebuilding of the composite aircraft (there is also a Halifax Mk.VII in Canada). The distance between inner and outer engines is slightly incorrect and there are other detail differences, but the composite Halifax still looks impressive. Also, there are so many smaller components which are common to aircraft of the Second World War, in that a main hydraulic manifold from a Hastings will fit straight into an Avro Lancaster (a situation that the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight has exploited in the past!)
The Hastings was intended as a troop carrier and freighter, and the first flight of the prototype (TE580) took place on 7th May, 1946; its four Bristol Hercules 101 radials, each of 1,675 hp, producing a surprisingly high top speed of 342 mph. No. 47 Squadron, RAF, (motto, ‘Nili nomen roboris omen’ - ‘The name of the Nile is an omen of our strength’) was the first unit to operate the Hastings C. Mk 1 in September, 1948 and the squadron were immediately thrown into ‘Operation Plainfare’, the Berlin Airlift (June 1948 – May 1949). The not very glamorous, but absolutely vital, function of carrying coal into the beleaguered city was their main task, indeed, it was a Hastings that made the final flight into West Berlin on 6th October, 1949. Hastings aircraft were also used in combat, when No. 70 Squadron dropped paratroops on Port Said, Egypt, during the Suez Campaign of November 1956.
Inevitably, as newer transports started to come into service, examples of the Hastings were converted to specialist tasks. Sixteen converted C. Mk 1 became Hastings (Met) Mk 1 and were used for long-range weather reconnaissance by No. 202 Squadron from bases in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Even more interestingly, eight aircraft (seven C. Mk 1 and one (Met) Mk 1) were converted to Hastings T. Mk 5, by Airwork Ltd at Blackbushe Airport, Surrey. The T. Mk 5 was fitted with a very large under-fuselage radome, carrying an H2S Mk 9 radar and other components of the Navigation and Bombing System, a vital piece of equipment of the RAF’s new four-turbojet powered, atomic-capable, ’V’ bombers (Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and the Vickers Valiant). Joining the Bomber Command Bombing School at RAF Lindholme (a satellite of RAF Finningley, which had Vulcans and Valiants based there), the T.5 could carry the bomb-aimers and navigators of three ‘V’ bomber crews at a time, during training sorties. With the amalgamation of Fighter Command and Bomber Command, this became Strike Command Bomber School in April, 1968. The T.5s were even used on reconnaissance sorties during the so-called Third ‘Cod War’ between Iceland and Great Britain from November 1975 to June 1976. The last Hastings were finally withdrawn from the Radar Flight of No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Scampton in June, 1977. Here we can see T.5, TG517, on display at Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire; strangely, no less than three of the four remaining Hastings are T.5s – out of a total of eight of this specialized variant, and a total production of 151 aircraft. A nose section (and several other major components) of one of four Hastings C. Mk 3 built for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, is preserved in the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT), in Auckland, New Zealand.
The Hastings suffered some unfortunate accidents, it is true, but its record was no worse than other transport aircraft of the period. In its long, 30 year, career, the Hastings covered the world and did everything from carrying bulk coal supplies to training ‘V’ Force navigators – a truly memorable aircraft.