Like several others in the British Airliner Collection, the Bristol Britannia was developed in response to a Brabazon Committee specification, in this case the Type III, which also coincided with the BOAC (British Overseas Airways) requirement called MRE (Medium Range Empire). Originally designed to have Bristol Centaurus piston engines, range and economy considerations led to the aircraft’s redesign with turboprops, in this case Bristol’s own Proteus engine. The first flight was made by prototype 101 G-ALBO on 16 August 1952, but technical problems, particularly with icing of the engine air intakes, led to delays in the introduction of the Britannia into airline service until 1 February 1957 when a variant 102 flew to Johannesburg. Adverse publicity had undoubtedly damaged the prospects for the aircraft. One notable positive feature, however, was the unusual quietness of this large aircraft in flight, leading to its enduring nickname ‘The Whispering Giant’.
The first production aircraft, the Series 100, were purchased by BOAC, who operated 15 aircraft. Various developments culminated in the 300 Series, with greater fuel capacity for long-range operation which enabled them to operate non-stop flights in both directions across the Atlantic. BOAC ordered 18 of the long-range aircraft, designated Series 312s, and began services between London and New York on 19 December 1957. Eventually 85 aircraft of all models were sold. The last recorded Britannia flight was in 1997. The basic design was also licensed to Canadair, who developed 33 CL-28 Argus aircraft, 12 CL44-6 CL-44 Yukon Freighter aircraft for the Canadian military and 27 CL-44-D4 civil passenger and freighter aircraft.
The British Airliner Collection’s G-AOVT was the last of 18 Series 312s delivered to BOAC, arriving at Heathrow on 1 January 1959. It operated on BOAC’s long range routes for more than four and a half years. In 1959 BOAC introduced the world’s first round-the-world service with part being operated by Britannias and part by Comet 4s. G-AOVT operated the first of these flights on 31 March 1959, flying via New York, San Francisco, Honolulu and Wake Island to Tokyo, from where a Comet 4 took over to complete the service by flying back to London with stops at Rangoon, Delhi and Rome.
When BOAC retired its Britannia 312s it was purchased by British Eagle International Airlines on 13 September 1963, and it was used on Eagle’s inaugural internal UK services, and then on scheduled services and holiday charter and trooping flights until November 1968, when the airline ceased operations.
VT was purchased by the newly formed Monarch Airlines in May on 10 May 1969 and based at Luton Airport. It was used mainly on ad hoc charters throughout Europe and worldwide in both passenger and freight configurations and also on European holiday package tours before operating the last civil passenger service by a Britannia in Europe on 14 October 1974, from Lisbon to Luton. VT’s cabin was then stripped of all fittings and it was leased to Invicta Airlines at Manston who used it on cargo charter flights to Europe, Africa and the Middle East for three months. It returned to Luton on 10 March 1975 and was stored awaiting disposal.
It was donated by Monarch Airlines to Duxford Aviation Society for preservation, and made its final flight to Duxford on 29 June 1975, the day when that year’s air show was being held, and landed during the flying display. It had then flown a total of 35,739 hours and made 10,834 landings.
|First flight:||16 August 1952|
|Powerplant:||4 x Bristol Proteus 765 turboprops of 3,320kW (4,450hp) each|
|Wingspan:||43.4 metres (142 ft 3in)|
|Length:||37.9 metres (124 ft 3in)|
|Height:||11.7 metres (38 ft 6in)|
|Empty weight:||39,190 Kg (86,400 lb)|
|Maximum speed:||639 km/h (397 mph, 345 knots, Mach 0.52)|
|Range:||7,129 km (4,430 miles, 3,850 nmi)|
|Service ceiling:||7,315 metres (24,000 feet)|