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Britten-Norman Trislander Mk III


One of the Islander family – in continuous production for over 50 years!

The Trislander was a development of the Britten-Norman Islander. John Britten and Desmond Norman, both former de Havilland employees, identified a market for a utility passenger aircraft with a minimum of complex systems that could operate from short, rough airstrips. This led to the BN-2 Islander design and the Britten-Norman company was formed to produce the aircraft, which first flew in 1965. With exceptional short-field performance and good economics, the Islander enjoyed great success, indeed demand for the little airliner was so great that Britten-Norman’s factory at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight could not keep pace and another production line was set up in Romania (at Intreprinderea de Reparatii Material Aeronautic or IRMA, a company that also built the BAC 1-11 under licence) to fulfil the orders. Some 500 airframes were constructed there.

While the names ‘Islander’ and ‘Trislander’ no doubt reflect their Isle of Wight origins, many other islands around the world have come to regard these aircraft as their link with the outside world. The list of island groups served by these aircraft reads like a geography lesson: Vanuatu, Kiribati, Orkneys, Hebrides, Channel Islands. For many of these islands rough seas can mean isolation unless air links can be maintained, and many are too small for the construction of long runways, so the Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) performance of the Islander is crucial – the Islander can take off and land in under 250 m (820 ft). Some, islands, like Barra in the Outer Hebrides, have no runway at all, so the aircraft operate from the beach when tides and sand conditions permit. Many of the distances between neighbouring islands are very short – Loganair, the Scottish regional airline, uses the Islander to operate the shortest scheduled air service in the world between Westray and Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands, a distance of only 2.7 km (1.7 m). The scheduled time is two minutes, but current fastest time for the journey is 53 seconds! The life of an airliner on such routes is a series of very short ‘hops’ and thousands of take-offs and landings, requiring a very rugged aeroplane! While its short-distance performance and economics have been key to the Islander’s success, it is by no means limited to this role, with a range of up to 800 m (1280 km). Indeed, Islander G-AXUD, flown by W. J. Bright and F. L. Buxton, won its class in the 1969 England to Australia air race. The Islander has also proved popular with the military, and in various guises has served with the defence forces of over 50 countries: a militarised version, the Defender, first flew in 1970. A turbine version, with Rolls-Royce 250-B17C turboprop engines, first flew in August 1980. It is this versatility that has led to the popularity and astonishing longevity of this airliner ‘family’. The oldest Islander still flying was first registered on 20 December 1967, and new ones are still leaving the Britten-Norman plant at Lee-on-Solent!

After the initial success of the Islander, Britten-Norman looked at the possibility of a larger version to carry up to 18 people on higher density routes. The second Islander prototype, G-ATWU, was converted into the Trislander by stretching the fuselage and adding a third Lycoming O-540 piston engine on top of the fin. This aircraft appeared at the Farnborough Air Show in 1970 under the name of Islander Mk 3. Later production versions had an additional section of fin mounted above the rear engine and most had a lengthened nose profile to provide more baggage space. There was no aisle between the passenger seats but five doors along both sides of the fuselage allowed access to all seat rows. Alternatively, as a cargo aircraft, the cabin offered 7.3 m (24ft) of uninterrupted freight capacity. The first production Trislander flew on 6 March 1971 and deliveries commenced in June that year. The aircraft’s novel design won the Queen’s Award to Industry for technological innovation in 1975. Britten Norman was acquired by Fairey Aviation in 1972, and many aircraft were built in the Fairey factory at Gosselies in Belgium, leading to the Trislander, with its tail-mounted third engine, being christened the ‘Belgian DC-10’! The Trislander did not, however, enjoy the same success as the Islander, and production ceased in 1980 after 73 airframes had been delivered. As of 2017, seven aircraft remained in service around the world. But the story continues: on 29 September 2018 Roraima Airways of Guyana announced the commissioning of their ‘new’ Trislander. This aircraft had been purchased in New Zealand, freighted to Guyana and assembled there.

The Islander ‘family’ has been in continuous production for more than 50 years and over 1250 aircraft have been delivered, making this the UK’s most successful airliner.

G-BEVT was one of the last of 73 Trislanders built by Britten-Norman, an independent constructor based at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. Its first flight was on 1 July 1977 but due to a lack of orders it was not delivered until 22 July 1983, when it joined the fleet of Aurigny Air Services of Guernsey, one of the major operators of the type – a total of 15 Trislanders were operated by the airline. It spent its entire career with Aurigny, mainly on services between Guernsey, the neighbouring islands of Alderney and Jersey, and Southampton on the south coast of England, and amassed a total of 86,603 flights. With total hours of 28,280, this means an average time per flight of only 19.6 minutes! When Aurigny withdrew the type from service G-BEVT, their last Trislander was passed to the British Airliner Collection for long-term preservation and the aircraft made its last flight from Alderney to Duxford on 22 June 2017.

Datafile: Britten-Norman Trislander Mk III

First flight:06 March 1971
Passenger capacity:17
Powerplant:3 × Lycoming O-540-E4C5 air-cooled flat-six piston engines, 190kW (260 hp) each
Wingspan:16.2 metres (53 ft 0in)
Length:15.0 metres (49 ft 3in)
Height:4.3 metres (14 ft 2in)
Empty weight:2,650 Kg (5,842 lb)
Maximum speed:290 km/h (180 mph, 156 knots, Mach 0.23)
Range:1,609 km (1,000 miles, 869 nmi)
Service ceiling:4,011 metres (13,160 feet)
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