The Bristol Type 175 Britannia was a British medium/long-range airliner built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1952 to fly across the British Empire. Soon after production the turboprop engines proved susceptible to inlet icing and two prototypes were lost while solutions were found. By the time it was cleared, jets from France, UK and the US were about to enter service and only 85 Britannias were built before production ended in 1960. Nevertheless, the Britannia is considered the high point in turboprop design and was popular with passengers, earning itself the title of "The Whispering Giant" for its quiet and smooth flying.
Design and development
In 1942, during the Second world War, the US and UK agreed to split aircraft construction; the US would concentrate on transport aircraft, the UK would on heavy bombers. This left the UK with little experience in transport construction at the end of the war, so in 1943, a committee under Lord Brabazon of Tara, investigated the future of the British civilian airliner market. The Brabazon Committee called for four main types of aircraft.
Bristol won the Type I and Type III contracts, delivering their Type I design, the Bristol Brabazon in 1949. The initial requirement for the Type III, Specification C.2/47, was issued by the Minister of Supply for an aircraft capable of carrying 48 passengers and powered with Bristol Centaurus radial engines. Turboprop and compound engines were also considered, but they were so new that Bristol could not guarantee the performance specifications. After wrangling between the Ministry of Supply and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) over costs, the go-ahead was given in July 1948 for three prototypes, although the second and third were to be convertible to Bristol Proteus turboprops.
In October, with work already underway, BOAC decided that only a Proteus-engined aircraft was worth working on, and the project was redrawn to allow both turboprop and piston aircraft. BOAC purchased options for 25 aircraft in July 1949, the first six with the Centaurus engine and the rest with the Proteus, now enlarged for 74 passengers.
By the time the first prototype, registered G-ALBO, first flew on 16 August 1952 at Filton, BOAC and Bristol had dropped the Centaurus because the turboprop Proteus had shown such promise. The Britannia was now a 90-seater and BOAC ordered 15 of these Series 100s. In 1953 and 54, three de Havilland Comets disappeared without explanation, and the Air Ministry demanded the Britannia undergo lengthy tests. Further, delays were caused by engine problems, mostly related to icing and the loss of the second prototype G-ALRX in an accident caused by a failed engine in December 1953. This delayed the in-service date until February 1957, when BOAC put their first Britannia 102s into service on the London to South Africa route, with Australia following a month later.
Bristol then upgraded the design as a larger transatlantic airliner for BOAC, resulting in the Series 200 and 300. The new version had a fuselage stretch of 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m) and upgraded Proteus engines, and was offered as the all-cargo Series 200, the cargo/passenger (combi) Series 250, and the all-passenger Series 300.
The first public service was operated on the 1 February 1957 with a BOAC flight between London and Johannesburg. By August 1957 the first 15 Series 102 aircraft had been delivered to BOAC. The last ten aircraft of the order were built as Series 300 aircraft for transatlantic operations.
The first 301 flew on 31 July 1956. BOAC ordered seven Model 302s but never took delivery - instead they were taken on by airlines including Aeronaves de México and Ghana Airways. The main long-range series were the 310s, of which BOAC took 18 and, after deliveries began in September 1957, put them into service between London and New York. The 310 series (318) also saw transatlantic service with Cubana de Aviación starting in 1958. In total 45 Series 300s were built, the first jet-powered, albeit in turboprop form, airliner to enter regular non-stop transatlantic service in both directions.
A further 23 Model 252 and 253 aircraft were purchased by the RAF, as the Britannia C.2 and C.1 respectively. Those in RAF service were allocated the names of stars, "Arcturus", "Sirius", "Vega" etc. The last retired in 1975, and were used by civil operators in Africa, Europe and the Middle East into the late 1990s.
A licence was also issued to Canadair to build a maritime reconnaissance aircraft , the Canadair Argus and long-range transport, the Canadair Yukon. Unlike the Britannia, the Argus was built for endurance, not speed, and used four Wright R-3350-32W Turbo-Compound engines which use less fuel at low altitude. The unpressurized interior was left with almost no room to move, packed with sensors and weapons. Canadair also built 37 turboprop Rolls Royce Tyne-powered CL-44 variants for the civil market similar those built for the RCAF in CC-106 Yukon guise, most of which were used as freighters. Four were built as CL-44-Js had their fuselages lengthened, making them the highest capacity passenger aircraft of the day, for service with the Icelandic budget airline Loftleiðir. One, a modified Guppy version, remains airworthy, but not flying. Several were built with swing-tails to allow straight-in cargo loading.
Accidents and incidents
Fourteen Type 175s were lost with a total of 365 fatalities between 1954 and 1980. The worst accident was the 20 April 1967 crash of a Globe Air Britannia, near Nicosia Airport, Cyprus, with 126 fatalities.
Of other types:
Ninety-passenger airliner with 114ft (35m) fuselage and powered by four Bristol Proteus 705
All cargo variant with a 124 ft 3 in (38 m) fuselage, BOAC had an option for 5 later cancelled, none built.
Similar to the 200 series, but mixed passenger and freight.
Passenger only version of the 200 series, capable of carrying up to 139 passengers. Medium-fuel capacity.
As 305 series, but with strengthened fuselage skin and undercarriage. Long-range fuel capacity and was originally known as 300LR.
Specifications (Bristol Britannia)
Published - July 2009
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