The Viscount was a British medium-range turboprop airliner first flown in 1948 by Vickers-Armstrongs, making it the first such aircraft to enter service in the world. It would go on to be one of the most successful of the first-generation post-war transports, with 445 being built.
Design and development
The design resulted from the Brabazon Committee's Type II design, calling for a small-sized medium-range pressurised aircraft to fly its less-travelled routes, carrying 24 passengers up to 1,750 mi (2,816 km) at 200 mph (320 km/h). British European Airways (BEA) was involved in the design and asked that the plane carry 32 passengers instead, but remained otherwise similar. During development, Vickers advocated the use of turboprop power, believing piston-engines to be a dead-end in aviation. The Brabazon committee was not so convinced, but agreed to split the design into two types, the Type IIA using piston power, and the Type IIB using a turboprop. Vickers won the IIB contracts, while the IIA was the Airspeed Ambassador.
The resulting Vickers Type 630 design was completed at Brooklands by Chief Designer Rex Pierson and his staff in 1945, a 32-seat airliner powered by four Rolls-Royce Dart engines providing a cruising speed of 275 mph (443 km/h). An order for two prototypes was placed in March 1946, and construction started almost immediately. Originally to be named Viceroy, the name was changed after the partition of India in 1947. There was some work on replacing the Darts with the Armstrong Siddeley Mamba, but this was dropped by the time the prototypes were reaching completion.
The prototype Type 630 flew on 16 July 1948. It was awarded a restricted Certificate of Airworthiness on 15 September 1949, followed by a full Certificate on 27 July 1950, and placed into service with BEA the next day to familiarize the pilots and ground crew with the new aircraft. However the design was considered too small and slow at 275 mph (443 km/h), making the per-passenger operating costs too high for regular service.
The second prototype Viscount was named the Type 663 and was built as a test-bed. This aircraft fitted with two Rolls-Royce Tay (turbojet) engines and first flew in RAF Markings as VX217 at Wisley on 15 March 1950. It demonstrated at the Farnborough SBAC Show in September and was later used in the development of powered controls for the Valiant bomber. Subsequently, Boulton Paul Ltd used it as a test bed for electronic control systems until scrapping in the early 1960s.
Type 700 Viscount
The designers then went back to the drawing board and the aircraft emerged as the larger Type 700 with up to 48 passengers (53 in some configurations), and a cruising speed of 308 mph (496 km/h). The new prototype G-AMAV first flew from Brooklands on 28 August 1950. It was used in flight tests and proving trials throughout 1951/52.
In October 1953 the Viscount 700 prototype G-AMAV achieved the fastest time (40 hours 41 minutes flying time) in the transport section of the 12,367 mi (19,903 km) air race from London to Christchurch, New Zealand. The aircraft averaged 320 mph (520 km/h) in the event, crossing the finishing line nine hours ahead of its closest rival, a Douglas DC-6A of KLM, with the latter winning on handicap. En route, equipped with extra fuel tanks, it flew 3,530 mi (5,680 km) non-stop from Cocos (Keeling) Island to Melbourne's Essendon Airport in 10 hours 16 minutes. Vickers Viscounts later served with New Zealand's National Airways Corporation.
Viscount production and operation
Type 700 series
The Type 700D added more powerful engines, and the Type 724 included a new fuel system, two-pilot cockpit, and increased weights.
Type 800 series
The final major change to the design was the Type 800, unofficially named the Super Viscount, stretched 3 ft 10 in (1.2 m) for up to 71 passengers. Wider, more square doors were fitted to the airframe at this time. A further change to the fuselage was planned, but later renamed as the Vanguard instead. The last Viscounts built were six for the People's Republic of China state airline Civil Aviation Administration of China, which were delivered during 1964, giving a total production total of 445.
The Viscount continued in BEA and British Airways service until early 1985, eventually being passed on to charter operators such as British Air Ferries (later British World). The last British-owned Viscounts were sold for use in Africa.
In May 2008, a total of three Vickers Viscount aircraft remain in airline service in Africa. In addition to these, one (a series 700) has also been restored to airworthy condition in the USA, and it is hoped that the Viscount will be attending several air shows in the future.
Aircraft on display
Specifications (Type 800)
Published - July 2009
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