The Short Belfast is a heavy lift turboprop freighter built by Short Brothers at Belfast. Only 10 were built for the British Royal Air Force with the designation Short Belfast C.1. When they were retired by the RAF, five went into civilian service with the cargo airline HeavyLift Cargo Airlines. Two aircraft still exist, one is on display at the RAF Museum Cosford.
The Belfast was developed to meet a Royal Air Force requirement for a freighter capable of carrying a wide range of military loads over long ranges. The military loads envisaged included artillery, more than 200 troops, helicopters, and guided missiles. Shorts' design was based on studies they had worked on in the late 1950s and the project started as the SC.5/10 in February 1959. From that design, the prototype Belfast first flew on 5 January 1964. The aircraft was flown by Shorts' chief test pilot Denis Taylor, the crew consisted of Peter Lowe (2nd pilot), Malcolm Wild (engineer), Ricky Steel (flight engineer), Bill Mortimer (radio operator & navigator), Alex Mackenzie and Gil Thomas (flight observers).
The Belfast was notable for being only the second aircraft type to be built equipped with autoland blind landing equipment.
To meet the demands of the specification the Belfast used a high wing carrying four Rolls-Royce Tyne turboprops. The cargo deck, 64 ft long in a fuselage over 18 feet in diameter (roomy enough for two single deck buses), was reached through a "beaver tail" with rear loading doors and integral ramp. The main undercarriage was two 8-wheel bogies and a 2-wheel nose. The Belfast was capable of a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of over 220,500 lb (100 tonnes) but still less than the contemporaneous 250-tonne MTOW Antonov An-22 and the 128-tonne MTOW Douglas C-133 Cargomaster. It could carry 150 troops with full equipment, or a Chieftain tank or two Westland Wessex helicopters.
The original RAF requirement had foreseen a fleet of 30 aircraft, but this number was to be significantly curtailed as a result of the Sterling Crisis of 1965. The United Kingdom government needed to gain support for its loan application to the IMF, which the United States provided. However, one of the alleged clauses for this support was that the RAF purchase Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft. With a surplus of airlifting capabilities the original order was reduced to 10. The Belfast entered service with No. 53 Squadron RAF in January 1966 based at RAF Fairford. By May the following year they had been repositioned at RAF Brize Norton.
Following entry to RAF service it became apparent that a major drag problem was preventing the initial five aircraft attaining Short’s desired performance figures. Indeed the suction drag on the tail and rear fuselage was so severe that the RAF personnel gave the aircraft the nicknames ‘The Dragmaster’, 'Slug' and 'Belslow'. Retrospective modifications and testing were carried out, particularly on aircraft SH1818 (which was at the time perfecting the RAF’s requirement for CAT 3 automated landings at RAE Bedford), and a new rear fairing was incorporated improving the fleet’s cruising speed by 40 mph.
The reorganisation of the newly formed Strike Command was to have repercussions of the RAF’s Belfast fleet and ushered in the retirement of a number of aircraft types including the Bristol Britannia and De Havilland Comet in 1975. By the end of 1976 the Belfast fleet had been retired and flown to RAF Kemble for storage.
TAC HeavyLift then purchased five of them for commercial use in 1977, and operated three of them from 1980 after they had received work so they could be certificated to civil standards. Ironically, some of them were later chartered during the Falklands war, with some sources suggesting that this cost more than keeping all the aircraft in RAF service until the 1990s. The type entered something of a hiatus after being retired from TAC HeavyLift service and several were parked at Southend Airport for a number of years until one aircraft was refurbished and flown to Australia in 2003. This aircraft is still flying (2007) in Australia for HeavyLift Cargo Airlines; it is often clearly visible parked on the General Aviation side of Cairns International Airport in Queensland, in company with one or two of the company's Boeing 727s. A second, G-BEPS (SH1822), was to have joined her in Australia following refurbishment at Southend Airport but was finally scrapped in October 2008. The last production Belfast (Enceladus, XR371) is preserved at the RAF Museum Cosford. Recently this aircraft has had a repaint before being preserved undercover at the National Cold War Exhibition.
All 10 Belfasts were named:
Specifications (Belfast C Mk.1)
Published - July 2009
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