Following the forced withdrawal of the Comet 1 BOAC was placed firmly on the backfoot, for though Britain had a worldbeater in the Vickers Viscount British manufacturers had failed miserably in providing a viable long range transport during the 1940s and early 50s. The Tudor, Brabazon, Hermes and Comet 1 had all fallen by the wayside leaving only the Whispering Giant: Bristol's Britannia carrying the torch for the UK. However the Brit was suffering monstrous delays of its own leaving BOAC with a quandary during 1954.
During the late 1940s BOAC had already been forced to purchase Constellations and Stratocruisers, using scarce American dollars, and had then had to fall back on Canadair's improved license production DC-4/DC-6 cross: the C4 Argonaut. With the Comet gone BOAC cast around for extra aircraft and was able to purchase more Strats and Connies as stopgaps, but buying up secondhand aircraft was hardly the way to keep up with the competition, from Pan Am in particular.
This reluctantly led BOAC back towards the US marketplace where Douglas and Lockheed were busy pumping out technologically advanced (if hardly reliable) piston liners. The June 1956 entry into service by Pan Am of DC-7Cs and delays to service entry of its new Britannias forced BOAC to order 10 of its own DC-7Cs. The DC-7Cs began arriving in October 1956 and enabled BOAC to operate non-stop westbound services from London and Manchester to New York and other East Coast destinations for the first time. Their ascendency was however short lived. Britannia’s began operating in late 1957 and pure jets only a few years later making the Seven Seas obsolete. BOAC converted most to freighters from 1960.
G-AOIA was the first aircraft into service. She was sold to Saturn Airways in 1964 as N90803 she stayed with them until 1968. From 1970 she joined Ports of Call Denver and became N6354C. From March 1979 she joined Belize Air Cargo but was seized by the Columbian Air Force and put into FAC service as FAC923 from 1981.
The first, turboprop powered, Britannia flew as early as 1952 but engine issues led to a lengthy gestation and an AOC wasn’t granted until 1955 with BOAC’s first two short series 100s (G-ANBC and BD) arriving in December. Even then full scheduled services didn’t begin until February 1957, with the first flight to Johannesburg, and the type was plagued with teething problems. By August all 15 of the 90 seat series 102s had been delivered to BOAC. Unfortunately the short Britannias also only saw short careers with their first operator. By the early 60s BOAC was swimming in new jets and debt to go with it. It wanted rid of the uneconomic props including the Britannias. Many of the early series 100s saw service with Malayan Airways in the early 60s and most joined either BKS, Britannia or Laker. G-ANBD joined the former in November 1965 after retirement in 1963 on a hire/purchase agreement. She remained in service, including a lease to Britannia in 1968/69, until broken up in May 1970.
In hindsight it is easy to see that the Britannia, if it had been available for service in 1953-54 would have been a major success for the British. As it was both the Brits and the DC-7Cs, bought to make up for their delay, were merely stopgaps for BOAC. Unfortunately the baggage that the British manufacturers carried by the late 1950s and the ideological need for BOAC to buy British hamstrung the flag carrier well into the jet-age.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: