The Viscount is undoubtedly the most successful British aircraft of the postwar years and formed the backbone of BEA's fleet well into the 1960s. Interestingly originally the type was to be called the 'Viceroy' but the indepedence of India in 1947 rendered that name obsolete and Viscount was the chosen replacement.
The original V630 flow for the first time on July 16, 1948 and quickly proved its superiority over the piston engined Airspeed Ambassador. It was this early version that entered service with BEA on July 29, 1950 - though only as a test. After 25 days of airline service G-AHRF was returned to Vickers for inspection. By then BEA was a signed up fan of the type and in August 1950 ordered 20 aircraft - though all of these would be the stretched Viscount 700. Only two Viscount 600s were manufactured.
The prototype V700,G-AMAW, was 1.98m longer than the series 630 and also wore BEA's Peony striped livery. Initial sales of Viscounts were quite slow with small numbers sold to Air France and Aer Lingus. The next order came from Trans Australia Airlines but not until mid 1952. BEA's future Viscount 701s would actually differ only in small details to the prototype V700. It wasn't until August 20, 1952 that BEA's first aircraft, G-ALWE, made its first flight but the corporation was loaned G-AMAV for route proving trials a day earlier. G-ALWE was christened on February 11, 1953 and soon afterwards three more aircraft were engaged in route proving exercises. February 11 was also the day that the extended Viscount 801 series was officially launched. By this time BEA's order for Viscount 701s had been increased to 26 aircraft.
During the 1940s and 50s BEA provided names to its aircraft hence their Ambassadors were 'Elizabethans' and the DC-3s 'Pionairs'. A competition was held to name the Viscounts and the name chosen for the type was the 'Discovery'. Each BEA Viscount gained the name of an explorer, however the airline failed to market the type using the Discovery moniker and reverted to calling them Viscounts quite quickly.
It was April 18, 1953 that the world's first regular scheduled turboprop began when G-AMNY left Heathrow bound for Cyprus. Istanbul was added the next day so that both BEA's longest routes were served by the Viscount from the very start. After six months in service the Viscounts had proven themselves at BEA which recorded a 76% load factor with the type when break-even was only 51%. The type had also enabled BEA to grow its market share impressively on Viscount routes were it operated against piston engined competition.
Construction number 9, G-AMOA ‘Sir George Vancouver’, was one of BEA’s first Viscounts but had been preceded into service by G-ALWE-F, AMNY and AMOG. By 1958 77 Viscounts were in service but as new larger series 800s were delivered in the early 60s many of the older series 700s were sold – mainly to independent UK airlines. This airframe went to Channel Airways (in which BEA had held a minority stake since 1958). In late 1964 she was leased to British Eagle as ‘City of Newcastle’ but remained with them only until March 1965. In March 1966 she joined Cambrian but was written off in January 1970 at Bristol in a heavy landing accident.
As new larger series V802s were delivered in the early 60s the older series 700s were sold. By 1959 G-ANHB ‘RMA Sir Henry Stanley’, delivered in November 1954, had been modified for high density operations and in mid 1963 she was sold to VASP. VASP actually received eleven ex-BEA Viscounts from 1962. Reregistered as PP-SRN she was operated for nearly seven years before being withdrawn on February 24, 1969. In late 1972 she was donated to Aero Club Rio Claro and joined in 1975 by the former G-ANHA. She survived until May 1993 when she was burnt accidentally.
Despite the orders for V802s BEA did actually order a single extra V701 (its 27th) in 1955. This aircraft was ordered to replace G-AMAB an Airspeed Ambassador that had been written off in a crash at Dusseldorf on April 8. BEA also leased in several series 700s in the 1950s, mainly from the Norwegian airline Fred Olsen, as capacity demanded it. It was however the new V802s that would drive BEA's growth and the first entered service on February 18, 1957. By then it was clear what a huge success the V700 Viscount was for Vickers and the type provided a much needed shot in the arm for British aviation following a series of unsuccessful types like the Tudor and Hermes. The majority of the V701s would see the 1959 Red Square BEA livery none got into the Speedjack scheme that graced their larger brothers and all were sold by 1964.
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: