The Britannia’s tortured development seriously delayed its service entry and limited its operational life. As well as 15 short series 100 aircraft BOAC purchased 18 of the lengthened series 300, designed for transatlantic operations. They were far from happy about it though by the time 1957 had arrived. BOAC had just gained permission to order 15 Boeing 707s and saw little need for the Brits with the DC-7Cs on strength. They tried to cancel the order but were unable to do so and instead were forced to accept the costs of purchase and new type introduction which would lead to huge debt write offs later.
Still in its own right the Britannia 300 was an excellent machine. It was introduced on December 19, 1957 on the London-New York service knocking 90 minutes off the times achieved by Pan Am DC-7Cs and TWA Starliners. It was configured in a luxurious 52 seat first class arrangement. Regardless BOAC was very grumpy about the Brits.
G-AOVB flew the first service on 19th December 1957. Like the rest of the Britannias she saw relatively short service with BOAC. As with their shorter sisters the arrival of jets like the 707 and DC-8 had rendered even turboprops obsolete in the public's eyes. After six years she was sold to British Eagle who named her Resolution, and later Endeavour. She was damaged in 1965 in a heavy landing at Gan Island in the Maldives on a trooping flight. Converted to a freighter she was sold to Aerotransportes Entre Rios of Argentina in October 1969 as LV-PNJ. Re-registered as LV-JNL she was written off in July 1970 whilst landing in Fog at Ezieza.
It wasn’t until October 1958, more than four years after the grounding of the original Comet, that BOAC was finally able to start transatlantic jet flights with the new Comet 4. Nineteen Comet 4s were delivered through to the end of 1959, however the type was only briefly ascendant as it’s small size meant it was quickly overshadowed by the larger American jets. In fact Pan Am was able to introduce the 707 into service only three weeks after the Comet 4 entered service. By the mid 60s BOAC was looking to sell its Comets and G-APDN was leased to Kuwait Airways for two months in October 1965. Dan Air was a more permanent home however and the aircraft was leased to them in April 1968 and sold in December. Unfortunately her Dan Air career was short as she was lost in a crash near Barcelona on the 3rd July 1970 killing all 112 onboard.
The reasons for Britain's failure to grasp its opportunity to achieve success on par with its American contemporaries are complicated. Certainly the lack of capital in postwar Great Britain and the protectionist attitude towards the US purchase of foreign equipment were major issues, however with both the Britannia and Comet the UK came tantalisingly close to producing successful pioneering aircraft. In the end both were fine machines, however the delays to each meant that their service lives were short and sales potential severely restricted. BOAC itself had gone from just over 50 piston liners in 1956 to a fleet containing an extra 19 Comets, 10 DC-7Cs and over 30 Britannias. Plus they had over 50 jets on order. Clearly something had to give at the flag carrier which went on to get a case of severe indigestion in the early 1960s.
Halford-MacLeod, Guy. Britain's Airlines. Volume 2: 1951-1964
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: