Immediately following the Second World War it was obvious that the United States held a clear superiority in the field of piston engined aircraft. Though the C-54 Skymaster was already effectively obsolete, with the L-049 Constellation about to enter service and the DC-6 just around the corner, the best aircraft the British could put into service were crudely converted bombers like the Avro Lancastrian, no match even for the unpressurised C-54/DC-4.
Channel Airways was a pioneer of cheap low-cost air travel in the UK. It became famous for its thriftiness and high density seating. Along with older aircraft and an intensive schedule these factors helped Channel achieve its aims of making travel no more expensive than by boat. The airline even went so far as to not bother repainting its aircraft fully and in the mid-60s effectively stole the livery of Continental Airlines whom it had purchased second-hand Viscounts from!
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.
As discussed in the Trans-Canada history Air Canada officially came into existence on January 1 1965, though the Queen had actually travelled on the first Air Canada liveried aircraft in 1964. That new livery introduced the maple leaf on the tail, black titles and a red cheatline with black anti-glare sloping down from the cockpit to the nose. It was designed by the firm Stewart, Morrison & Roberts.
Canada's major two airlines both sprung from railroad companies at quite a late stage, when it was clear war was approaching and aviation was growing rapidly in the neighbouring USA. Trans Canada Airlines was started by the Crown Corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR) in 1937. From 1943-1947 TCA operated the Canadian Government Trans-Atlantic Air Service to provide trans-Atlantic military passenger and postal delivery service using Avro Lancastrian (modified Avro Lancaster) aircraft. Postwar the service became a civilian route.
An interesting sight at Gatwick in the 1980s was a rather unusually coloured Viscount wearing the red of the new thorn in BA's side: Virgin Atlantic. Several short-haul aircraft have operated in Virgin mainline colours over the years from 737-400s to A320s (always leased from or operated by other airlines), however the Viscount is clearly my favourite.
On 1st January 1979 British Air Ferries, having already ceased car ferry services in 1977, transferred its entire Herald operated scheduled network to British Island Airways. From that point onwards operations were concentrated on leasing. oil support and charter services. To facilitate these activities the airline gradually purchased 18 ex-British Airways Viscounts between 1981 and 1984 making it the world's largest Viscount operator at the time.
British European received its first series 700 Viscounts in 1953 followed by the first series 800 in January 1957. Of the 79 Viscounts operated by BEA 37 of them saw service from 1974 with its successor British Airways and 35 of these were series 800s.
The Viscounts were gradually disposed of during the 1970s, replaced by One-Elevens, Tridents and 737s on most trunk domestic services. Despite this many remained in service with the Highlands and Channel divisions into the early 1980s.
Aeroclassics has recently released a bevy of new Viscounts - mainly the longer 800 series. Interestingly many Viscounts saw roughly similar career paths, with a large number of the type starting their service with British European Airways. In this way they are similar to Northwest's DC-9 fleet many of which largely operated along a familiar pathway: through the fleets of Bonanza/West Coast to Air West to Hughes Airwest or North Central / Southern and then onto Republic to Northwest and then even some to Delta.
Anyway back to the Viscounts, and in this and the next few posts I want to look at the history of Aeroclassics recent releases and trace this shared path so many took.
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: