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.
This superiority continued into the 1950s and was never beaten due to the perilous state of the British post-war economy and the costly failure of such programmes as the Avro Tudor, Bristol Brabazon and Handley Page Hermes. However in addition the reason for the US supremacy was also because the British had realised that the piston engine was not the powerplant of the future and were working strongly on the turbine engine in both its turboprop (propjet) and turbojet forms.
The postwar boom in air travel had cemented the United States as by far the largest commercial aviation market in the world, whilst the majority of Europe was still coming to terms with the devastation of the war years. Even at this early stage however US airlines were decidedly unwilling to be seen to be purchasing non-US built equipment. With the long haul market a toss-up between Lockheed's Constellation family and Douglas’s DC-6/DC-7s, and the short haul market a similar two way struggle, between Consolidated Vultee's (Convair) CV-240/340 family and Martin's 2-0-2/4-0-4, all the US major's seemingly ignored the advent of the turboprop being developed by the Brits.
Initially this seemed like a wise move with the costly, fatal and embarrassing failure of the original De Havilland Comet 1 showing that to be a trendsetter wasn't always in an airline's best interest. However the entry into service of the Vickers Viscount in 1953 was different. The Viscount offered superior speed, reliability, performance and onboard noise and vibration. It clearly outmatched the Convairs and Martins even after Convair upgraded their Convairliner to 440 status. The Viscount quickly proved itself and its order book grew rapidly so that orders stood at 160 by the end of 1954.
Capital’s introduction of the Viscount on July 26, 1955 between Washington and Chicago was a great success and during the first 90 days of service load factors averaged over 90%. Capital itself would succumb to a United Airlines takeover in 1961, which was really a rescue from liquidation. Much of the blame was put on the Viscount but in reality Capital had such severe structural issues as an airline, exacerbated by management decisions, including the sheer size of the Viscount order, that its failure could hardly be blamed on the aircraft - which probably helped it survive longer than it would have otherwise. Though the Viscount fleet was reduced United kept 47 of them in service for nearly another decade, which is surely a testament to the Viscount’s usefulness even when pure jets were entering service in large numbers.
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: