Did The Brabazon Committee Change The Course Of Commercial Aviation After WWII?

After writing different articles about the most influential aircraft to come out of the United Kingdom, several of these planes kept tracing their roots to the Brabazon Committee. Formed during World War II, this group would have a significant impact on the course of aviation in the following decades. But why was the Committee created, and what did it do? Let’s take a look.

 de Havilland DH.106 Comet Prototype
The de Havilland DH.106 Comet flew higher and faster than any other commercial aircraft previously in operation. Photo: Getty Images

New requirements

Overall, the Brabazon Committee had the massive task of determining the UK’s aircraft needs after the conclusion of WWII. The organization was formed in 1942 and attempted to look at the impact of modern technology and how it can be used to meet the needs of the country. With the UK primarily concentrating on heavy bombers during the war, it had to consider its production focus after the conflict ended.

In December 1942, the First Committee met under the management of Lord Brabazon, who was previously the Minister of Transport and Minister of Aircraft Production. A Second Committee was also formed and met for the first time in May 1943 to offer a more expansive approach.

The Brabazon Committee’s final report was presented in December 1945, after the war had finished. This report ignored previously mentioned interim types and concluded on the production of seven new designs, which were felt as crucial in the next chapter of aviation.

Lord Brabazon
Lord Brabazon was a pioneering aviator in England. Photo: Getty Images

Catering to demand

The first type required was a large transatlantic aircraft to transport passengers on high-capacity routes such as London to New York. This route is still one of the busiest today, so it’s not a surprise that the UK had this in mind. They wanted their passengers to have a luxurious offering for the then 12-hour journey.

This type would form part of the Bristol Brabazon program. It was planned to be a propeller-driven plane designed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company. However, the project was canceled in the early 1950s as the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) lost interest.

There were originally high hopes for the plane. The Air & Space Magazine shares the following:

“The Brabazon, to be built by Bristol, would be powered by eight Bristol Centauruses—at 2,650 horsepower each, the most powerful British piston engine available.”

Piston solutions

Type IIA was initially planned to be a short-haul feeder to take over the US’ Douglas DC-3. Nonetheless, the eventual prime requirement was for a piston-powered plane. This need was taken on by the Airspeed Ambassador. Subsequently, British European Airways (BEA) ordered 20 units, and the aircraft entered service in March 1952.

The introduction of the turboprop

British aviation powerhouse Vickers was looking to fit turboprop engines into its aircraft. The company’s chief designer, Rex Pierson, initiated the concept in December 1944 during talks. So, Type IIB was designated for a plane with this type of power. The legendary Vickers Viscount would fulfill this role. The model was described as a short to medium-haul unit.

Pierson submitted the proposal to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) in 1945. It was then approved with the extra requirement of a pressurized fuselage. The plane was considerably successful, with 445 units of the family produced between 1948 and 1963.

Vickers Viscount Mountain
The Vickers Viscount could be seen all over the globe. Photo: Getty Images

Multi-hop services

The next on the list, Type III was revolved around a four-engined, medium-range plane for multi-hop operations. The initial plane to meet the requirements, the Avro 693 was canceled. A new specification was then issued, and the Bristol Britannia then took on the challenge and eventually entered service with BOAC in February 1957 after a series of postponements.

The arrival of the jet

One of the most notable requirements was a pressurized transatlantic mail plane. The group wanted to ferry 2,200 lb of payload at a cruising speed of 400 mph. However, despite making cameos during WWII, it was felt that jet engines were too fuel-inefficient and unreliable. They hadn’t entered passenger operations yet, but a certain member of the Committee was determined to make it work. Sir Geoffrey de Havilland used his expertise and image to launch a jet aircraft.

So, Type IV, which became the de Havilland Comet, was given the honor of being the first jet airliner in the world. The first prototype had hit the air for the first time on July 27th, 1949.

There were several concerns with the Comet amid a series of accidents, and the program never really recovered. Nonetheless, we all know how influential jet engines would become in subsequent years, and it was this aircraft that kicked it all off.

De Havilland Comet
There was a series of fatal accidents with the Comet, causing prime minister Winston Churchill to call for a solution. Photo: Getty Images

Change of plan

Type VA held requirements similar to type II’s original mission. Miles Aircraft was working on the Miles Marathon, but the company collapsed. Subsequently, 40 units were produced by Handley Page, but BEA refused to take delivery and soon canceled their whole order. As a result, the Royal Air Force took on 30 planes.

Replacements needed

One of the greatest success stories from the Brabazon Committee is the de Havilland Dove. This plane traces its development to the Type VB requirement as an eight-seat replacement for the aircraft de Havilland Dragon Rapide short-haul biplane. The Dove was launched as an independent program in 1943 and first flew in September 1945. In total, 544 units were built between 1946 and 1967. Even a larger edition, the Heron, was launched, with 149 units made.

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The overall impact

Altogether, most of the Brabazon Committee’s major projects suffered development issues or delays. There were also several national bodies scrambling to sort out subsequent crises amid the drop in the UK aircraft reputation, and customers continued to turn their attention to US models. In this context, the Brabazon Committee’s goals were not reached.

However, key innovations that became aviation mainstays were introduced following the launch of the Committee. The Comet brought the Jet Age to the commercial realm. As the initial aircraft on the scene, the technology was still in its infancy for the type to dominate. Nonetheless, it sparked a movement across the globe.

G-APEL_Vickers_953_Vanguard
The launch of the Viscount also led to the creation of the Vickers Vanguard. Photo: Getty Images

Moreover, the Vickers Viscount became the first turboprop aircraft to conduct passenger services. Turboprops are also still critical on regional operations and play a vital role in the industry. So, even though the true potential of the Brabazon Committee wasn’t met, it managed to have a significant impact on the course of commercial aviation.

What are your thoughts about the Brabazon Committee? With VE Day approaching, are there any other WWII stories that you’d like us to cover? Let us know what you think of this period in history in the comment section.

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