The Bristol 223 – The UK’s Supersonic Concorde Predecessor

It has been 52 years since Concorde first took flight, but the seeds that grew the program were planted far earlier. Earlier this week, we established the Sud Aviation Super-Caravelle helped shape France’s involvement in the supersonic program. However, it was the Bristol Type 223 that catalyzed the United Kingdom’s progress in this field.

Concorde On First Takeoff From New York
The Concorde was the result of two determined European aviation outfits. Photo: Getty Images

New requirements

In November 1956, the UK set up The Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee (STAC) to study the feasibility of supersonic passenger aircraft. Experts and officials from airlines, manufacturers, and government departments came together here to produce around 400 written submissions to show that it would be viable to conduct commercial supersonic operations.

Over the next few years, it was determined that two supersonic types should be developed. The first was a proposed medium-range airliner with 100 seats and a cruise speed of Mach 1.2 (800 mph). Meanwhile, the other proposal was a 150-passenger transatlantic Mach 1.8 (1,200 mph) airliner. The government put the medium-range option on the back burner to prioritize proposals for longer-range options.

Braniff Concorde Getty
There were high hopes for supersonic transport ahead of Concorde’s operational launch. Photo: Getty Images

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The options

Hawker Siddeley Aviation proposed a thick delta wing with an integral fuselage. However, the committee was in favor of the BAC idea, which was being labeled Type 213.

Aerospace engineer Archibald Russell designed this Mach 2.7 proposal, which was heavily influenced by issues encountered with the Bristol 188, another supersonic research aircraft that was being built in the 1950s. Therefore, he favored the lower-speed alloy plane.

BAC then merged the Type 198. This proposal had a thin delta wing, six Olympus engines, and an underslung fuselage.

The prospective issues with the plane’s overwing engine inlet placement during supersonic activity, along with the 198’s greater weight and the lesser efficiency of the six engines, caused authorities to request a smaller, lighter model with 100 seats. It would also need to comfortably make transatlantic trips with four Olympus engines. Thus, BAC started the design of the Bristol Type 223 with a maximum takeoff weight of 250,000 lbs (113,400 kg).

Type 223 was being designed to reach a maximum speed of 1,450 mph (2,330 km/h) and have a range of 2,900 NM (5,300 km). Meanwhile, its service ceiling was proposed to be 60,000 ft (18,000 m). Moreover, its empty weight would have been 104,000 lb (47,174 kg), and its gross weight would have been 251,700 lb (114,169 kg).

A crew of six people was required to transport 90 passengers. Additionally, the plane would have had a length of 176 ft 6 in (53.80 m), a wingspan of 70 ft 0 in (21.34 m), a wing area of 3,700 sq ft (340 m2), and a height of 35 ft 0 in (10.67 m)

Bristol Type 223
Four Bristol-Siddeley Olympus 593 engines with 28,000 lbf (120 kN) thrust each were billed to support the Bristol Type 223. Photo: VectorSite via Wikimedia Commons

Combining resources

During this period, the government gathered that such a program would be incredibly expensive and demanding. Thus, officials asked BAC to look into the prospects of an international collaboration to ease the burden.

The UK invited the United States, Germany, and France to join in with this venture. However, Germany declined due to its industry’s limitations at the time, while the US was working on its own program. On the other hand, France showed its interest in the project and partnered up with the UK to work on a groundbreaking supersonic program.

France’s Sud Aviation was initially focused on perfecting Air France’s routes between Europe and North Africa. However, following talks with the British, they were opening up to the idea of a product to serve flights across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Sud Aviation Caravelle SE 210 during flight.
The Sud Aviation Super-Caravelle was based on the SE 210 Caravelle, which went on to be a successful jetliner with 282 units built between 1958 and 1972. Photo: Getty Images

During this time, BAC and Sud Aviation agreed that they were working on similar designs, and the latter conceded that it had no available suitable jet engines at its disposal for such a modern aircraft. The UK was the only country that had the right engine in the form of the Olympus 593. Notably, it would have taken its counterparts across the English Channel years to come up with a viable engine solution.

Concorde's First Flight
While the previous aircraft studies were steps in the right direction for the UK supersonic transport industry, Type 223’s specifications are closer to Concorde. Photo: Getty Images

Sealing the deal

As the 1960s got into full swing, the dialog became deeper. As a result, the UK and France signed a treaty to formally join forces on supersonic transport.

“Both [aircraft] were largely funded by their respective governments. The British design was for a thin-winged delta shape transatlantic-ranged aircraft for about 100 people which owed much to the work of Dietrich Kuchemann. While the French were intending to build a medium-range aircraft,” Heritage Concorde shares.

“The development project was negotiated as an international treaty between the two countries rather than a commercial agreement between companies and included a clause, originally asked for by the UK, imposing heavy penalties for cancellation. A draft treaty was signed on 28 November 1962. By this time, both companies had been merged into new ones; thus, the Concorde project was between the British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale.”

Air France Concorde
Concorde ended up serving the core transatlantic market that the UK’s aviation industry was keen to prioritize. Photo: Getty Images

Overall, both the UK and France showed their strong belief in the future of supersonic transport ahead of the partnership in the 1960s. The industries of both scenes displayed that they were willing to adapt for the new market to take off.

They also are an example of how alliances are needed in order for such ambitious programs to get going. This is an aspect that is still prevalent today, with several different joint ventures launching in the new age of supersonic transport research.

What are your thoughts about the Bristol Type 223 project? Also, what do you make of the early days of supersonic transport research before the Concorde program launched? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and this period in aviation history in the comment section.