The UK’s Boeing 727 Rival: 60 Years Since The Hawker Siddeley Trident First Took Flight

It has been 60 years since the Hawker Siddeley Trident first took flight. Originally the de Havilland DH.121, the Trident took off in the United Kingdom on January 9th, 1962 to cause a stir in some of the most critical years of the commercial jet age.

Hawker Siddeley HS 121 Trident
The aircraft was made at the request of the UK’s commercial aviation powerhouse, BEA. Photo: Getty Images

Early transformations

The trijet was introduced on April 1st, 1964, two months after key competitor Boeing 727 took to the skies. Despite trying to play catch up with the rival across the pond, the aircraft was created with state-of-the-art technology. For example. Pilots could fly in largely zero visibility conditions to allow operators to continue to conduct services in challenging seasons.

This weekend, the British Airliner Collection shared that registration G-ARPA made a series of hops along the runway at Hatfield, Hertfordshire to get ready for the first flight at the beginning of 1962. This plane would then go on to be the first Trident 1C to be introduced with launch customer British European Airways (BEA), after joining the carrier’s fleet in March 1964.

The famous De Havilland Aircraft Company was the organization to originally spark the idea of the Trident, but fellow British manufacturing powerhouse Hawker Siddely acquired the firm in 1960. Before this takeover, American Airlines expressed its desire for a three-engined type, but the US powerhouse went on to receive the Boeing 727 instead. Therefore, those behind the Trident shifted their approach to adhere to the needs of BEA and the domestic UK industry.

The aircraft was particularly popular in the UK. In the country, the likes of BKS/Northeast Airlines, British Airways (BEA’s successor), and Channel Airways held the plane. Around the world, Air Ceylon, CAAC Airlines, China United Airlines, Cyprus Airways, Iraqi Airways Kuwait Airways, Pakistan International Airlines, and Zaire’s Air Charter Service operated the aircraft.

Hawker Siddeley HS 121 Trident 2E
From European operations to Asian missions, the plane could be seen all across the continents. Photo: Getty Images

Numerous adaptations

There were several variants of the Trident. Notably, the 1C was the edition built for BEA, with 24 units produced. Trident 1E had more capacity and uprated engines. In total, 15 units were made of this variant. There were also 50 units of the advanced 2E built. This variant had an impressive triplex autoland system.

The Trident 3B was a short-medium haul edition of the 2E that was stretched to offer higher capacity. This version had 50 builds. Additionally, the Super Trident 3B had an extended range, but only two units were produced.

The Trident went through many adaptations as the market demands changed. A major transition was the shift from the original DH121 design to HS121 following the change of ownership. Notably, BEA was keen to expand further. So, the HS121 Trident 1F entered service. This variant was renamed the to the aforementioned Trident 2E due to the extended range that it provided.

A trio of 11,960 lbf / 53.2 kN Rolls-Royce Spey 512 engines powered this plane, providing for a cruise speed of 605 mph / 974 km/hr. The aircraft could reach a max range of 2,350 NM / 4,350 km.

Hawker Siddeley Trident 1E aircraft, 1963.
The Hawker Siddeley Trident represents a period of robust British commercial aviation production during a crucial time in airline history. Photo: Getty Images

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With the change of management, the plane’s progress was hindered and it fell behind in the jet race against the Boeing 727. There were promising factors such as the aircraft’s high speeds. However, there were also drawbacks such as the Trident 1C’s wing generating less lift at low speeds compared to the competition.

“The Trident was the second turbojet airliner designed and built at Hatfield. It was designed for speed and economy on short-haul operations by British European Airways, with an advanced 35 degree swept wing for cruise at Mach 0.88. The Trident broke new ground by having three engines, and by having all three at the rear (with the middle engine buried below the fin) so placing the jet exhaust noise behind the passenger cabin,” the De Havilland Aircraft Museum, which took on Trident 2E G-AVFH, shares.

“The Trident was also the first airliner in the World to be designed and certified for automatic landing, with the Smiths Industries ‘Autoland’ system. Compared with the earlier 81-passenger Comet 4; the Trident 1 had shorter range but carried its 103 passengers at 80 mph greater speed, on three-quarters of the thrust. The Trident 1 was followed by the 115-passenger 1E with enhanced airfield performance, the higher weight, longer range 2E and the stretched 179-passenger 3B having an RB162 boost turboject added in the tail.”

The Trident’s decline began with the arrival of the 1980s amid new noise regulation requirements set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). First and second-generation jet aircraft were ordered to be equipped with hush kits to reduce noise. However, British Airways, the plane’s major operator of the time determined the refit to be unfeasible and opted to let go of the type in favor of more modern aircraft.

1970 Farnborough Airshow
The series was also found in military operations across the globe, with forces in the likes of China and Pakistan putting their faith in the type. Photo: Getty Images

Part of history

The Trident’s last active market was in China, where the plane’s operations ended in 1995. Its retirement in the country marked an end of an era for the aircraft that started 33 years earlier. In total, 117 units of the family were built between 1962 and 1978.

Looking back at the Trident’s rise in the industry six decades ago, the changes in management and the series of adaptations meant that the Trident could not leave a significant stamp on the industry in the long term. Nonetheless, it helped catalyze the escalation of commercial jet aircraft deployment in the 1960s, in an era that would change the course of aviation in the decades to come.

What are your thoughts about the Hawker Siddeley Trident and the type’s first flight 60 years ago? What do you make of the history of the plane since its introduction? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and its story in the comment section.