Earlier this week, we covered the legendary Vickers Viscount amid its 68th service anniversary. Keeping with the Vickers-Armstrongs theme, we thought it would be a good time to also look at the Vickers Vanguard. This aircraft was larger and had a higher capacity than the original turboprop. However, it wasn’t nearly as successful as its predecessor in the passenger realm. Let’s take a look at the life of the aircraft.
Vickers-Armstrongs was keen to launch a successor to the original turboprop. The British company was focused on catering to the needs of British European Airways (BEA), but it also was interested in the requirements of Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA), which was also expressing its interest in such a program. Thus, the project turned into a private venture.
BEA had sought to transport over 100 passengers across a range of 1,000 miles with reserves at a cruising speed of 370 knots. The plane would have a low-wing, four-engine layout based on the new Rolls-Royce Tyne turboprop engine. It would also boast a fuselage shape known as a double bubble cross-section to give plenty of space in the passenger cabin while allowing the carriage to have an abundance of under-floor cargo. This factor was crucial to both BEA and TCA. However, the latter felt that the proposed Vickers Type 951 would not meet its freight payload needs, especially with a full passenger load on long distances.
Therefore, the carrier requested a modified variant, which would be known as the Vickers Type 952. This model had a maximum weight capacity increase from 135,000 lb to 141,000 lb. It was also required to be accompanied by airframe strengthening together with a maximum “coach class” capacity of 139 passengers. In comparison, the Vickers Viscount Type 810 had a capacity of 75 passengers.
Hitting the skies
BEA committed to an agreement for 20 Vickers Type 951s in July 1956. This move was followed by a TCA order for 20 Type 952s in January 1957, which was soon increased to 23 units.
The prototype went by the monicker of Vickers Type 950 and held registration G-AOYW. It conducted its first flight on 20th January, which was a short trip from the Surrey settlements of Weybridge and Wisley.
The 952 was actually the first to be entered into full scheduled service when TCA introduced the aircraft in February 1961. It would be a month later when BEA deployed the 951 for regular operations. Nonetheless, BEA did debut the plane on an ad-hoc basis between London and Paris during the Christmas rush of 1960. This first service unit held registration G-APEA and was named Vanguard after a famous warship. This title went on to become the standard name for the series.
BEA soon became inspired by TCA’s models and wanted some of the same features. So, the 953 was formed. This plane had the structural modifications required to increase its maximum weight to 141,000 lb and was typically configured with 135 seats. Yet, it still held the original Rolls-Royce Tyne 506 engines. 14 units of the original order were subsequently switched to 953s.
Overall, the Vickers Vanguard offered fantastic load flexibility while providing high speed and low seat per-mile costs, especially with high-density all-economy configurations. However, the plane had started to fade away in the passenger market during the 1970s. Notably, following BEA’s transition into British Airways in 1972, the airline began letting go of its units. Nonetheless, the plane still had a life as a cargo vessel until near the end of the 20th century.
After approximately ten years’ service, TCA ambitiously converted one of its Vanguards to a cargo configuration. This model was aptly called the Cargoliner. Subsequently, the majority of Vanguards were modified to become freighters during this time.
“A number of aircraft found their way into independent airlines with notable operators including Invicta Airlines, Air Bridge Carrier (ABC), Europe Air Services (France), Merpati Nusantara (Indonesia) and Air Trader (Sweden). BEA Freight still operated nine Vickers Vanguards which were modified to the ‘Merchantman’ all-cargo layout from 1969. The first two conversions were designed and carried out by Aviation Traders Engineering Ltd (ATEL) at Southend Airport. BEA themselves modified the remainder at their Heathrow Airport Engineering Base,” BAE Systems shares.
“These Merchantmen continued in service with British Airways until late 1979, when the remaining five were sold. Air Bridge Carriers Limited purchased several of the ‘Merchantmen’ Vickers Vanguards from BEA and they operated them until 1992, when it changed its business name to Hunting Cargo Airlines. Hunting Cargo Airlines operated their last Merchantman Vickers Vanguard flight on 30th September 1996, which is the last recorded flight of any Vanguard. They later donated the aircraft (G-APEP) to Brooklands Museum in Weybridge in October 1996.”
In total, 44 units of the Vanguard were built. In comparison, 445 units of Viscount were produced. This figure is ten times higher, highlighting the difference in commercial success. Moreover, the Viscount was also retired 13 years after its younger sibling. Despite being a newer type, the Vanguard wasn’t nearly as popular as the one that started it all.
Altogether, by the time the Vanguard was introduced, passenger jets had become all the rage. These models would continue their ascension in subsequent decades and dominate the aviation scene. With the Viscount already holding a strong presence in the market, the Vanguard fell behind amid the changing industry. Regardless, despite not selling nearly as well, the produced units showed their versatility by adapting efficiently and finding a role in other fields.
What are your thoughts about the Vickers Vanguard? Did you ever fly on any of these early turboprop types over the years? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and its operations in the comment section.