British Airliners 'Nearly Get It Right' Shock!

Discussion in 'Post-War' started by Waynos, Mar 8, 2009.

  1. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    Having drawn you in with my cunning title, I would like to indulge myself with a tale I have always found fascinating, and hope you will too. It’s a tale of how the British aircraft industry, as on many similar occasions, has true greatness within its grasp, only for it to slip through its fingers like grains of sand. It is, I hope, an enlightening tale of what seems to be specialist subject of the UK aerospace industry, namely the ‘missed opportunity’.

    Back in 1956 there was a fierce competition in the UK industry to produce a new medium/short haul jetliner for BEA. This was fierce because BEA’s Vickers Viscount had turned out to be the most successful British airliner EVER, and what we were looking at now was its replacement. The entire UK industry wanted to get its finger into this pie.

    I won’t bore you with the specifics of the rival designs (as fascinating as I find them myself) but suffice to say that the winning contender was the De Havilland DH.121.

    The DH 121 was a revolutionary new design and a clear step up from the Comet which had preceded it, the design was a 111 seat trijet featuring three of the new 11,000lb thrust Rolls Royce Medway engines, mounted in a group around the rear fuselage and a T-tail. So good was the DH121 that not only were BEA very keen, but Pan Am also requested a meeting with De Havilland “as soon as it is possible to do so”. Things were looking very rosy indeed and this baby was going to be a world beater.

    Around this time Lord Douglas of Kirtleside made a visit to America where unrest over Pan Am’s enthusiasm for the DH 121 was growing. During this visit he was informed that Boeing were considering producing an aircraft in competition with the De Havilland design and so, for some insane reason which remains unexplained (and mention of things like ‘bribery’ and ‘corruption’ would be without any foundation in terms of supportive evidence) he suggested reciprocal visits between Seattle and Hatfield for ‘an exchange of ideas’.

    The really remarkable thing was that instead of all the alarm bells ringing, the Hatfield team reacted with amazing enthusiasm to this suggestion and invited a top level team from Boeing to see everything they had on the DH 121 at Hatfield. Boeing were pretty gobsmacked at this, but naturally accepted with good grace and so it was that De Havilland freely handed over all its research to its closest rival while, at the same time, barring the British press from the factory for reasons of ‘security’. If you can figure that one out, let me know. ‘cos I can’t.

    original Medway powered, 111 seat DH.121 as shown to Boeing

    [​IMG]


    Immediately after this, in 1958, the UK then scored its second own goal. Having monitored the traffic levels of the previous three years, BEA got cold feet and thought the 121 was going to be too big. It was quickly scaled down to only 97 seats (as BEA’s word was the industry’s command in those days) and re-engined with the smaller R-R Spey, the emasculated version then appeared in 1962 as the Hawker Siddeley Trident 1, so close, but yet so far.

    In 1959 Boeing gave the full go ahead to the 727, its spec matching that of the *original* DH 121 almost exactly. This might even be a coincidence, but even if it was, all that DH material exactly confirming their own findings must have helped enormously in the decision making process. When Boeing returned the favour, in 1960, they were very careful to make sure that the visiting De Havilland team, although well and courteously looked after, saw nothing of the 727 at all. The net result of all this was then when the world markets looked at the two aircraft the 727 was the clear winner every time and it ended up outselling the Trident by a factor of about 10 to 1, and deservedly so I might add.

    Even *if* Boeing did pilfer the design concept, it was nobody’s fault but our own that we had the perfect rival, but bottled it.

    You might think this would be the end of the coincidences regarding the trident and the 727, but no. In 1965 BEA issued a requirement to the UK industry for an ‘Airbus’.

    Yes, that was what it was called and yes, it was the same requirement that eventually led to the A300 and Airbus Industrie, how that became mainly French is another tale similar to the one just recounted, but maybe another time.

    By this time De Havilland had been absorbed fully into Hawker Siddeley, but it was still the same design team, still based at Hatfield and they still used the DH number sequence (the BAe 146 was the last aircraft produced in the sequence that began with the DH.1 in 1911, had the changes never been made it would have been the DH.146).

    For their solution to the Airbus the Hatfield team dusted down the Trident and updated it. In order to do this they chose to extend the fuselage rearwards to give a total capacity of 200 passengers in a single aisle layout, they switched from three tail mounted turbojets to two underwing high bypass turbofans but they retained the original Trident nose and tail, later in the design process they switched to a low mounted tail at the behest of BEA who were quite interested in this project, however this aircraft, known as the HS.134, was shelved when in July 1967 a tripartite agreement was signed between the UK, France and Germany to jointly develop the widebody Hawker Siddeley HBN.100 instead under the designation ‘A.300.

    Now if the design process of the HS.134 in 1965-66 sounds familiar, then it should. It is the exact same process that Boeing followed when it evolved the 727 into the 757 15 years later!

    Ironically, it was even BEA’s successor, British Airways that persuaded Boeing to ditch the 727-style T-tail for a low tail, just as they had with Hawker Siddeley all those years beforehand. The 757 later got its own new nose based on the 767’s, bu7t at the time when BA signed it still had the 727 nose and so its evolution was absolutely identical to the HS.134, this is a coincidence I have always found remarkable. Below is a general arrangement of the HS.134 dated January 1967, a time when ‘Airbus’ was a BEA classification, not a European manufacturer. At this point the design is at the same stage as the 757 was in 1981.

    [​IMG]

    Now the early, clearly 727-based Boeing model of the 757;

    [​IMG]

    And history repeats itself note the 727 nose, like the Trident nose on the British project

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Graeme

    Graeme Well-Known Member

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    Great post Wayne! Thanks!

    From what I've read Wayne...

    Then in late 1959 BEA tore up the D.H 121 design and told De Havilland to replace it with a smaller version (88seats?). De Havilland not only failed to fight the decision but instructed its marketing team to cease talking to potential export customers until the BEA had made its mind up. Is it fair to say that De Havilland and BEA were both responsible for the lack of Trident success?

    Then when the Trident I flew, BEA realised it was too small and did everything it could to get it enlarged! The De Havilland Board members must have wanted to bitch slap BEA at this point?

    Another facet of the Trident saga that slowed the design process, that allowed the Americans more time, was the British Government's insistence that the winning design company had to merge with one of the 'losers.' How could they force two individual private companies to merge? So like three (Bristol, Avro and De Havilland) gun slingers in a saloon they wasted time looking at each other waiting for someone to make the first move.

    Or have I got the story wrong?
     
  3. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    No, thats pretty much how it happened Graeme, for a short time the old WW1 name of Airco was revived for the Trident's manufacturing group. Having not only shrunk the Trident, but also re-engined it with the smaller Spey which caused the Medway to be cancelled, scaling it back up again (ie overstretching the narrower fuselage)was always a losing battle. So much so that the 'Trident' 3 series had four engines! Even the Tridents biggest overseas operator, CAAC, only bought them because they weren't allowed to have 727's.
     
  4. Graeme

    Graeme Well-Known Member

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    I never knew that. So I had a look...well I'll be damned!...

    [​IMG]
     
  5. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    Yes isn't that the most bizzarre cluster of engines since the Ju-287? Part Caravelle, part Lightning :)

    I bet the BA crews also never told their passengers the Tridents nickname, 'Groundgripper'.

    With a bigger airframe and three RR Medways it could have all been so different.
     
  6. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    out of my pond again here
    but didn't they use those in some UK versions of the F-4 Phantom?
    It must have been a tiddler if they could fit it in a fighter
     
  7. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    Yes Colin, the Spey was a very versatile engine, but not big enough for this job. The Nimrod also used the Spey, as the the A-7 Corsair II and I think the last new design to use the Spey was the Alenia Embraer AMX Ghibli of the 1980's
     
  8. Milos Sijacki

    Milos Sijacki Member

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    That was a strange engine cluster on a Trident 3 series.
     
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