Early British Jet Transports

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

  1. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    When looking back with hindsight over the airliner sales battles of the 1950’s everything seems so obvious and clear cut, for example it is quite obvious that, even without the metal fatigue disasters that crippled it, the DH Comet could never have taken on the 707 as it lacked the capacity and range to do so. If Britain thought the Comet was going to conquer the civil market they were just kidding themselves because the 707 was superior in every respect. Yes?

    When looking through journals published during the period 1949 to 1956 however it can be seen that this wasn’t actually the situation at all, it was just the way things eventually happened. There were several planned entrants into the commercial jet market that never materialised and it is my belief that one of them in particular would have given the 707 a run for its money.

    To set the scene put yourself back to 1949 and you are reading a copy of ‘Flight’ in which has been revealed the prototype DH Comet. In this world the newest and most advanced airliner in service is the Lockheed Constellation, its main competition is the Douglas DC-6 but the DC-7, still piston engined, is coming along. Between them Lockheed and Douglas OWN the commercial market, everyone else is no more than a bit part player. Yes, everyone, including Boeing whose 377 Stratocruiser was a relatively modest success.

    The point that is forgotten is that just as Boeing knew right from the start that a successful jetliner would need to be bigger, faster and longer legged than the Comet, so did the British industry too, the Comet was only supposed to be the beginning. As Boeing set out on the path that resulted in the 707 several UK design firms began studying the plane they hoped would take it on, after of course being adopted by BOAC first, which was the way things were back then, the 707 was not even viewed as a remote possibility for BOAC service at this time (1953).

    De Havilland’s stop gap offering was the Comet 3. This was basically the Comet 4 of later years in all but name. Planned out from 1951, it first flew in July 1954 and, not being an all new type like the 707, would have been cleared for service the following year. The Comet disasters instantly ended the commercial prospects for the Comet 3 however and it flew only as a research and development tool. The tragedy for De Havilland was that the Comet 3 had none of the defects that blighted the series 1 so, in respect of only the series 3, de Havilland lost several years where they would have been selling Comets unopposed for no good reason as it turned out. Nobody knew that at the time of course and the risk simply couldn’t be taken, even if an airline was willing to take the chance, which they weren’t.

    There were a huge amount of alternative designs around at the same time but with hindsight most of them were either hopelessly ill thought out or simply already obsolete, one of the latter was the Blackburn B-70. To see what this looked like just picture a Constellation with a single squared off Britannia style fin.

    Britain’s main companies with knowledge and experience of large jets and therefore the best placed to launch new advanced jetliners were the V bomber trio of Avro, Vickers and Handley Page. Naturally they decided to use their experience with the V bombers to produce jetliners too. This invariably involved fitting the wings, engines, undercarriage and tail of whichever bomber it was to a new purpose designed transport fuselage (after all it worked when Avro converted The Lancaster into the York).
    The resulting projects were the HP.97, the Avro 722 Atlantic and the Vickers VC5.

    Handley Page;
    Unimpressive design model of HP.97
    [​IMG]

    When looking at the design model it would appear that the HP 97 was destined to be the ugliest airliner ever built. However it was seriously proposed to BOAC in 1952. In one configuration it would have seated 96 passengers on its upper deck with a circular staircase leading down to ladies and mens dressing rooms and toilets with a large lounge and galley also accommodated here. Another proposal accommodated 140 passengers on two decks with a lounge on the rear of the upper deck. Handley Page promised a first flight in 1958 and service in 1960. BOAC said ‘no thanks’. Handley Page tried again in 1958 with the revised HP.111, this featured a new ‘widebody’ fuselage of circular section and was proposed to the RAF as a strategic transport and to BOAC as a 200 passenger medium range or 150 passenger transatlantic transport and civil freighter. In this form it was actually selected by the RAF but politics intervened and the Govt insisted the order went to the Short Belfast and HP never offered a large transport again.

    Improved HP.111 design for RAF
    [​IMG]

    Avro
    type 722 Atlantic design model
    [​IMG]

    Avro considered a civil variant of the Vulcan ‘inevitable’ during 1954-55 but insisted on firm orders for 25 aircraft before committing to production. As we know, these were not forthcoming.
    The type 722 Atlantic was first proposed to BOAC in 1952 and, like all its competitors, was to be powered by four 15,000lb Rolls Royce Conway or Bristol Olympus engines (the HP.111 also offered P&W JT3 power). As its name suggests it was a transatlantic aircraft designed to carry 131 passengers in a six abreast layout. The initial proposal, as seen here, used the same wing as the Vulcan prototypes but a 1955 revision switched to the kinked wing later seen on the Vulcan B.2.

    Vickers
    comparative models of V.1000 and Valiant B.1
    [​IMG]

    The VC-5 was the least adventurous of all the proposals, there is very little to write about it except to say that it was proposed in the late 1940’s and so was well ahead of its rivals but on the downside it resembled nothing more than a Valiant B.1 with an extended fuselage with windows in it. It even retained the shoulder wing arrangement of the bomber and was utterly unacceptable to BOAC. This however led to the one genuinely 707-rivalling project from the UK in the 1950’s, the VC-7.

    Its story began, after Vickers had gone back to the drawing board, in pretty similar fashion to the Boeing aircraft, there were to be two versions, a military tanker transport called the V.1000 and a commercial airliner called the VC-7, developed from the common airframe and it was to fly by the mid 1950’s entering service before the end of the decade, putting it on a direct collision course with the new Boeing.

    In fact Vickers had already won the contract to produce their V.1000/VC-7 by the time the other contenders were proposed in late 1952 and the design had evolved considerably from its bomber roots, leaving little trace of its Valiant origins. A prototype V.1000, serialled XD662 was signed off in March 1953 when construction began.

    Like the 707 the VC-7 was much larger and more complex than the Comet, it featured a long high aspect ratio wing of advanced section with Kuchemann tips, also used on the later VC-10, and was to be powered by four Rolls Royce Conway turbofans.

    The programme was undermined when BOAC revealed it did not believe the Conway engine would be suitable for the London-New York route and sought to get out of its commitment to the type. A round of cost cutting led to the RAF’S V.1000 being cancelled in order to try to save some advanced combat aircraft programmes (which were all subsequently cancelled anyway in the 1957 defence white paper) and BOAC followed up by reiterating that it had no faith in the Conway engine and no requirement for a large jet transport, BOAC opined that the Comet and Britannia met all its projected needs into the 1960’s.

    With XD662 80% complete at Vickers' Wisley factory the axe fell on Nov 11th 1955, despite an 11th hour attempt by TCA ( now Air Canada) to persuade the British Govt to keep the project alive.

    As close as we got; V.1000 prototype under construction, showing the wing in front of the rear fuselage
    [​IMG]

    Great fury erupted within the UK industry when, less than 12 months after their damning proclamation, BOAC requested permission from the Govt to order a Rolls Royce Conway powered version of the Boeing 707 ‘so that we may remain competitive with rival airlines on long haul routes, in the absence of a viable British aircraft’. A quickly convened study into resurrecting the VC-7 concluded that it was no longer viable due to the destruction of the prototype and many of the drawings and the feeling that a ‘stitch up’ occurred is very hard to shake. Here’s a comparative table of the various specs; (‘707’ refers to the 1956 spec model for direct comparison to the equivalent VC-7 at the time of cancellation)
    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Graeme

    Graeme Well-Known Member

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    Good information Wayne.

    Digressing and going way back in the proceedings, do you think the early post-war deficiencies in British airliners stems from the Brabazon committee itself?

    "What arrogance, that a Ministry committee of men that never had to fill an airliner's seats or find next Friday's wages should thus presume to decide what airliners the post-war world would want!"


    (James Gilbert)
     
  3. Milos Sijacki

    Milos Sijacki Member

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    Interesting designs.
     
  4. Graeme

    Graeme Well-Known Member

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    BOAC were very good at this. Do you know why they were so obstructive?

    I've read that they deliberately destroyed the VC-10's reputation and lied about its uneconomical running to receive tax benefits, yet in reality it was better that the 707s they employed.
     
  5. reixachjf

    reixachjf New Member

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    Waynos:

    Nice an accurated article that you wrote. I enjoyed read that.
    My only comment is the 707 (my favorite passanger aircraft that I flew) came from the unlucky experience of the De Havilland´s metal fatigue experience .The research in order to find the cause of the problem was made not only by the british autorities and aircraft companies but also by the american ones among then Boeing , Douglas and Lockheed .

    After the research and solve the mistery it was clear that commercial jets could be possible. By chance at that time, Major Curtis Lee May(chief USAF Commander) ordered to Boeing the develope of a new cargo/tanker for air refuel in order to reeplace the now obsoleted Boeing Kc-97 Stratotanker thats (in order to make short this ) came the prototype of Dash-8 wich later by making longer the fuselage and wider became the KC-135 Stratotanker and by permission of the USAF it merged as the civil version Boeing 707-100

    Conclusion: The merge of the 707 could be delayed if there were not the Comet

    Regards
     
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