Tuesday, 14 August 2018

British Airliners (2) : Bristol Britannia

The Bristol 175 Britannia was a fine aircraft once the problems with it were finally sorted out, but by then it had been over taken by the jet airliner.

First flight: 1952
Withdrawn: Early 1990s
Number built: 85
The Britannia was designed as a medium-to-long haul airliner for empire routes. It had an advanced fuselage design and was powered with the new Bristol Proteus turboprop. The Britannia first flew in 1952. However the plane began to run into problems during it's development and testing especially with the new and unproven engines. No less than sixteen engine failures occurred during test flights. One of the prototypes crashed after an engine fire.

Finally, and after much modification, the Britannia gained it's airworthiness certificate in 1955 with the first two deliveries to BOAC just before the end of the year. Although the Britannia was lauded for it's quietness and speed the Boeing 707 was only a couple of years away and potential customers decided to wait. Only eighty were sold to airlines.

Although its front line airline service was fairly brief (BOAC retired the type in 1965) it did survive in service for many years, an airline in the Democratic Republic of Congo continuing to use the Britannia on cargo flights into the early 1990s.
Three views of former RAF Britannia XM497 at RAF Cosford

Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Virtual Keypunch

If you want a taste of "old iron", classic computing before the days of microcomputers, floppy discs and the like try the Virtual Keypunch. Punched cards (and tape) were an early data storage method with the data being encoded using holes in a piece of card or other material (hence the need of a Keypunch to make the holes!) The holes and absense of them represented binary data.

Programs were encoded using the cards but because each card (if using the IBM 80 column card method) could only hold one line of code then you might need hundreds of cards for a serious program. All the cards had to be in order and there are plenty of tales of chaos caused by people dropping card stacks!

One benefit of this data storage method however was that if you did suffer such a catastrophic data corruption you could restore it by putting the cards back in order! Corrupted cards (bent for example) could also repunched and then replace the defective card.

By the 1970s computers were moving onto magnetic storage and visual display terminals though you could still find the keypunches and readers well into the 1990s. I remember at university in the early 1990s one room still had an IBM keypunch machine - though it was not in use. We used the far more up to date Volker-Craig dumb terminals to type our programs instead!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Bourne End Mill Arm

The Bourne End Mill Arm is a formerly navigable arm off the Grand Union Canal near Hemel Hempstead. The arm once served a water powered corn mill at Bourne End. A mill has been on the site since 1289 though the current mill building dates from the nineteenth century. It is now a hotel and restaurant. The arm itself if closed off to navigation by a footbridge and is a nature reserve.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

British Airliners (1) : Vickers VC10

This new series will looks at some of the many airliners produced by the British aircraft industry over the decades. Starting with the mightiest of them all...

Like many airliners the origins of the VC10 lay with a military type. In the early 1950s Vickers were approached by the government to design a military transport based on the Valiant bomber. The V.1000 was to be powered by four Rolls-Royce Conway turbofans, the first turbofans to enter service and later used on the Boeing 707-400 series [1]. The V.1000 was to have a civil version called the VC7 able to carry up to one hundred and twenty passengers. Unfortunately the V.1000 (and VC7) were cancelled 1955.

First flight: 1962
Withdrawn: 2013 (military service)
Number built: 54
However the British national airline (then BOAC) needed a 707 type aircraft for African and Asian routes. These routes usually had short runway and thus the VC10 was designed with excellent short field performance though as it was heavier and higher powered than the 707 and DC-8 it was comprised economy wise [2].

The VC10 reused a lot of the design of the VC7 including the Conway turbofans however it had them at the rear of the aircraft in two sideways pairs instead of buried in the wings. BOAC placed an order for thirty five aircraft.

The VC10 first flew from the Vickers factory at Weybridge in 1962. By then Vickers had designed an improved Super VC10 having more powerful engines and a longer fuselage. Production lasted until 1970 with only fifty four VC10s being built, most going to BOAC. Ironically the success of the 707 and DC-8 had seen many airports with shorter runways extend them for the American airliners thus negating the one key advantage of the VC10.

The VC10 remained in service with BOAC (later British Airways) until 1981. Fourteen ex-BA VC10s were sold to the RAF where they had a much longer service life as transports and tankers. The last RAF VC10 was retired in 2013. Ten VC10s have been preserved, though not all in complete condition.
Former British Airways G-ARVM at Brooklands Museum

Under the tail of A40-AB, former Omani VIP jet


Front fuselage of G-ARVM at Cosford

[1] Charles Kennedy, Boeing 707 (Haynes, 2018) p. 37
[2] Keith Wilson, Vickers/BAC VC10 (Haynes, 2016) p. 11

Sunday, 5 August 2018


I felt like going to the seaside yesterday and having found out there was a unique railway running on Southend's pier that was the obvious place to go! Southend-on-Sea is a bit of a trek from Birmingham but was well worth going. The Southend Pier Railway is tremendous fun. The pier at Southend is apparently the longest pleasure pier in the world. You can see my photos here.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018