VC10 vs 707

uk 75

ACCESS: Above Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
27 September 2006
Messages
5,556
Reaction score
5,428
A very nice Facebook site devoted to BOAC has inevitably produced a debate over the virtues and vices of the 707 and the VC10.
The VC10 undoubtedly scores on looks and technical excellence. It is the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow of airliners.
Unfortunately it came at a time when a good solid Ford Zodiac or Zephyr could provide a satisfactory service to BOAC customers. The 707was to introduce mass air travel. The VC10 like the QE2 and Concorde looked back to a time when only the wealthy and servants of Empire travelled. BOAC gave way to British Airways anf the widebody era.
 
From a quick Google - production numbers:
- VC10: 54
- Boeing 707: more than 1,000 (plus more than 800 KC-135s)
A brutal but revealing comparison, especially considering that essentially the customers for the VC10 were forced to buy it.
Eventually gave good service to the RAF but a very expensive and wasteful way to get there (to develop, buy and operate).
 
True, but the sheer beauty of the VC10 in its BOAC livery was breathtaking. There were worse ways to spend money....
 

Attachments

  • Vickers-Super-VC10-Wisley-BAE-Systems.jpg
    Vickers-Super-VC10-Wisley-BAE-Systems.jpg
    113.6 KB · Views: 61
The problem Vickers and BOAC had was that they were thinking too small. They tried to fit a jetliner into existing airports. Boeing pushed out an aircraft that would be cheaper to operate, but forced everyone to extend their runways.
 
Boeing pushed out an aircraft that would be cheaper to operate, but forced everyone to extend their runways.
Which arguably turned out to be much more dearer and troublesome in the long run.

I seem to recall that the difference in operating costs between the two types were much narrower than predicted, to the point where BOAC were actually making a profit on the Treasury subsidy they were getting for operating the supposedly more costly VC10. Of course they never corrected the government on this point, helping to perpetuate a myth that the VC10 was much more expensive to run which in turn had it's impact on sales.
 
Remembering previous discussions on the matter, please note, I'm not saying the VC-7 would have been perfect or a 707 / DC-8 killer.

Rather, just saying it made more sense in 1954-56 than the VC-10 in 1960. Even more with the later a little too "specialized" for high and hot airports.

The silly thing is - VC-7 got Conways, then was canned; then Conways went into BOAC 707s; and then come the VC-10, another VC-7, too late, too specialized, and beaten by... Conway-powered 707s.

Whether the VC-7 was good or bad doesn't matter as much as the whole story being insanely stupid, when you think about it. :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: Then again, this is post-WWII British government dealing with aviation, so we shall not be surprised...
 
There is plenty of blame to go around and far too much of it is directed at politicians.
A British version of a “stab in the back” myth that conveniently protects the UK aviation industry from it’s own profound responsibilities, failures and limitations.
As in many aspects of UK aviation history it’s the unrealistic hopes and expectations of the immediate post-war period (that given a short-term lead in jet engine technology the UK could in a sustained basis compete with the US in the airline business, among other areas) that set up the subsequent “failure”.
That specific hope of successfully competing head to head with the US airline manufacturers would only be realised later by the scale and ambition of Airbus.
As for any successful UK competitor to the B707 & DC-8 at the time it would have mattered the UK wasn’t capable of it (at least at the same time as V-bombers) and by the time of the VC10 it was all too little to late and blaming BOAC for bad press etc. is just another example of choosing a comforting fantasy.
 
No reason whatsoever why the UK could not have created a Boeing equivalent, it produced one of the big global aircraft engine manufacturers after all and aircraft like the Viscount, 1-11 and Jetstream did well. The UK was certainly capable of producing a 707 & DC-8 competitor. Where things went wrong was misallocated R&D, and designing aircraft against bespoke requirements rather than pursuing the broadest possible market share. Concorde being a great example of the former and the VC10 of the latter. That said, ending up with one of the worlds largest aerospace industries is a fantastic achievement for the UK. Assuming that the UK was incapable of developing and maintaining a world leading airliner design and final assembly company is just another example of not understanding the industrial history of the era or the current UK aerospace industry.
 
Last edited:
No reason whatsoever why the UK could not have created a Boeing equivalent, it produced one of the big global aircraft engine manufacturers after all and aircraft like the Viscount, 1-11 and Jetstream did well. The UK was certainly capable of producing a 707 & DC-8 competitor. Where things went wrong was misallocated R&D, and designing aircraft against bespoke requirements rather than pursuing the broadest possible market share. Concorde being a great example of the former and the VC10 of the latter. That said, ending up with one of the worlds largest aerospace industries is a fantastic achievement for the UK. Assuming that the UK was incapable of developing and maintaining a world leading airliner design and final assembly company is just another example of not understanding the industrial history of the era or the current UK aerospace industry.
Actual history tells it’s own story in this regard.
 
Actual history tells it’s own story in this regard.

Actual history, by definition, only tells the story of what did happen, not what could have happened had different choices been made. The UK could have built a 707 competitor had different choices been made, that the UK did produce successful commercial aircraft, still has one of the worlds big engine manufacturers and one of largest aerospace industries attests to that. Didn't and couldn't are two different things.
 
The UK has a fine aviation industry (and history) that it should be proud of.
But given that the UK repeatedly tried to compete with the B707 & DC8 (later Comets, the V1000, the VC10) and all of these efforts were failures of some stripe, and that it never really had an airliner manufacturer that could from a technical, financial or marketing/ market knowledge perspective really go head to head with a Boeing or a Douglas (the likes of Avro and Handley Page had their hands full with the V-bombers), then it suggests there was very limited scope for a “successful” scenario with out a large dose of wishful thinking.
 
I think the core of the problem was the attitude to air travel in the 1950s in US and UK.
The US increasingly used its air routes in the bus style as transport systems. British long range airliners focussed on the old Imperial Airways routes to Johannesburg and the Far East. They were luxury birds for the few.
Concorde was another product of this mindset which also led to Cunard's never-built Q3 liner.
The 707 feeds directly into the 747.Mass air travel is born in the USA.
 
There was nothing fundamentally preventing the British aviation industry developing a competing airliner to the 707. Let's not forget that without the USAF tanker deal the 707 may never of gotten off the ground quite so quickly, the DC-8 too owed something to military transport origins too.
The V.1000 fits that mould perfectly, except it was a luxury for the RAF, had a weight problem that could not be curtailed sufficiently for tropical use at high gross weights. Whether that would have mattered for the transatlantic run is open to speculation. The big difference is that BOAC didn't want anything to do with it. In all the files I've read at Kew on the V.1000, commercial prospects were so dearly wanted by the MoS and everyone thought they had a potential winner to succeed the Comet but BOAC is strangely absent from the files.

BOAC often felt that it was being saddled with aircraft it didn't want, in the VC-7 and Concorde they were probably correct, but it seems rather strange that with the MoS, later MoA and other bodies like TARC that BOAC and BEA never really sat down with industry and said "build me a Stratocruiser" or "build me a 707". Often BOAC and BEA didn't know what they wanted in terms of passenger payload and economics, but they saw American mass produced airliners as cheaper and if commerical giants like TWA and PanAm were happy then it was good enough for BOAC. The US had a massive internal market and numerous large operators. Types like the 247, DC-3, DC-4 and Constellation were driven by airline demands but even by the 1940s the R&D expense meant that groups of airlines were involved, there was no chance to cater for specific needs of one, but the economic needs of 2 or 3 transcontinental airlines. Britain was different, BOAC and BEA had different markets and so getting a joint design was harder and meant that specific requirements were difficult to resist and export needs were firmly second place.

Now lets turn to exports. British industry was never known pre-war as a commercial aircraft giant. Imperial Airways were flying some very odd bespoke designs of biplane design that had no export appeal at all. The C-class flying boats were cutting edge and indeed much admired but by 1945 they were outdated technology as flying boat operations wound down across the world. Britain never had a serious competitor to the Fokker trimotors, nor even the Junkers Ju 52 and when types like the Lockheed Vega and Boeing 247 appeared even Junkers was driven to jump onto the high-speed passenger bandwagon with the Ju 60. Then the DC-2 and DC-3 appeared and by then Europe had little to compete - monoplane tri-engines were still king in France, Italy and Germany. Britain began to buy American Lockheeds and dabbled in the DH.91 and DH.95 which were good but not world-beaters. Dragon Rapides sold well and they were probably ideal for small airlines during the early 1930s but lets face it, using them until the late 50s was stretching them a little far.

So now its 1945, Europe's industry is smashed, Britain only has one major competitor, the US. It wants to fight the US in all markets and get sales in America too. In the Comet, Britannia and the Viscount are the high-tech contenders. But the fill-ins are converted bombers; Lancastrians, Yorks, Tudors, Haltons, Hermes, Viking and most of these have a lamentable tale and indeed something like the Viking or York should have been technically possible in 1939. Brabazon types are a mix of useful types, pre-war hangovers and technocratic dreams. To be fair the US had the Lockheed Constitution which like the Bristol Brabazon was a large white elephant but the Boeing Stratrocruiser had some economics in using B-29 parts and was not too large to be uneconomic. The Viscount is smash hit, it fills a niche in many world airlines including America which has stuck to the tried and tested economics of piston power. The Dart was a success and proved fairly easy to develop. The Proteus was less trouble-free and the Britannia arrived too late to make any impact and had it been 5-3 years earlier it could well of done well even in the US. The Comet story we know, had it had circular windows and never crashed it might of had more success but its hard to dream that it would have acquired quite so many sales and varied operators around the world than the Viscount managed.

Britain was so focused on the US that it often neglected to bother about its European rivals during the 1950s. European industry rapidly recovered but again still had little to compete with American airliners. Italy's early efforts in piston airliners are graceful but not commercially successful. France slowly builds up with some oddities like the Deux-Ponts. The Caravelle hit the next ideal niche, the jet-powered Viscount replacement that spurred on developments in Britain and elsewhere, limited US market penetration was gained. Boeing hit back with the 727, Britain drew up several designs but the Trident was crippled by BEA and DH lacked the faith in selling the larger version abroad. Would the Bristol 200 really have had more success in the US? That's doubtful as the 727 and DC-9 would have mopped it up as an outsider relatively easily. But France was a one-hit wonder too, the Dassault Mercure followed all the British mistakes of following one customers needs too closely. Technocrats saw SSTs as the future, so Britain and France desperate to forestall US efforts and Condorde was born. Options racked up, the Oil Crisis killed those but its open to speculation how many of those orders were genuine and the US market was tightly ringfenced (I don't 100% buy the claims that the US murdered Concorde as it was a tough market to break into anyway) - the US industry backed away quickly having tried to leapfrog Concorde but economically they were soon proven correct to do so.

Having not had a successful competitor to US airliners since 1935, Europe decided now to band together and hit the mass-transport 'Airbus' market. Airbus was formed. Britain remained too focused on beating the US and increasingly Europe. The 2-11 and 3-11 were sound designs, but hopes of a new national revival were crushed by the costs. Even had they gone ahead its hard to believe either would have been a commercial success. Lockheed's attempts to break into the market with the Tristar failed and nearly took RR with it. The DC-10 did ok but Boeing accelerated ahead, killing the MD-11 and MD-80 series and romping ahead to dominate the US and world market. Airbus had a slow start but never gained a real foothold until it had a family of airliners it could offer.

This is where Britain fell flat. It was too focused on long-distance transatlantic and Imperial routes from 1920 onwards. It never devoted the same resources to European routes where the traffic was highest and the profits to be made. American commercial dominance came from the same inter-continental routes - it bore the 247, DC-3, 727, 737. The Viscount, Caravelle, F28, 1-11 tapped into this market and won bigger slices. But Britain purely dabbled. The DC-3 replacement was left to the manufacturers to sort out and government eager to hoover up any exports that might accrue - leading to the 748/Herald spat sorted by backing whoever won the big Indian contract and while they fought Fokker cleaned up the European market with the F27. Dozens of other DC-3 replacements were stillborn. The 1-11 had begun as the Percival 107, it took Britain's only remaining independent airline BUA to launch it. BEA dabbled with the Trident and the stunted remains proved commercially useless and saddled Hawker Siddeley design teams for another decade trying to make it exportable. The 146 was stifled at birth, paused for years when it could have been flying much sooner. Again, the 146 aimed at the feederliner market and won a decent slice of the market.
The V.1000 had been a sign, the omens were clear; stop dithering with small niche markets and hit the big profitable markets. The same was true of light aircraft, US home demand created a massive industry and Cessnas, Pipers and Beechs swamped the world markets, Beagle came along 20 years too late and could never compete.

Data:
Long-Range
Britannia - 87
VC-10 - 54
Tudor - 38
Hermes - 29
Concorde - 10 (UK)

Medium Airliner
Viscount - 444
1-11 - 236
Comet - 113
Trident - 117
Vanguard - 43
Ambassador - 23

Short-Range/Feederliner/Business
Islander - 1,161
125 - 700
Dove - 544
Jetstream/31/32- 429
146/ RJ - 388
748 - 293
Shorts 360 - 165
Viking - 163
Heron - 148
Shorts 330 - 125
Jetstream 41 - 104
Trislander - 87
ATP - 64
Dart Herald - 50
Marathon - 43

Cargo
170 Frieghter - 214
Skyvan - 149
Argosy - 17 (+56 for RAF)
 
Last edited:
Excellent informative post Hood.
Only aspect I’d note is the statement re: “nothing fundamental” and then listing off a series of things that, at least to me, collectively sound quite fundamental and “baked in”.
Again this is not to disparage the UK aviation industry, indeed I think it gives a fairer more balanced and accurate view to understand the limitations it had to work within (including its own) rather than looking to reoccurring “the politicians / state stabbed us in the back” myth-narratives.
 
There was nothing fundamentally preventing the British aviation industry developing a competing airliner to the 707. Let's not forget that without the USAF tanker deal the 707 may never of gotten off the ground quite so quickly, the DC-8 too owed something to military transport origins too. The V.1000 fits that mould perfectly, except it was a luxury for the RAF, had a weight problem that could not be curtailed sufficiently for tropical use at high gross weights. Whether that would have mattered for the transatlantic run is open to speculation. The big difference is that BOAC didn't want anything to do with it. In all the files I've read at Kew on the V.1000, commercial prospects were so dearly wanted by the MoS and everyone thought they had a potential winner to succeed the Comet but BOAC is strangely absent from the files.

Excellent post Hood, I especially agree with the quoted section. It is worth unpacking what actually happened in the UK around the "big jet" question in the late 1950s as well.

VC.7: BOAC, as you rightly say, was never really interested. My reading of the PRO documents and published histories suggests this was a sincere belief that between its Comet fleet and turboprops it didn't need a big jet, at least anytime soon. V.1000 is formerly cancelled late 1955. Vickers may have believed the same, at least to some extent, as it was the turboprop Vanguard that they funded, albeit with a BEA order.

Comet 5: BOAC realised that big jets are actually going to be a thing sometime around mid-1956, the V.1000 was gone so brief consideration was given to DH's proposed Comet 5 (July 1956); it would be two years behind the 707 and, probably due to the R&D costs, more expensive than the 707 so goes nowhere. BOAC was allowed to procure Conway powered 707s for the Atlantic route but there was still a requirement for a aircraft with superior hot and high/short runway performance for "Eastern Hemisphere" routes

DH.118: BOAC entered negotiations with Vickers for the new aircraft but Government desire to spread orders pushed them back to DH, this is where the DH.118 sprung from sometime around October 1956; DH refused to move unless they got a guaranteed order for 50 and they were more interested in the BEA requirement that ultimately produced the Trident anyway.

VC.10: With DH out BOAC looked at designs from other contractors and ended up choosing, enthusiastically at first, the VC.10 that is custom designed to the specific BOAC requirement for an aircraft for their Far Eastern and East African routes ("Eastern Hemisphere"). Thus, the VC.10 was never truly intended to even be a full-on 707 competitor, instead it consciously traded pure fuel efficiency for superior take-off performance to meet its customer's stated requirement.

Lots of what-ifs, none of which can be proved either way, had BOAC and Vickers committed to the VC.7 in the early 1950s, and against similar take-off and landing requirements to the 707, there is no reason they could not have produced a serious contender in that market segment on a viable timeline. But that didn't happen.
 
Last edited:
Excellent informative post Hood.
Only aspect I’d note is the statement re: “nothing fundamental” and then listing off a series of things that, at least to me, collectively sound quite fundamental and “baked in”.
Again this is not to disparage the UK aviation industry, indeed I think it gives a fairer more balanced and accurate view to understand the limitations it had to work within (including its own) rather than looking to reoccurring “the politicians / state stabbed us in the back” myth-narratives.

I should have been clearer, I meant technically fundamental - we had the engines in the Conway, had experience of jet airliner construction and pitfalls, experience with pressurised cabins had decent aerodynamics for the wings. Against that, the engine location was still controversial between the wing root and nacelle schools of thought, at the time of the V.1000 cancellation the Comet crash findings were only 9 months old so lessons were still being digested and the Vulcan and Victor were still brand new and some time away from entering service and their aerodynamics being proved in long-range flight and the Comet was grounded. But technically all that needed to be done was to marry with Conway with a suitable wing for good economics and a large enough cabin for a profitable payload. Boeing had to redesign the 717 to become the 707 and I suspect a VC-7 designed purely for commercial use would have been slightly lighter (remember the V.1000 was designed to carry Jeeps, spare engines and troops around, not paying passengers).

Industry could build a lot of things, but unless it had customers willing to part with cash then it mattered very little.
I think this is the root of the 'stab-in-the-back' myths, the designers felt they could do it but someone always interfered with their dreams of Mach 3 bombers, delta-wing rocket interceptors, SSTs, IRBMs etc. They ignored the other factors beyond the drawing office and factory floor.

VC.10: With DH out BOAC looks at designs from other contractors ends up choosing, enthusiastically at first, the VC.10 that is custom designed to the specific BOAC requirement for an aircraft for their Far Eastern and East African routes ("Eastern Hemisphere"). Thus, the VC.10 was never truly intended to even be a full-on 707 competitor, instead it consciously traded pure fuel efficiency for superior take-off performance to meet its customer's stated requirement.

At a time when the remnants of Empire were shrinking, admittedly the VC-10 was launched before the 'Winds of Change speech', the writing must have been on the wall for BOAC's major eastern routes to Africa and Asia to warrant such an investment of a new airliner dedicated to serving them. I suspect the reluctance to invest in airfield infrastructure in soon to be independent colonies was a driver in specifying a good take-off performance. We perhaps should not discount British obsessions with tropical performance though given their long experience of flying in such conditions, something US manufacturers didn't really have to worry about to the same extent.

To your list we could add the HP.117 - Handley Page were obsessed with applying boundary-layer techniques for long-distance transport.

I think to summarise my long post, long-range airliners demanded high technical competence but the market was smaller - nearly all long-haul airlines were either state owned or US airlines keen to buy US products - so the chances to recoup investment on large sales outside of the US was less and offering prices as cheap as mass produced 707s for US customers was harder.

I wonder if creating BOAC and BEA was a mistake and if a joint single airline responsible for all overseas routes would have been more efficient and focused minds on more commercial opportunities? Alternatively it could have been worse!
 
There is a tendency in UK companies and perticularly some engineers to believe they know better than the customer. Thus we produce products that are marvels of engineering like Comet 1 but fail as a commercial product.
BEA are criticised for "forcing" Hawker Siddeley to build Tridents too small. Actually, BEA wanted to simply buy off the shelf aircraft and spent a decade trying to buy the Boeings that British Airways finally does with its 757 and 737 fleet. BEA left unhindered would have looked like Lufthansa with Viscounts, 727s and 737s.
 
I think to summarise my long post, long-range airliners demanded high technical competence but the market was smaller - nearly all long-haul airlines were either state owned or US airlines keen to buy US products - so the chances to recoup investment on large sales outside of the US was less and offering prices as cheap as mass produced 707s for US customers was harder.

I wonder if creating BOAC and BEA was a mistake and if a joint single airline responsible for all overseas routes would have been more efficient and focused minds on more commercial opportunities? Alternatively it could have been worse!

In my opinion this is pretty much spot on. In an ideal world Vickers could have built a viable 707 competitor out of the VC.7, if BOAC or another airline had been on board, if it had been designed to similar take-off and landing requirements to the US jets, and if it had made it to market in good time it could have had a reasonable slice of the market. But it all comes down the ifs. It is also worth noting that the 707 generation also saw the end of Convair in the large airliner market, like you say, its hard place to operate. Any VC.7 would have had to have taken real world orders from the 707 and DC-8 to have been successful, we will never know how viable that is. To be fair, after the end of the V.1000/VC.7 most of the more informed minds in the UK seemed to understand that the opportunity had passed, its one of the reasons why the VC.10 was designed to to do something a bit different.
 
Last edited:
I think to summarise my long post, long-range airliners demanded high technical competence but the market was smaller - nearly all long-haul airlines were either state owned or US airlines keen to buy US products - so the chances to recoup investment on large sales outside of the US was less and offering prices as cheap as mass produced 707s for US customers was harder.

I wonder if creating BOAC and BEA was a mistake and if a joint single airline responsible for all overseas routes would have been more efficient and focused minds on more commercial opportunities? Alternatively it could have been worse!

In my opinion this is pretty much spot on. In an ideal world Vickers could have built a viable 707 competitor out of the VC.7, if BOAC or another airline had been on board, if it had been designed to similar take-off and landing requirements to the US jets, and if it had made it to market in good time it could have had a reasonable slice of the market. But it all comes down the ifs. It is also worth noting that the 707 generation also saw the end of Convair in the large airliner market, like you say, its hard place to operate. Any VC.7 would have had to have taken real world orders from the 707 and DC-8 to have been successful, we will never know how viable that is. To be fair, after the end of the V.1000/VC.7 most of the more informed minds in the UK seemed to understand that the opportunity had passed, its one of the reasons why the VC.10 was designed to to do something a bit different.
Reminds me of the suggestion that if the customer doesnt like your product find another customer. All too common thinking in British firms in those days, and still lingers in the retail sector
 
BEA are criticised for "forcing" Hawker Siddeley to build Tridents too small. Actually, BEA wanted to simply buy off the shelf aircraft and spent a decade trying to buy the Boeings that British Airways finally does with its 757 and 737 fleet. BEA left unhindered would have looked like Lufthansa with Viscounts, 727s and 737s.

The Trident was built specifically to BEA's requirement starting in 1959, they wanted a small but fast aircraft, ideally faster than the Caravelle - they did not prefer the 727 at this stage. It is now universally accepted that BEA got its capacity estimates wrong which is why they subsequently pursued larger Tridents after the UK Government rejected their application to buy Boeing 727s in mid-1966. This was seven years after BEA's design change request that reduced the aircrafts payload. The actual history is very similar to that of the VC10, a British airline requested and got an aircraft designed specifically for the requirement it thought it had at the time, after the fact it realised it had got its requirement wrong and tried to pursue other alternatives. In both cases, BEA and BOAC were making rational business decisions with the forecasts they had available, unfortunately those forecasts proved incorrect. However, both Vickers and DeHavilland had choices of their own, they didn't have to build those aircraft, in both cases they knew upfront they were building to what were likely to be niche requirements.

To summarise, we have a pair of airlines creating bespoke requirements but basing them on flawed passenger/route forecasts and aircraft manufacturers wilfully designing and building aircraft against those requirements.

It is fun to speculate what would have happened had other decisions been made though. Had BEA stuck to its initial market forecasts and DH pushed forward at pace and delivered the DH.121 to the initial specification it could have been better placed to compete against the 727, but that didn't happen so we will never know how much more successful it would have been, if it would have been at all.
 
Last edited:
It is fun to speculate what would have happened had other decisions been made though. Had BEA stuck to its initial market forecasts and DH pushed forward at pace and delivered the DH.121 to the initial specification it could have been better placed to compete against the 727, but that didn't happen so we will never know how much more successful it would have been, if it would have been at all.

An interesting what-if for sure.
117 Tridents was over twice the number of Vanguards sold (43) but half the number of 1-11s sold (236). Lets consider that 20 years later in a much bigger airline industry the BAe 146 shipped 388 over its lifetime to the early 2000s the prospects were probably not amazing. It might of captured more of the Viscount replacement market.
We perhaps shouldn't of overlooked the VC-11 either which had strong Canadian backing, but BAC was probably right not to gamble on a lone Canadian order. Yes, we know Boeing gambled on Lufthansa ordering the 737 but it knew sooner or later US airlines would pick up the type. Something like the 737 might of been a better outcome than a tri-engined aircraft. But that's getting far into what-if zones and I can't see any unbuilt jet airliner project of the era racking up more than 300 orders.
Plus we haven't even mentioned the oddity of the Trident and 1-11 being sold to Communist-bloc nations China and Romania respectively. A new market penetration but not one that brought much reward.
 
However, both Vickers and DeHavilland had choices of their own, they didn't have to build those aircraft, in both cases they knew upfront they were building to what were likely to be niche requirements.

Actually, given the pretty tight grip that the Ministry of Supply and subsequently the Ministry of Aviation held over R&D and procurement priorities, they arguably didn't have that much room for manouver.
 
Actually, given the pretty tight grip that the Ministry of Supply and subsequently the Ministry of Aviation held over R&D and procurement priorities, they arguably didn't have that much room for manouver.

It is true of all Ministries in this period (and probably the same is true today) that the top civil servants held the real policy making power, the Ministers were effectively just a rubber stamp and most of the inter-ministry fighting occurred below Ministerial level. But its also true that a lot of aircraft procurement went to the Cabinet and the PM for decisions during the 50s and 60s in a way that would be unthinkable today. Eden, Macmillan, Home, Wilson and Heath had to get involved in all the major decisions (even ones involving relatively small sums of money like subsidies). Its possible if BAC or de Havilland had a clutch of overseas orders worth millions for a non-niche design, my gut instinct is that the export-earning obsessed Cabinet would have backed it.

And the MoA was not all powerful, it tried everything to force BEA to buy the Bristol 200 over the original DH.121 but BEA was adamant it wanted the DH.121*. The MoA went to the legal branch and found that they had no legal authority to decide what aircraft BEA (or BOAC) could buy if they could self-finance an order. BEA had the money for DH.121 so the Bristol 200 died. Even if the Bristol had been forced on BEA, they would still of had the market survey scare so the end result would have been the same.

*In a curious footnote as to why, the Chairman of BEA, Lord Sholto Douglas of Kirtleside, had stated that he wanted a de Havilland aircraft from the beginning, he had faith in de Havilland’s design team and its test flight team; he knew both John Cunningham and Peter Bugge when they had been night-fighter pilots when he had been C-in-C Fighter Command. Its not what you know but who....
 
117 Tridents was over twice the number of Vanguards sold (43) but half the number of 1-11s sold (236). Lets consider that 20 years later in a much bigger airline industry the BAe 146 shipped 388 over its lifetime to the early 2000s the prospects were probably not amazing. It might of captured more of the Viscount replacement market.
We perhaps shouldn't of overlooked the VC-11 either which had strong Canadian backing, but BAC was probably right not to gamble on a lone Canadian order. Yes, we know Boeing gambled on Lufthansa ordering the 737 but it knew sooner or later US airlines would pick up the type. Something like the 737 might of been a better outcome than a tri-engined aircraft. But that's getting far into what-if zones and I can't see any unbuilt jet airliner project of the era racking up more than 300 orders.

It is a fun question isn't. The original BEA specification would have made whichever aircraft was chosen a near straight competitor to the Boeing 727 of which 1,832 were built over about twenty years. If we are generous and throw in the 117 Tridents and round up thats an addressable market of 1,950 aircraft, putting all the if's to one side, could the original DH.121 (or the Bristol 200) have taken 20%, or even 25% of that total?

I have always been curious about the VC-11. It seems to appear in 1959 and would therefore have been late for the original BEA requirement, against which it was supposedly designed, which had gone to DeHavilland in 1958. Despite that, Vickers were asking for financial aid from the government to support it, alongside the VC-10, in mid 1959. It wasn't formerly cancelled until Spring 1961 when the £9.75m government grant for it was transferred to the One-Eleven. It also seems a bit big for the BEA requirement, apparently being a 136 seater against the DH.121 that topped out at 117 prior to the 1959 shrinkage. I have generally assumed it was part of the wider sense within the aircraft industry that BEA had got it wrong and the market was for a larger aircraft, which the 727 proved it was, but thats just me mindlessly speculating. Bristol and Avro continued to press their case after the decision too, Bristol evolving the 200 into the 205. The TCA provisional order probably paid the major part in it keeping the VC-11 going so long, perhaps it was designed against that requirement in the first place?

And the MoA was not all powerful, it tried everything to force BEA to buy the Bristol 200 over the original DH.121 but BEA was adamant it wanted the DH.121*. The MoA went to the legal branch and found that they had no legal authority to decide what aircraft BEA (or BOAC) could buy if they could self-finance an order.

Something similar happened with the VC.10, the MoA really wanted BOAC to take the DH.118 but DH refused to play unless they got a guaranteed order of 50, and thats how the VC.10 came about. The government may have been interventionist but ultimately it only had so many levers to use when trying to get its way, as HP's stubborn and pointless bankruptcy before merger stance demonstrated.
 
Last edited:
It would be interesting to compare the relationship between US airlines and manufacturers in the jet age with that between British airlines and manufacturers.
But also Boeing's relationship with Non US airlines. Lufthansa and the 737 come to mind. Alitalia I seem to remember was due to be the first foreign airline to get the 2707 SST.
I may be wrong but British manufacturers did not have such a close relationship
 
One of the problems with the VC.10 was simply that it had too much wing which, while reducing runway requirements, also increased surface area and total airframe drag. The rear engine configuration also tends to increase airframe weight, as a) wing-mounted engines, as on the 707, may reduce wing weight due to bending moment alleviation b) the rear mounted engines increase fuselage weight due to the need to stress the fuselage for the engines' dead weight and thrust loads, and c) center of gravity forces the wing further back along the fuselage, forcing an increase in empennage area to maintain tail volume. There can also be problems with disturbed airflow from the wings at high angles of attack. These concerns are obviously surmountable -- there was nothing really wrong with the VC.10, per se, (except it had too much wing) -- but did result in a plane that was more expensive to buy and operate than a 707 (as an aside, I think one can make a case that the DC-8 was a better aircraft than the 707)
 
To my knoledge, the VC10 was built according to the demands of BOAC, which than prefered the 707 instead because economy became more important than short take off perforamance and the V10 only filled a niche.

It’s always easy to be wiser from the retro perspective, Vickers shouldn’t have focus as much on the BOAC. After the failed Brabazon they really wanted to built the exact plane the customer was asking for, which turned out to be a failure.
 
Boeing Commercials were/are built to a price, so Lego: 707-320C Dan Air Lusaka crash, horiz stab falling off, was fixed by a bolt mod for which (one MRO agency) offered an exchange scheme - yes, complete stab. Not possible in VC10: weight would be “30% less if designed (now: builders) appear to have adhered only loosely to the drawings (New) parts must be machined to match the unserviceable part” O/C,VC10 Major Svcg.,St.Athan,P63,3/99, O’haul&Mtce mag.

But nor could it have been possible on DC-8: that same MRO facility took in 5 DC-8/50 to remove hat racks and install Heath Tecna overhead bins. Standard kit. None fit. Each fuselage differed by many mm. Sculpture, not mass-produced.

Same MRO did a 707 stab next to a V.810 Viscount in for a comparable tail mod. (Remember: no a/c is designed for ease of removal of such basic structure). Exposing the guts of these a/c brought every engineer in town to stare into the entrails. One was agricultural, one was a wondrous work of art...heavy as a brick dunny. Guess which.
 
What if Fokker or Airspeed had exercised their licenses to build DC-2s during the 1930s?
This would have allowed them to fill the gap in the lower end (short to medium range) of the British airline fleet that was left when the RAF had to return all their Lend-Lease DC-3s/C-47s after World War 2..
A decade or so of experience building DC-2s and DC-3s would have given Airspeed the confidence to develop a longer-ranged DC-4 equivalent.
Sorry, but I have recently been reading Anthony Fokker's biography: "Anthony Fokker, the flying Dutchman who shaped American aviation" by Marc Dierikx.
It is also rumored that Nevil Shute Norway left Airspeed rather than invest millions of pounds Sterling in new tooling to build all-metal airframes.
 
Last edited:
(Fokker assembled some DC-2/DC-3 but had not progressed to licence-build before Neths Occupation. Airspeed took a sub-licence: DC-2, DC-3 and 15 Fokker Types - but did nothing with it). So, rr: why not?

The move from York to Portsmouth took Sir A.Cobham/Tiltman/Norway's fiscal capacity/appetite, so they cashed-in on the Rearmament Boom and floated, 8/34. They, like most speculators piling into Defence, then caught a cold strain called Swinton, Air Minister from 7/6/35. Advised by (2/18,DG.A/c Prod/Min.of Munitions; 27/4-13/12/18, Air Minister) Lord W.Weir they renewed 1917's shadow Production scheme by which most Munitions were not made by the Design parent. Now aircraft must again be built in volume beyond designers' scope, so Swinton committed to the 1920's Ring (16 airframe/4 engine Design parents) that he would not create design competitors. They agreed to co-operate with 2nd. sources for their products (though, if we had paid for R&D - cash or overhead on sales - they were ours).

That gave grief to Swan Hunter, the shipyard, who had bought control of Airspeed, 25/1/35 and funded the Fokker licence, but became owners of an orphan. So no investment in "new tooling to build all-metal airframes". If...a Ring Member had bought the DC-2/3 licence....

Most of the newcomers settled for Parent-Supervised manufacture - which is where money is made: investors see R&D as an arid cost.

Swan Hunter persuaded Swinton that an adaptation of a (PV!) wooden civil light transport, Envoy, could be RAF's multi-engine trainer without (visible) R&D funding, so no ordure from the Ring. 136 (to be) Oxford I were ordered, 10/36. Queen Wasp drone followed (well, an order for 320 did: only 7 were built). Then more Oxfords in a Production Group inc. DH/Hatfield; yet more were wanted and the type was assigned to a new Christchurch shadow Factory phasing-in from early-'40. DH bought out Swan Hunter, 27/5/40, to gain access to that capacity. Design+400 contract was awarded for AS.51 Horsa 2/41..but: to Ring Member DH's outport, or, if you prefer, a wooden assault glider was not an aircraft.
 
Last edited:
It may be useful to think of the VC10 as a hot-&-high, 4-engined 727-100 equivalent with some additional range (replacing BOAC Comet 4s & Britannia 102s); the Super VC10 was more akin to the 707-320/420/320B/C & DC-8-30/40/50 types in terms of payload capacity (replacing BOAC Britannia 312s & DC-7Cs). It should also be noted that Boeing was unable to bring a 707-derived Douglas DC-8 Super 60 equivalent/competitor (of any version) to production & BAC was unable to bring the original-design VC10 Super 200 to production.

Terry (Caravellarella)
 

Similar threads

Back
Top Bottom