The Freighter is a somewhat bulbous and cumbersome-looking aircraft. Like the more slender prewar Bristol Bombay, it is a high-wing monoplane with fixed undercarriage (landing gear), the main gear legs supported by substantial vertical struts beneath the Bristol Hercules radial engines and horizontally from the lower edge of the (slab-sided) fuselage. The cockpit sits atop the forward fuselage with two large clam shell doors at the nose, making the unpressurised fuselage somewhat breezy; one Kiwi pilot claimed his charge was "40 thousand rivets flying in close formation."
The managing director of Silver City Airways was Wing Commander "Taffy" Grimth James Powell, who realised that he could adapt the Bristol Freighter to fly passengers with their cars from Britain to Continental Europe and Jersey. This "air ferry" would allow Britishers on holiday to avoid lengthy waits for the sea ferries. On the 14 July 1948, the airline made the first flight with a car, from Lydd Airport in Kent to Le Touquet on the northern coast of France.
In 1953, production of the freighter was moved to Weston-super-Mare and an elongated version to carry three cars, the Freighter 32 entered service. Silver City Airways dubbed these variants Superfreighters.
The last two freighters of the 214 built were delivered in 1958, one to New Zealand in February and the last aircraft to Dan-Air in March 1958. The New Zealand aircraft was delivered to SAFE who eventually operated one of the largest fleets of Freighters. One of the elongated aircraft, registered G-AMWA, had 60 seats fitted and was known as a Super Wayfarer.
Cargons were loaded near the rail yards and their load was calculated and arranged to remain within the aircraft's load and centre of gravity limits. They were then trucked to the airport and mechanically loaded as a unit from devices that were electric-motor powered via screw-jacks. The loader accepted pallets from horizontal-tray road vehicles and then raised them to allow loading into the nose of the tail-wheeled aircraft. Other adaptations allowed the carrying of horses and other high-value large animals.
Freighters were the major link between the Chatham Islands and the rest of the world until Armstrong Whitworth Argosys replaced them. SAFE Air developed a pressurised 'container' for the half of the aircraft given over to passengers on these flights.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force ordered 12 Mk 31M Freighters in the late 1940s. RNZAF Freighters ranged as far as supplying the New Zealand Army in Malaya, the British High Commissions (and other support staff) in the Maldives, Ceylon, India and Nepal, performing FEAF tasks in Malaya (often when other aircraft types were unservicable due to maintenance problems) and Hong Kong. They ran a highly reliable military shuttle service for allies in Thailand during the Vietnam War and served several other roles, being adapted for — amongst other things — aerial top dressing experiments, although, to avoid competition with private enterprise, the NZ government did not to use them in that role.
One Freighter was in service in turn with British Ministry of Supply (G-AIMI then WB482), the RAAF (A81-1) and subsequently went into commercial use in Australia until 1978 after which it went on to become a museum exhibit and was given over to the RAAF museum at Point Cook, Victoria, Australia in 1988.
Bristol freighter Mk 31M G-BISU was operated by Instone Airline at Stansted, Essex, UK, for a number of years. This was an ex-RNZAF aircraft and left Ardmore on 2 March 1981 for its 86-hour ferry flight to the UK, it subsequently flew its first charter flight on 3 August 1981 delivering two racehorses to Deauville. This role of flying livestock was to take up half a year while other work included carriage of oil drilling machinery, car parts, newspapers and mail.
Another Bristol Freighter, C-FDFC (cn 13218) crashed on takeoff with the crew escaping but was essentially a write-off. The Captain, John Duncan and Co-Pilot, Malcolm Cutter reported that the aircraft entered a severe yaw after take-off which was uncontrollable despite use of full opposite aileron and rudder control.
The last Freighter in service, which flew for Instone Airline then later returned to New Zealand, was bought from surplus by Hawkair in Terrace, British Columbia, Canada. In 2004, this aircraft undertook its final flight to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. An example (CF-WAE) is found at the Western Canada Aviation Museum, formerly flown by Norcanair.