The Bristol Type 175 Britannia was a British medium/long-range airliner built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1952 to fly across the British Empire. Soon after production the turboprop engines proved susceptible to inlet icing and two prototypes were lost while solutions were found. By the time it was cleared, jets from France, UK and the US were about to enter service and only 85 Britannias were built before production ended in 1960. Nevertheless the Britannia is considered the high point in turboprop design and was popular with passengers, earning itself the nickname "the whispering giant" for its unusually quiet and smooth flying.
Bristol won the Type I and Type III contracts, delivering their Type I design, the Bristol Brabazon in 1949. The initial requirement for the Type III, C2/47, was issued by the Minister of Supply for an aircraft capable of carrying 48 passengers and powered with Bristol Centaurus radial engines. Turboprop and compound engines were also considered, but they were so new that Bristol could not guarantee the performance specifications. After wrangling between the Ministry of Supply and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) over costs, the go-ahead was given in July 1948 for three prototypes, although the second and third were to be convertible to Bristol Proteus turboprops.
In October, with work already underway, BOAC decided that only a Proteus-engined aircraft was worth working on, and the project was redrawn to allow both turboprop and piston aircraft. BOAC purchased options for 25 aircraft in July 1949, the first six with the Centaurus engine and the rest with the Proteus, now enlarged for 74 passengers.
By the time the first prototype, registered G-ALBO, first flew on 16 August 1952 at Filton BOAC and Bristol had dropped the Centaurus as the turboprop Proteus had shown such promise. The Britannia was now a 90-seater and BOAC ordered 15 of these Series 100s. In 1953 and 54, three de Havilland Comets disappeared without explanation, and the Air Ministry demanded the Britannia undergo lengthy tests. Further delays were caused by engine problems, mostly related to icing and the loss of the second prototype G-ALRX in an accident caused by a failed engine in December 1953. This delayed the in-service date until February 1957, when BOAC put their first Britannia 102s into service on the London to South Africa route, with Australia following a month later.
Bristol then upgraded the design as a larger transatlantic airliner for BOAC, resulting in the Series 200 and 300. The new version had a fuselage stretch of 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m) and upgraded Proteus engines, and was offered as the all-cargo Series 200, the cargo/passenger (combi) Series 250, and the all-passenger Series 300.
The first 301 flew on 31 July 1956. BOAC ordered seven Model 302s but never took delivery - instead they were taken on by airlines including Aeronaves de México and Ghana Airways. The main long-range series were the 310s, of which BOAC took 18 and, after deliveries began in September 1957, put them into service between London and New York. The 310 series (318) also saw transatlantic service with Cubana de Aviación starting in 1958. In total 45 Series 300s were built, the first jet-powered, albeit in turboprop form, airliner to enter regular non-stop transatlantic service in both directions.
A further 23 Model 252 and 253 aircraft were purchased by the RAF, as the Britannia C.2 and C.1 respectively. Those in RAF service were allocated the names of stars, "Arcturus", "Sirius", "Vega" etc. The last retired in 1975, and were used by civil operators in Africa, Europe and the Middle East into the late 1990s.
A licence was also issued to Canadair to build a maritime reconnaissance aircraft , the Canadair Argus and long-range transport, the Canadair Yukon. Unlike the Britannia, the Argus was built for endurance, not speed, and used four Wright R-3350-32W Turbo-Compound engines which use less fuel at low altitude. The unpressurized interior was left with almost no room to move, packed with sensors and weapons. Canadair also built 37 turboprop Rolls Royce Tyne-powered CL-44 variants for the civil market similar those built for the RCAF in CC-106 Yukon guise, most of which were used as freighters Four built as CL-44-Js had their fuselages lengthened, making them the highest capacity passenger aircraft of the day, for service with the Icelandic budget airline Loftleiðir. One, a modified Guppy version, remains airworthy, but not flying. Several were built with swing-tails to allow straight-in cargo loading.
Rare 'Whispering Giant' Is Restored to Former Glory; Historic Plane Set to Become a Major Mersey Tourist Attraction
May 29, 2007; Byline: BY PETER ELSON Daily Post Staff IT WAS a plane of two halves, but is now one, as Europe's most significant aviation...