The Viscount was a British medium-range turboprop airliner first flown in 1948 by Vickers-Armstrongs, making it the first such aircraft to enter service in the world. It would go on to be one of the most successful of the first-generation post-war transports, with 445 being built. It was particularly well liked by the passengers, as it was quiet, fast and vibration free, and had larger windows than those found even on modern airliners.
The design resulted from the Brabazon Committee's Type II design, calling for a small-sized medium-range pressurised aircraft to fly its less-travelled routes, carrying 24 passengers up to 1,750 miles (2,816 km) at 200 mile/h (322 km/h). British European Airways (BEA) was involved in the design and asked that the plane carry 32 passengers instead, but remained otherwise similar. During development, Vickers advocated the use of turboprop power, believing piston-engines to be a dead-end in aviation. The Brabazon committee was not so convinced, but agreed to split the design into two types, the Type IIA using piston power, and the Type IIB using a turboprop. Vickers won the IIB contracts, while the IIA was the Airspeed Ambassador.
The resulting Vickers Type 630 design was completed at Brooklands by Chief Designer Rex Pierson and his staff in 1945, a thirty-two seat airliner powered by four Rolls-Royce Dart engines providing a cruising speed of 275 mph (443 km/h). An order for two prototypes was placed in March 1946, and construction started almost immediately. Originally to be named Viceroy, the name was changed after the partition of India in 1947. There was some work on replacing the Darts with the Armstrong Siddeley Mamba, but this was dropped by the time the prototypes were reaching completion.
The prototype Type 630 flew on 16 July 1948, and the second prototype was built as a test-bed with two Rolls-Royce Tay turbojets in place of the four Darts. The first prototype was awarded a restricted Certificate of Airworthiness on 15 September 1949, followed by a full Certificate on 27 July 1950, and placed into service with BEA the next day to familiarize the pilots and ground crew with the new aircraft. However the design was considered too small and slow at 275 mph (443 km/h), making the per-passenger operating costs too high for regular service.
The designers then went back to the drawing board and the aircraft emerged as the larger Type 700 with up to forty-eight passengers (53 in some configurations), and a cruising speed of 308 mph (496 km/h). The new prototype first flew 28 August 1950. British European Airways ordered twenty V.701s, and soon orders came in from other airlines. The first 700 was delivered to BEA in January 1953, and in April it began the world's first turboprop-powered service.
In October 1953 the Viscount 700 prototype G-AMAV achieved the fastest time (40 hours 41 minutes flying time) in the transport section of the 12,367 mile (19,903 km) air race from London to Christchurch, New Zealand. The aircraft averaged 320 mph (515 km/h) in the event, crossing the finishing line nine hours ahead of its closest rival, a Douglas DC-6 of KLM, with the latter winning on handicap. En route G-AMAV flew 3530 miles non-stop from Cocos (Keeling) Island to Melbourne's Essendon Airport in 10 hours 16 minutes. Vickers Viscounts later served with New Zealand's National Airways Corporation.
The Type 700D added more powerful engines, and the Type 724 included a new fuel system, two-pilot cockpit, and increased weights.
The final major change to the design was the Type 800 Super Viscount, stretched 3 ft 10 in (1.2 m) for up to 71 passengers. Wider, more square doors were fitted to the airframe at this time. A further change to the fuselage was planned, but later renamed as the Vanguard instead. The last Viscounts built were 6 for the Chinese State airline CAAC, which were delivered during 1964, giving a total production total of 445.
The type continued in BEA and British Airways service until early 1985, eventually being passed on to charter operators such as British Air Ferries (later British World). The last British-owned Viscounts were sold for use in Africa.
In May 2008 a total of 3 Vickers Viscount aircraft remain in airline service in Africa. In addition to these, one (a series 700) has also been restored to airworthy condition in the USA, and it is hoped that the Viscount will be attending several air shows in the future.
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