During the 1950s, BOAC envisioned that the de Havilland DH.106 Comet would serve as its long-range pure-jet airliner, but its initial version, as the Comet 1, demonstrated its design flaw when inadequate fuselage skin gauges resulted in progressive weakening and ultimate, life-losing explosive decompression.
Although it had placed an order for a dozen slightly larger Comet 2s, accident investigation precluded its use by any operator other than the Royal Canadian Air Force.
While the larger-capacity Comet 4 seemed more promising, its late appearance and inadequate range hardly qualified it as a trans-Atlantic jetliner, leaving BOAC to deploy it on decidedly shorter routes and seek a long-range airliner elsewhere. It was therefore to Vickers that it turned.
VC10 DESIGN ORIGINS:
In 1951, the Ministry of Supply asked Vickers-Armstrongs to design a transport aircraft for the Royal Air Force, for which BOAC saw potential application. In overall configuration, it was similar to the Valiant bomber with four Rolls Royce Avon turbojets mounted to the high wing, although it was quickly concluded that such an airfoil mounting was inappropriate for passenger carriage.
Designated V.1000 as its military version and VC7 as its commercial one, it appeared to incorporate features that married the Comet with the ultimate VC10, with a forward, wrap-around circle of ten cockpit windows and a comparable fuselage, but it was decidedly larger for greater capacity. Its four 13,500 thrust-pound, aft-fan Rolls Royce Conway engines, buried in the swept wing, resulted in a clean, unobstructed surface for high lift and mirrored that of the Comet itself, and its tail was conventional.
Even on paper, its sleek appearance and high-speed performance were evident. A 100-passenger payload, along with their baggage, was calculated to result in a 500-mph speed and a range of just under 3,000 miles.
Construction of the V.1000/VC7 prototype commenced in October of 1952 and the British government instructed Vickers to produce six examples of the aircraft two years later. Despite the manufacturer’s monetary risk, which had entailed a self-investment of three million pounds Sterling, the order proved optimistic for the program’s success. Yet it quickly faded.
Because of rising development costs, the Royal Air Force cancelled the project in 1955, prompting the end of production. The wingless airframe, which had been 80 percent complete, sat in the Vickers factory like a ghost and was subsequently destroyed.
But within its ashes lurked an idea that many felt merited winged flight and could give Great Britain the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to produce its own comparable, large-capacity, four-engine, long-range jetliner to compete with the emerging Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8. Powered by four aft-fan engines, however, it was seen as both superior and quieter.
Both the Royal Air Force and BOAC, in the interim, turned to the Bristol Britannia, the country’s only existing long-range airliner. Because it was powered by four turboprop engines, it led them to conclude that it was more economical to operate than the pure-jet design would have been.
Yet it was soon apparent that the quad-engine turboprop would prove an unworthy opponent to the Boeing 367-80 that first took to the sky in 1954 and became the 707’s prototype.
Vickers nevertheless had the foresight to initiate its own design studies in 1955 and 1956 before the V.1000/VC7 was cancelled, harnessing its experience and proposing an aircraft with the Vanguard’s nose and fuselage mated with a swept wing and powered by three Rolls Royce Avon turbojets. It was designated the Vanjet.
Admitting the speed handicap of its Britannias, BOAC intermittently bought the Boeing 707-420, yet the 15-strong order came with a compromise: in order for it to be approved, it equally had to acquire 20 UK-designed jetliners. Other than the projected Vanjet, however, none existed.
While it considered the 707 the optimum equipment for its long-range transatlantic routes, it realized that neither it, nor the DC-8, could provide the type of performance required on its Empire routes to African and Middle and Far Eastern destinations that posed high-temperature, short-runway operational obstacles. Demand on these routes also fell well below the capacity of that of the US quad-jets.
Although de Havilland had proposed the ultimate Comet 5 version for such services, it refused to proceed with the program if at least 50 launch orders were not received, and it was painfully aware that the aircraft’s design would be too specifically tailored to BOAC’s routes.
Left, once again, without suitable equipment, it turned to Vickers to meet its needs. Its requirements called for an aircraft with the 707’s cruise speed, but accommodate fewer passengers, all while operating from short runways. A 32,000-pound payload and a 2,500-mile range were initially envisioned.
The solution, at least at this stage, lay with the Vanjet, whose size was increased in 1956 and whose power was augmented with the addition of a fourth nacelle-encased, aft fuselage-mounted Rolls Royce Conway turbofan, a configuration not unlike that of the later appearing, t-tailed twin- and tri-jets. Because its wings lacked any pylon-interruption, they were aerodynamically clean and could be fitted with full-span leading ledge slats and trailing edge flaps, producing the amount of lift needed for operation from high-altitude and -temperature airfields. Neither the 707 nor the DC-8 could offer such performance.
Yet, continually assessing its needs, BOAC requested a higher payload-in this case, of 35,000 pounds in March of 1957-and a greater range-of some 4,000 miles–so that it could operate to Nairobi and Johannesburg with it.
Redesignated VC10, the design was powered by four 16,500 thrust-pound Rolls Royce RCo.10 Conway turbofans and offered a 247,000-pound maximum takeoff weight at this time. Two months later, BOAC placed a launch order for 35 aircraft, along with 20 on option, then the largest single one for a British airliner.
When the more powerful, 18,500 thrust-pound Rolls Royce RCo.15 turbofan became available, Vickers was able to increase the aircraft’s gross weight to 299,000 pounds, resulting in greater range that permitted nonstop transatlantic sectors to be flown with between 135 and 152 passengers.
The program was, in a way, reminiscent of its previous Vanguard one. That aircraft, specifically designed for British European Airways (BEA), attracted little other interest, except from Trans Canada Airlines (TCA), and Vickers resultantly lost a significant amount of its self-investment. The same now seemed to be occurring with the VC10. Although it had originally targeted a 35-strong launch order, BOAC later reduced this to ten, creating the impression that the type would fail to fulfill the requirements for which it had been designed.
But renewed hope came from the carrier’s revised traffic forecast, indicating that as many as 62 would ultimately be needed, a figure above the 45-breakeven mark. Nevertheless, its payload and range increase led to the January 1958 contract for the previously quoted 35-firm and 20-optioned order.
Definitive design work began in March and construction of the prototype commenced in January of the following year.
Although the project proceeded routinely, its costs soon proved higher than expected and Vickers concluded that its continuation could only be possible with conversion of BOAC’s options to ten additional firm orders. The latter would be for an increased-capacity version-in this case, a Super VC10 that accommodated 212 passengers-and it ultimately consented to the new total, resulting in a 45-strong firm order in June of 1960.
It was not necessarily clear who the true boss in the program was-Vickers, which designed the aircraft that BOAC needed; BOAC itself, which financed the program through its orders; the British government, which only granted Boeing 707 purchase approval if it agreed to buy a respectable number of UK-designed aircraft; the world’s airlines, which dictated competitive speed, comfort, and powerplant requirements; or the traveling public, which had since become accustomed to pure-jet aircraft and would therefore no longer accept slower, turboprop-powered ones. This tangled, multiple-influence certainly left BOAC at a disadvantage if it were forced to continue operating its Britannias.
Yet ongoing assessments-in this case, on the North Atlantic-prompted it to once again amend its needs. No longer able, in its estimation, to fill the greater capacity of the Super version, it requested that it be scaled down to 163 passengers. In the process, it changed its order to 15 of the original, Standard VC10s and 30 Super VC10s, although the total remained at the 45 level.
With yet a further reassessment, it reduced its Standard order to 12, resulting in a 42-firm order total just before production began.
VC10 DESIGN FEATURES:
When the prototype, registered G-ARTA, was first rolled out of the Weybridge factory on April 15, 1962, it appeared smaller than either of the two first-generation quad-jets, but featured a radically new configuration and thus exuded speed.
A semi-circle of nine large cockpit windows, forming its forward profile, was followed by a steady line of elliptically-shaped passenger ones, which were only interrupted on the port side by two forward-of-wing passenger doors.
The swept-back wings themselves, devoid of engine mountings or pylons, were aerodynamically clean, and its four low bypass ratio turbofans were attached in pairs to the aft fuselage beneath the high t-tail, an arrangement also featured by the Ilyushin Il-62, qualifying it as the first long-range, high-capacity airliner to offer such a configuration.
As a semi-monocoque, low-wing monoplane, it featured a 133.8-foot-long, oval-shaped fuselage that gave it an overall length of 158.8 feet.
Its all-metal, 32-degree swept-back wings, built up from four inner and two outer spanwise structures and light alloy, integrally machine skins, had a 146.2-foot span and 2,808-square-foot area. Its high-lift devices included full-span, four-section leading edge slats, two-section ailerons, three spoiler panels, and full-span, five-section trailing edge Fowler flaps.
The spoilers, which were alternatively used as speed brakes, augmented roll-control by operating in conjunction with the ailerons, and both were independently hydraulically actuated. Wing surface areas included 232 square feet for the leading edge slats, 120 square feet for the ailerons, 72 square feet for the spoilers, and 508 square feet for the trailing edge flaps.
The tailplane, whose span was 43.10 feet, was hydraulically operated and had a 638-square-foot area. Its two-section, electro-hydraulically actuated elevators featured a 146-square-foot area themselves. The vertical fin, with its own 476-square-foot area, was provisioned with a three-section, individually controlled rudder and gave the VC-10 a 39.6-foot overall height.
Power was provided by four 20,370 thrust-pound Rolls Royce RCo.42, thrust reverser equipped low bypass ratio turbofans housed in drag reducing nacelles and mounted in pairs to the aft fuselage. Both the aircraft’s clean, highly-flapped wing and its engine capability enabled Vickers to offer a design whose performance exceeded that of the current 707s or DC-8s.
Fuel was stored in and supplied to the engines from four wing integral tanks, whose combined capacity was 17,925 Imperial gallons. Fuel was introduced through a single, aft, inboard section on each wing. Oil capacity was 19.5 Imperial gallons.
The VC10 rested on a conventional, hydraulically actuated, tricycle undercarriage. Its dual-wheel nose gear had a 19 X 13 tire size and retracted forward into the fuselage. Its two quad-wheel main gear units, featuring a 50 X 18 tire size, retracted laterally into fuselage bays. All were equipped with Dunlop wheels, tubeless tires, Maxaret antiskid, and hydraulic disc brakes.
Entry was provided by two 6- by 2.10-foot forward, port passenger doors, both of which were located ahead of the wing, while galley servicing access was through two 5.6- by 2-foott starboard doors, the first of which was forward of the wing and the second of which was behind it.
The aircraft was standardly flown by a three-person crew, consisting of the captain, the first officer, and the flight engineer, but there was provision for a navigator and an observer if an operator so chose.
Stretching 92.4 feet in length, 11.6 feet in width, and 7.5 feet in height, the cabin, with a 1,000-square-foot floor area, was standardly configured with a two-unit galley and two lavatories in its forward section, 135 six-abreast seats in a three-three arrangement, and a second two-unit galley and three lavatories in the tail. Although its maximum, single-class capacity was 151, it could accommodate various classes, seat pitches, and abreast arrangements, particularly four-across first class, five across business class in either a two-three or three-two configuration, and the six-abreast coach ones.
Of the two lower baggage and cargo holds, the first, positioned ahead of the wing, featured a 4- by 5-foot forward hatch on the starboard side and had a 615-cubic-foot volume, while the second, behind the wing, had a 3.8- by 4.6-foot hatch, also on the starboard wise, and had 797-cubic-foot volume.
The aircraft was not quipped with an auxiliary power unit (APU), which otherwise provided power for cabin conditioning and engine starts.
With 39,769- and 312,000-pound payload and gross weights, respectively, the Standard VC10 required an 8,280-foot runway for takeoff. Its climb rate at sea level was 1,920-fpm and its service ceiling was 42,000 feet. Its maximum cruising speed was 568 mph, but its economy cruising speed, at 38,000 feet, was reduced to 550 mph. Range varied according to fuel and payload ratios-reaching 6,070 miles with the maximum of the former and 5,040 miles with the maximum of the latter. The type required a 6,380-foot runway for landing.
THE STANDARD VC10:
Piloted by Chief Test Pilot G.R. ‘Jock’ Bryce, Co-Pilot Brian Trubshaw, and Flight Engineer Bill Cairns, aircraft G-ARTA, representing the Standard VC10-1100, first took to the air on June 29, 1962 from Brooklands, making the short flight to Wisely for further testing. But it featured several modifications, including a reduced wingspan, of 140.2 feet, omission of the leading edge slats, and a 299,000-pound gross weight. The slats themselves, along with wing fences to provide upper airfoil airflow guidance, were subsequently applied after early flight tests revealed drag and stall deficiencies.
The first production VC10-1101 version, produced in a new assembly building in Weybridge and registered G-ARVA, first flew five months later, on November 8, but incorporated Kuchemann wingtips, which increased its airfoil area to 2,851-square-feet and facilitated payload and gross weight increases to, respectively, 38,532 and 314,000 pounds.
Configured with 16 four-abreast first and 93 six-abreast coach seats, it entered service with BOAC on April 29, 1964 on the London-Lagos route. It eventually operated 12 of these short-fuselage Standards.
High-performance climbs, above-the-weather cruises, and quiet interiors facilitated service to short-runway, high-temperature British Empire destinations, resulting in overwhelming passenger praise. In July of 1964, for example, BOAC achieved 80-percent load factors on its West African routes and those as high as 98 percent on its Central and South African ones.
In order to increase its flexibility, Vickers designed several variants.
The first of these, the VC10-1102, incorporated a 7- by 11.8-foot forward, left, upward-opening, main deck cargo door and a four-percent leading edge chord extension, which increased the wing area to 2,936 square feet. First flying on November 14, 1964, it entered service with launch customer Ghana Airways, which itself ordered two, but only one of which was equipped with the cargo door facility.
A second variant, the VC10-1103, with both the main deck door and the wingtip extensions, was operated by British United.
A third version, the VC10-1106, served in the military transport role. Designated C. Mk.1 and designed for the Royal Air Force’s Air Support Command, it incorporated the 22,500 thrust-pound Mk 550 Rolls Royce Conway turbofans introduced by the Super VC-10 (which see).
Although its forward, left cargo door facilitated the loading of large freight items, supplies, and even vehicles, its range was significantly increased to some 3,900 miles, both because of a horizontal stabilizer installed fuel tank and because of its forward refueling probe. Autonomy was increased with a Rolls Royce Bristol Artouste Mk 526 auxiliary power unit.
As a troop transport, it accommodated 150 rear-facing passengers, above which were foldable racks
The type’s figures encompassed a 57,400-pound payload, a 323,000 maximum gross weight, a 3,050-fpm climb rate, a 425-mph cruise speed at 30,000 feet, and a 235,000-pound landing weight.
First flying on November 26, 1965, it quickly became the Royal Air Force’s workhorse, its five-aircraft order increasing to 11 and finally 14.
The final Standard variant, the VC10-1109, combined the 1100’s fuselage converted for airline service with the 1106’s wing, resulting in a 312,000-pound gross weight capability. After its 1967 refurbishing program, it was delivered to Laker Airways, the type’s sole operator.
THE SUPER VC10:
Although the VC10 proved a technical success, it failed to become a financial one. As would later occur with the Hawker Siddeley HS.121 Trident, a medium-range and -capacity tri-jet not unlike the Boeing 727 in configuration, it was designed specifically for BOAC’s routes and therefore attracted few other sales on the world market. Another obstacle took form as the carrier’s route system restructuring, which no longer merited such an aircraft.
The restructuring itself was initiated by Sir Giles Guthrie, who was appointed chairman in 1964 and who sought to determine the most appropriate equipment to operate the new system. The first step toward this was the cancellation of the airline’s 30 Super VC10 orders and replacement of them with six 707-320Bs. While the transaction was only approved after BOAC agreed to reduce its order to 17 firm and 10 optioned stretched aircraft, saving, at least in part, the program, it ultimately paid a 7.5-million-pound Sterling penalty for the attempted strategy.
Vickers, needless to say, saw the move as nothing short of treason, since it exclusively relied on national carrier BOAC for its continued VC10 production. Its costs had already climbed to 50 million pounds Sterling. Only after two 10.2 million pounds Sterling government cash infusions was it even able to stay afloat.
Shrouded in controversy, the ultimate Super VC10 version emerged, only made possible by increased-thrust Rolls Royce RCo.43 turbofans.
Conceived with a 27-foot fuselage stretch and a 212-passenger capacity, it traces its initial ten-firm and ten-optioned BOAC order to June 23, 1960. But its scaled down request resulted in its modification. It had then intended it to be the 16th aircraft produced.
The revised iteration incorporated a 13-foot fuselage stretch, consisting of forward and aft plugs, that produced new 146.8- and 171.8-foot fuselage and overall lengths and the relocation of the second, mid-passenger door to the aft section. The wings themselves featured Kuchemann wingtips and four-percent chord extensions, which themselves were attained by means of the leading edge droop and its high-lift devices. These features, along with the trailing edge compound sweep, area- and camber-increasing Fowler flaps, and uprated, 21,800 thrust-pound RCo.43 engines, provided the needed performance without any major airfoil redesign.
Range, despite the structural weight increase, was maintained with a horizontal tail fuel tank, resulting in a new 19,365-Imperial gallon total.
Internal dimensions also changed. The cabin, excluding the flight deck, stretched 105 feet, with a 1,120-square-foot floor area, facilitating accommodation of 187 six-abreast, single-class passengers. Variations included 163 at an increased seat pitch and 131 in a dual-class arrangement with 32 four-abreast first class and 99 six-abreast economy seats. Six lavatories catered to the increase.
Lower-deck baggage and cargo volumes similarly increased-to 824 and 1,018 cubic feet in the forward and aft holds.
With 50,406-pound maximum payload and 335,000-pound gross weights, the Super VC10 required an 8,300-foot runway for takeoff. Its rate-of-climb was 2,300 fpm. Its maximum and economy cruising speeds, at, respectively, 31,000 and 38,000 feet, were 581 and 550 mph. Maximum fuel and payload variations also resulted in a wide disparity of range capabilities-7,128 miles in the former case and 4,720 miles in the latter. A 237,000-pound maximum landing weight required a 7,000-foot runway.
The Standard VC10-1100 prototype was converted to the Super VC10-1150.
The first production 1151 example, registered G-ASGA, first flew on May 7, 1964 and operated the first scheduled BOAC service the following year on April 1 between London-Heathrow and New York with aircraft G-ASGD configured for 16 first class and 123 coach passengers. It would eventually operate 17 of the elongated versions.
Although it was never intended as a transatlantic Boeing 707-320 and -420 or Douglas DC-8-30, -40, and -50 counterpart, its higher capacity made it comparable, as indicated by its inaugural route.
As had occurred with its earlier, shorter-fuselage Standard VC10s, its Supers attracted high load factors because of their quiet, comfortable cabins and superior performance. In 1965, for instance, its aircraft recorded 20 percent higher load factors than other types operated by 14 IATA carriers serving the same routes. Daily BOAC aircraft utilization was 11.09 hours during the 1972 to 1973 period, while that of its 707s was only 8.7.
Nevertheless, still wishing to standardize on the Boeing type for its long-range routes, BOAC publicly criticized the Vickers jetliner in UK newspapers, claiming that it was uneconomical to operate. While the campaign hardly improved its reputation, it produced the desired effects: BOAC was permitted to cancel its options, provided that it took delivery of all 17 of its firm orders, and was given a 30 million pounds Sterling subsidy to compensate for its operating losses. Their delivery was also staggered, the last aircraft not received until 1969.
BOAC’s reputation-tarnishing tactics hardly attracted additional sales. Only one other Super VC10 operator, in fact, appeared in the form of East African Airways, whose 1154s featured the forward, left, main deck door, the strengthened floor ahead of the wing, and a unique, split-pallet system in which passengers could pass between the forward first and aft coach class sections in flight.
The all-passenger, all-cargo, or mixed-payload aircraft could typically accommodate 12 pallets collectively weighing 20,000 pounds and 111 passengers at a 33-inch seat pitch. Its maximum payload varied between 60,321 and 62,434 pounds, the latter with a dozen pallets.
East African ultimately operated five, outer engine thrust reverser-equipped Super VC10-1154s.
Aside from the type’s performance and flexibility, it was highly advanced. All of its aerodynamic surfaces were actuated by separate hydraulic systems, increasing redundancy and reducing full failure to what was estimated to be one in ten million flights. It was also ultimately equipped with an autothrottle and autoflare system, paving the way for automatic landing certification and system installation on all previous aircraft. The first such fully automatic operation on a scheduled flight was made with a BOAC Super 1151 on May 16, 1969.
SECONDARY VC10 OPERATORS:
By 1975, operation of the original VC10s had begun to wane. BOAC, which had since been renamed British Airways, sold its dozen Standard 1101s, five of which were operated by Gulf Air for another four years and the remainder of which were acquired by British Caledonian Airways. One was subsequently bought by Air Malawi. Nigeria Airways also operated a single 1101, which it acquired on October 1, 1969.
As the last original operator of the Super VC10-1151 in 1980, British Airways still used 15 of its 17 aircraft, the remaining two having either been sold or hijacked to Jordan’s Dawson Field on September 9, 1970 by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and blown up, along with a TWA 707 and a Swissair DC-8.
The VC10’s useful life, like that of other former commercial airliners, was extended because of the integrity of its design. When the Royal Air Force acquired five Standard and four Super versions of the aircraft, it contracted with since-reorganized British Aerospace to convert them into air-to-air refueling (AAR) tankers in order to replace some of its 22 high, swept-wing, t-tailed, but outdated Handley Page Victors.
The original, 20-million-pound Sterling conversion only entailed the installation of a hose and drum unit (HDU); however, as the program progressed, it became more extensive and ultimately involved the installation of an auxiliary power unit, a refueling probe, Flight Refueling Mk 32 wing refueling pods, updated avionics, and a complete overhaul, increasing the per-unit cost to more than 100 million pounds Sterling.
Its five cylindrical, double-skin metal-walled fuel cells, containing flexible bags, were mounted on longitudinal beams and restrained from forward movement by means of A-frames. Fuel itself was gravity-fed to the main center section tank through non-return valves and could be pumped either to the centerline hose and drum unit or to the wing refueling pods. Its capacity could be used either for the converted VC10’s range or to transfer to other aircraft to increase their own by means of a Flight Refueling Mk 17B HDU that could transfer up to 500 gallons per minute through an 81-foot hose.
The wing-located Mk 32 pods additionally provided a 350-gallon-per-minute transfer, or a 275-gallon one when they were simultaneously employed.
Flight engineer-supervised transfers were facilitated with a closed-circuit television camera and a CRT and augmented by under-fuselage lights during night operations.
A nose-mounted probe also enabled the VC10 to accept fuel in flight.
Converted Standard and Super aircraft, respectively designated VC10 K2s and K3s, were equipped with the five-cell, 3,500-gallon main deck tank installation; the lower, center section tank; and the four wing-integral tanks. Capacity, however, varied according to version, totaling 165,900 pounds in the K2 and 180,870 pounds in the K3 because of the horizontal stabilizer fuel provision.
Fuel, replacing passengers, baggage, cargo, and mail in the passenger versions, constituted its new payload, but the K2’s and K3’s gross weights remained identical to their former Standard and Super counterparts.
Of the converted aircraft, some had flown as many as 55,000 hours of their certified 60,000-hour service life, leaving the remaining 5,000 hours the equivalent of another 15 years of operation.
Upon completion, the nine aircraft were delivered to the RAF’s 101 Squadron and joined similarly converted Lockheed L-1011-500 TriStars.
As with most aircraft, several Standard and Super VC10 versions were proposed.
The first of these, the Standard VC10-1125, would have offered ultimate performance by combining the Standard’s fuselage with the Super’s higher-thrust engines. The second, a Super VC10-1152, would have introduced the forward, left, upward-opening, main deck door, a strengthened cabin floor, and associated cargo loading facilities to produce a convertible version able to operate as an all-passenger, all-freight, or mixed-payload platform. And the third, a pure-freighter counterpart to the 1152, would have eliminated all passenger facilities, including windows, leaving only a forward lavatory, galley, and rest area for the cockpit crew. Because of the type’s poor sales, however, none of them was built.
A more extensive version was considered between 1965 and 1966. Dubbed the “DB-265-for “double-bubble”-it would have featured a double-lobed, stretched fuselage capable of accepting a considerable increase in underfloor baggage and cargo, while offering greater, 265-pasenger main deck capacity, resulting in the world’s largest commercial airliner and therefore taking the title from the then-current McDonnell-Douglas Super DC-8. Its development costs were estimated to be 40 million pounds Sterling.
Financial relief was envisioned as occurring with a collaboration with France’s Sud-Aviation, manufacturer of the SE.210 Caravelle twin-jet. However, like many similar joint ventures, enthusiasm never proceeded beyond the blueprint stage.
Vickers own, independent studies also centered around a VC11. Offering a lower passenger capacity than its original VC10 foundation, it would have achieved ranges too excessive for the other British design, the Hawker Siddeley HS.121 Trident, resulting in an aircraft class similar to that of the Boeing 720 and the Convair 880, both of which were also powered by four engines. Its own proposed powerplant, the Rolls Royce RB.163 Spey that eventually found its way on to the British Aircraft Corporation BAC-111 twin-jet, would have resulted in a 19.5-million-pound Sterling launch cost to have been shared by Vickers and the British government.
Trans-Canada and Continental Airlines, major Vickers Vanguard and Viscount turboprops operators, demonstrated significant interest, Trans-Canada itself placing a launch order for 14 VC11s. Although British European Airways was the Vanguard’s other major customer, it considered the new aircraft too large for tis needs and prompted its purchase of the Trident instead.
VC11 program delays, along with the emergence of stretched-fuselage, higher-capacity Trident and Boeing 727 versions, ultimately sounded the death knell for it, leaving it still-born.
Hope, albeit late, for the original VC10 came in 1972 and 1973 when the Chinese government expressed interest in acquiring some 30 aircraft if Vickers, which had since been merged into the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), would reopen the production line and sell BAC the type’s rights. Both were amenable to doing so. With a 1.6-million-pound Sterling cost, the aircraft’s unit price would have increased to 6 million pounds Sterling and VC10 production would have topped out at 84.
Because of previous Chinese purchases of the Viscount from Vickers and the Trident from Hawker Siddeley, the transaction proved promising, but it never proceeded beyond the planning stage.
Despite the VC10’s operational and performance merits, it was a financial failure, causing Vickers to lose 20 million pounds Sterling on the program. Only 54 aircraft, consisting of 18 Standards, 14 military, and 22 Supers, were, in the end, produced.
Although the Vickers VC10, the world’s first quad-engine, t-tailed jetliner and Great Britain’s largest commercial design, was an overwhelming technological success, with its two fatal accidents having had no correlation to flaw or structural failure, the airline-specific features that resulted in its overweight, over-engineered airframe, and its significant lag behind the comparable US airliners, increased its operating costs, reduced its range, and minimized its sales to just four original carriers, all despite significant passenger and crew praise for its performance and comfort. While it counted as one of the four large-capacity, long-range, first-generation quad-jets, along with the Boeing 707, the Douglas DC-8, and the Ilyushin Il-62, it was the poorest seller.