This website uses cookies. By navigating around this site you consent to cookies being stored on your machine

Bristol 175 Britannia

Britannia: BOAC's 'Whispering Giant'
Prototype Britannia G-ALBO framed on take off by the propeller of another Britannia. Prototype Britannia G-ALBO framed on take off by the propeller of another Britannia.

The Bristol Britannia was designed to meet the requirements of British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) trans-Atlantic routes, carrying upto 90 passengers back and forth to the USA.


An initial 25 (Series 100) were ordered by BOAC in July 1949 and the name Britannia chosen in April 1950.


The prototype (G-ALBO) was first flown on 16th August 1952 at Filton Aerodrome with Test Pilot A.J. 'Bill' Pegg at the controls.  The maiden flight was not without difficulties as not only were the controls thought to be 'over-sensitive' but during the final approach the cockpit filled with smoke, caused by a stuck undercarriage bogie that continuously recycyled - Thankfully, it finally locked into position moments before landing. 


One prototype was lost in December 1953, following an engine fire and forced landing on the banks of the Severn. Engine icing problems caused flame-outs and required significant development activity. As a result, the type did not enter BOAC service until February 1957, initially on the Johannesburg route.


In service, the elegant Britannia was advertised as ‘The Whispering Giant’. Stretched developments were offered for all cargo (Series 200), passenger cargo (Series 250) and all passenger operations (Series 300).


BOAC selected the Series 300 for the trans-Atlantic route, leading to additional orders from El Al and Canadian Pacific. The Britannia 301 was first flown on 31st July 1956, the Series 310, with increased fuel capacity flying in December of the same year.


The first Britannia service from London to New York was flown in December 1957.


Air to air photograph of RAF Britannia C1 (Series 253) XL636 Air to air photograph of RAF Britannia C1 (Series 253) XL636


The RAF ordered 23 mixed passenger-cargo aircraft for use by Transport Command (3 x Series 252 and 20  x Series 253), these being delivered in 1959 and 1960.


18 of the RAF fleet were built by Short Brothers & Harland in Belfast.



Britannia 313 5Y-ALT of African Safari Airways (originally 4X-AGD of El Al) after landing at Gatwick Airport Britannia 313 5Y-ALT of African Safari Airways (originally 4X-AGD of El Al) after landing at Gatwick Airport
BOAC retired its 14 early Series 100 aircraft in November 1962 after only five tears service and the type became a popular servant of several British independent airlines. The type received a further lease of life with several civil cargo operators when the RAF disposed of its fleet in 1975-76.
After retirement from the RAF a number of aircraft were converted for civil cargo use. This is OO-YCA (ex-XL635) of Young Cargo Airlines photographed at Stansted Airport. Young Cargo Airlines photographed at Stansted Airport.

After retirement from the RAF a number of aircraft were converted for civil cargo use such OO-YCA (ex-XL635) of Young Cargo Airlines photographed above.


In Canada, a piston engined derivative of the Britannia, the Canadair Argus, served in the maritime patrol role. Tyne-powered stretched developments of the Britannia were also produced in Canada as the Canadair Yukon for RCAF transport use and as the Canadair CL-44D, which was fitted with a swing-tail and used for freight operations.


Four CL-44 were sold to Loftleidir without the swing tail and laid out for 160 passengers. These aircraft were later further stretched to carry up to 189 passengers as the CL-44J.


85 Britannia were built, including those sub-contracted to Short Bros. & Harland Ltd at Belfast. Canadair built 33 Argus, and a total of 39 Yukon and CL-44D. Although troubled initially by engine icing, the Britannia proved itself to be safe and robust in service.

The limited production total of 85 aircraft reflects the emergence and success of jet engine airliners, notably the Boeing 707, on long distance passenger routes.


Specification  Srs 100 Srs 253 Srs 312
Powerplant Four 3,780 ehp Bristol Proteus 705 Four 4,400 ehp Bristol Proteus 255 Four 4,450 ehp Bristol Proteus 755
Span 142 ft 3 in
Maximum AUW 155,000 lb 185,000 lb
Capacity  7 crew 90 passengers 4 to 7 crew and 139 passengers
Cruising Speed 362 mph 360 mph 357 mph
Max Range 4,580 miles 5,334 miles 5,310 miles

Number built

85                All variants - see table below           


Series 100                    Seventy-four passenger airliner with 114 ft (35m) fuselage and powered by four Bristol Proteus 705
Series 101 Prototypes, 2 initially powered by Proteus 625 and soon after re-engined with the Proteus 755
Series 102
15 Built 
Production aircraft for BOAC
Series 250 Mixed passenger freight variant with a 124 ft 3 in fuselage
Series 252
3 built
Delivered to the Royal Air Force, as the Britannia C2. Fitted with a heavy-duty floor in forward area of fuselage and cargo door.
Series 253
20 built
Passenger/freight variant for the Royal Air Force, designated Britannia C1. Capacity for 115 troops or equivalent in cargo. Aircraft later sold on the civil market as freighters designated Series 253F.
Series 300  Passenger only "stretched" version of the 200 Series, with 10 ft 3 in (3.1 m) fuselage stretch, capable of carrying up to 139 passengers.
Series 301
1 Built
1 Filton-built company prototype, used the same wing and fuel capacity of the Model 100; first flew: 31st July 1956.
Series 302
2 built
Belfast-built production, delivered to Aeronaves de Mexico.
Series 307
2 built
Air Charter Limited September 1958 and March 1959, later to British United Airways.
Series 308
2 built
Transcontinental SA of Argentina in 104-passenger configuration.
Series 309
1 built 
Leased to Ghana Airways.
Series 311
1 built
Prototype originally known as a 300LR.
Series 312  Production aircraft for BOAC, 18 built.
Series 312F
5 conversions
1960s conversion of 312 to freighter.
Series 313
4 built
Production aircraft for El Al.
Series 314
6 built
Production aircraft for Canadian Pacific Air Lines.
Series 317
2 built
Production aircraft for Hunting-Clan Air Transport in 124 passenger trooping configuration.
Series 318
4 built
Production aircraft for Cubana de Aviación.
Series 319
1 built 
Ghana Airways, modified from original Model 310/311 series.
Series 324
2 built
Canadian Pacific Air Lines, later purchased by Cunard Eagle Airways in 1961.


Britannia 308F
Britannia Aircraft Preservation Trust, Liverpool Speke Airport, UK
Britannia 312
RAF Museum, Cosford, Shropshire, UK
Britannia 312
Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambs, UK
Britannia C.1
(XM496) Regulus
XM496 Preservation Society, Kemble Airfield, Gloucestershire, UK

More information

email to:

Please note that the information shown is based on that available at the time of the creation of this web page - If you have any additions or corrections please contact: