The Vickers VC1 Viking was designed as an interim civil airliner for British European Airways (BEA), ahead of the emergence of the civil types identified by the Brabazon Committee as being required to meet the needs of British post-war commercial aviation.
Initially known as the ‘Wellington Transport Aircraft’, the Vickers Commercial 1 or VC1 was a twin engine short-range airliner which made use of the outer wings, engine nacelles and undercarriage of the Wellington bomber.
Three prototypes were constructed to Specification 17/44, these being allocated civil registrations (G-AGOK, G-AGOL and G-AGOM). The first prototype (G-AGOK) was built at Foxwarren (now demolished as part of the Silvermere Golf Complex) which housed Vickers Experimental Department before being flown for the first time from Wisley on 22nd June 1945 by Chief Test Pilot Joseph (Mutt) Summers.
The new aircraft featured a stressed-skin but unpressurised fuselage which seated 21 passengers, together with four crew, comprising two pilots, a radio operator and a cabin steward.
An air-to-air photograph of Vickers Viking 1A G-AGRN flying above the clouds.
Nineteen production aircraft were ordered with the first (G-AGON) flying on 23rd March 1946.
Two of the prototypes and three production aircraft were used for trials by the RAF, leading eventually to the procurement of the Vickers Valetta (which is described separately on its own web page).
Twelve VIP configured aircraft were also ordered for the RAF King’s Flight as the Type 621 Viking C. Mk 2 (VL226-233, VL245-8).
VL246 is one of twelve Viking C2s purchased for RAF use as VIP transports, prior to the development of the Valetta.
Five of the early production aircraft were delivered to British West Indian Airways and eleven then entered passenger service with BEA with the first scheduled Viking Service being flown on 1st September 1946.
The first 19 aircraft retained the fabric-covered geodetic wings of the Wellington but subsequent production aircraft featured new, stressed skin wings and were designated the Viking 1.
The early production machines (with the fabric-covered wings) were then retrospectively designated as Viking 1As although many of these aircraft were later upgraded to Viking 1 standard.
The Viking 1B variant, of which the first example (VT-AZA) was for Indian National Airways and featured a 28-inch stretch of the forward fuselage, allowing three additional passengers to be carried. This variant also featured eight cabin windows on each side and capacity was later increased to a maximum of 27 passengers.
G-AIXR is an example of the 'long nose' Viking 1B flying with Airwork Ltd, one of many independent operators of the type.
A total of 163 Viking aircraft were built and the aircraft operated on many of the European routes of BEA as well as flying with many British independent airlines on charter services. The operators included Airwork Ltd, Autair, BKS Air Transport, Eagle Aviation, Channel Airways, Hunting Air Transport, Invicta Airways and many others.
Meanwhile the aircraft saw success with overseas airline customers including Aer Lingus, Central African Airways, Air India, Indian National Airways, DDL of Denmark, Iraqi Airways, South African Airways and Sudair International Airways.
EI-ADI St Mel is a Viking 1B operated by Aer Lingus, one of many export customers.
In addition to airline use, the Viking saw service in the RAF King’s / Queen’s Flight as did its subsequent Valetta and Varsity developments.
The Viking was sold for use as a military transport by the Argentine Air Force who purchased twenty aircraft. Another military user was the Pakistan Air Force who purchased a single example (J750) for use as an executive transport.
The Pakistan Air Force operated one Viking, J750, as an executive transport.
One aircraft (G-AJPH / VX856) was modified to be powered by two Rolls-Royce Nene engines and after being first flown on 6th April 1948, it became the first British transport aircraft to fly under turbojet power.
The Nene aircraft subsequently travelled the 222 miles between London Airport and Villacoublay (Paris) in 34 min 7 sec on 25th June 1948. It was carrying letters to the widow of Louis Bleriot to commemorate the 38th anniversay of his crossing of the English Channel in 1909. On its return flight it achieved a maximum speed of 415 mph.
In 1954, the turbo-jet Viking was sold to the Ministry of Supply and after being retrofitted with a Hercules 634 piston engine it was sold to Eagle Aviation.
After its trials flying, it was converted to a standard Viking 1B and sold to Eagle Aviation Ltd.
G-AJPH was converted as the Nene Viking, becoming the first British transport aircraft to fly under jet power.
Vickers’ practice of allocating a new type number for each customer variant resulted in a confusing plethora of type numbers for the Viking, ranging from the prototype (G-AGOK) designation as a 'Type 491' to the Pakistan Air Force’s 'Type 649'. Thankfully however, the original Viking 1As (when converted to Viking 1 standard) were all known as the Type 657.
The 58th Viking became the prototype for the military Vickers Valetta (named after the Maltese capital but with two 'L's rather than one) and subsequently 262 of the type were produced for the RAF
Vickers Viking 1A G-AGRU, seen here at Cosford is now on display at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey.