During the early 1950s, Vickers-Armstrong began consideration of a successor to their popular Vickers Viscount design. Discussions naturally centred on the needs of British European Airways (BEA) but it soon became apparent that Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) would also be interested in such a project. The presence of two interested customers enabled Vickers-Armstrongs to launch the design on a private venture basis.
The BEA requirement for the design was to carry more than 100 passengers, over a range of 1,000 miles with reserves, at a cruising speed of 370 knots. Trans-Canada Air Lines joined with BEA in developing the specification for the Vickers Vanguard although they later called for modifications.
A low-wing, four-engine layout was adopted based on the new Rolls-Royce Tyne turboprop engine. A fuselage shape known colloquially as a ‘double bubble’ cross-section was adopted. This was to provide good space within the passenger cabin, akin to that of a Boeing Stratocruiser, whilst allowing the carriage of significant under-floor cargo which was an important consideration for both airlines.
A range of project studies were carried out before settling on the Vickers Type 950 Vanguard with two variants being envisaged. The Vickers Type 951 developed for BEA whilst the Vickers Type 952 was developed for Trans-Canada Airlines.
In July 1956, BEA committed to a contract for 20 Vickers Type 951 aircraft.
Trans-Canada however, found that the proposed Vickers Type 951 would not meet their freight payload requirements, especially with a full passenger load on their longer-range routes. They required a modified variant (to be known as the Vickers Type 952) which featured a maximum weight capacity increase from 135,000 lb to 141,000 lb. This needed to be accompanied by airframe strengthening together with a maximum ‘coach class’ seating capacity of 139 passengers.
The Vickers Type 952 for Trans-Canada subsequently demanded the more powerful 5,545 ehp of the Rolls-Royce Tyne 512 engines, rather than the lower 4,985 ehp of the Rolls-Royce Tyne 506 engines fitted to the Type 951, destined for BEA. With these changes, Trans-Canada ordered 20 Type 952s in January 1957, the order being consequently increased to 23 aircraft thereafter.
The prototype Vickers Type 950 (G-AOYW) was first flown from Weybridge to nearby Wisley on 20th January 1959. The only change in configuration that arose as a result of flight testing was the introduction of a dorsal fin of increased size to replace the small fin-to-fuselage fillet initially used on prototype.
The Vickers Type 952 Vanguard entered service with Trans-Canada at the start of February 1961. It was followed just one month later, by the Vickers Type 951 which entered into full scheduled service with BEA. It was actually been used on an 'ad-hoc' basis, during the 1960 peak Christmas travel period, flying between London and Paris. The aircraft received individual names of famous Royal Navy warships with the first (G-APEA) was named Vanguard.
However, by the time of delivery, BEA had launched its new 'red square' logo and this brought the end of individual naming and thereafter none of the aircraft actually carried a name. The first name stuck however, with the type being known as the 'Vickers Vanguard' thereafter.
In the interim, BEA had realised that they could benefit from some of the features of the TCA Vickers Vanguard Type 952 and it was decided to request a new variant, the Vickers Vanguard Type 953 specifically for BEA.
The Vickers Vanguard Type 953 had all the structural modifications required to increase its maximum weight to 141,000 lb and was typically configured with 135 seats, even though it still retained the lower powered Rolls-Royce Tyne 506 engines. Subsequently, the BEA production order was amended, resulting in the purchase of six Vickers Vanguard Type 951 and fourteen Vickers Vanguard Type 953.
The Vickers Vanguards offered great load flexibility, high speed and low seat per mile costs, particularly with high density all economy seating. The type was however, phased out of passenger service by BEA following their transition into becoming a constituent part of British Airways in 1972.
A number of aircraft found their way into independent airlines with notable operators including Invicta Airlines, Air Bridge Carrier (ABC), Europe Air Services (France), Merpati Nusantara (Indonesia) and Air Trader (Sweden).
BEA Freight still operated nine Vickers Vanguards which were modified to the ‘Merchantman’ all-cargo layout from 1969. The first two conversions were designed and carried out by Aviation Traders Engineering Ltd (ATEL) at Southend Airport. BEA themselves modified the remainder at their Heathrow Airport Engineering Base, using kits from ATEL which included a large forward cargo door measuring 139” by 80”.
These Merchantmen continued in service with British Airways until late 1979, when the remaining five were sold.
Air Bridge Carriers Limited purchased several of the 'Merchantmen' Vickers Vanguards from BEA and they operated them until 1992, when it changed its business name to Hunting Cargo Airlines.
Hunting Cargo Airlines operated their last Merchantman Vickers Vanguard flight on 30th September 1996, which is the last recorded flight of any Vanguard. They later donated the aircraft (G-APEP) to Brooklands Museum in Weybridge in October 1996, where it can still be seen today.
Variants & Numbers
|One only (G-AOYW)|
|Six for BEA, 127 seat – 18 first class, 109 economy class|
|23 for TCA, 141,000 lb maximum weight, 139 seats maximum|
|14 for BEA, 141,000 lb maximum weight, typically 135 seats|
|Merchantman||Two all-cargo conversions by Aviation Traders, seven by BEA|
|Total||44, including prototype|
|Vanguard Type 952 (TCA)||Vanguard Type 953 (BEA)|
|Powerplants||Four 5,545 ehp R-R Tyne 512||Four 4,985 ehp R-R Tyne 506|
|Span||118 ft 0 in||118 ft 0 in|
|Maximum Weight||141,000 lb||141,000 lb|
|Capacity||3 crew, 2 stewards, 139 passengers||3 crew, 2 stewards, 135 passengers|
|Maximum Speed||425 mph||425 mph|
|Cruising Speed||412 mph||412 mph|
|Max Range||3,130 miles, 412 mph, 20,000 ft||3,015 miles, 412 mph, 20,000 ft|
|Range (max payload)||1,830 miles, 412 mph, 20,000 ft||2,020 miles, 412 mph, 20,000 ft|