There's so many good commercial aviation blogs out there - mostly from the States and Canada. But none that I can see from this little island in Northern Europe. With the demise of a great blog by a BA Skipper that many I am sure followed (including me), I've decided to take on the challenge!

I hope you enjoy the commentary on all matters of civil aviation from my vantage point in the left hand seat of Virgin Atlantic's Airbuses!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Almost 50 years old and still a beauty

Over 48 years ago - before I was born - hard to believe it I know - on 29th June 1962, what was Britain's answer to the world-beating Boeing 707 and its heir apparent, the Douglas DC-8 took to the skies for the very first time.

Designed by Sir George Edwards of Vickers-Armstrong, this was the great hope to catapult the UK back into the fore-front of commerical aviation following the disasters of the De Havilland Comet, and the Boeing 707 on the Atlantic run since 1958 when Pan American brought her into London Heathrow for the very first time.

The Vickers VC-10 - a type I operated in RAF service - 48 years later  - still graces the skies above Oxfordshire, with those Rolls Royce Conways shaking the countryside for miles around with a noise footprint that just would not be allowed in civilian service!

Like most British civil aviation projects, the notable exception being the HS 125 and Vickers Viscount, it was a modest success, but scores of pilots following the first flight commanded by 29 June 1962, with  Jock Bryce assisted by two other test pilots, Brian Trubshaw (Captain Concorde) and Bill Cairns loved the VC10 - as did the passengers, who marvelled at her quiet cabin. 

Remember - this is almost half a century ago - and the VC10 brought some developments to the long haul aeroplane - it brought the clean wing to the big four engined jets. The French Caravelle and the British HS Trident did it with their two and three engined designs, the Conways are up the back to keep it all pretty quiet, and you have to admit, she is the epitome of elegance. Even today.

This clean wing did bring a disadvantage - the loss of engine weight to steady the bending stresses - but aside from that, it brought to BOAC's (the forerunner of  British Airways along with BEA) route network a fine aeroplane capable of using much shorter fields than the American competition.

A 707 packed to the gunnels needed 10,000 feet (balanced) of tarmac to get into the skies, and the stadard version VC10 - over 2,000 feet less. The bigger VC10 variant (the Super) needed 9,000 feet.

The other advantage is handling. The VC10's ailerons along almost the whole length of the trailing edge and slats - the "droop snoop" along the leading edge along with spoilers on the top of the wing to shed lift - for an aircraft of its vintage - made it a delight to fly.

So here we are in the second decade of the 21st century. When I go to work, my office is a study in ultra-new technology, avionics systems with more power in one or two of their little chips than the whole of the Apollo space programme put together. When the VC10 took to the skies, it was in vanguard of the most modern silver birds connecting people and places - but still had a periscopic sextant in the flight deck roof for astro navigation!

Times may change, pilots hang up their unforms for the new guard to take over, fleets retire - but one thing remains - if you are one of the few who can see the world from on high, marvel at skyscapes and operate a complex heavier than air machine - you are a lucky lucky thing. And I count myself to be one of those!

P.S. The VC10 had another periscope too - to enable crews to see if icing conditions are affecting the T-tail!

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