Trailblazers; Vickers VC10

By Sumanth Bharadwaj | April 26, 2020

Vickers VC10 was a popular four-engined, narrow-body, long-range aircraft developed by Vickers-Armstrongs. The VC10 was Britain’s ray of hope to competitors such as the Boeing 707. Although it entered the aircraft market a little later than its rivals, it soon became passenger’s and crew’s favourite.

Origin of VC10

During the 1950s, Britain decided to consolidate aircraft manufacturers. Hence, the British Aircraft Corporation formed under the government-pressured merger of English Electric Aviation, Vickers-Armstrongs, the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Hunting Aircraft in 1960.

The flight deck of a VC10 ©Wikipedia

In 1951, the British government asked Vickers-Armstrongs to consider designing a trans-Atlantic military aircraft as a successor to the de Havilland Comet. British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) showed interest in the concept and consulted Vickers-Armstrongs. Initially, a prototype Vickers V-1000 built for civil purposes gained momentum within the industry, but BOAC declined to purchase VC10 after British manufactured Comet’s started falling out of the sky.

In 1956, BOAC purchased Boeing 707s and modified Comet 4s, but they considered them only as an intermediate solution. The Boeing 707 was oversized and underpowered for serving BOAC’s routes in Asia and Africa. African airports reminded of only short runways and high temperature. High-temperature regions lead to low-density air, thereby requiring powerful engines. BOAC found the answer to this problem. Vickers offered BOAC their VC10.

A BOAC’s ad poster highlighting VC10’s quiet cabin ©TravelUpdate

VC10’s design – It stood miles apart from its competitors

VC10 truly reflected the design styles of the 1960s. It was a good-looking aircraft, and everyone loved it. The VC10 was distinctive. It had a soaring vertical tail fin with horizontal stabilizer on top with four rear-mounted Rolls Royce Conway engines. The wings designed with full-span leading-edge slats helped in shorter takeoff distance and better climb performance. Vickers considered BOAC’s requirements such as Africa’s short runways and high temperature. The engines placed high above the ground provided clean wing aerodynamics and less noise. It catered for Africa’s contaminated runways preventing debris from entering the engines. 

The position of engines helped in reduction of cabin noise. Passengers and crew liked its quiet cabin. BOAC heavily advertised this feature and used it as their marketing strategy to fill up seats. The performance of the VC10 was such that it flew across the Atlantic in five hours and one minute, a record which it holds even today. 

Specification of Vickers VC10 ©BAE

VC10 was constrained mainly to BOAC’s needs in Africa and Middle-Eastern countries. It did not appeal much to customers in other countries. A vast majority of airlines in Africa such as Nigeria Airways, Ghana Airways and East Africa Airlines operated VC10s. British RAF later operated it as a mid-air refueller.

Super VC10

To lower seat per mile costs on Trans-Atlantic routes, Super VC10s powered by more robust engines entered the market. It came with a longer fuselage and larger fuel tanks. It entered commercial service with BOAC in April 1965. 

Super VC10 put on display at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome ©Wikipedia

The VC10s operated until 2013 bringing an end to its 51 years of service. For the public to reminisce its incredible flying career, VC10s currently are preserved for the public at various locations across the UK and Germany. 

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