27 September 2013

A VCtender farewell

The latest Ian Fleming pastiche, Solo by William Boyd, was published on 26 September. It’s 1969 and James Bond, just after his 45th birthday, sets off to adventures in Africa in a BOAC VC10. (BOAC, the British Overseas Airways Corporation, would become part of British Airways in 1974). Just under a week earlier, on 20 September, the RAF had conducted its final operations with VC10 tankers (above), almost 50 years after the aircraft entered commercial service with BOAC in 1964 and 51 years after the first flight in 1962. The last VC10 landing was on 25 September, the day on which copies of Solo were despatched around the world via British Airways.

Only 54 VC10 airframes were built, but the history of the type is complicated with at least 11 variants. The aircraft was originally the Vickers VC10, being manufactured by that company at Brooklands, Surrey and is also referred to as the British Aircraft Corporation VC10, Vickers having been merged into BAC. The VC10 was the fastest subsonic commercial airliner, probably had one of the noisiest footprints, and its four rear-mounted Rolls Royce Conway engines were not particularly fuel-efficient, even for its time. It had been designed to operate in and out of small, “hot and high” airfields of the sort Bond was setting off for, and which featured in the flight plans of BOAC’s predecessor, Imperial Airways. However, the VC10 was popular with passengers, offering legroom in standard class superior to current business class and the cabin (above left) was fairly quiet (the noise being left behind), qualities which BOAC made use of in the marketing slogan VCtenderness. I flew long-haul in BOAC VC10s (below) on four occasions in the 1960s and they were the best commercial flights I’ve experienced.

Static civilian VC10s can be seen in the UK in Surrey at Brooklands and in Cambridgeshire at Duxford, and military tankers will be on display in Surrey at Dunsfold and in Cornwall (SW England) at Newquay.

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