This was a huge airliner
built by the Bristol
Aeroplane Company in 1949 to fly a large number of passengers on
transatlantic routes from England to
States. The plane was delivered in 1949, only to prove a
complete commercial failure when airlines felt the plane was too
large and expensive to be useful. Although sized larger than a Boeing
747, it carried only 60 to 80 passengers. In the end only one
example would be built, which was later broken up in 1953 for scrap,
along with an uncompleted second fuselage.
In 1942, during World War
II, the US and UK agreed to split responsibility for aircraft
construction; the US would concentrate on transport aircraft while
the UK would concentrate on their heavy bombers. This would leave
the UK with little experience in transport construction at the end
of the war, so in 1943 a committee met under the leadership of Lord
Brabazon of Tara in order to investigate the future needs of the
British civilian airliner market.
The committee delivered a report, later known as the Brabazon
Report, calling for the construction of four of five general
designs they studied. Type I was a large transatlantic airliner,
Type III a smaller airliner for the empire air routes, and Type IV a
jet powered 500mph airliner. The Type I and IV were considered to be
very important to the industry, notably the jet powered Type IV
which would give England a commanding lead in jet transports.
Bristol had already studied a large bomber design starting as
early as 1937, and then the Air
Ministry published a tender for a new super-heavy bomber design
in 1942 they dusted off their original work and updated it for their
newer and much more powerful Bristol
Centaurus engines. This led to a design with a range of 5,000
miles, 225 foot wing span, and eight engines buried in the wings
driving four pusher propellers, and enough fuel for transatlantic
range. This "100 ton bomber" was in many ways the British analog to
the US's B-29,
although much larger and more capable. However the Air Ministry
later changed their mind and decided to continue to pursue versions
of the Avro
Lancaster (leading to the Avro Lincoln) instead.
Only a year later the Brabazon Report was published and Bristol
was able to respond with a slightly modified version of their bomber
to fill the needs for the Type I requirement. Their earlier work was
exactly the sort of performance the Brabazon committee was looking
for, and they were given a contract for two prototype aircraft.
After further work on the design a final concept was published in
November 1944. It was for a 177 ft fuselage with 230 ft wingspan (35
ft more than a Boeing 747), powered by eight Bristol Centaurus
18-cylinder radial engines nested in pairs in the wing. These drove
eight paired counter-rotating propellers on four forward-facing
The Brabazon Report was backward-thinking in one aspect however.
When considering the people who would fly in the aircraft they
designed, they thought in the context of wealthy people who were the
only ones able to afford it at that point. The idea that a larger
aircraft would make flying less expensive never appears to have
occurred to them. Instead they assumed that the wealthy flying the
plane would consider a long trip by air to be uncomfortable, and
they designed the Type I for luxury, demanding 200 cubic feet of
room for every passenger, and 270 for luxury. This is about three
times the interior room of a small car.
In order to meet these requirements the Type 167 initially
specified a huge 25 foot diameter fuselage (about 5 ft greater than
a Boeing 747) with upper and lower decks. This enclosed sleeping
berths for 80 passengers, a dining room, 37 seat movie theatre,
promenade and bar; or day seats for 150 people. The Committee
recommended a narrower fuselage designed for 50 passengers. BOAC agreed,
but preferred a design for only 25 passengers. An agreement with the
airline eventually led to an interior layout housing a forward area
with six compartments, each for six passengers and a seventh for
just three; a mid-section above the wing with 38 seats arranged
around tables in groups of four with a pantry and galley; and a rear
area with 23 seats in an aft-facing movie theatre with a cocktail
bar and lounge.
A tremendous amount of effort was put into weight savings. The
Type 167 used a number of non-standard gauges of skinning in order
to tailor every panel to the strength required, thereby saving
several tones of metal. The large span and mounting of the engines
close inboard, together with structural weight economies, demanded
some new measure to prevent bending of wing surfaces in turbulence.
A system of gust alleviation was developed for the Brabazon, using
servos triggered from a probe in the aircraft's nose. Hydraulic
power units were also designed to operate the giant control
surfaces. The Brabazon was the first aircraft with 100% powered
flying controls, the first with electric engine controls, the first
with high-pressure hydraulics, and the first with AC electrics.
Building the aircraft was a challenge in itself. Bristol's
factory in Filton was far too small to handle what was one of the
largest aircraft in the world, and the local 2,000ft runway was too
short to launch it. Construction of the first prototype's fuselage
started in October 1945 in another hanger while a considerably
larger assembly hall was built for finally assembly and the runway
was lengthened to 8,000ft.
In 1946 it was decided to make the second prototype based on the Bristol
Coupled Proteus turboprop
engines instead of the less powerful Centarus, increasing cruising
speed to 330mph from about 260 while reducing the empty weight by
about 10,000lb. This would be known as the Brabazon Mark II, which
would be able to cross the Atlantic in a reduced 12 hours.
The Mk.I aircraft rolled out for engine runs in December 1948,
and flew for the first time on September 4th , 1949. Four days later
it was presented at the Farnborough Air Show before starting testing
in earnest. During June 1950 she visited London's Heathrow Airport,
making a number of successful takeoffs and landings, and was
demonstrated at the 1951 Paris Air Show. By this point BOAC had lost
any interest in the design, if it ever had any, and although some
interest was shown by BEA on flying
the prototype itself, various problems that would be expected of a
prototype meant it never received an airworthiness certificate.
By 1952 about £3.4m had been spent on development and it showed
no signs of being purchased by any airline. In March the British
government announced that work on the second prototype had been
postponed. In October 1953, after less than 400 hours flying time,
the first prototype was broken up, along with the uncompleted Mk.II
prototype. All that remains are a few parts at the Bristol
Industrial Museum and Museum of Flight.
Although considered a failure and a white
elephant, the record on the Brabazon is not at all unfavourable.
At least half of the money spent on the project was put into
infrastructure, including the massive hangars and runway at Filton.
This meant that Bristol was now in an excellent position to continue
production of other designs. In addition many of the techniques
developed as a part of the Brabazon project were applicable to any
aircraft, not just airliners.
All of this was put to good use. Bristol had also won the
contract for the "unimportant" Type III aircraft, which they
delivered as the Bristol
Britannia. Using all of the advancements of the Brabazon meant
it had the best payload
fraction of any aircraft up to that point, and kept that record
for a number of years. Although the Britannia was delayed for a
lengthy period after problems with the Type IV, the De
Havilland Comet, it would go on to be a workhorse for many
airlines into the 1970s. The Britannia is still considered by many
to be the ultimate propeller driven airliner.
Engines: 8 x Bristol Centaurus, 1864kW (2,650 hp)
Wingspan: 70.1m 230 ft
Length: 53.95m 177 ft
Height: 15.24m 50 ft
Wing area: 493.95m² 5,317 sq ft
empty weight: 65816kg 145,100 lb
takeoff weight: 131542kg 290,000 lb
Max speed: 483kph, cruise speed: 402kph
Range: 8850km 5,500 miles