posted on Jun, 19 2006 @ 06:47 AM
When looking back with hindsight over the airliner sales battles of the 1950’s everything is so obvious and clear cut, for example it is quite
obvious that, even without the metal fatigue disasters that crippled it, the DH Comet could never have taken on the 707 as it lacked the capacity and
range to do so. If Britain thought the Comet was going to conquer the civil market they were just kidding themselves because the 707 was superior in
When looking through journals published during the period 1949 to 1956 however it can be seen that this wasn’t actually the situation at all, it was
just the way things eventually happened. There were several planned entrants into the commercial jet market that never materialised and it is my
belief that one of them in particular would have given the 707 a run for its money.
To set the scene put yourself back to 1949 and you are reading a copy of ‘Flight’ in which has been revealed the prototype DH Comet. In this world
the newest and most advanced airliner in service is the Lockheed Constellation, its main competition is the Douglas DC-6 but the DC-7, still piston
engined, is coming along. Between them Lockheed and Douglas OWN the commercial market, everyone else is no more than a bit part player. Yes,
The point that is forgotten is that just as Boeing knew right from the start that a successful jetliner would need to be bigger, faster and longer
legged than the Comet, so did the British industry too, the Comet was only supposed to be the beginning. As Boeing set out on the path that resulted
in the 707 several UK design firms began studying the plane they hoped would take it on, after of course being adopted by BOAC first, that was the way
things were back then, the 707 was not even viewed as a remote possibility for BOAC service at this time (1953).
De Havilland’s stop gap offering was the Comet 3. This was basically the Comet 4 of later years in all but name. Planned out from 1951, it first
flew in July 1954 and, not being an all new type like the 707, would have been cleared for service the following year. The Comet disasters instantly
ended the commercial prospects for the Comet 3 however and it flew only as a research and development tool. The tragedy for De Havilland was that the
Comet 3 had none of the defects that blighted the series 1 so, in respect of only the series 3, de Havilland lost several years where they would have
been selling Comets unopposed for ‘nothing’ although nobody knew that at the time of course and the risk simply couldn’t be taken even if an
airline was willing to take the chance, which they weren’t.
There was a huge amount of alternative designs around at the same time but on reflection they are all either hopelessly ill thought out or simply
already obsolete, one of the latter was the Blackburn B-70. To see what this looked like just picture a Constellation with a single squared off
Britannia style fin.
Britain’s main companies with knowledge and experience of large jets and therefore the best placed to launch new advanced jetliners were the V
bomber trio of Avro, Vickers and Handley Page. Naturally they decided to use their experience with the V bombers to produce jetliners too. This
invariably involved fitting the wings, engines, undercarriage and tail of whichever bomber it was to a new purpose designed transport fuselage (after
all it worked when Avro converted The Lancaster into the York).
The resulting projects were the HP.97, the Avro 722 Atlantic and the Vickers VC5.
Unimpressive design model of HP.97
When looking at the design model it would appear that the HP 97 was destined to be the ugliest airliner ever built. However it was seriously proposed
to BOAC in 1952. In one configuration it would have seated 96 passengers on its upper deck with a circular staircase leading down to ladies and mens
dressing rooms and toilets with a large lounge and galley also accommodated here. Another proposal accommodated 140 passengers on two decks with a
lounge on the rear of the upper deck. Handley Page promised a first flight in 1958 and service in 1960. BOAC said ‘no thanks’. Handley Page tried
again in 1958 with the revised HP.111, this featured a new ‘widebody’ fuselage of circular section and was proposed to the RAF as a strategic
transport and to BOAC as a 200 passenger medium range or 150 passenger transatlantic transport and civil freighter. In this form it was actually
selected by the RAF but politics intervened and the Govt insisted the order went to the Short Belfast and HP never offered a large transport again.
Improved HP.111 design for RAF
type 722 Atlantic design model
Avro considered a civil variant of the Vulcan ‘inevitable’ during 1954-55 but insisted on firm orders for 25 aircraft before committing to
production. As we know, these were not forthcoming.
The type 722 Atlantic was first proposed to BOAC in 1952 and, like all its competitors, was to be powered by four 15,000lb Rolls Royce Conway or
Bristol Olympus engines (the HP.111 also offered P&W JT3 power). As its name suggests it was a transatlantic aircraft designed to carry 131 passengers
in a six abreast layout. The initial proposal, as seen here, used the same wing as the Vulcan prototypes but a 1955 revision switched to the kinked
wing later seen on the Vulcan B.2.
comparative models of V.1000 and Valiant B.1
The VC-5 was the least adventurous of all the proposals, there is very little to write about it except to say that it was proposed in the late
1940’s and so was well ahead of its rivals but on the downside it resembled nothing more than a Valiant B.1 with an extended fuselage with windows
in it. It even retained the shoulder wing arrangement of the bomber and was utterly unacceptable to BOAC. This however led to the one genuinely
707-rivalling project from the UK in the 1950’s, the VC-7.
Its story began, after Vickers had gon back to the drawing board, in pretty similar fashion to the Boeing aircraft, there were to be two versions, a
military tanker transport called the V.1000 and a commercial airliner called the VC-7, developed from the common airframe and it was to fly by the mid
1950’s entering service before the end of the decade, putting it on a direct collision course with the new Boeing.
In fact Vickers had already won the contract to produce their V.1000/VC-7 by the time the other contenders were proposed in late 1952 and the design
had evolved considerably from its bomber roots, leaving little trace of its Valiant origins. A prototype V.1000, serialled XD662 was signed off in
March 1953 when construction began.
Like the 707 the VC-7 was much larger and more complex than the Comet, it featured a long high aspect ratio wing of advanced section with Kuchemann
tips, also used on the later VC-10, and was to be powered by four Rolls Royce Conway turbofans.
The programme was undermined when BOAC revealed it did not believe the Conway engine would not be suitable for the London-New York route and sought to
get out of its commitment to the type. A round of cost cutting led to the RAF’S V.1000 being cancelled in order to try to save some advanced combat
aircraft programmes (subsequently cancelled anyway in the 1957 defence white paper) and BOAC announced it had no faith in the Conway engine and no
requirement for a large jet transport as the Comet and Britannia met all its projected needs into the 1960’s. With XD662 80% complete at Vickers
Wisley factory the axe fell on Nov 11th 1955, despite an 11th hour attempt by TCA ( now Air Canada) to persuade the British Govt to keep the project
As close as we got; V.1000 prototype under construction, showing the wing in front of the rear fuselage
Great fury erupted within the UK industry when less than 12 months later BOAC requested permission from the Govt to order a Rolls Royce Conway powered
version of the Boeing 707 ‘so that we may remain competitive with rival airlines on long haul routes, in the absence of a viable British
aircraft’. A quickly convened study into resurrecting the VC-7 concluded that it was no longer viable due to the destruction of the prototype and
many of the drawings and the feeling that a ‘stitch up’ occurred is very hard to shake. To this day BOAC/BA has remained a committed devotee of
Here’s a comparative table of the various specs; (‘707’ refers to the 1956 spec model for direct comparison)
[edit on 19-6-2006 by waynos]