The planes that never reached BOAC
Before the war, the flying boats of Imperial Airways and Pan American had operated an ‘all first class’ service and offered levels of luxury that rivalled the shipping lines of the era. Wealthy passengers had enjoyed promenade decks, cocktail lounges, sleeping berths, male and female rest rooms, superb food and wines as well as stopovers in deluxe hotels. During the war the Brabazon Committee had worked on the assumption that post-war flying would follow the same pattern, and a small number of passengers would continue to pay high fares for sumptuous travel. After the war, De Havilland and Vickers were possibly the only British aircraft manufacturers to recognise that speed might now be more important than extravagance.
At Filton Airport the Bristol Aeroplane Company were building their mighty, eight-engined, Brabazon, named after the Chairman of the committee that had sanctioned her. She was truly enormous, even by today’s standards. Her double-decked fuselage was wider than a Boeing 747 and her wingspan was a massive 177 feet. Although she was big enough to accommodate 300 passengers, Bristol proposed that she would carry only 100, with a colossal 200 cubic feet of space for each - the same volume you would find in an average car. She would also be equipped with cinemas, cocktail bars and spacious lounges. Her first flight was witnessed by 10,000 people - she drew crowds wherever she flew - and the British press praised her rapturously. Airline accountants, however, soon concluded that she would be prohibitively expensive to fly and not a single aircraft was sold. Both prototypes were later broken up.
In Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, Saunders-Roe had built another giant, the SR.45 Princess flying boat. Like the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Saunders-Roe had assumed that post-war airlines would continue to operate luxurious and spacious aircraft for exclusively wealthy passengers. But the Princess, sadly, was another expensive miscalculation. By the end of the Second World War, most of the cities served by BOAC’s Empire Routes had acquired land-based airports, and by 1950 the Corporation had decided to retire all their flying boats. The Princess failed to achieve a single order and she too was consigned to the scrap heap.
Of the many airliners proposed by British aircraft manufacturers immediately after the war, only two would make significant profits. The first was the de Haviland Dove, a short haul feeder airliner which could carry eight passengers up to 800 miles. The Dove was manufactured from 1945 until 1967 and 540 examples were sold. The second was the Vickers Viscount, a medium range turboprop airliner, which was manufactured from 1948 until 1963 and 445 examples were sold. Britain would not build another commercially successful airliner until the HS 748 and BAC One-Eleven, both of which first flew in the 1960s. In Continental Europe, however, France would enjoy success with the short to medium range Sud Aviation Caravelle and Holland with the Fokker F27 Friendship.