Today, turboprop aircraft play a crucial role in operating feeder services between smaller airports and mainline hubs. In some markets, they also operate lower-demand mainline services themselves. This kind of aircraft had to start somewhere, and it did so in the UK, in the form of the Vickers Viscount. Let’s examine why this design was so successful.
A brief history of the Vickers Viscount
Let’s begin by establishing a timeline of the Vickers Viscount‘s service history. The type first flew in July 1948, five years after the UK government’s Brabazon Committee set out to design a post-war pressurized airliner for lower capacity routes. Vickers-Armstrongs pushed for its design to have turboprop engines, and was selected to build the new aircraft in 1945.
Despite first flying in July 1948, the Viscount wasn’t introduced commercially until April 1953, by British European Airways. This was because Vickers-Armstrongs had to make several adjustments to the design in the intervening time, creating several different prototypes. At the time of its launch, a Viscount cost £235,000 (£6.7 million or $9.3 million today).
The Viscount enjoyed a lengthy service career that lasted 56 years until 2009. Vickers-Armstrongs produced a total of 445 Viscounts between 1948 and 1963, before developing the type into the Vickers Vanguard. But why was it so successful?
Revered for its cabin features
A key factor in the Viscount’s commercial success and lengthy service career was its cabin conditions. As well as being a pressurized aircraft, passengers onboard the type also benefited from large panoramic windows. These elliptical portholes reportedly measured an impressive 48 x 66 cm. This shape also required less structural reinforcement.
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In terms of noise levels, the advent of the Viscount’s Rolls-Royce ‘Dart’ turboprop engines also represented a change for the better. To this extent, a journalist for American Aviation wrote in the publication’s December 7th, 1953 edition (p.64) that:
“The noise level was less than that of piston engines. It was a definite relief to be rid of the rough vibrations. The turboprop is an excellent short-haul airplane and a definite crowd-pleaser. The substitution of a lower constant pitch noise and smoothness for the vibration, grunts, and groans of the piston engine gives the hesitant passenger a feeling of confidence.”
Other operational advantages
As well as winning passenger admiration, the Viscount was also a popular aircraft among airline executives of the time. This was because its operational costs were lower than other similar post-war airliner designs. A particular fan of the aircraft was the Chief Technical Officer of Trans Australia Airlines, John Watkins. He is reported to have stated that:
“In the field of intercity transports employing the propeller turbine, the Vickers Viscount Model 700 appears to be considerably superior to anything else in its class. [It has] exceptionally fine flying qualities and is a most comfortable vehicle in which to travel.”
As Rolls-Royce developed new versions of its Dart engines, the Viscount’s performance improved. This allowed newer versions to have greater passenger capacities, payloads, and ranges than ever before. All things considered, it is unsurprising that the Viscount was popular enough to fly in considerable numbers for more than half a century.
What do you make of the Vickers Viscount? Did you ever fly on one of these four-engine turboprop airliners? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!