This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
In 1962, British European Airways took delivery first Hawker Siddeley Trident aircraft.
The three-engined aircraft was developed in response to a demand from BEA for a jet engined aircraft capable of carrying more than 100 passengers on short & medium-haul routes.
The first passenger flight, operated with aircraft G-ARPG, took place on 11 March 1964 when it replaced a Comet 4B aircraft on the London – Copenhagen route. It then entered a regular scheduled service on 1 April 1964 from London to Zurich and Nice.
A chief requirement when ordering the Trident aircraft was the ability to land in poor visibility.
In June 1965, a BEA Trident aircraft operating flight BE343 completed the world’s first fully automatic landing of a commercial passenger aircraft on arrival at Heathrow from Paris Le Bourget. A year later, a Trident aircraft completed its first automatic landing in fog at Heathrow.
The aircraft were not without their short-comings, particularly regarding noise and range. However, partly due to political pressure – aircraft orders were at the time subject to Government approval – BEA continued to order further Trident model aircraft, taking delivery of the Trident Two and Trident Three. This took the BEA fleet up to 70 aircraft.
The Staines Air Disaster
One Trident 1C aircraft, G-ARPI, was involved in what became known as the Staines Air Disaster on 18 June 1972.
The aircraft took off at London Heathrow at 16:08 as flight BE548 to Brussels. The aircraft was commanded by BEA pilot Stanley Key. Shortly after take-off the aircraft entered into a deep stall. It crashed into a field next to the A30 in Staines. All 109 passengers and 9 crew members on board the aircraft were killed.
An investigation cited pilot error, with a number of possible mistakes, as the likely cause of the crash. The investigation also established that the captain had a heart condition which, due to industrial relations tensions at the time, may have impaired his judgment. Until the bombing on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, this was the worst accident in UK aviation history.
The Trident At British Airways
The Trident fleet was inherited by British Airways following the merger of BEA and BOAC.
However, the three engined aircraft was seen as very inefficient. It also had to be required by 1986 to meet noise regulations. A two engined aircraft replacement was required, with the new Boeing 757 selected as a replacement.