This article was published in 2019 in a series on the history of British Airways and its predecessors Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse all 100 stories in number order, by theme or by decade.
Many have been updated since first published.
The British designed and manufactured Vickers VC10 and Super VC10 aircraft were operated by BOAC in the 1960s and 1970s.
It was designed specifically to meet BOAC’s requirements and was seen as particularly suitable for services to “hot and high” airports in Africa and airports with relatively poor runway conditions.
The aircraft had a unique design with a distinctive high tail and large wing structure. Its four engines were at the back of the aircraft, meaning that all passengers were seated in front of the engines, making for a much quieter flight.
“Triumphantly Swift, Silent, Serene”
The aircraft first entered into service on 29 April 1964, operating from Heathrow to Lagos. This was followed by Accra on 2 May 1964
The VC10 was used by BOAC on all parts of its route network initially to Africa, and then the Middle East, Asia, Australia and, with the Super VC10, the US. Her Majesty The Queen flew on the aircraft on a royal visit to Canada in 1967.
BOAC 1964 VC10 Promotional Film, Video & Transcript, Part 1
Below is a promotional film and transcript of BOAC’s inaugural commercial flight from London Airport to Johannesburg.
There’s been more than usual excitement at Queen’s Building, London Airport.
It’s romantic place at anytime, holiday atmosphere, business journeys, never a dull moment. This year, there’s a new interest. The VC10. BOAC’s outstanding contribution to the second generation of jet airliners. Four Rolls Royce Conway engines are rear mounted. The right place according to modern factors for many reasons. Result: every seat in front of the engine. Every passenger away from all noise. Up to 120 passengers enjoy comfort of a kind unknown in previous airliners.
Preparing to say goodbye to London, airport were some travellers who, in their own way, were making history by being on the VC10’s maiden commercial flight to Johannesburg.
Incidentally, the VC10’s engines provide a thrust of seven tonnes, or to the use the old fashioned term, 26,000 horsepower. And that is when they throttle back up in the sub stratosphere to cruise the aircraft at up to 600 miles an hour. These Rolls Royce Conways have proved themselves to be the most reliable power units in the air today. Passengers take their qualities for granted. Some of them may know that these bypass jet engines are used by nine international airlines and run for 5,500 hours without a major overhaul.
Every pilot who’s ever flown a VC10 is ecstatic in praise, not only of the engines, but of the whole flying behaviour of the aircraft. One tremendous asset is that the VC10 can be airborne fully laiden with a much shorter take off than any other jet of comparable size.
The passengers enjoy top standard comfort, so do the pilots on this spacious flight deck. In the economy class, the standard is so high that passengers can easily persuade themselves that they’re VIPs travelling First.
BOAC have always known that on long flights is impossible to over stress the importance of comfort. To match the superb aircraft, BOAC spent two years of research and developing the finest seats to be found in the air. The VC10 scores heavily by making sure that everybody has a view, even though it’s in line with the wings.
And the inner man has to be satisfied even at 40,000 feet, with nothing to do but recline in comfort. The problems of keeping the passengers well fed have been completely solved by the backroom boys of the BOAC’s catering department, backed up by the stewardesses, all of them well experienced on long distance flights. And the first rate kitchen staff.
All this comfort nonchalently enjoyed nearly eight miles above the Earth. This is really living in the second half of the 20th century.
The Captain will soon be bringing the airliner into Jo’burg. He flies low here over the Vaal Dam, from which that great city derives its water.
Time to Johannesburg from London Airport: 16 hours. Between this great capital of the Rand and London, BOAC handles a large and always growing family. Well over 1 million people thrive in this prosperous city. But the VC10 was off again turning northwards. It’s a small world indeed for the crews of jet airliners. The destination now is Northern Rhodesia, crossing on the way the world’s biggest goldmines, unknown 80 years ago. Now, of the highest importance in world commerce.
A new set of passengers now bound for Lusaka. To see a VC10 at 40,000 feet is to realise how beautiful our airlines, beauty that comes naturally to the compulsions of aerodynamics at near sonic speed. That is not skin deep beauty. For this airliner is the most strongly constructed in the world, and coming down into the rather small airfield of Lusaka, the VC10 proves that it can land as it takes off on very short runway.
Lusaka, capital of Northern Rhodesia, abounds in contrast. This is a country whose big copper industry, and general mineral wealth, bring the new and old Africa together. The Mayor of Lusaka and his wife welcome the Captain of the airliner and the Flight Manager and Operations Manager. [Continues below]
BOAC 1964 VC10 Promotional Film, Video & Transcript, Part 2:
Probably full of wonder, the inhabitants see the aircraft prepare for another stage of its journey.
No airliner earns its keep on the ground. No unnecessary time is spent in Lusaka, any more than it was in Johannesburg.
It speaks well for air communications that the tremendously high skill and technical accomplishment of the air crews are taken for granted by the men and women they transport. Passengers accept this miracle of modern travel. You can be just as relaxed or thrilled, or rather drowsy at 40,000 feet speeding at 600 miles an hour, as in an armchair at home on Sunday afternoon. The airliner is now coming into Nairobi.
On most of the routes flown by BOAC, there are signs that in the sphere of air travel matters are often multi racial as well as international. As soon as passengers have disembarked, the aircraft is refuelled and serviced for the next flight. Crews are changed, for men and women need rest. But these these VC10s are tireless, thriving on sustained hard work.
You can fly almost anywhere from here. Kenya seems to be a kind of crew junction of the skyways. Yet, not many years ago this place was a wilderness. However, there’s no time to ponder on that. It’s goodbye now to Nairobi.
A new experience making up eight miles above the earth. VC10s are also serving many other African cities. Here is one heading for northern Nigeria. Below, lies the airport of Kano where there’s something very special in the way of a welcoming party consists of the Emir’s bodyguard vividly attired in costumes, such as their ancestors wore in the days of the Crusades. There are no signs of this new competition in travel is at all resented by the camel.
There’s just time at Kano to appreciate what an astounding city it is. Its records go back more than 1000 years. Now, in these days of Nigerian independence, it’s taking the modern world in its stride. Centuries ago, the people built a wall around the city, much of it 50 feet high and 40 feet thick, a defence against invasion. Kano has been Muslim for the 600 years. To the mosque, the Emir himself attended by his bodyguard goes to pray.
All this seems a very long way from 1964 and the VC10. But, nowadays, you can’t say of any contrasting ways of life that never the twain shall meet. Stay on one of these aircraft long enough and you’ll see pretty well all there is to be seen along the BOAC routes flown by the VC10.
Again, the clock says it’s nearly time to take off to return to London. The complexity of modern commerce and the need to spread the nets ever wider afield in search of export orders demand faster and completely reliable air transport. To satisfy that need, BOAC are investing many millions in their fleet of VC10s. This is a forward looking aircraft, which has been designed from the start to use a new British automatic landing system, which, in a few years’ time, will enable jet liners to land anywhere, whatever the weather, right on time.
Some of these passengers remember those pre war travel films that used to end with “and so we say farewell to” whatever the police happened to be. We’re by no means saying farewell now, but welcome. Welcome to the pleasure and efficiency of these magnificent aircraft taking their conspicuous place among the second generation of jet airliners. Truly, a bold and imaginative enterprise. This happy combination of BOAC and the VC10. [End]
The Super VC10
On 1 April 1965, the Super VC10 aircraft launched on transatlantic flights, with BOAC marketing it as the pre-eminent aircraft across the Atlantic.
BOAC 1965 Super VC10 Promotional Film, Video & Transcript:
Below is a promotional film and transcript from a BOAC’s testing flight for the Super VC10 from London Airport to New York JFK and Boston.
The Super VC10 triumphantly challenges American supremacy over the North Atlantic.
BOAC has inaugurated regular passenger flights between London and New York. And what a thing of beauty is this newest jetliner, winging her way at 600 miles an hour.
Sir Giles Guthrie, Chairman of BOAC, was in the Captain’s seat, more than 30,000 feet over the ocean on the last of three proving flights to New York. From him down to junior apprentices and, indeed everybody in the airline, not to mention the present passengers, it was a most exciting trip. To be in any capacity in at the birth of the Super VC10 was an experience never to be forgotten. Not only the food impressive. Everybody remarks the amazing quietness resulting from the rear positioning of the engines.
The new airliner could go faster still. But is, for the present, observing the time schedules of other Atlantic services. And now the touchdown at Kennedy airport, right on time after perhaps the most comfortable ocean flight ever made. From now on, there will be daily Atlantic crossings, setting a new standard in jet travel.
For many of the passengers the covered telescopic exit cube was new. No more leaving a luxury plane one second and fighting a blizzard the next. Sir Giles Guthrie and other officials were warmly welcomed by their American counterparts. However experienced the traveller custom never stales the thrill of arriving in New York. There was only a brief stay here. The Super VC10 was gathering more passengers. This time influential Americans and travel agents, about to make a demonstration flight from Kennedy Airport to sample the speed and comfort on the new tramp. Sir Giles Guthrie escorted them. The object of all this exercise was to demonstrate to important persons the great advance made by the latest British example of the second generation of jetliners.
The Captain and First Officer are already Super VC10 enthusiasts, declaring that it’s a beautiful aircraft to fly. The Chairman of the corporation has to concern himself with everything from developing the Western Region flights programme to such a detail as the new seats. They are all important to that all important person, the paying passenger. Designers occupied much before they were satisfied that they have achieved a seat guaranteeing comfort from take off to landing. Sir Giles proved himself to be a perfect salesman on behalf of Britain. Over Boston now, cultural leader of American cities, historically famous in the struggle for independence. Main concern on the flight deck to put the jetliner down smoothly. Needless to say, a perfectly accomplished landing. A similar demonstration flight was made at Washington.
Americans always welcome something that’s good and new. Hence the interest excited everywhere in the Super VC10 They love success too. So the news that BOAC have made their biggest ever profit is a bull point in selling it to the great and growing US travelling public. We all have a share in the Super VC10: taxpayers, BOAC, Vickers and passengers. Good luck to her. She’s quite an achievement. [End]
Relatively few aircraft were manufactured and ordered by other airlines, and it had a short life, as the Boeing 707, and subsequently the Boeing 747 were better suited to long range flights. By the late 1970s BA began to retire the aircraft. However, it was still a very popular aircraft with passengers and remains one of the most memorable aircraft operated by BOAC.
In one memorable incident, one aircraft was subject to a hijack in Dawson’s Field.
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