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Friday, April 10, 2009

Reading List: Vickers Viscount

Dunn, Robin MacRae. Vickers Viscount. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 2003. ISBN 978-1-58007-065-2.
Post World War II Britain had few technological and industrial successes of which to boast: as government administered industrial policy, sweeping nationalisations, and ascendant unions gripped the economy, “brain drain” became the phrase for the era. One bright spot in this dingy landscape was the world's first turboprop powered airliner, the Vickers Viscount. Less ambitious than its contemporary, the turbojet powered De Havilland Comet, it escaped the tragic fate which befell early models of that design and caused it to lose out to competitors which entered the market much later.

Despite its conventional appearance and being equipped with propellers, the Viscount represented a genuine revolution in air transport. Its turbine engines were vastly more reliable than the finicky piston powerplants of contemporary airliners, and provided its passengers a much quieter ride, faster speed, and the ability to fly above much of the bumpy weather. Its performance combined efficiency in the European short hop market for which it was intended with a maximum range (as much as 2,450 miles for some models with optional fuel tanks) which allowed it to operate on many intercontinental routes.

From the first flight of the prototype in July 1948 through entry into regular scheduled airline service in April 1953, the Viscount pioneered and defined turboprop powered air transport. From the start, the plane was popular with airlines and their passengers, with a total of 445 being sold. Some airlines ended up buying other equipment simply because demand for Viscounts meant they could not obtain delivery positions as quickly as they required. The Viscount flew for a long list of operators in the primary and secondary market, and was adapted as a freighter, high-density holiday charter plane, and VIP and corporate transport. Its last passenger flight in the U.K. took place on April 18th, 1996, the 43rd anniversary of its entry into service.

This lavishly illustrated book tells the story of the Viscount from concept through retirement of the last exemplars. A guide helps sort through the bewildering list of model numbers assigned to variants of the basic design, and comparative specifications of the principal models are provided. Although every bit as significant a breakthrough in propulsion as the turbojet, the turboprop powered Viscount never had the glamour of the faster planes without propellers. But they got their passengers to their destinations quickly, safely, and made money for the airlines delivering them there, which is all one can ask of an airliner, and made the Viscount a milestone in British aeronautical engineering.

Posted at April 10, 2009 21:21