Standard Vickers VC-10, Wiki Commons photo by Steve Fitzgerald, 1972

Among events not marked in our media this year, but which should have been, was the final flight of the great gull winged T-tail Vickers VC-10, withdrawn from service by the RAF in September.

The passenger versions of this flying work of art would have ceased scheduled services for BOAC to Australia by around the middle of the 70s.  It flew in parallel with BOAC’s original 747 classics prior to it being merged with BEA to form British Airways.

To the best of my recollection, Australia mainly (or perhaps only), saw the shorter fuselage or ‘standard’ VC-10 and for a period between the mid 60s and its withdrawal the following decade. The 150 passenger single aisle jet not only flew between Sydney and Melbourne and Hong Kong and Singapore en route to London, but across the Pacific in an  around-the-world service similar to the trans US routing flown for a while by Qantas 707s.

The VC-10s flew in our skies for at least a short period when BOAC also operated similar sized Rolls-Royce Conway engined 707s.

The writer only flew once in a VC-10, and it was the longer fuselaged ‘Super’ VC-10, and that was from New York to London in December 1973.

As the comprehesive and exhaustive history of the VC-10 in Wikipedia details, only 54 of them were ever delivered, and those that survived after being mostly withdrawn from service by the mid 80s went into military service, mainly for the RAF.

There was a second rear engined T-tailed quad jet in passenger service that was seen over a longer period of time in Australian skies in the 70s, 80s and just possibly even into the early 90s, which was the Russian design the Ilyushin IL-62, which became the backpacker cheap jet of choice throughout the 80s flying for Aeroflot and CSA Czechoslovakia Airlines.

The VC-10s began service for BOAC in 1964, as a specialist hot and high field jet for Nairobi services, three years before the IL-62s debuted for Aeroflot.  However the IL-62 had a larger and longer production run, with a total of 292 frames including five prototypes being delivered up until 2004.  There are a small number of them in service today, including for the North Korean airline, Air Koryo. For a period, as part of an access deal to USSR air space, Japan Air Lines liveried IL-62s flew across Siberia as an alternative to flying western designed jets on long detours around otherwise forbidden territory.

The VC-10 was, apart from occasional Concorde charters, the last  of the sublimely beautiful UK built long haul airliners to grace our skies. Its predecessors were the Comet IV and the Bristol Britannia (turbo-prop). They looked good, and were in their time, very fine flying experiencess.

But in terms of economic efficiency, they were no competition for the reliable American classics, the Boeing 707s and Douglas DC-8s, which this year, the VC-10s followed into the legendary past.

From the BOAC archives, the Vickers VC-10
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