A BAC 1-11 PILOT'S TALE
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By Michael Brett
I contacted Michael Brett a few weeks ago since he is just about the most experienced 1-11 handler I know, and being aware of his enthusiasm for the marque, I guessed correctly that he would be interested in joining Peter’s group of enthusiasts for our occasional G-AZMF “ First Aid and Lunch “ days at Hurn. Unfortunately for the moment he is committed as main carer for an elderly disabled relative, thus making it awkward considering his travelling distance and time away involved. However he has kindly written some notes for me to post on this website based on his personal relationship with the “ Pocket Rocket “ and from more or less the point at which the initial 200 series was ordered off the drawing board by Freddy Laker for BUA in about 1961. Michael retired with around 21,200 hours of which over 15000 hours was on the 1-11. That is a serious total when you consider the number of schedules that BUA and BCal operated with sectors often an hour or less. Many of us, of course, have found the hugely robust 1-11 a delight to work on or operate. The aircraft’s handling qualities in adverse weather conditions remain an outstanding feature. This was demonstrated during investigation of at least two major accidents where windshear/microburst type conditions were considered to be major factors. These same conditions were programmed into simulators of different transport types for comparison. The 1-11 recovered safely on many test approaches, whereas other types did not always make it.
Anyway here are some of Michael Brett’s observations on his BAC 1-11 days.
In 1965 I left the BUA Britannia fleet and joined the BAC 1-11 course. Our training was a factory course conducted by Vickers at Weybridge. BUA as a launch customer had their initial conversion training paid for by the manufacturer. The BAC 1-11 had a lead on the Douglas DC9 and there were potential orders from KLM, Swissair, Iberia and of course from the USA and many countries worldwide. However following the accident to G-ASHG during air tests, most of the orders fell away to the advantage of the DC9. The BAC 1-11 was grounded while the tail plane and elevators were modified. The DC9 which had a similar tail plane configuration continued sales and these were modified later. During 1967 I attended a factory course at Weybridge to convert onto the 500 series. I was told that many airlines world wide were about to order the 1-11 500. However, when customers discovered that the RR Spey engine needed water injection as it was underpowered, orders, once again, fell away. I was also told that if the Pratt and Witney 14500 engine had been fitted, the 500 would have been sold in great numbers, since the DC9 had yet to be stretched. From then on, except for a short time flying a DH Heron during two postings with Sierra Leone Airways, and a spell flying the Boeing 707 at Gatwick, I returned to flying the BAC 1-11 300, 400 and 500. Later during a posting to Saudi Arabia, I was Captain on an executive 1-11 400, and much later on a private 475. Some of the 475’s had the FD 109 flight system. With British Airways, Air Bristol and European, I flew the BAC 1-11 510 and the usual 500 series with BUA, Caledonian, Air Malawi, British Airways Cyprus Airways and Ryanair. The 200 and 300 series with Caledonian, and the 400 series with BCal and BA. The 500 series was fine in temperate climates, however its performance was limited at hot and high altitude airfields. For example when I was seconded to Air Malawi in 1979, there were restrictions regarding take off weights. At Johannesburg, altitude 5500 amsl and temperature 25c, the lowest flap setting was required. With initial indicated speed of V2+5 and water injection, there were occasions when reduction of weight by offloading cargo was required. The P&W 14500 would have solved this problem. There was no such problem with the 475 series operated by Air Malawi.
The BAC 1-11 was on the drawing board during 1955 with Hunting Aircraft. After aquisition by Vickers, it was test flown in 1963, and entered airline service in 1965. The many safety factors were remarkable and way ahead of its time. For example in addition to two hydraulic control systems with back up AC electric pumps, there was a back up emergency elevator control. After that there was even complete manual reversion via an elevator tab. The Boeing 747 that crashed in Japan having lost all four hydraulic systems might have been saved with a similar back up system. Asymmetric flap was impossible because it was moved hydraulically, but locked in position mechanically. A similar system would have saved the DC10 at Chicago. On the DC10, the leading edge flaps and slats were not locked mechanically and retracted on one wing ( ATO engine tore off at V2+not a lot.....RF ) The BAC 1-11 airframe was probably the strongest ever built on an airliner. This was proved in 1967 when due to an error, the wrong engine ATO was shut down and the 200 series 1-11 crash landed at night on a partly wooded hill side North of Milan. Although the aircraft was re-fuelled at Milan, there was no fire and the airframe remained intact. All passengers and crew walked away with no serious injuries. When the rescue party arrived several hours later, the passengers and crew were sitting in the woods refreshing themselves from the retrieved catering and bar. Any other aircraft would have probably looked like a burnt out jigsaw puzzle. In the Philippines, two BAC 1-11’s both suffered in flight bombs and both landed safely. Further proof of a strong airframe. The RR Spey has very strong armour around the engine. Several engines were tested to destruction. All blades and debris were contained. There have been several cases of engines exploding and metal debris damaging the aircraft - even leading to fatal incidents. Strong armour plating could have saved these airliners. Armour plating for fuselage mounted engines, although adding to safety, has weight penalties, and due to commercial implications, not viewed in the same light by other manufacturers. Safe armour plating would have possibly saved the DC10 when the centre engine exploded and severed all hydraulic lines in the tail section. Another DC10 over Mexico was badly damaged by a wing engine over speeding and shedding blades. A window was shattered causing explosive decompression. An adjacent passenger was sucked out. The Air Registration Board is to be congratulated for insisting on those safety features for all UK aircraft during the 1960’s and 1970’s. For example, the Boeing 707 had to have modifications before it was allowed to fly with a UK registration.
There were plans for the RAF to operate the BAC 1-11 as an air ambulance. The RAAF did order some , but the RAF did not. There were also plans for BAC 1-11 AWACS and as VIP communications aircraft.
There were many lost opportunities for the long term future of the BAC 1-11 series. This aircraft was badly let down by our government, a major British airline and the RAF.
The RAF did acquire some second hand 1-11’s ( vis Boscombe Down and RAE….RF ) Why the Royal Flight had old looking Andovers instead of VIP 1-11’s is a mystery. After all I flew executive 1-11 400’s in Saudi, and there were many VIP 1-11’s in the Middle East.
The RR Tay engine would have made the BAC 1-11 as good as the Fokker 100 and MD80 or better. The 2-11 was never ordered. I was told that Mr Laker had plans for a 3-11. The Romanians had plans for a stretched 1-11 with Tay engines in 1991, and asked BA to be the launch customer. This offer was not taken up. Whilst in Saudi I was told that the VIP operators were planning to buy some 500 series and fit Tay engines with extra fuel tanks in the cargo holds. These executive aircraft would be able to cruise at 39000ft during long range flights. At this high altitude the pressure differential would shorten airframe life, however as executive jets fly less hours than airliners, this was not seen as a problem. Owing to the lack of support regarding the Tay engine, the modifications did not go ahead. Whilst the British Government and big business failed to support British aviation, other countries, mainly the USA went ahead and obtained big orders for their shorthaul twins. Back in 1959, I remember looking out of the window of a Handley Page Hermes, or a Vickers Viking, and noting with pride that nearly all the aircraft on the apron were of British manufacturers. Unfortunately, it is a very different story now. Thank goodness for our stake in Airbus. There was a plan to sell specially modified BAC 1-11’s that could cope with tropical conditions to Air Rhodesia at the end of 1966. A BAC 1-11 flight simulator was sold to Rhodesia. Other countries including Zambia, and many others all over Africa would have benefited. This modified 1-11 400 would have been an ideal short haul aircraft. However, after UDI was declared in Southern Rhodesia, all exports were banned, and the UK lost massive orders and a boost in employment. This vacuum was quickly filled with Boeing 737’s. If this modified 1-11 had gone ahead in Africa, many other orders would have been obtained from airlines in tropical areas of the world.
Michael Brett, November 2007.
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