The Vickers Viscount Down Under
by Peter J. Gates
Another Australian Viscount operator was Butler Air Transport of New South Wales who operated two Type 747 aircraft, VH-BAT & VH-BUT until the carrier was absorbed into the Ansett Group. These two aircraft were subsequently re-registered VH-RMO and VH-RMP respectively. Ansett-ANA also operated a substantial fleet of the larger 800 series Viscounts and the type was to form the backbone of their prop-jet fleet until finally retired from service in 1970. During the years in Australian service the Viscount became a firm favourite with the flying public so much so that during the early days of Viscount operations, TAA found that all flights operated by a Viscount would be fully booked leaving comparable services operated by older types such as the Douglas DC-4 half empty…all this despite reduced fares being offered on the airline’s Douglas equipment.
The passenger load factor in TAA’s Viscounts for the first year of operations was 86% and daily utilisation was averaging 8 hours per aircraft. TAA Viscounts in one year carried 230,000 passengers, set up 16 inter-city speed records and flew 116 million passenger miles, with a fleet that built up to five aircraft during the year.
In some respects the performance of TAA’s Viscounts came as a surprise to airline executives. The aircraft had originally been developed as a short / medium range transport but TAA found that it could be successfully operated on the Adelaide - Perth route, albeit with only 32 seats fitted (over a dozen less than usual). By the end of 1959, the Viscount fleet, the 15 strong, was credited with lifting 77.4% of TAA’s load, and itself had a load factor of 74.7%.
The Viscount was not without it’s share of tragedies while in Australian service and several crashes could easily have spelt disaster for the type in the early days. The previously mention crash of the first 700 series for TAA, VH-TVA at Mangalore, Victoria on 31st October 1954 was eventually attributed to (to quote the official Aircraft Safety Investigation Report)“an error of judgement on the part of the pilot-in-command in that he took the aircraft into the air at a speed below the minimum control speed, following loss of directional control during the ground run”. Fortunately this was in no way a fault of the aircraft itself and public acceptance never waned despite this incident. Several events led to the grounding of the 700 series aircraft in Australia, the first was the loss of VH-TVC which was under lease to Ansett-ANA and operating a regular passenger service from Sydney to Canberra on 30 November 1961.
The aircraft flew into severe turbulence which overstressed the starboard wing and tailplane causing in-flight separation. The second major incident involved VH-RMQ (originally VH-TVB with TAA) which plunged into the ground near Port Headland, Western Australia on 31 December 1968 while operating for MacRobertson Miller Airlines. The resultant enquiry cited the cause as metal fatigue of the main wing spar and this led to the grounding of all 700 series Viscounts in Australian service. Later recommendations by DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) saw the later Type 756 aircraft cleared for re-introduction, but the end was in sight and few remained in service after this time, the bulk being withdrawn from service.
Of the 800 series
Viscounts, VH-RMI was tragically lost some thirteen miles from Winton,
Queensland on 22 September 1966 due to structural failure caused by
on board fire in the air conditioning blower.
The sole survivors of the Australian 700 series was VH-TVN which was sold to Botswana National Airways in 1969 as A2-ZEL, VH-TVL which was poorly dismantled at Brisbane and trucked to Toowoomba, Queensland and the complete nose section of VH-TVJ which is currently on show at the Queensland Air Museum just north of Brisbane. The later 800 series aircraft fared much better and were sold to various overseas companies including FEAT (Far Eastern Air Transport), British Midland, Air Zimbabwe and Merpati Nusantara Airlines of Indonesia.
It’s sad to say the Australian operators failed to see the benefits of freighter conversion a situation that was so very popular with the United Kingdom carriers such as BAF and Parcel Force until recent times. This could have seen the Australian Viscount operating for many years as freighters had the option been taken up.
The RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) acquired a modest Viscount fleet for their VIP squadron operating A6-435 (Msn 435) and A6-436 (Msn 436).
The most exciting news concerning the Viscount in Australia was the restoration of ex-TAA VH-TVR (Msn 318) which was withdrawn from use in 1970. This aircraft had been sitting at a children’s funpark prior to removal to Moorabbin by the owners, the AARG (Australian Aircraft Restoration Group) who plan to display the aircraft in her full TAA livery. Details of the restoration may be viewed by visiting the AARG Website . At the time of writing the restoration seems to have stalled. Thus one of the most influential airliners to operate in Australian skies will be preserved so that future generations of aviation enthusiasts may admire this truly magnificent airliner.
The Australian Viscounts