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BAC One-Eleven: The Whole Story

BAC One-Eleven: The Whole Story

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by Stephen Skinner

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One of the bestselling aircraft of British civil aviation, the BAC 1-11 took to the skies for the first time in August 1963, with an order book for 60 aircraft. More than half the orders were from the United States, an unprecedented situation for a British civil aircraft. The only aircraft wholly designed and built by BAC, it remained in production throughout the


One of the bestselling aircraft of British civil aviation, the BAC 1-11 took to the skies for the first time in August 1963, with an order book for 60 aircraft. More than half the orders were from the United States, an unprecedented situation for a British civil aircraft. The only aircraft wholly designed and built by BAC, it remained in production throughout the entire 17-year history of the organization, performing strongly even when profits were at a low. After flying commercially for the last time in March 2002, here the 1-11 is celebrated in style 50 years after its maiden flight. Skinner combines original research with a multitude of images and detailed appendices to consider what transpired in those five decades and the place the 1-11 holds in British aviation history.

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The History Press
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6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

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BAC One-Eleven: The Whole Story

By Stephen Skinner

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Skinner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9729-7


The First Flight – Tuesday 20 August 1963

There was a feeling of eager anticipation in the air at Bournemouth (Hurn) Airport as crowds clustered by the roadside and around the factory waited for the first flight of the One-Eleven. It was a long wait during the warm, showery day. Shortly before 10.00 a.m., the third Viscount for Chinese Aviation (one of six of the last Viscounts built at Hurn), G-ASDS, flew to Luton to collect Hunting Aircraft executives who were to view the flight. At 10.30 a.m. the prototype, still in the flight shed, was weighed so that accurate calculations could be made for lift off and landing speeds, and two hours later she was handed over to the pilot.

For the occasion, Chief Test Pilot, BAC, Jock Bryce and Mike Lithgow, Deputy Chief Test Pilot for Vickers-Armstrongs Aircraft were to pilot it. Dick Wright and Tony Neve, Flight Test Observers, were also on board. But it was not until 2.00 p.m. that there was a slow-speed taxi run followed by a delay for the change of a brake unit. In the meantime, a Hunting Jet Provost, XR669, arrived from Luton piloted by 'Ollie' Oliver, ready to act as a chase plane during the first flight.

The dignitaries, amongst whom were Sir George Edwards and Air Marshal Sir Geoffrey Tuttle, respectively BAC Weybridge Managing Director and Vice-Chairman, Freddie Laker, Managing Director of British United Airways, the crowds and the press waited. The time was broken up by more showers and an aerobatic routine flown by Rolls-Royce's own Spitfire, G-ALGT. The afternoon had passed and still the crowds waited. Between 6.00 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. there were two high-speed taxi runs along runway 26 during which the nose was lifted and reverse thrust used for the first time. The One-Eleven then returned to the flight shed for fuelling while a snowplough drove up and down the main runway brushing off the large pools of water formed by the heavy showers.

Finally, in the early evening, the chase Jet Provost took off as the prototype G-ASHG positioned itself at runway 26. Then with that roar that was to become only too common to Hampshire's (later Dorset's) skies, Jock Bryce lifted it off into the calm, blue air and at 7.42 p.m. it was airborne after a run of approximately 3,150ft.

G-ASHG cruised at 220mph at 8,000ft in a westerly direction over to Yeovil with the undercarriage down, accompanied by the Jet Provost. At 8.00 p.m., as the light started to fade, it appeared in the Hurn circuit, the Jet Provost in formation on its left wing tip, and touched down at 8.08 p.m. As the sun set, the four crew disembarked by the BAC flight shed and were greeted by Sir George Edwards, waiting executives and factory workers. At the press conference Jock Bryce praised the aircraft and its ease of handling.

On that day the success of the project looked certain, with sixty orders on the books from major airlines in the United States, the UK and other parts of the world, while the only competitor, the Douglas DC-9, appeared to be lagging behind and was only in the early stages of development.

Over the next twenty-one years 235 One-Elevens were to be built in the UK and all but thirteen of them were assembled and made their first flights from Hurn. Between 1982 and 1989 nine more were assembled in Romania, making a grand total of 244.


The British Aircraft Corporation and the One-Eleven Project

The One-Eleven played a considerable role in the whole story of the British Aircraft Corporation itself. It was the only aircraft wholly designed and built by BAC and remained in production throughout the entire seventeen-year history of the organisation, reaching its sales peak when profits for the Corporation were at a low ebb.

The project was the first for the newly formed British Aircraft Corporation, which came into being in January 1960 when the Boards of Vickers-Armstrongs, English Electric and Bristol Aircraft agreed to set up of a joint company. BAC was to consist of their collective aircraft manufacturing companies while their nonaviation sections would remain wholly with the parent company. In May 1960, the first act of the new Corporation was to buy the aircraft interests of the Hunting Group. The reasons for the merger and acquisition were that the Government had been insistent that the large number of companies, which made up British aviation in the 1950s, could not continue and so amalgamations had to take place. As a result, by the end of 1960 there were only two major airframe manufacturers, BAC and Hawker Siddeley, and two major aero-engine manufacturers, Bristol Siddeley and Rolls-Royce.

BAC had a large number of aircraft in production and various projects under consideration. In 1960 there was uncertainty on the civil side for Viscount and Britannia production was coming to an end, while the Vanguard had been a major disappointment receiving only forty-three orders and making a loss of £17 million for Vickers-Armstrongs. The Vickers VC10, a long-haul jet, was in production but there was no new aircraft to replace the short-haul Viscount, where Vickers had established substantial market penetration and made sales of 436 aircraft.

A Long Gestation

As long ago as 1955, Hunting undertook a design study known as the P107, a four-abreast thirty-seater with two Bristol Orpheus engines, a moderately swept fin and a cruciform tailplane. The target price at £330,000 was cheaper than the Viscount 700. Hunting even registered the prototype as G-APOH in July 1958 and this was presumably forgotten about, for the registration was only cancelled in January 1964.

At the time of BAC's acquisition of Hunting, the project was appraised by the Vickers project team and believed to be a sound design. It had grown into an 80ft-long, five-abreast seater with two Bristol Siddeley BS75 engines of around 7,000lb thrust, a 500mph cruise speed, a range of 600 miles and a 'T' tail. This project was given the designation BAC107 and it was the intention for further design project work to be carried out by Hunting at Luton and by Bristol at Filton, with Vickers concentrating on the VC11 design which was a shorter-range version of the VC10. Hunting was to design and build the tail and wings, Bristol to design and build the front fuselage and also carry out final assembly. A system was set up to ensure that Vickers' civil turbine airliner experience, which because of the Viscount was by far the most relevant and extensive in the world, to be fed into the combined design efforts at Hunting and Bristol. Vickers' experience of the marketplace was used to conduct extensive surveys into the probable needs of the market, naturally concentrating on existing Viscount operators. Weybridge studies in early 1960 suggested a world market of 600 aircraft with eighty in the USA. The studies stressed the importance of maintaining a price below £500,000. The role of this small jet was seen as:

– A prestige aircraft where big jets would not operate effectively

– Able to offer increased service frequency at low cost on existing jet routes

– Operating in less developed countries where some important routes required jets, e.g. South America

– As a corporate aircraft

BAC carried out extensive surveys during late 1960 to test the market. Eighty-nine airlines were visited in all parts of the world and some sixty indicated interest in the project. Names such as Braniff, Eastern, Ozark, Aloha, Sabena, Aer Lingus, Trans-Australian Airlines and Ansett etc., were mentioned as good prospects. The feedback from these visits resulted in changes to the project which inevitably increased the weight and the All Up Weight (AUW), which went up from 48,500lb to 52,000lb. A 'double-bubble' cross section to accommodate more baggage was specified, as was a ventral door, and the early idea of a simple pneumatic system was abandoned. The BS75 engine was, however, beginning to puff rather badly and an 'overspeed' system to allow 7,550lb of thrust was being offered to maintain a reasonable airfield performance.

At this time the newly formed British United Airways (BUA) entered the field with a requirement for a jet Viscount 800 replacement capable of operating trooping runs to Malta, services to West, East and Central Africa and the burgeoning Inclusive tours market. The critical mission was Malta-Gatwick where the Viscount 833 could only carry 9,500lb of payload. Meanwhile in the USA, Braniff and Continental became immediate sales prospects and Braniff in particular required a genuine short haul 'bus stop jet' with the intention of operating extremely short sector distances with very rapid turn rounds, in contrast to the relatively long ranges required by BUA. The BUA specification led to increased design weights and the need for additional fuel, which was located in the centre section of the wing. Braniff on the other hand did not require a ventral stairway, as they would often expect to use the aircraft from a jetway, which BUA would not. So there were differing requirements that the BAC team had to satisfy.

In March 1961, the decision was made to concentrate on using the Rolls-Royce Spey and to take the engines and pods almost directly from the Trident. Testing of the Spey involved 14,000 hours on the bench plus 100 hours in a Vulcan. After the Trident flew in 1962, a flying test-bed became superfluous.

The choice of the Spey was to be both a critical and a limiting factor in the aircraft's later development. In the 1960s, no British manufacturer would have chosen a foreign-made engine for a major project. All that was to change in years to come with the Rolls-Royce RB211 powering the Lockheed Tristar and Avco Lycomings for the BAe 146 (later RJ/RJX). Though there had been serious interest in a 'double-bubble' fuselage cross-section, BAC decided that a circular section was best.

It was on this basis that the project, as the BAC One-Eleven, was launched. This coincided with the rejection of the VC11 project by its most likely customers, and a decision in May 1961 by the BAC Board to go for the small jet. The Corporation set down an initial production batch of twenty aircraft and abandoned the more complex VC11 project. Fortunately, BAC managed to get the VC11's £9.75 million Government launch aid transferred to the new design. The design work was now centred on Vickers at Weybridge, with Hunting at Luton designing and manufacturing the wing and the tail design and manufacture being handled at Filton. The assembly line was planned for Hurn.

The Launch and the First Order

Freddie Laker and British United Airways were striving to make their mark as the largest British independent airline just as BAC was seeking customers if it was to proceed with the One-Eleven. Laker and Geoffrey Knight, then BAC's Marketing Director, were already good friends and eager to co-operate. Once the decision had been made in principle to purchase, then came a period of hard bargaining over the performance and the price between two tough and well-seasoned businessmen. The final price was apparently agreed at Sandown races, a mere £740,000 per aircraft.

On 9 May 1961, BAC held a press conference to launch the new jet together with its first order for ten series 201s with options for five more from Freddie Laker's British United Airways. Quite a coup for a major British airliner to be launched with the announcement of an order from Britain's major independent airline, and not BEA or BOAC. The schedule was ambitious, with the first flight planned for the second quarter of 1963, certification by mid-1964 and deliveries to BUA that autumn. Sir George Edwards stated before the One-Eleven flew that BAC saw a market of 1,000 aircraft and that they would be happy with 40%, i.e. 400 similar to the Viscount's production, leaving a sizeable market to any other entrants. It is noteworthy that modern marketing methods were employed before production began; the market had been widely tested and uncovered a spectrum of requirements. The One-Eleven was not designed for a single customer, e.g. British United, unlike the manner in which the Trident and VC10 were respectively bespoke, tailored to BEA and BOAC needs. As a result this new jet had a far wider appeal from the outset.

At this point production of the smaller BAC 107 was still planned for the following year but at the end of 1961 the decision was taken to drop the project. With hindsight, this can be seen to be prudent when one considers the challenges that the One-Elevens were to present BAC.

BAC Scores an American First!

Both Ozark Airlines and Frontier Airlines placed early orders for the aircraft. However, in those days of over-regulation the US Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) blocked the sales stating that the airlines would need Government subsidies to run jets. This appears to have been a protectionist ploy since both airlines later ordered American-built DC-9s without hindrance! No such obstacle was to stop the second customer, Braniff International of Dallas, Texas, which placed a firm order for six series 203s with options on six more on 20 October 1961, the first time a US airline had ordered a British airliner from the drawing board.

In March 1962, a mystery customer placed an order for eight, later increased to ten series 202s. In BAC publicity the order was always referred to as from an 'undisclosed customer' so it was understandable that people assumed it was an American airline anxious to avoid trouble with the CAB. But shortly after the first flight the order, which actually came from Western Airways, a Karachi-based organisation, was discreetly cancelled.

Mohawk, another American carrier, ordered four 204s on 24 July 1962 and though the CAB endeavoured to stop them, Mohawk persevered and succeeded in placing their order. Kuwait Airways ordered three and Central African Airways two on 26 September 1962. The orders were rolling in and there were no competitors. The One-Eleven owed its initial success in the American market because it was rightly seen as the first true short-haul jet. Others flying at that time, such as the Comet 4B or Caravelle, had none of the One-Eleven's quick turn-round facility. Both of these had the same narrow fuselage cross-section, a window provision that denied the flexibility of differing seating pitches, poor freight loading facilities and could not function independently of ground power.

In early 1963, Braniff firmed up its option on the second six aircraft and took out an option on two more while Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline, ordered four 208s on 3 May 1963 for delivery in 1965.

However, in April 1963 the One-Eleven no longer had the field to itself. The Americans had caught up and launched the ninety-seat DC-9-10, which was soon to pick up orders. Douglas had wisely chosen a slightly larger fuselage cross-section than BAC. A 'double-bubble' section, giving a slightly wider cabin and freight hold and two rear-mounted Pratt & Whitney JT8Ds powered the aircraft, which were heavier than the Spey but provided much more thrust. But Douglas was dismayed when the following month one of the USA's major airlines, American Airlines, made a surprising choice and selected the British product.

American Airlines and the 400 Series

Quite early in the design development history of the 200 series, American Airlines became interested in a new concept of short-haul operations. Up to this point air travel in the USA and Europe had been the preserve of the wealthy. Now, with the post-war prosperity and faster communications, transcontinental air travel was an affordable expedient and compared favourably with travelling overland.

Talks with American Airlines started at the Farnborough Show of 1960, became of serious technical interest in 1961 and virtually continuous technical/contractual negotiations then ensued until American placed an initial order for fifteen aircraft valued at more than £14 million on 17 July 1963. First delivery was scheduled for July 1965 with completion of the order by the end of that year. This was the first time one of the American 'big four' trunk operators had purchased a British aircraft, let alone off the drawing board. The New York Times comment was that the order assured the British aviation industry of a substantial lead in the production of short-haul jets.

Sir George Edwards put it succinctly when he said, 'American Airlines chose the British aeroplane because it does the job which they want done and because it is available at the right time. We decided to go ahead with the One-Eleven for British United Airways over two years ago because we believed in the aeroplane and its timing. Too often we have been blamed for being late. This important order has been won because we were early. The fact that we have sold 60 aircraft, 31 of them in the United States is a pretty good indication that we were right.'

Asked to comment on American's decision, a Douglas official said, 'We regret American Airlines has elected to buy an airplane built abroad and which we consider to be an inferior product to ours.'

Aeroplane magazine stated that American's decision was due to the technical merit of the One-Eleven, BAC's experience with short-haul aircraft, unrivalled outside the USA, and because the British jet would be in service two years before the Douglas DC-9. In reality much of this two-year lead was to be eroded.

The 400 Series

In May 1963, in preparation for the American Airlines order, BAC had announced two developments, the 300 and 400 series, which could carry heavier payloads over longer range. They were outwardly almost identical to the 200 series aircraft except for an additional cabin window at the front on each side, redesigned nose wheel doors and lift dumpers in addition to spoilers on the wings.

The 400 series required a very large number of changes, including higher design weights to give greater range, and were higher-powered with 11,400lb thrust Spey 25 Mk 511-14 engines instead of the 10,410lb of the 200 series. These larger Speys provided better airfield performance and the landing distance was improved by the incorporation of lift dumpers and the fitting of Hytrol anti-skid units to the brakes. These changes gave the necessary guaranteed airfield performance for the One-Eleven to be able to use La Guardia, New York's domestic airport.


Excerpted from BAC One-Eleven: The Whole Story by Stephen Skinner. Copyright © 2013 Stephen Skinner. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Stephen Skinner is an avid aviation enthusiast, and has been since he watched the maiden flight of the BAC One-Eleven in 1963. He has written numerous articles and books on aviation, and he regularly reviews titles on behalf of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

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