RAF KEMBLE 1997
WHISPERING GIANT "The Final Journey"
At 1300GMT on the 14th October 1997, the Britania Aircraft Preservation Trust took delivery of the world's last airworthy Bristol Britania aircraft.
This marked the end of the type's 45 years of flying, the prototype having flown its maiden flight from Bristol's Filton runway on the 16th August 1952.
This particular aircraft was built under licence by short's at Belfast as a 25C MK1 aircraft with constructors number 13508, for the Royal airforce Transport Command. Delivered to RAF Lyneham on 17th September 1960, registered XM496 and named 'REGULUS' she was operated jointly by 99 and 511 Squadrons until withdrawn from RAF service on the 27th October 1975 and flown to RAF Kemble for storage. During her RAF career, the aircraft flew to South Africa from the RAF Fairford in Semptember 1973 in support of Concorde 002's hot and high trials.
Purchased by Afrek on 21st May 1976, she was the last Britania to leave 5MU (Maintenance Unit) at Kemble when she was was flown to Luton for conversion by Manarch Aircraft Engineering to 253F all-cargo configuration. Delivered to Athens on 6th June 1976 as G-BDUP she flew mainly to Nigeria carrying construction workers and equipment.
After a period of storage in Greece, she was sold along with her sistership to Cuban airline Aerocaribbean, in August 1984. She was operated on the airlines routes within the America's and very occasionally to Europe until the 21st March 1990 when the aircraft suffered an engine failure whilst flying between Peru and Havana, thereby ending 30 years of Cuban Britania operations.
The aircraft remained in Havana until 25th August 1993 when having been sold to Transair Cargo, Zaire she was test flown, proir to being delivered to her new owners. Ironically, this was the date in 1960, when this aircraft had first taken to the skies at the start of what was to become a long and varied flying career.
Registered 9Q-CJH and named "Jack" in memory of Jack Horan, a well known and much respected Britania flight engineer, she was delivered to Kinshasa via Gander (Newfoundland), Dublin, Filton, Ostend and Cairo in Semptember 1993. Since then the aircraft has flown over 1000 return flights mainly carring fuel oil and supplies within Zaire and neighbouring countries.
With the collapse this year (1997) of Mabuto's goverment in Zaire, it was decided in early April to ferry 'Jack' and the other aircraft in the Transair fleet, south to Lanseria, near Johannesburg. These plans seemed doomed to failure when one of the Britania's engines failed. This coupled other technical problems, meant the aircraft had to be abandonded in Kinshasa, whilst a replacement engine was bought and flown to South Africa.
The Britania finally flew out of Kinshasa to Laseria on 4th May on three engines, a mere 12 days before rebel forces drove into Zaire's capital city. the replacement engine was installed and the other preperatory work completed over a period of months collimating in a test flight on 21st September, in readiness for the aircraft's long ferry flight home to the United Kingdom.
The aircraft now registered EL-WXA left South Africa to begin her final journey at 0558GMT on Sunday 12th October, having been donated by Transair Cargo to the Britania Aircraft Preservation Trust. She routed via Douala (Cameroon) and Palma de Majorca to the, now former, RAF base at Kemble (in Gloucestershire), which she left over 20 years ago to start her new career in 'Civvy Street'
The aircraft will be kept in working order and regularly engine run and taxied as part of the growing Kemble aircraft preservation scene. Tha BAPT is to be supported by the Bristol Aero Collection whose museum is based at Kemble and the Britania Association. It is planned to eventually restore the aircraft to its former glory by repainting it in Royal Airforce Transport Command livery.
For further information, or if you can help in anyway please contact:
Sandra Herman, Membership Secretary, Britania Aircraft Society, 127 Queens Road, Carterton, Oxon, OX18 3XH