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Bristol Britannia

Following the war, Bristol found new business by entering a new field - airliners. The company built an enormous eight-engine prototype, the Bristol Brabazon, then drew on this experience by producing the more practical four-engine Britannia. The Type 175 Britannia used turboprop engines, which combined a jet engine with a propeller. It was faster than its propeller-driven competitors and had longer range.

One of the biggest reasons for the losses of B.O.A.C. was its failure to produce the right type of new aircraft at the right time. The Britannia 312 and the Comet 4 are classic examples of failure in this connection. Certainly the Britannia project was ill-conceived and badly carried out. The Brilannia was introduced on the North Atlantic route in 1957 and a year later the Americans started using long-range jets. The Britannia was far too late in coining forward. Admittedly it was delayed for two and a half years through failures, but that would have given a lead of only three and a half years and the Boeing jet was on the drawing board long before then. This was something that apparently was not realised.

B.O.A.C. was unable to tell the aircraft constructors what it wanted to fly. In 1956 B.O.A.C. was most anxious to obtain Boeing jets but had the greatest difficulty in getting the Government to agree to purchasing any at all. After B.O.A.C. had placed its orders for the Britannia, having presumably gone into its future requirements with the British aircraft constructors, one year before it was due to get the Britannias it said that it would like to cancel them and buy Boeings instead, because it had made a misconception about the future. With the emergence of the pure jets the great difficulties of the Corporation arose. In any case the facts of the matter show quite clearly that even had the Britannia come forward on time there would still not have been a proper period of amortisation before it came into direct contact with the Boeing.

B.O.A.C's failure regarding its fleet was high-lighted by the fact that, between 1956 and 1962, it had five different aircraft and never less than four flying at the same time. It meant great problems in the training of pilots and tremendous duplication. It means an enormous increase in maintenance difficulties and costs, in the number of spares that must be funded and held. It creates all sorts of difficulties in selling space for passengers and freight.

During the 1950s, airlines often tried to fly nonstop westward across the Atlantic from London or Paris to New York but found that their planes had to stop en route to refuel in Newfoundland. This happened when there were strong headwinds that blew from the west. But the Britannia became the first airliner to offer such nonstop service reliably. In December 1958 Canadian Pacific Airlines introduced its Bristol Britannia jet-prop aircraft for service between Vancouver, B.C. and Australia, via Hawaii.

The in-flight flameout of gas turbine engines, in many instances, is the result of transient reductions in engine air flow caused by many possible conditions such as particular aircraft maneuvers, contamination of intake airflow by exhaust products of self-propelled ordnance launched from aircraft, and severe ice ingestion by the engine. If the aircraft loses altitude or flight speed due to the engine flameout, or must be piloted to lower altitude in order to relight the engine, the mission of that particular aircraft is either compromised or completely aborted.

The first major effort on rapid relight of gas turbine engines appears to have been accomplished by the British. In early 1956, Proteous Engines of the Bristol Britannia Commercial Aircraft experienced flameout while flying through heavy precipitation of small ice crystals at very low air temperature. The British were successful in obtaining rapid relights under these icing conditions by inserting into the combustion chamber of the Proteous engine, a platinum glow plug. Apparently the platinum rod is heated to incandescence during normal engine operation, and this heat is retained sufficiently after flameout to relight the engine. The catalytic effects of platinum upon mixtures of hydrocarbon fuels and air probably aid the relight process also.

The Britannia remained popular until it was eclipsed by jet airliners, which were even faster. During the long years of the Cold War, which witnessed the rise (if for only a brief period) of the Soviet Union as a global naval power, both the Western and Soviet alliance systems devoted considerable attention to the anticipated problems of maritime air warfare. Both the Soviet Union and Western blocs produced large numbers of maritime patrol aircraft derived from long-range bombers (such as the Soviet Myasischev Bison, Tupolev Bear, Tupolev Badger, and Tupolev Backfire), airliners (notably the American Lockheed Electra > P-3 Orion, the British Bristol Britannia > Canadian Argus and the De Havilland Comet > British Aerospace Nimrod, and Soviet Ilyushin Il-18 Coot > Il-38 May).

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:22:41 ZULU