1959: The Maiden Flight of a British Airliner

January 20, 1959

The first flight of the British short-to-medium-range turborprop airliner Vickers Vanguard took place in the skies above southeastern England. This plane was designed and built by the British aircraft manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs.

The chief test pilot for the Vanguard’s maiden flight was E.R. “Jock” Bryce. A 1955 article in the Melbourne-based Age newspaper characterized this Vickers-Armstrongs pilot as “a tough, sharp-eyed airman, completely lacking in the adventurous spirit some people seem to link with test flying.” The article also asserted, “He is a man with a big job; a responsible job with a determination to see his work through. He never lets an aircraft pass unless he is assured that a normal pilot will handle it with little difficulty.”

Only 44 Vanguards altogether would ultimately be built, and they were specifically manufactured for both Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) and British European Airways (BEA). The above photo of a Vanguard owned and operated by BEA was taken in 1959 at Salisbury Airport (now called Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport) in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe).

The Vanguard was quickly overshadowed in popularity and use by the world’s first large jet-powered airliners. This Vickers-Armstrongs aircraft, however, ended up getting a second lease on life when TCA converted one of those planes into a freighter and called it the Cargoliner. This reconfigured version of the Vanguard proved so successful that the majority of others were likewise converted to freighters by the early 1970s; the BEA counterpart became known as the Merchantman. These freighters remained in service for several years, with the last one operating until 1996.​

Photo Credit: Brian Robbins (licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:GNU_Free_Documentation_License,_version_1.2)

For more information on the Vickers Vanguard, please check out https://rochesteravionicarchives.co.uk/platforms/vickers-vanguard

A video about the maiden flight of the Vickers Vanguard is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPwv0VnqJ88

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