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Vickers V-1000

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Title: Vickers V-1000  
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Subject: British Overseas Airways Corporation, Vickers-Armstrongs, Rolls-Royce Conway
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Vickers V-1000

Role Airliner and cargo aircraft prototype
Manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs
First flight Not flown
Status Project cancelled
Number built 1

The Vickers-Armstrongs V-1000 was a prototype jet-powered cargo aircraft designed to a UK Ministry of Supply requirement for a strategic transport to support the V bomber fleet. Both the Ministry and Vickers also intended to use the same basic design as the VC7, a six-abreast trans-Atlantic jet airliner for BOAC. With the prototype largely complete, the Ministry of Supply cancelled the development contract in 1955. By this time the design had garnered interest from the airlines, and led to re-designs in the competing US Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. The V-1000 is one of the great "what-ifs" of British aviation,[1] and its cancellation was the topic of considerable debate in the House of Commons.[2]

We have handed to the Americans, without a struggle, the entire world market for big jet airliners.
George Edwards, Vickers managing director, [3]


All of the manufacturers supplying designs for the V bombers considered airliner derivatives at one point or another. Perhaps the least innovative of these was the Vickers VC5, which was essentially a slightly-stretched Vickers Valiant bomber with windows. It retained the Valiant's shoulder-mounted wing, which would have left many rows windowless, and also meant that it had long landing gear that BOAC considered unsuitable. Originally designed in the late 1940s, the VC5 attracted little interest and was dropped.

New beginnings

In 1952 the UK Ministry of Supply (MoS) offered a contract for a jet-powered transport that would be able to support the V bomber fleet through cargo and crew freighting, as well as in-flight refuelling. There was an unstated criterion that the aircraft would also be adaptable as an airliner design for BOAC, then government-run. All of the V bomber entrants responded with designs.

Handley Page offered the HP.97, which featured a two-level layout that moved the passenger seating above the wing of a design otherwise almost identical to the Handley Page Victor. BOAC rejected the design, which led to the more highly-modified HP.111, which was similar in layout but had a modern six-abreast single-deck fuselage.

Avro started with their Vulcan design, keeping its tailless delta wing planform and mating it with a new fuselage, producing the Avro Atlantic (Avro Type 722). As the name implies, the design was specifically intended to offer trans-Atlantic range. Avro boasted that the delta wing offered good takeoff performance without the need for flaps or slats that conventional wings would require, while also offering a high cruising speed. Various versions were offered with 2+2 to 3+3 seating, with the added oddity that the seats faced to the rear of the aircraft.[4]

Vickers re-visited their VC5 and decided to modify it more heavily for the new requirements. A larger 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m) fuselage was added with six-abreast seating for 131 passengers. The wings were moved to a low-mounted position, slotted flaps were added, and the wing was made considerably larger. Their new design won the MoS competition in March 1953, and work started on a prototype, serial number XD662, along with an order for six production versions.[5]

The VC7 was of some concern in the United States, where both Boeing and Douglas were in the process of designing their own jet transports to a very similar requirement from Strategic Air Command. Both companies had responded with designs sized for 2+3 seating (the original 707 design was 2+2), and had smaller passenger capabilities than the VC7. Additionally, the VC7's wing design offered a number of advanced features and increased wing area that greatly reduced take-off run and allowed it to operate from a wider selection of airports, while at the same time offering longer ranges. Finally, the VC7 was intending to use the Rolls-Royce Conway, the first production bypass engine, which further increased range and improved fuel economy.

When these companies approached carriers with their plans, they found that they were constantly rejected as the VC7 was more interesting. Both companies started expensive re-design projects to compete, enlarging the fuselage to match the VC7's 3+3 layout, and increasing the size and weights of the aircraft as a whole. When they were re-introduced to the markets in this larger form in 1955, they fared considerably better, and after an initial order from Pan American Airways, orders started rolling in from around the world. The better range that the VC7 offered took longer to address, and at one point was solved by incorporating the Conway into those designs.


In 1955, BOAC started expressing concerns about the project, notably their reservations about the Conway engine all of the designs were based on. The Conway, the world's first turbofan, was still in development and was by no means a "sure thing". Instead, BOAC claimed that they were perfectly happy with the Bristol Britannia for their trans-Atlantic routes, and would remain so until an enlarged de Havilland Comet 4 arrived in a few years.

At the same time, the MoS was experiencing budget pressures, and wanted to move the budget assigned to the V-1000 to other projects to avoid their cancellation. They also started to question the need to support the V bomber fleet at long distances, given the ever-shrinking Empire. Finally, they stated that Transport Command's needs for strategic airlift were immediate, and chose to purchase several Britannias of their own to fill this role.[5] This coincided with political pressure to bolster employment in Northern Ireland, where much of the production of the de Havilland Comet 2 was to have been conducted under licence by Short Brothers. The Comet's cancellation had left Short's with a bleak future, and an order for Britannias, to be built in the same factory, was seen as providing a neat solution for all concerned.

In the end, BOAC's decision would quickly be reversed when it became clear that their competitors were going to enter the jet age before them. The VC7 had been cancelled by this point, and a study demonstrated it would be too costly to restart the line. Instead, BOAC ordered the Boeing 707 in October 1956, ironically in a special model to be powered by the Conway. Contrary to BOAC's worries, the Conway proved to have an almost flawless development cycle, and on several occasions outstripped the development of the models it was meant to power. Likewise, the attempt to save other military projects proved futile, and almost all ongoing projects were cancelled as part of the 1957 Defence White Paper.

As had been pointed out at the time, the VC7's performance from limited airfields was considerably better than that of the Boeing 707, which required long runways and extensive ground support. This limited the BOAC 707s to high-volume routes between larger well-equipped airports in Europe and North America. BOAC was also under strong political pressure to offer jet service on a number of limited-capacity "Empire routes" that the Boeing could not service, and turned to Vickers for a solution. The result was the Vickers VC10, with additional power and a smaller fuselage that dramatically improved "hot and high" performance. Although the VC10 was successful in this role, most of the airports for which it had been designed were soon improved sufficiently for the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 to be able to serve them comfortably after all. The VC10 lost its competitive edge, and sold only in limited numbers.

Parliamentary debate

The cancellation led to a lengthy series of questions in the House that went on for weeks. John Peyton characterised it as "this disappointing and retrograde decision".[5] Deputy Leader of the Labour Party George Brown asked "does not this decision mean that the American companies, the Douglas and the Boeing, will, in effect, be so far ahead of us in the next development of the pure jet that we shall have 10 or 20 years to make up at some stage afterwards?",[5] a prediction that proved astonishingly accurate. Air Commodore Arthur Vere Harvey expressed concerns of the industry in general, while William Robson Brown questioned the wisdom of cancelling at such a late date given that £2.3 million had been invested in the project.[5]

In response, the Minister of Supply, Reginald Maudling, noted that it was extremely unlikely that other airlines would order the VC7, as "everyone concerned accepts that we cannot launch an aircraft of this category into the markets of the world unless we first have a home purchaser who will buy and operate it, which is not so in this case."[5] He declined to offer continued financial support to Vickers for the civilian model for this reason. He also claimed that development was lagging and weight had increased to offset performance.

These later claims were attacked several weeks later in a lengthy statement by Paul Williams, who pointed out that weight had indeed increased, but Rolls-Royce had addressed this by increasing power to offset this effect. He also noted that the aircraft had a built-in margin of safety due to its larger wing. He described the entire issue as "one of the most disgraceful, most disheartening and most unfortunate decisions that has been taken in relation to the British aircraft industry in recent years."[2]

Debate on the issue continued, and the V-1000 continued to come up in debate as late as 1957.[6]


The V-1000 was an all-metal jet-powered airliner of conventional layout, which in overall terms looked like a de Havilland Comet with a new fuselage or the Valiant. The fuselage section looks similar to any modern "narrow body" airliner, although the nose was a rounded ogive similar to the Comet's (a design note also copied on the Sud Aviation Caravelle). Although it may have looked similar, the V-1000/VC7 was designed for a six-abreast layout, and thus had a much larger diameter than the Comet.

The wing planform was largely that of the Valiant with engines embedded in the wing near the wing-root, which decreased drag but increased difficulty in maintenance and was later considered to increase the risk of fire. Later designs universally used podded-engines on pylons to address these concerns. The wing shared a number of design notes from the Vickers Valiant bomber. The tail surfaces were conventional, although the horizontal stabilizers had a pronounced dihedral to keep them clear of the jet exhaust.

The aircraft was designed from the start to mount the Rolls-Royce Conway engine, the world's first turbofan. The in-wing mounting dramatically limited the amount of bypass air, however, to about 25%. There are reports of a follow-on design, the V-1001, which would used under-wing podded engines instead.

Some of the design notes of the VC7 would go on to influence the Vickers VC10. In particular, the wing arrangement with the various high-lift devices proved useful in the "hot and high" roles the VC10 would later fill. Additionally, the VC10 was powered by the Conway, albeit in a higher-powered version with much greater bypass ratio.

Specifications (VC7)

Data from Vickers Aircraft since 1908[7]

General characteristics
  • Capacity: 100 passengers
  • Length: 146 ft 0 in (44.50 m)
  • Wingspan: 140 ft 0 in (42.67 m)
  • Height: 38 ft 6 in (11.73 m)
  • Wing area: 3,263 sq ft (303.1 m2)
  • Aspect ratio: 6.0:1
  • Empty weight: 109,100 lb (49,487 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 231,000 lb (104,780 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Conway turbofan, 15,000 lbf (67 kN) thrust each


  • Cruising speed: 518 mph; 833 km/h (450 kn)
  • Range: 4,143 mi; 6,667 km (3,600 nmi) (still air, 18,900 lb (8,600 kg) payload)


  • Andrews, C.F. and E.B. Morgan. Vickers Aircraft since 1908. London: Putnam, 1988. ISBN 0-85177-815-1.

External links

  • Aeroplane monthly illustration of V1000
  • illustration of the VC7/Vickers 1000
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