By 1996, Hunting Air Bridge were operating the world’s last operational Vickers Vanguard. Although the type was factory built for only two airlines, Air Canada and BEA, and it was eclipsed by the onset of the jet age, the Vickers Vanguard still proved to be a very reliable and efficient aircraft for her owners.
By today’s standards, it was an extremely spacious and comfortable aircraft, with near jet speed performance coupled with turboprop economics. But in the early 1960s, flying on jetliners was all the rage and the Vickers Vanguard was relegated to second tier routes as passenger preferences of the day were favoured to jet travel.
Both BEA and Air Canada had retired their Vanguard fleets from passenger services by 1971/72, and both airlines also converted aircraft for cargo work at the same time. The British cargo conversion involved the addition of a forward cargo door and palletized main deck floor for roll-on roll-off pallet handling which gave the Vickers Vanguard a new lease on life, which as history would demonstrate extended some two decades.
The Vickers Vanguard cargo conversions performed in the UK on aircraft from the BEA/British Airways fleet were nicknamed as Merchantman freighters. In the late 1970s British Airways sold their fleet of Merchantman freighters for continuing cargo operations to Air Bridge Carries, based at East Midlands Airport, Castle Donington.
From the late 1970s onwards, the Air Bridge Vanguards were kept busy operating an assortment of ad-hoc and contractual cargo services emanating from the UK to various points in Continental Europe, and even further abroad on rare occasions. As the decades passed spare parts for the Tyne engines and propellors became harder to source and cost to maintain the aircraft began to increase.
By the mid 1990s, Air Bridge Carriers had renamed itself Hunting Cargo Airlines, and by 1996, the once proud Merchantman fleet was down to just one remaining operational example, G-APEP appropriately named “Superb”. The Vanguard was operating for the Royal Mail Parcel Force on various nightly cargo flights usually emanating from/and/or between Coventry Airport, Belfast and Liverpool.
This video from 1996 takes the viewer along for one such ride on an Air Bridge Hunting Vickers Vanguard, to savour the amazing sights and sounds of this wonderful British airliner between Belfast and Coventry.
This particular Vickers Vanguard was delivered to BEA in December 1961, converted to freighter in March 1971, amalgamated into British Airways Cargo in January 1974 (BEA/BA merger), and sold to Air Bridge Carriers Limited in November of 1979. G-APEP flew her last ever flight on October 17, 1996, into the shortened strip at Brooklands for preservation at the Brooklands museum.
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