The Brabazon Committee formed on 23 December 1942 under John Moore-Brabazon, 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara to investigate the future needs of the British Empire's civilian airliner market. The study was an attempt at defining in broad overview; the impact of projected advances in aviation technology and to forecast the global needs of the post war British Empire (in South Asia, Africa, the Near and Far East) and Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, New Zealand) in the area of air transport, for passengers, mail, and cargo.
The study both recognized and accepted that the British Empire and Commonwealth as both a political and economic entity would have a vital need for aviation systems (principally aircraft) to facilitate its continued existence and self-reliance in the post-war world. For military and commercial reasons, the empire simply could not continue to exist if did not understand the needs, and develop the industrial infrastructure to provide, the aviation systems and sub-systems necessary to supply and maintain a global air transport service.
In 1942 during World War II, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to split responsibility for building multi-engine aircraft types for British use: the US would concentrate on transport aircraft while the UK would concentrate on their heavy bombers. It was soon recognized that as a result of that decision the United Kingdom was to be left at the close of the war with little experience in the design, manufacture and final assembly of transport aircraft, and no infrastructure or trained personnel for the doing of same. Yet, the massive infrastructure created in the US would allow them to produce civilian aircraft based upon military transport designs; and crucially these would have to be purchased by the UK, Empire and Commonwealth to meet their post-war civilian transport aviation needs.
A committee began meeting in February 1943 under the leadership of Lord Brabazon in order to investigate the future needs of the British civilian airliner market. They studied a number of designs and technical considerations, meeting several times over the next two years to further clarify the needs of different market segments. The final report called for the construction of four general designs studied by the committee and members of the state-owned airlines British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and later British European Airways (BEA).
The report identified four, later five, types of aircraft that would be required after the war.
- Type I was a very large transatlantic airliner serving the high-volume routes like London-New York, seating its passengers in luxury for the 12-hour trip.
- Type II was a short haul feederliner intended to replace the Douglas DC-3 and de Havilland Dragon Rapide, although BEA suggested a larger and much more capable design. Type II was later split into two designs, IIA was a piston-powered aircraft, and the IIB would use the new turboprop engine.
- Type III called for a larger medium-range aircraft for various multi-hop routes serving the British Empire.
- Type IV was the most advanced of them all, a jet-powered 100-seat design. It was added at the personal urging of one of the committee members, Geoffrey de Havilland whose company was involved in development of both Britain's first jet fighters and jet engines. The Type IV could, if the whole concept of a jet airliner could be made to work, be able to replace the Type III outright, and many of the duties of the other planes in shorter routes.
- Type V was later introduced to fill the original feederliner specifications after the Type II had evolved into larger designs.
The committee published versions of the report several times between August 1943 and November 1945, each time further solidifying the specification of one of the types.
In 1944, the Ministry of Supply started the process for contracts for all of these planes. This was carried out in the normal way for government aircraft production. A Ministry Specification was issued and aircraft companies provided designs or prototypes to the specification.
The Type I design developed into Air Ministry Specification 2/44, and was contested by the Bristol Brabazon and the Miles X-11, part of the ongoing Miles M.26 development programme. After a short selection process the Type I was given to the Bristol Aeroplane Company, building on submissions they had made during the war for a "100 ton bomber".
The Type II process was somewhat more complex. Several companies submitted designs to the original specification, but Vickers suggested a move to turboprop power. There was some scepticism on the part of the committee, and in the end they decided to divide the specification in two, allowing the turboprop design to go ahead while at the same time ordering a "backup" piston design as well. This led to a split into the IIA and IIB types, with the de Havilland Dove and Airspeed Ambassador filling the IIA requirement, and the Vickers VC.2 Viceroy and the Armstrong Whitworth AW.55 Apollo filling IIB (specification 8/46).
The Type IIA requirement was developed as the Airspeed Ambassador.
The Type IIB requirement was developed as the Vickers Viscount.
The Type IIIB requirement was developed as the Avro Tudor.
The Type VA requirement was developed as the Miles Marathon.
The Type VB requirement was developed as the de Havilland Dove.
Success and failure
Of the six Brabazon Report derived designs that were produced, only two could be considered outright successes. Two others were victims of circumstance and arguably should have been more successful. The remaining two were simply doomed to failure.
The Type I was certainly doomed from the start. The design was tailored to BOAC's perceived needs, which in retrospect seem very odd and were certainly not shared by other airlines. They believed that the passengers of the aircraft would be the particularly well-off or government employees, as they were the only ones able to afford air travel at the time. This led to a large amount of space per passenger in consideration of the long journey duration, which kept its operating costs high and made it too expensive to operate. It appears they failed to consider the side-effects of greatly increasing route capacity through the introduction of these designs, and the idea of a large number of passengers in the same airframe does not appear to have been considered. Only a single Brabazon prototype was built and flown before it was broken up along with the uncompleted second prototype.
The Type II was the only outright success of the series. The smaller design for the original short-haul need was eventually filled by the Dove with great success, leading to a production run in the hundreds. At the other end of the scale, the Viscount is arguably one of the most successful airliners of its class, and was also produced into the hundreds. Other entrants did not fare so well, including the Ambassador and the Handley Page Marathon, which were forced to compete against the "risky" turboprop design that completely outperformed them. Handley Page responded in the mid-1950s with the Dart Herald, competing with some success as a sort of smaller Viscount.
By all rights the Type III should have been a success, but a series of delays before and after entering service forced it to compete with newly introduced jet designs from the US, with which it could simply not compare. The Britannia proved to be an excellent design with a long service life, but only in niche roles.
The Type IV Comet almost became an outstanding success, but three unexplained crashes grounded them and the design changes required delayed reintroduction for long enough that the US was able to catch up with the Boeing 707.
By the 1960s it was clear that the UK had lost the airliner market to the US, and later designs like the BAC 1-11, Vickers VC10, and Hawker Siddeley Trident although successful would be unable to win a substantial part of it back again. Another committee was formed to consider supersonic designs, STAC, and worked with Bristol to create the Bristol 223 design for a 100-passenger transatlantic airliner. However this was going to be so expensive to produce that the effort was later merged with similar efforts in France to create the Concorde.
This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (October 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Berry, Peter (Winter 1998). "The Brabazon Propliners". Propliner (77,79): 9–14, 37–42.
- Masefield, Sir Peter; Gunston, Bill (2002). "11-13". Flight Path. Shrewsbury, England: Airlife. ISBN 978-1840372830.
- Phipp, Mike (2007). The Brabazon Committee and British Airliners 1945-1960. Stroud, England: Tempus. ISBN 978-0752443744.
- Taylor, H A (December 1984). "Brabazon...The Work of the Committees". Air Enthusiast (26): 72–78.