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TriJet Tuesday - Hawker Siddeley Trident

Another look at jets with three engines, although as you will see further down this one eventually had 4!! Following on from the TU154 and the B727 this is a tale of missed opportunities.

Line up of BA tridents
Tridents lined up at Heathrow after retirement.

First Flight 09/01/1962

The de Havilland D.H.121 Trident as it was originally known is remembered for many firsts but also for what was probably a missed opportunity.

In 1956 British European Airways (BEA) stated its requirement for a high speed jet powered aircraft carrying (initially) 70 passengers up to 1000miles (1600km). This despite the airlines chief not really being a fan of jet aircraft.

From the outset there were four companies bidding for the contract, however after revising the spec of the aircraft which included an increase to a maximum of 98 passengers, greater weight and increased range it was de Havilland that got the nod.

Another first for the Trident was its ability to land completely automatically from approach through the flare, touchdown and roll out. Although scheduled to be in service by 1970 the aircraft performed the very first ‘blind’ landing of an aircraft in scheduled passenger service on November 4, 1966. A very useful piece of technology given the prevalence of fog at UK airfields.

The 121 was to be the worlds first trijet airliner and it was very close in design looks and spec to the Boeing 727, but with the advantage of being a good twelve months ahead. However as mentioned the BEA requirement was for a smaller, shorter range aircraft and at the last minute the de Havilland company (soon to be Hawker Siddeley) agreed to the changes which in hindsight killed off the greater international potential of the aircraft and handing what would probably be hundreds of orders to Boeing who eventually sold approximately 15 times more of the 727 than were sold of the Trident.

Consequently the only orders for this very tailored version (Srs 1C) came from BEA with 24 airframes which were put into service from March 1964. However BEA had by now realised there mistake and asked for a version with greater numbers all round. The Srs 1E was developed to appeal to the export market, having a greater paylod/range albeit within the same dimensions of the original. This succeeded in its intention if only slightly with Middle East carriers Kuwait Airways, Iraqi Airways and Pakistan International amongst the select few ordering.

Despite being the driving force behind shrinking the aircraft in its initial design stage (and probably hurting sales versus the later 727), BEA rather quickly decided that it actually needed a longer range version. Responding to this Hawker Siddeley produced the srs2E. However this was not the success that was hoped for. In addition to BEA’s 15 only two other customers ordered the new version, although CAAC’s order for 33 did somewhat save face for the programme. Cyprus Airways ordering just two, one example lies derelict at the old Nicosia Airport in the UN buffer zone between Greek and Turkish held South and North of the island

The final version for this rather missed opportunity of a programme was the Srs 3B which had a fuselage stretch of 5m (16ft 5in) allowing up to 180 passengers. Interestingly this aircraft actually had four engines as having limited power from the Spey engines the 3B had a fourth placed in the tail section to add boost on take off.

Hawker Siddeley must have pondered on their decision making over this project. The programme was well ahead of the Boeing 727 and surely would have won some of the 1800 orders Boeing received had they made different choices sooner.

If you are interested in a brief history of different aircraft types including first flights then take a look at my book called ‘Flying Firsts', information available by clicking the image below.


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