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The Bristol Brabazon, the Largest Passenger Aircraft Ever Built Before the 1950s

Updated on March 20, 2014
The Bristol 167 Brabazon
The Bristol 167 Brabazon

Introduction

Bristol Brabazon is an aircraft most people probably have never heard of unless you are an aircraft enthusiast. Back in the 1940s it was one of the largest propeller-driven commercial airliner ever built entirely in Britain and it still holds that distinction. It was comparable to the size of today’s turbine powered 767s and 777s. This plane was sought of like the “Titanic” in the air. It was built specifically to ferry high class passengers back and forth between England and the United States in luxurious accommodations.


Background

In 1943 a British government committee, led by Lord Brabazon of Tara, was formed to see what kind of demand was out there for transatlantic trips between Britain and the United States. The committee delivered a report a year later called the “Brabazon Report” containing four designs for construction of an aircraft for civil aviation called the Bristol 167 Brabazon.


After the final design for the aircraft was published in November of 1944, construction of Bristol 176 Brabazon began at the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) located in Filton, England about 4 miles north of Bristol. The final design of the aircraft was based on an earlier design for a large bomber. The most critical aspect of the design for this aircraft was that it had to be built to accommodate wealthy passengers with a lot of room and privacy for comfortable flights back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. Two prototypes were built, the first one (Centaurus) in 1945 and flown for a successful test flight by Captain Bill Pegg on 04 September 1949 over Bristol, England. The plane’s first flight was originally scheduled to take place in 1947. This delay would cost Britain the lead race for manufacturing of airliners. United States took the lead with the manufacture of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC8. The second prototype (Proteus) was not built to completion due to the cancellation of the project in 1952 by the British Minister for Supply. By October 1953 both prototypes were broken down for scrap metal despite the fact that the first prototype has been flown 184 times for a total of 382 hours. The first prototypes was never given an airworthiness certificate.


Comparison of Specs to Modern Airliners

Passenger Accommodation

This plane was the ultimate in luxury for aircraft and was the first of modern airliners. Based on specifications the plane was a pressurized, double decker, with air-conditioned, private First Class cabins to accommodate 100 passengers for both day and night transatlantic flights. These were private cabins and they were about 200 cubic feet in size and could be converted into sleeping quarters for the passengers. It had a 32-seat cinema aft or at the rear of the plane, a swish cocktail bar, a luxurious lounge and even a dining area located on the upper level over the wing section running across the fuselage. The plane was designed to fly at 300 mph at 25,000 feet during it transatlantic flights.

One of the cabinets inside the Bristol Brabazon
One of the cabinets inside the Bristol Brabazon

Fuselage and Wingspan

To meet these requirements the plane had to be larger than any aircraft ever made before for passenger flight. The body or fuselage of the plane had a diameter of 25 feet in width and was 177 feet in length. For comparison, the Boeing 777-300ER, one of the largest airliner flying today, have a fuselage diameter of about 20 feet and is 242 feet in length. The other 777s such as the 777-200, 777-200ER have fuselage length of 209 feet. The wingspan, the distant from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other wing for the Bristol 167 Brabazon was 230 feet in length while the wingspan of the Boeing 777 is 212 feet. Another modern day plane, the large Airbus A380, has a wingspan of 262 feet and a fuselage with a diameter of about 23 feet in width and 239 feet in length, but its fuselage is much higher than the Bristol 167 Brabazon to accommodate a second deck.


Engine

The Bristol 167 Brabazon was powered by eight radial 18-cylinder engines, each produces 2,650 horsepower for a total of 21,200 horsepower. For comparison, the Boeing 777-300ER has two turbofan engines capable of delivering more than 110,000 pound force to reach its maximum cruising speed of 590 mile per hour at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, while the Bristol 167 Brabazon cruising speed was 250 miles per hour at a cruising altitude of 25,000 feet.

With those eight engines the Brabazon had a range of 5,500 miles while today’s Boeing 777-300ER range is 9,128 miles.

Partially completed Bristol Brabazon. You can see the nacelles on the wing for four of the eight engines and openings for the propellers.
Partially completed Bristol Brabazon. You can see the nacelles on the wing for four of the eight engines and openings for the propellers.
A unique design feature at the time for the Bristol Brabazon, two engines coupled to shafts to turn contra- rotating 3- blade propellers.  Note: This an earlier design with four blades instead of the three blades for the final design.
A unique design feature at the time for the Bristol Brabazon, two engines coupled to shafts to turn contra- rotating 3- blade propellers. Note: This an earlier design with four blades instead of the three blades for the final design.

Test Flight of the Bristol Brabazon

Test flight for the Brabazon took place on 04 September 1949 over Filton, Britain. Test pilot A.J. (Bill) Pegg made several taxi tests before going airborne in the largest plane ever made at that time. At about 10:00 A.M. Pegg decided to make one final taxi at full throttle to get the plane airborne. Some skeptics at the airfield believed the large aircraft would not leave the runaway but it did and it was reported later that Pegg said “ It works!”. The plane lifted off from the runway very quickly for a large aircraft. It only took a little more than 2000 feet for the plane to become airborne. The flight lasted for 27 minutes and the plane reached a maximum altitude of 3,000 feet for that first flight. Also aboard the plane were 10 crewmen to record data from the flight for future studies. The test flight was considered a successful one by the press and news of it was broadcasted around the world. After the test flight, the Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret made a surprise visit and spent 15 minutes aboard the plane.

Click on the following link to see a video of the Bristol Brabazon maiden flight: www.youtube.com/watch?v=miRV-SgYx7Q

Click on the following link to see a rare video footage of the maiden flight of the Bristol Brabazon: BBC - Bristol - Brabazon footage is found in shed. Click triangle twice to view video.

Bristol Brabazon during liftoff
Bristol Brabazon during liftoff
Bristol Brabazon in flight
Bristol Brabazon in flight
The flight crew and A.J. Pegg, the test pilot
The flight crew and A.J. Pegg, the test pilot

Destruction of the Bristol Brabazon

After the successful flight of the Brabazon, the project was cancelled by the British Minister of Supply due to the high cost of building the plane and because the world economics following World War II was changing to markets to pay for the cost of the war. Construction of the second prototype which would had used gas turbine engines

© 2013 Melvin Porter

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    • profile image

      Tony Cooper 

      6 months ago

      I remember seeing the Brabazon in flight,when I was a child we lived in Ilfracombe N.Devon and it was on the day of my brother and my christening.... it flew over the church yard when we were going in. It would have been after June '49 exactly when is another matter it could be checked through church records

    • melpor profile imageAUTHOR

      Melvin Porter 

      3 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Jonny, thanks for your comment and for reading my hub.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 

      3 years ago from Tasmania

      Melpor, it is about 2 years since I suggested you look into this history, and I have only just now seen your Hub. Thank you so much.... good hub and well written.

      Those statistics compared with modern day aircraft are most interesting and I am sure will intrigue many others who read it.

      Sorry I have not replied sooner. Keep up your good work.

    • melpor profile imageAUTHOR

      Melvin Porter 

      4 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      BristolBoy, thanks for you comment and stopping by to read my hub.

    • BristolBoy profile image

      BristolBoy 

      4 years ago from Bristol

      Very interesting hub - thanks for writing!

    • melpor profile imageAUTHOR

      Melvin Porter 

      5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Bill, thanks for your comment and for reading my hub. I will write more hubs on the history of aviation in the future.

    • billd01603 profile image

      billd01603 

      5 years ago from Worcester

      Great Hub MelPor. I love stories about the history of aviation. Thanks

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