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The Handley Page HP.81 Hermes was a British civilian airliner built by Handley Page in the 1940s and 1950s. Closely related to Handley Page's Hastings military transport, the Hermes was a low-wing monoplane powered by four piston engines. Twenty-nine were built, serving briefly with BOAC in the early 1950s and later with several charter airlines.
Design and development
The Hermes was built to meet the 1944 Air Ministry specification for a pressurised civil transport capable of carrying 34 first-class or 50 tourist-class passengers, at the same time as the RAF required a new transport to replace its Handley Page Halifax, for which Handley Page designed the very similar Handley Page Hastings. Unlike the tailwheel Hastings, the Hermes was planned to have a nosewheel undercarriage, although the first two prototypes used a tailwheel undercarriage, of which the first was an unpressurised "bare shell" and the second to be pressurised and fully equipped. It was intended to introduce the Hermes before the Hastings, but production was delayed after the first prototype (HP 68 Hermes 1), registered G-AGSS crashed on its maiden flight shortly after takeoff on 2 December 1945. Handley Page's chief test pilot and the chief test observer were both killed.
Development of the civil Hermes was delayed to resolve the instability that caused the accident to the first prototype, and the chance was taken to lengthen the second prototype, producing the HP 74 Hermes II (G-AGUB), first flying on 2 September 1947.
While the first Hermes IV (registered G-AKFP) flew on 5 September 1948, and production built up quickly, the early aircraft were overweight, partly due to the use of Hastings components, and were initially rejected by BOAC.
The Hermes IV finally entered service with BOAC on 6 August 1950, taking over from the Avro York on the West Africa service from London Heathrow to Accra via Tripoli, Kano and Lagos, with services to Kenya and South Africa commencing before the end of the year. The Hermes IV was used by BOAC on routes to West and South Africa. They were quickly replaced, however by the reliable Canadair Argonaut in 1952, although some re-entered service in July 1954 following the grounding of the de Havilland Comet, being retired again in December.
This was not the end of the Hermes in airline service, however, as surplus aircraft were sold to independent charter airlines, with Airwork purchasing four in 1952, others being operated by Britavia and Skyways, particularly in the trooping role. Many of these aircraft were fitted with Hercules 773 engines which could run on lower octane fuel than the original Hercules 763s, being designated as Hermes IVA, returning to Hermes IV standards when fuel supplies improved.
Later, the Hermes were flown on inclusive tour holiday flights from the UK. The last Hermes, G-ALDA, flown by Air Links Limited, was retired on 13 December 1964, and was scrapped nine days later.
Hermes V G-ALEU at the Farnborough SBAC show in 1950. Note the slimmer nacelles of the Theseus turboprop engines
The two turboprop Hermes V were owned by the Ministry of Supply and made their first flights in August 1949. They were used for development of the Bristol Theseus turboprop engine. The first was lost in a wheels-up landing at Chilbolton airfield on 10 April 1951, but the second continued development flying with the A&AEE at Boscombe Down and the RAE at Farnborough until retirement in September 1953.
The prototype Hermes II was given military markings in October 1953 as VX234 and was used for various research and development programmes, including the testing of airborne radar for the Royal Radar Establishment at RAF Defford, Worcestershire, being finally retired in 1969, the last of the Hermes.
3 December 1945 - Hermes I G-AGSS the prototype Hermes crashed on the first test flight soon after takeoff three miles from Radlett Aerodrome. The two Handley Page test pilots were killed.
26 May 1952 - Hermes IV G-ALDN (Horus), operated by BOAC, en route from Tripoli, Libya, to Kano, Nigeria, flew off course for several hours and ran out of fuel, force landing in the Sahara Desert south of Atar, Mauritania. The passengers and crew all survived and spent several days in the desert before making their way to an oasis, where First Officer Ted Haslam, who had suffered a head injury in the crash, died.
4 March 1956 - Hermes IV G-ALDW operated by Skyways Limited was destroyed on the ground by a time-bomb in the forward freight compartment. The aircraft was at Nicosia Airport, Cyprus when the explosion occurred 20 minutes before the aircraft was due to depart for the United Kingdom with 68 passengers. There were no fatalities.
5 August 1956 - Hermes IV G-ALDK operated by Britavia suffered the collapse of the nose undercarriage at Drigh Road Airport, Karachi, Pakistan. The aircraft was damaged beyond economic repair.
5 November 1956 - Hermes IVa G-ALDJ operated by Britavia crashed on night approach to Blackbushe Aerodrome, England in bad weather. Seven of the 80 occupants died.
1 April 1958 Hermes IV G-ALDV operated by Skyways Limited. Crashed at Meesden Green, close to Stansted Airport, whilst on an airtest after an engine change. The crew of three, Capt. Rayment, Capt. West and FE. N Bradley were all killed.