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The first prototype (designated the Type 491 and registered G-AGOK) was built by the Vickers Experimental Department at its wartime Foxwarren dispersal site and was first flown by 'Mutt' Summers at Wisley Airfield on 22 June 1945. This aircraft crashed on 23 April 1946 due to a double engine failure; no fatalities occurred as a result of the crash. Following successful trials of the three prototypes the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) ordered 19 aircraft. The first BOAC aircraft flew on 23 March 1946. The prototypes were then used for trials with the Royal Air Force which led to orders for military versions (the Viking C2 (12 ordered as freighter/transports) and the modified Valetta C1).
The initial 19 production aircraft (later designated the Viking 1A) carried 21 passengers, they had metal fuselages and - except for the wing inboard of the nacelles - fabric-clad geodetic wings and tail units. Following feedback from customers, the next 14 examples, known as the Viking 1, featured stressed-metal wings and tail units. The next variant, the Viking 1B, was 28 in (71 cm) longer, carrying 24 passengers with up-rated Bristol Hercules piston engines, achieved a production run of 115. One of this batch was changed during production to so that it could be fitted with two Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engines, with its first flight on 6 April 1948.
On 25 July 1948, on the 39th anniversary of Blériot's crossing of the English Channel, the Type 618 Nene-Viking flew Heathrow-Paris (Villacoublay) in the morning carrying letters to Bleriot's widow and son (secretary of the FAI), who met it at the airport. The flight of 222 miles (357 km) took only 34 minutes. It then flew back to London in the afternoon. It obtained a maximum speed of 415 mph (668 km/h) at 12,000 ft (3,700 m) and averaged 394 mph (634 km/h). In 1954 it was bought from the Ministry of Supply and underwent the substantial conversion to Hercules 634 piston engines by Eagle Aviation to join their fleet.
Production finished in 1948, including 16 for the RAF of which 4 were for the King's Flight, but in 1952 BEA adapted some to a 38-passenger layout, taking the maximum payload up from 5,500-7,200 lb (2,500-3,300 kg). All Vikings featured a tailwheel undercarriage.
The 58th Viking (c/n 158) became the prototype of the military Valetta, of which 262 were produced for the RAF. When production of this strengthened but externally similar type ended in 1952, a flying classroom version with tricycle undercarriage was already being delivered to the Royal Air Force (RAF), called the Varsity. All but one of those entered RAF service, the other example going to the Swedish Air Force. The production of 161 Varsities kept the Hurn works busy until January 1954, and they enjoyed a long service life. Examples are preserved at Brooklands Museum, the Imperial War Museum Duxford and the Newark Air Museum.
The first Viking was flown from Vickers' flight test airfield at Wisley, Surrey, by chief test pilot Joseph "Mutt" Summers on 22 June 1945 and the third aircraft built was delivered to BOAC at Hurn near Bournemouth on 20 April 1946. Upon the delivery of nine examples to BOAC for development flying, including the two remaining prototypes, British European Airways (BEA) was established on 1 August 1946 to operate airliners within Europe and these first VC.1 Vikings were transferred to the new airline.
After a trial flight from Northolt to Oslo on 20 August 1946 by the newly formed BEA, the first regular Viking scheduled service commenced between Northolt and Copenhagen Airport on 1 September 1946.
In all 163 Vikings were built. The initials "VC" stood for Vickers Commercial, echoing the "VC" precedent set by the earlier Vimy Commercial of 1919. Vickers soon ceased to use the 'VC' letters, instead using type numbers in the 49x and 600 series, which indicated the specific customer airline.
Viking 1B of the Arab Legion Air Force (Jordan) at Blackbushe Airport, Hants, in April 1955
BEA operated their large fleet of Vikings on many European and UK trunk routes for eight years. From 1951, the remaining fleet was modified with 36, instead of 27 seats, and named the "Admiral Class". BEA operated the Viking until late 1954, when the last was displaced by the more modern and pressurised Airspeed Ambassador and Vickers Viscount.
BEA sold their Vikings to several UK independent airlines for use on their growing scheduled and charter route networks. Some were sold to other European operators. An ex-BEA Viking 1B was fitted out as a VIP aircraft for the Arab Legion Air Force, mainly for the use of the King of Jordan. Most Vikings had been retired from service by the mid-1960s and the sole surviving example in the UK is owned by Brooklands Museum where it is under long term restoration.
Prototypes with two 1,675 hp (1,250 kW) Bristol Hercules 130 engines, three built.
Initial production version with geodetic wings and two 1,690 hp (1,261 kW) Bristol Hercules 630 engines.
Production aircraft with stressed skin mainplanes and two 1,690 hp (1,261 kW) Bristol Hercules 634 engines.
Viking 1 with "long nose", 113 built.
One Viking 1B aircraft modified for trials with two 5,000 lbf (22.3 kN) Rolls-Royce Nene I turbojets.
British military designation of the Viking 1; VIP transport aircraft for the King's Flight of the RAF.
31 October 1950 (1950-10-31): G-AHPN operated by British European Airways crashed during a Ground Control Approach landing in bad visibility (40-50 yards (37-46 m)) at London Northolt airport, England. The pilot failed to overshoot and 25 passengers and three crew died. It was subsequently recommended that it be an offence for aircraft to go below a minimum height when ground visibility was low.
17 February 1952 (1952-02-17): G-AHPI operated by Hunting Air Travel flew into the La Cinta mountain range, Italy, with the loss of all 31 occupants.
2 September 1958 (1958-09-02): G-AIJE operated by Independent Air Travel crashed into a house as the flight crew were trying to return to London Heathrow Airport after reporting engine problems. All three crew died and four on the ground also died.