14 December 2015

BEA Gets the Trident and More

BEA Trident 1C in the original delivery colors
A while back I had posted about a short lived proposal between Boeing and De Havilland for the former company to license build the DH.121 Trident in the United States. That was but one of many twists and turns in the rivalry between the DH.121 Trident and the Boeing 727. Building on the success of the 707 family, Boeing next launched the 727-100 for the short-haul market and like the Trident, was a T-tailed three-engined aircraft built broadly to the same specifications. But having cut its teeth on the commercial market successfully with the 707, the 727 quickly gained fame as a technological and aerodynamic success that could fly near its limiting Mach number at 37,000 feet smoothly yet possess the high-lift wings to allow it to land at speeds as low as 100mph and serve short airfields and smaller communities. The Trident, on the other hand, wasn't designed for short field performance and had the nickname "Gripper" by its pilots on account of its long takeoff run. Its engines weren't as powerful as the new Pratt & Whitney JT8Ds on the 727 and De Havilland actually pitched the Trident as an "economy aircraft" on contrast with the hot rod performance of the 727. 

De Havilland originally had designed a larger aircraft that could have boasted the seat-mile economics of the 727, but as the aircraft was being designed to British European Airways (BEA) requirements for European services, BEA wanted a smaller aircraft and the first version of the Trident carried only 78 passengers. It ended up having to compete with the successful Caravelle in capacity below the Trident and the Boeing 727 on the top end of the capacity segment. De Havilland even tried to pitch a version of the Trident to American Airlines which at that point hadn't made up its mind yet on the 727 whereas Eastern and United had already committed their launch orders. But in August 1961 American followed United and Eastern in ordering 25 727-100s in a crushing blow to the British sales effort. And to add insult to injury, De Havilland was having a difficult time pleasing BEA, its planned primary customer as BEA kept changing its requirements and asking for changes to the Trident design. Once changed and approved for production, BEA would come back with another set of changes resulting in a small production block with several different variants to suit BEA's wishes. Some in the De Havilland program felt that BEA was trying to sabotage the Trident with its requests while Boeing turned out 727s in only two basic versions by the hundreds. Even later versions of the Trident with higher-powered Rolls-Royce Spey engines and longer fuselages to carry more passengers failed to dent the 727 worldwide sales juggernaut as order after order bypassed the Trident in favor of the 727.

BEA Trident Two- the aircraft was progressively improved
On 22 November 1965 the British Minister of Aviation, John Stonehouse, affirmed the government's support for the longer ranged Trident Two version which interested BEA more than the Trident 1 versions (despite the Trident 1 being built to BEA's own specifications). Parliament even approved funding to launch the Trident Two program. But in the following year, the head of BEA, Sir Anthony Milward, not only said BEA needed less capacity than the Trident Two, but that he had also had discussions with Boeing and Douglas. Some historians feel that Milward was engaged in brinkmanship with the UK government to get the Tridents as the lowest price possible. Milward himself stated publicly that "BEA wanted to buy British, but that it could not afford to buy British if the product was not the best on the market." De Havilland then went on to create the Trident Three, BAC offered a stretched version of the BAC One-Eleven and even Vickers proposed a short-haul version of the VC-10. But the 727-200, 737-200, and the DC-9 were also on BEA's table for discussion. 

With the election of a new Labour Party government keen on supporting British industry, Milward warned that "If a British aircraft was available to do this job at the right price we'd be delighted. At the moment there are no signs that such a British aircraft is available." It was well-known that BEA had asked for approval to purchase 35 727-200s and 737-200s. De Havilland was astonished that after creating larger versions of the Trident, BEA said the market had an overcapacity, but then turned around and wanted order larger American aircraft. 

BEA Trident Three in British European's final livery
Already the Labour government was under fire for campaigning to support British industry but had already ordered the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, and the General Dynamics F-111 to replace the canceled TSR.2. Despite BEA's desires for American jets, the political winds in London of the day dictated that they had to buy British, no matter what. BAC offered the Two-Eleven successor design to the One-Eleven, but BAC required millions of dollars in launch aid to start work on the Two-Eleven. Eventually the Two-Eleven project had to be abandoned and support had to be shifted over to the penultimate version of the Trident, the Trident Three. BEA was directed to purchase this aircraft and Milward made plain that the Trident Three was BEA's third choice and if it were compelled to operate the Trident Three, then BEA should receive compensation from the British government for not getting the more economical 727-200s and 737-200s they wanted. 

The new Minister of Aviation, John Mulley, found himself backed into a corner by BEA and the British government. BEA had to buy the Trident Three at the direction of the government but BEA wanted compensation to offset the higher operating economics of operating the Trident Three. 

On 13 March 1968, BEA announced it was ordering 26 Trident Threes with options for 10 more. Four months later, the government announced what was called the "Mulley Pledge"- approximately US$50 million was transferred to BEA and was calculated to be the cost difference between the higher seat-mile costs of the Trident Three versus the 727-200. And additional 50% of that initial transfer would be made available later to BEA, fufilling the Labour government's pledge to support the British aircraft industry. 

1 comment:

  1. Well yes up to a point,At the time that the Trident Three was ordered the British economy was going through one of it's rough periods in which the Pound was devalued against the Dollar in late 1967. BEA had wanted the 727-200 & 737-200 as their first choice, as in was in those days foreign currency was strictly controlled by HM Treasury and there wasn't a chance of getting the Dollars to pay for the Boeings so BEA had to take stretched Tridents & One-elevens,it was either that or continue with Viscounts& Vanguards for the next decade.