Saving a Trident
Restoring the last example of a unique British airliner
By Matt Falcus
When G-ARPO flew from London Heathrow to Teesside Airport on 12thDecember 1983, it became the last Hawker Siddeley Trident 1C to take to the air. But it had one more ‘flight’ to make, 28 years later.
The Trident was a revolutionary British design, built to the requirements of British European Airways (BEA), but it never achieved its potential, with designs such as the Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-9 quickly superseding it before significant orders could be taken.
117 Tridents were built
Nevertheless, 117 Tridents were built across three main variants. The 1C was the initial offering, first flying in January 1962, and aimed at short- to medium-haul routes for up to 100 passengers. It ideally suited BEA’s route network out of London Heathrow, but didn’t attract many customers.
The 1C became the first aircraft in the world to offer auto-land technology, allowing blind landings in zero visibility. The technology allowed operators at airports such as London Heathrow an advantage over other aircraft when bad weather forced diversions elsewhere. This technology is now standard in modern airliners.
A modified variant, the Trident 1E, was adapted for export customers such as Air Ceylon, Kuwait Airways, Iraqi Airways, Pakistan International and Cyprus Airways, and would also later be adapted for higher density seating and used for Inclusive Tour charter flights by Channel Airways and BKS in the UK.
The 2E variant was first flown on 27 July 1967, built with the modifications of the 1E, and with extra fuel capacity to allow longer range flights. BEA was, again, the main operator of this type, deploying it on European routes out of London Heathrow. However, China’s CAAC also ordered the variant having trialled two former Pakistan International Trident 1E’s on loan. These went on to serve on internal and intra-Asian routes for many years, and even served with the Chinese Air Force for government and military troop transportation.
The British 727
A last attempt to modify the Trident to make it more competitive against the Boeing 727 came in the form of the 3B model, first flown in December 1969. This featured a stretched fuselage and seating for up to 180 passengers. Since the Trident was slightly underpowered, the 3B also featured a booster engine mounted above the tail-mounted engine – effectively making it the only four-engined tri-jet in the world!
Sadly the 3B was only ordered by BEA (soon to become British Airways), with two Super 3Bs ordered by Air China. As European noise restrictions came into effect, the final Trident flights took place in Britain on 31st December 1985. It is thought the final Trident flights in China took place in 1990, although this is not confirmed.
Fast forward to 2006 and the number of remaining Trident aircraft – mostly scattered around fire training stations and museum collections – has been dwindling. The only restored Trident 1C was G-ARPH, at the RAF Cosford Museum. However, the collection of British Airways aircraft held at this location was about to be scrapped, with only small sections of them being retained and sent to other museums.
This left G-ARPO, the 16th Trident 1C built, as the last remaining example of the original variant that was still complete. After flying to Teesside in 1983, it was used (along with six other Tridents) at the Civil Aviation Authority’s Fire Training School. In a twist of luck, it was never set alight, but instead used to train fire fighters working in smoke-filled cabins.
Keeping the British Flag High
In 2009, a group was formed with the intention of saving this aircraft. Led by Tony Jarrett, Save The Trident Group secured ownership of the aircraft and set about raising funds to relocate her to the North East Aircraft Museum at Sunderland, 35 miles away. Another notable member of the group is Neil Lomax – a Trident expert who restored Trident 3B at Manchester Airport after relocating it by road from London Heathrow.
'Papa Romeo' history file
G-ARPO had first flown on 13th January 1965, and was based at Heathrow with BEA. From 1974 she flew with British Airways. We have been collecting logs from pilots who flew her, and have gained a picture of the routes it flew. Destinations were across Europe, and also on domestic routes to Scotland, Manchester and Belfast. Her last commercial flight was on 16th March 1983, from Glasgow to Heathrow.
Progress was made with the project, with donations from enthusiasts and sponsorships from a variety of companies, in dismantling the aircraft on site at what was now Serco’s International Fire Training Centre. The horizontal stabiliser, tail fin, and both wings were removed, as well as the engine pods.
She flew again in July 2011
Then, in July 2011, the aircraft ‘flew’ again as it was lifted over two fences and driven across the active runway by low-loader.
The next day, it was driven to the museum, making quite a sight on the motorways and bridges it passed. At the museum, it was lifted into the car park and its wheels lowered again for its final landing.
Later, the wings, tail, stabiliser and engine pods made the journey to be stored ready for reconstruction of the aircraft to take place.
Since its arrival at the museum, the group spent a winter working on the interior of the aircraft, preparing it for public display. Once the museum site is expanded, it will be rolled into position and have its tail and wings reattached.
Naturally such a project requires an incredible amount of funding and effort. All work has been by volunteers, and everything spent so far has been raised by donations and sponsorships. The Save The Trident web page acts as a news resource for the project, and a means by which donations can be made.
It is the group’s intention that this unique piece of British aviation history is not lost, and that the aircraft is preserved for future generations to experience and enjoy. You can visit it at the North East Aircraft Museum (https://www.nelsam.org.uk/#).
Why not also visit www.savethetrident.org and consider making a donation.