Airlines Remembered

British Overseas Airways Corporation - B.O.A.C.

Photos © R.Leeuw

Ceased operations: 1974 (merged into British Airways)
Homebase: London-Heathrow, UK
Founded: 1939
ICAO callsign: Speedbird
ICAO code : ??
Operations: passengers and cargo

BOAC - British Overseas Airways Corporation - became Britain's state airline at the end of 1939 taking over from Imperial Airways and British Airways Limited. This meant BOAC faced the challenge to start airline operations in wartime, no easy task.
During the first years BOAC helped to evacuate wounded and repatriated retreating troops. Enemy fighters were forever on the prowl and shot many aircraft down, also because BOAC's aircraft were painted in camouflage and in spite of wearing civilian registrations and the 'speedbird' logo, were probably not easy to distinguish as civilian planes. The "Speedbird"-logo was inherited by Imperial Airways.
BOAC had inherited Empire flying boats from Imperial Airways and transferred their base in 1941 from Southampton to Poole. Three Boeing 314s, originally built for Pan American World Airways, were used mainly on the Atlantic and West African routes. Catalina amphibians were also used .

The first civilian schedule from the new London-Heathrow airport was flown by a Lancastrian on 28 May 1945 to Karachi, from which point QANTAS aircraft continued the 'Kangeroo route' to Sydney. The Lancastrian carryied only 11 passengers - a financial loss. Directly after the war York aircraft were in basic metal with a simple Speedbird logo. By 1946 BOAC had introduced a first civilian livery with a British flag on the fin and the 'BOAC Speedbird' title and logo on the nose.

In 1946 the British Air Corporation Act nationalised airlines and routes and BOAC was affected by the act. Two new state airlines were formed taking routes away from BOAC. BEA - British European Airways - was formed to take over domestic and European routes and it was to be the European division of BOAC. British South American Airways (BSAA) was formed to fly routes to South America.
BOAC moved its landplane services from Bournemouth-Hurn to the newly opened Heathrow Airport in 1946. Five Lockheed L-049 Constellations were ordered. Further investments saw the pressurised Canadair C.4 Argonaut (a Canadian version of the Douglas DC-4, with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and a pressurised cabin) and the Handley Page HP.81 Hermes. In December 1949 BOAC also introduced the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, equipped with bar and lounge, for the trans-Atlantic service.

In 1950 BOAC was operating at an 8 million pound loss. It employed 47 thousand staff (!!). The Jet Age began famously when in 1952 the first jet airliner, the Comet 1 entered service. To compare: the route to Jo'berg had taken 32 hours by Hermes but the Comet completed the 6,700 nm route in under 24 hours, carrying 32 passengers.

When a BOAC Comet 1 broke-up during departure from Rome on January 10th, 1954 BOAC and De Havilland grounded the jet and made over 60 modificatons to the Comet and re-introduced it. On April 8th a second BOAC Comet 1, operated under contract by South African Airways under the route-sharing agreement, dissapeared off the coast of Sicily while at cruising altitude and dissapeared into the Mediterranean Sea. The Comet 1 jets were grounded permanently.
A Comet was pressure-tested and metal fatigue cracks around the passenger window frames proved to be the cause of the cabin disintegrating at high altitude. Thus BOAC lost the race to introduce sustained scheduled services with a jet airliner.
Aircraft like the Hermes, which had been stored for sale, were re-introduced into BOAC service. By the end of the 1959 BOAC had 17 Britannia 312s in service and had placed orders for jet Boeing 707s and VC-10s. BOAC had its homebase firmly established at London-Heathrow. By 1969 BOAC undertook a new expeansion plan and 10 Boeing 747-100s were ordered for delivery in 1970. By 1975 BOAC had merged with its sister airline BEA to form British Airways

Historical info: Airline Histories

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