March 29 marks the 42nd anniversary of the last British Airways VC10 flight.

BOAC Vickers Super VC10 on display at Duxford
Photo: Jake Hardiman | Simple Flying

Between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, the British-designed Vickers VC10 played a vital role for BOAC, which became British Airways in 1974. 1974 was also the same year the carrier began retiring one of the two VC10 types. But what are the aircraft’s origins, and how did the airline use them?

Military beginnings

Vickers-Armstrong, a prominent British manufacturing firm from the 20s to the late 70s, was initially responsible for several military aircraft. However, after world war two, the company focused more on the developing passenger aviation sector and produced aircraft such as the VC1 Viking, Vickers Viscount, and Vickers Vanguard. In the early 50s, the manufacturer worked with the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) to design the V1000, a military transport for which BOAC wanted a passenger version.

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A BOAC Vickers VC-10 Aircraft being moved at London Heathrow Airport.

Six months before the first V-1000 prototype was ready, the RAF lost interest, and the focus shifted toward the commercial version. At the time, BOAC was looking for capable aircraft to deploy on operations to Africa and Asia and considered the Boeing 707. But the airline needed an aircraft with better performance to deal with the hot-and-high airports on planned routes. So Vickers gave them the VC10.

Features of the VC10

Similar to the 707, the VC10 has four engines, but instead of mounting them under the wing, they were at the rear, helpful for potential rough or dusty runways. The airliner featured a high T-tail design facilitating increased performance on short runways, and wide flaps and full-span leading-edge wing slats enhanced performance. Vickers also came prepared with two versions, the “Standard” VC10 and the stretched “Super,” with even more powerful engines geared for BOAC’s transatlantic routes.

Initially, BOAC ordered 35 VC10 Type 1101 Standards, with options for 20 more, and 22 Super VC10 Type 1151s. However, BOAC was state-owned, and there was discussion about what was financially possible to support their fellow British company. But, in the end, they only took delivery of 12 Standards and 17 Supers.

Operations began in 1964

The VC10 first entered service in April 1964, with commercial service between London Heathrow Airport and Lagos, and in April a year later, the Super VC10 took responsibility for London – New York City. While flight crews and passengers enjoyed the aircraft, BOAC’s corporate side struggled to find a way to make it as economically capable as it was technically.

At the turn of the decade, in 1970, BOAC received its first Boeing 747, and this would trigger the beginning of the end for the VC10’s passenger service. By 1974, the 747 would replace the Supers on transatlantic routes, which replaced the Standards heading eastward, and the Standards were formally retired. When BOAC became British Airways, they sought to reorganize their fleet and operations and, within the next seven years, replaced the VC10 Supers.

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A Royal Air Force VC10 on display.

On March 29, 1981, the last British Airways VC10 touched down at London Heathrow, and the entire family of aircraft was retired. Many of the VC10s went to the RAF, who used some for spare parts and contracted British Aerospace to convert a few of them into mid-air refueling tankers. The last of these with the RAF were eventually retired in 2013.

Have you ever flown in a VC10 or seen one of the many on display? Let us know in the comments below.

Sources: AirwaysMag,

  • British Airways, Cabin Crew Training, Customer Service
    British Airways invited Simple Flying to experience cabin crew training first hand. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

    British Airways

    IATA/ICAO Code:

    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier

    London Heathrow Airport, London Gatwick Airport

    Year Founded:


    Airline Group:

    Sean Doyle

    United Kingdom


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