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Short Belfast-why?

Old 21st Apr 2012, 09:15
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Short Belfast-why?

Can anyone please tell me why Short and the RAF went to what must have been tremendous expenditure and effort to produce an aircraft which had a production run of a mere ten? It was a good heavylifter, I think (I have no personal knowledge of it, tho I remember them when they were in service with the RAF and I saw Heavylift's aircraft when they were using them and it certainly has had a very long life, one still being used in Oz/the Far East today, I believe).

Another eg of a disastrous (commercially) British post-war aircraft type?
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 09:40
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I got the impression that it was left hand and right hand not being connected. One lot issuing a requirement for an aircraft that the other lot had decided that there was no requirement for.
Other peple will come along soon who who's fact based knowledge is better.
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 10:04
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Though I'm too young to have been there at the time I guess it's down to "politics dear boy" and the perenial UK dilusions of grandeur.
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 11:26
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No delusions of grandeur, nor right/left mixups - just the response to an Operational Requirement starting back in the 1950s, when the RAF AT fleet was in pretty poor shape, given that resource priority for several years had rightly gone to building up the V-Force. The history is laid out in considerable detail in 'Shorts Aircraft Since 1900' by C.H. Barnes.

By 1957 the Air Staff and Shorts had agreed to proceed with a project known as the Britannic, with development costs to be spread over 30 aircraft. Reductions in the Defence budget in 1958 quickly put paid to that plan - but the need for a strategic freighter remained, particularly at a time when there was a need to get missiles and related kit out to Australia for testing. (There are similarities here with the USAF's C-133 that performed very much like the Belfast, also designed very much with moving missiles around.) Eventually an order was placed in 1959 for the SC5/10, later named 'Belfast' - just 10 aircraft for the RAF, with a further 2 aircraft planned by the company for possible civil orders. Shorts tried hard with civvy operators, but no further orders were placed.

The company continued to look at other possibilities. A V/STOL variant with blown flaps etc was apparently proposed for the Beverley replacement OR that was won by the HS 681, cancelled in 1965 along with TSR2, by the first Wilson government. And discussions were held with Lockheed for a variant with the C-141 wings and T-tail, to be powered with 4 RR turbofans - and having flown both aircraft, I'm sure that's the useful airlifter we never had.

Nonetheless, whilst we had it, it was indeed a most useful aircraft for dealing with bulk or oversized loads. For example: a series of flights at close to max zero-fuel weight to move a mix of APCs and Abbott guns out to BAOR; tasking one Belfast for sqn ground equipment on deployments otherwise needing 2 Hercs; moving helos without dismantling the entire rotor head area. There's a Sea King or a Commando - I've forgotten which - inside this one (XR 371) at Shannon in July 1970, en-route to the States for testing:

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Old 21st Apr 2012, 14:51
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Thanks very much for this comprehensive reply ICM. But it must still have been incredibly expensive, to develop a virtually brand new aircraft (apart from, I understand, some of the Britannia wing box) for so tiny a production run. Surely it would have been cheaper to buy ten C-133s? Tho that certainly wasn't an aircraft without problems, but one went on flying into the 21st century:

655 Anchorage 30-9-05 C133 full side on 1e | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

And here, I think, is the one and only photograph I ever took of a Belfast-it's the one preserved (thank the lord) at Cosford:

ScanImage5 1024 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

And the aircraft above is the same as the one in your photo ICM.
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 17:33
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Proplinerman: You may well be correct and the book I quoted does not mention costs. There had, however, been a tie-in for several years between Shorts, Bristol and Canadair arising from the Britannia project and I get the impression that design was spread over a fairly long period, with no metal being cut until the RAF order was eventually placed. So the development costs may have been relatively low and well-spread. Where costs certainly appeared, measured in loss of capability, was once the aircraft began flight trials, culminating in the need for the 'fastback' conversion. OCU training stopped for a time and 53 Sqn never had more than 4 or 5 airframes at Brize for some 4 years. A most frustrating period, and I recall one trip not getting away for 3 days due to lack of spares. However, once airborne, it was a delight from a crew viewpoint - flight deck space galore (perhaps 15 in all there for the visual approach to Kai Tak on my Global), comfortable bunks, Minstrels' Gallery, good flight and nav systems. (The Nav station on the C-133 looked primitive, by comparison, I must say.) I think that 53 got all 10 aircraft by about 1972, by which time I was elsewhere, on a somewhat larger fleet.
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 17:54
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Belfast: The Story of Short's Big Lifter by Molly O'LoughLin White is the book you want, to find out about the Belfast. She was a great enthusiast for the aircraft. It has been out of print for years bu still a few popup now and then.
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 21:13
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When the Belslow was new in service a tale went round that the captain of one bound for Changi from Gan ended a position report with the message "Captain and crew all well, no sign of scurvy as yet".

Probably apocryphal, but this was in the early days. Didn't they re-design the tail, or something, and stick another 25 knots or so on the cruising speed (the "fastback version referred to by ICM?). Someone no doubt knows the details.

I did a double take when I saw one at Schipol a few years back, but can't remember the name of the carrier.
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 22:00
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The Belfast could take 2 Wessex 2s, 'spooned' side by side, provided they were on air transportation cradles and considerably broken down (e.g. tail rotor pylons, main rotor gearbox and head, main undercarriage legs, all removed). The blades and the removed components could be accommodated either side of the fuselages and on the rear ramp and there was room for enough groundcrew to rebuild the helicopters when they (eventually) arrived at the deployment base. We had a surprise operation sprung on us one night at Odiham in 1967 and got the 2 Wessexes airborne in the Belfast, from a cold start, in 6 hours. And that at a time when the air transportation cradle had only been trialled, not formally released for use.

I always thought the Belfast's weakness was the Tynes. Four Vanguard engines pulling an aircraft that size had to test the patience a bit, hence the 'scurvy' comment out of Gan heading East (a true story, and it didn't go down too well at HQTC Upavon, IIRC). But it was a good bulk lifter and would reach Akrotiri with 2 Wessex.
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Old 21st Apr 2012, 23:10
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I always thought that the Belslow was a useful a/c and I bet the RAF missed its capabilities.
Yes it could have done with more power,but that would have called for investment...something that this country and govmints have consistently failed at LOL
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 00:27
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one still being used in Oz/the Far East today, I believe).
I operate through Cairns from time to time. The old Heavylift Shorts Belfast is there with all logos painted over. It looks like it has been abandoned although it does have all it's engines on. It is presently parked at the north end of the western parking area.

It is visible on Google Earth, but it has been moved further north, out the way.
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 05:31
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In the early eighties a Fokker F27 was damaged on landing in the Libyan desert, the aircraft was dismantled, wings tail and stabs taken off, fuelage put onboard a Belfast and flown to Iceland, the Belfast went back to pickup the rest of the bits, and the Fokker was reassembled and repaired.
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 07:08
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Thanks Proplinerman for starting another Belfast thread. With your permission it provides me with an opportunity to ask if any reader was involved in this event which came to my attention only yesterday.

In December 1974, a Belfast was tasked to recover Rapier test equipment from Woomera and return it to the UK. The return flight got as far as Darwin where the aeroplane went u/s and an engine change was required. This event is described in Molly O'Loughlin White's book (p.61) referred to earlier in this thread but the book does not identify the Belfast in question.

Just yesterday I learned that it was XR368 "Theseus". After ten days in Darwin, the aircraft departed on 23 December leaving behind the u/s Tyne (serial number 7527 - impressed?), 2 engine stands, 4 Belfast main wheels and a brake aligning spider! Two days later, on Christmas Day, Darwin was devastated by Cyclone Tracy. It seems that it wasn't until late February 75 that the MoD went looking for these items which had survived the cyclone and were eventually repatriated to the UK by means unknown.

Can any reader provide further details?

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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 08:16
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Geoff Fentum and I picked up XR368 at Tengah when she finally came back from Darwin (we were stuck in Singapore for 11 days). We left Tengah for Gan on 20 December, 1974 then Gan to Masirah on 21 December and so on to Akrotiri on 22 December whereupon we climbed into the bunks and were back at Brize Norton on 23 December in time for Christmas.

The aircraft lost an engine on take-off at Darwin and during the course of the abandoned take-off, a bunch of tyres burst as well. Hope that helps.
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 08:20
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What about the one which had a heavy landing and was left with fuel leaks?

What happened? Did it ever fly again?
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 08:45
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As this thread is collecting Belfast tales, I recall one told to me by someone lucky enough to fly them.

The RAF decided to do some research into crew fatigue and crossing time zones, so a Belfast, as I recall, was despatched on a westabout global with a couple of crews and a bunch of medics who were to observe how the crew coped. Of course the medics had to remain alert during all the flights so they resorted to medication to keep themselves awake and more pills to help them sleep at the end of each flight.
By the time the aircraft eventually returned to Brize the medics were so doped up they were virtually propping their eyes open with matchsticks as the disembarked the aircraft rattling with pills.

The crews, oh they just went for a few beers as normal!

Told to me by a Captain who once landed a Belfast at Brize and received a round of applause.... turning round he counted 19 people on the flight deck!

Quite an aircraft.
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 09:39
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Belfast Development

To go back to the original question. The Belfast was built to continue industry employment in Northern Ireland and like most other government funded projects was not subject to proper cost control. The design used an adapted Britannia wing which was attached at a reduced dihedral angle when it should have been anhedral. This meant the lateral control close to the stall was poor such that it couldn't get a civil ticket, although the military accepted the shortcoming, thus affecting civil sales. The govt cut the order from 30 to 10 and bought Hercules. The aircraft was civil certified by Marshalls 20 years later for Heavylift, using a stick pusher for stall recovery. Also, initially, the performance was 15% down due to Reynolds number effects round the rear fuselage (ie the wind tunnel predictions were optimistic), sorted by copying the Russians and fitting underfins. (Ironically the Hercules has the same problem, still unsorted). The Belfast was also WAT limited at ISA, sea level, which meant that for any temperature above standard day or anywhere above sea level you have to offload. Answer bigger engines, never fitted as not being available. Heavylift sorted this somewhat by stripping out vast quantities of excess internal structure and trims.
"No sign of scurvy" Not apocryphal, but an actual message sent back from 366 during the first route-proving trip to the Far East, circa 1966.
Shorts were going to do a jet version with look-alike C-141 wing.
Have you noticed that the A400 is Belfast sized but with a good wing on at the right angle and proper power. The Belfast was a fine aircraft that should have had a better chance.
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 10:14
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Thanks for all the replies. I'd love to hear further Belfast stories, so please keep them coming. Sad that the one in Oz is no longer flying.

"Four Vanguard engines on an aircraft the size of the Belfast:" well, yes, the engines always looked a bit inadequate in size for the sheer bulk of the aircraft (ditto the C-133 in my view too, interestingly). And my Ian Allan "Military aircraft of the world" from 1973 (price 1.95 for a-admittedly not very large-hardback book!) gives a max cruising speed of only 352 mph for the Belfast. Whereas my Ian Allan "Civil aircraft of the world," 1974 (2.75, for same size of hardback book as the Mil version above-that's how bad inflation was in those days) gives a max cruising speed of 425 mph for the Vanguard.

The books also tell me that the Tynes on the Belfast were 5730eshp and the aircraft had a max gross weight of 230,000 lb; whereas the Vanguard had 5545ehp engines and a gross max weight of 183,500 lb. The figures speak for themselves and bear out what is said above.
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 11:10
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I did a double take when I saw one at Schipol a few years back, but can't remember the name of the carrier.
You mean one like this Tankertrashnav?

In the early eighties a Fokker F27 was damaged on landing in the Libyan desert, the aircraft was dismantled, wings tail and stabs taken off, fuelage put onboard a Belfast and flown to Iceland, the Belfast went back to pickup the rest of the bits, and the Fokker was reassembled and repaired.
I was lucky enough to fly the Belfast in it's civil incarnation. The Fokker recoveries were a reagular thing, with damaged F27, F50 & F28's being recovered from places such as Colombia & Libya, and returned to Fokker Services at Woensdrecht for repair.

Last edited by Double Hydco; 22nd Apr 2012 at 13:43.
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Old 22nd Apr 2012, 11:30
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OK then, a bit more. I seem to recall that the word on 53 Sqn circa 69/70 was that larger props had been intended - my head-on shot up above indicates there was certainly room for them - but Mr Barnes' book indicates that this was simply left as a possibility during the design stage, and that the option was effectively dropped when the 'fastback' mods recovered the performance shortfall.

That is not to say that all became sweetness and light. Belfast Navs became minor experts on parts of the ODM Vol 1 that their colleagues on the VC10, say, could largely ignore. (In my day, Navs from the Belfast OCU ran the RAF's Scheduled Performance course for pilots preparing for civil licences.) We spent much time between trips working up Regulated Take-Off Graphs for airfields and runways around the globe, to take account of Net Flight Path restrictions and Second Segment problems, particularly where ground temperatures were liable to be at ISA+15 or above. Evidence of how overall performance remained on the edge can be seen in the fact that Bahrain - Akrotiri, essentially an airways route, was accepted at the time as a valid Nav Route Check route. The two major issues I recall were, first, making net Safety Height on climb-out by the time one got to the mountains in Southern Iran, across the Gulf; and, later, dealing with a simulated three-engine driftdown and diversion once over Eastern Turkey. An entry in my Cat Card for 17 Jun 70 tells me I must have cracked it that day! (I only flew the fastback aircraft, doing the first or second OCU course once training was resumed in 1969, and I shudder to think how things had been beforehand.)
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