The Blackburn Beverley; Bulbous But Effective and Perhaps Soon to be Lost

February 22, 2023

OK, let’s be honest. The British aircraft builder Blackburn were never known for building good looking aircraft. In fact, I’ve done rather snarky pieces about a number of their planes. But even by their standards, the Beverley was a proper munter.

 

To be fair, the aircraft’s looks were a product of its day, designed as it was effectively during the Second World War. In fact, there are parallels between the Beverley and the German Me 323 heavy transport. That had evolved from the Me 321 transport glider, essentially by the expedient of putting engines on it.

The British went a similar way. During the Second World War General Aircraft Ltd had developed and built the Hamilcar transport glider, and this saw some use in Allied airborne operations, most famously carrying light tanks such as Tetrarch and M22 Locusts, but more usefully carrying things like 17-pdr anti-tank guns.

This led to GAL realizing the same as their German counterparts that a powered version of their heavy glider might be pretty useful, inspiring the This led in turn to the Hamilcar Mk.X.

 

But that was a rather limited affair with only supplementary power sources rather than a properly independent transport aircraft in its own rite, still ideally needing a towing aircraft to be effective and as such wasn’t really very successful.

However with airborne operations and supply appearing to be very much an increasingly important feature in future military operations, GAL thought it worthwhile to keep working on the concept. So, when in 1946 the British Air Ministry issued a requirement for a medium-range tactical transport which could operate from small airfields, GAL took the logical step and proposed to build a rather large transport based on their experience, the GAL. 60.

 

Naturally, post-war austerity slowed things down, and it wasn’t until 1948 that a contract was awarded to GAL for a prototype.

Here they hit a problem. GAL’s experience was in smaller aircraft, and even the Hamilcars had been largely built of wood. Building a, for the day, very large multi engine all metal aircraft was pushing their capabilities, especially should they win a full production contract. As a result they approached Blackburn about a merger and in January 1949 the two companies joined, with Blackburn taking over the GAL.60 project.

This is the reason why Blackburn, a naval aircraft producer, ended up building a heavy transport for the Royal Air Force.

With the merger the partially constructed GAL.60 was transported by road all the way from Feltham, just west of London, to Blackburn’s factory in East Yorkshire. And while I happily josh Blackburn for their aircraft’s looks, apparently even they were aghast when they first saw the new design, thinking that there was no way such a beast could fly.

I mean, when the Blackburn boys have their doubts, it can’t be good.

But in fact there was plenty of common sense in GAL’s design, even if the aircraft looks rather bulbous by modern standards. The large boxy fuselage gave plenty of room, avoiding a common problem in transport aircraft of running out of room rather than hitting weight limits. The high wings and twin tail boom rudders where well clear of the ground and allowed for use of rough fields, plus gave plenty of clearance for the loading and unloading of bulky cargoes.

And despite the Blackburn engineers misgivings the GAL.60 performed pretty well when it got into the air for the first time in June 1950.

However, it was realized more could be got out of the airframe with some changes, especially in boosting the cargo capacity, and a second prototype was ordered. This, the GAL.65 made changes to the layout, raising the tail boom even higher and adding addition seating for passengers.

 

This went along with switching the ramp door of the original to a clamshell arrangement for better clearances. The engines were also changed from Hercules’ to the more powerful Bristol Centaurus radials.

In fact so perfect for requirements did the new aircraft appear that even before this second aircraft had flown, the RAF decided that they wanted the type in service. In October 1952 an order for twenty was placed, which a few months later had the service name Beverley C.1 allocated to the type.

The RAFs choice may seem precipitous, but in fact with the needs that that service now faced, what with the Korean War raging and the former British Empire splintering into a host of newly independent countries, air transport was going to become a priority.

And despite the ungainly look of the Beverley, the choice was well founded. The boxy fuselage held a cargo deck that measured 11m (36ft) in length and the Beverley could carry up to 23 metric tons (50,000lb) over a short difference. The spacious hold meant that everything from trucks to helicopters and even bulldozers could be carried.

In addition, the long tail boom acted as a second deck for carrying passengers. All in, a Beverley could carry 94 fully equipped troops, or seventy paratroopers, with a hatch at the end of the boom enabling soldiers to jump from there while those in the main cargo compartment went out through the side doors.

 

The Beverley also could have the rear clamshells removed to assist with paradropping large and heavy loads straight out of the cargo compartment.

The high wing gave plenty of clearance and the fixed landing gear, while looking primitive in an age when retracting gear was the norm, was extremely rugged and would allow the Beverley to land on the roughest of strips.

This was aided by the four Centaurus engines, which were fitted with reversible pitch propellers. These, further assisted by the big wing having large slotted trailing edge flaps, meant the Beverley could land on extremely short runways of less than 300m (985 feet) while loaded.

All this was soon put to use once the type entered service with the RAF in 1956. Beverley’s were deployed to Singapore, where they helped with the counter communist campaign in Malaysia and then assisted Commonwealth forces in the confrontation with Indonesia in Borneo and in putting down the Brunei Revolt that occurred in 1962.

The type would also see extensive use in Africa, where they were used in the campaign against the Mau Mau, and the Middle East, again supporting British and local interests with air logistics. They would even be used in Vietnam, flying in loads of humanitarian aid to Saigon as the war in that country began to ramp up with the American intervention.

But perhaps their most famous use was in Yemen, supporting British and Saudi efforts during the Aden Emergency.

Basically, between their introduction into service in 1956 and their retirement in 1967, wherever there was any sort of British presence, Beverley’s were bumbling around carrying critical loads and personnel, often into the roughest, hottest and highest of places. They might look like a flying whale and be awfully slow with a top speed of only 238mph (383km/h), but the Beverley’s did the job, and generally did it very well.

And all with a grand total of only forty-seven service aircraft built.

Naturally, with such active life’s, losses were heavy. Nine Beverley’s would be lost in service, with seven of them in operating accidents, often caused by bad weather. But two were destroyed by, for want of a better term, enemy action.

The first of these was destroyed in 1961. At the time the Iraqis were making threatening noises about invading the newly independent country of Kuwait and Beverley’s were critical to moving British troops and supplies into that country as part of Operation Vantage, which aimed to dissuade any aggression.

Ultimately, the operation was successful, but one casualty was Beverley XM110 which was damaged while in Bahrain by saboteurs who managed to get a bomb onboard the aircraft, supposedly while it was in Kuwait.

 

Fortunately, it detonated while the aircraft was sitting on the ramp, but XM110 had to be scrapped in place.

Then in 1967, while landing at RAF Habilayan located near the Radfan Hills in South Yemen, XM106 ran over a land mine that had been placed on the runway by Arab guerillas.

 

This blew off the aircraft’s starboard undercarriage and badly damaging the starboard wing and fuselage, leading to the decision to scrap the aircraft in situ.

But as said, by 1967 the Beverley’s were showing not just the wear from their heavy usage, but their dated design. That same year saw the entry into service with the RAF of a far superior aircraft, the C-130K, which was faster and more capable than the Beverley, allowing these tired aircraft, many of which had seen less than a decade of service usage, to retire as the RAF’s primary medium air transport.

Somewhat ironically the C-130 had first entered service with the USAF around the same time as the Beverley had with the RAF, but with its powerful turboprops and streamlined airframe – compared to the Beverley, certainly – the C-130 showed the future and is indeed still with us today.

Whereas the Beverley, alas, is on the verge of disappearing completely.

Although several were placed in museums, unfortunately they have all now gone to the scrapyard bar one. The final remaining Beverley, XB259, was for many years on display at the Museum of Army Transport in her namesake town of Beverley, East Yorkshire, close to where she had been built.

With the closure of that museum XB259 was moved to Fort Paull in nearby Hull, again on display, but with the closure of that museum in 2020, she looked doomed. A gofundme to save this last aircraft raised the purchase price, but the buyers seem to have run out of capital to do anything with the aircraft and she is currently languishing inside Fort Paull today.

I suspect, and with great regret, that we will soon see the last Beverley soon joining her fellows at the scrapyard, as there seems precious little interest in preserving this final example.

Tragic, and we can but hope that an aviation institution somewhere decides that the preservation of an aircraft that played an important and largely forgotten role in many events that forged the world we live in today is worthwhile.

 

Sources/Related:

http://www.aeroflight.co.uk/aircraft/types/type-details/blackburn-beverley.htm

http://www.beverley-association.org.uk/index.htm

https://www.baesystems.com/en/heritage/blackburn-beverley

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackburn_Beverley

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