Big & beefy, it’s the Blackburn Beverley
Take a good look, a VERY good look. Think of ‘Martha’, the lonely Passenger Pigeon, pining away in Cincinnati Zoo in September, 1914; or the last Thylacine, pacing up and down his enclosure in the Hobart Zoo, Tasmania in September, 1936. This huge transport aircraft is the last one in the world, and given that the Royal Air Force Museum scrapped their example a few years back, because of corrosion problems due to the fact it had stood outside too long at Hendon, and also that Southend Air Museum’s Beverley was lost when their facility closed, and THIS aircraft is standing outside at a little local museum at Fort Paull (yes, two ‘l’ s!) located on an estuary, close to the North Sea…you get the picture? Welcome to the magnificent Blackburn Beverley C.1
How big is a Beverley? Let’s put it into perspective, shall we. The wingspan of the RAF’s standard heavy bomber of WW2, the Avro Lancaster, is 102 feet; that of a Boeing B-29? 141 feet. The huge German Blohm und Voss flying boat, the Bv 222, only managed 151ft; and the mighty Beverley – it beats them all, at 162 feet. As for the powerplants; well, it has four huge Bristol Centaurus radials, and the sound was rather like being assaulted by four Sea Furies flying in close formation.
The idea for a huge transport with four large piston engines and a fixed undercarriage started with a London-based company, General Aircraft Limited. G.A.L. were best known for production of many hundreds of military gliders during WW2- the Hotspur was a sleek infantry training glider, and the Hamilcar a large load-carrier, capable of carrying a Tetrarch Light Tank. Post-war the company produced the G.A.L. 60 Universal Freighter in their Feltham plant, and the disassembled aircraft was transported to the airfield of Blackburn Aircraft at Brough in Yorkshire. Since Blackbburn were under-utilized at that time, it made excellent sense for the two companies to join forces, and they became Blackburn and General Aircraft in 1949.
An improved version of the design, the G.A.L. 65, with Bristol Centaurus engines and improved loading arrangements, first flew on 20th June, 1950. The original version, complete with an amazingly long air data probe fitted in the nose which made it look like a narwhal, was flown at the SBAC Show at Farborough that year. The RAF ordered a total of 49 of the G.A.L. 65 as Blackburn Beverley C.1, the first entering service in 1957. Later that year, a Beverley was sent to the historic RAF Boscombe Down, where parachute trials were undertaken by ‘D’ Company, No. 1 Parachute Regiment, who tested drops from both port and starboard doors and the larger (and most prefered exit) tailboom exit. The Beverley was cleared for Service use, with the proviso that the fuselage doors could be used simultaneously, but the ‘stick’ in the tailboom would have to wait until the loadmaster there was given the green light.
There was room for 36 paratroopers – almost a C-47’s load – in the extended tailboom, alone, and a total load of ninety could be carried! By any standards, this is an impressive aircraft, and its operational history makes it even more so. The Beverley was quite capable of landing on rough, dirt strips. The fuselage was split into two decks, with the upper deck being used for paratroops, if the lower deck was used for freight. The propellers attached to the huge Centaurus engines could be put into reverse pitch, which would allow for VERY short landings, and also gave the ability to ‘reverse’ the Beverley into difficult parking areas. I can attest to the fact that it is a LONG climb up to the flight deck. Nicholas Cage would have really have been able to make a great job of the film ‘Con Air’ if they had only used a Beverley!
Despite only 49 aircraft being built, there were quite a number of RAF Beverley units. No. 47 Squadron at RAF Abingdon received the first examples, followed by 53 Sqn (who later merged with No. 47). No. 30 Sqn formed at RAF Dishforth in Yorkshire, before being dispatched to RAF Eastleigh in Kenya, then on to RAF Muharraq in Bahrain. Thus was the pattern of overseas service for this capable giant set. British armed forces across the Middle East and Far East benefitted from regular delivery of stores and personnel to the remotest of areas. No. 48 Sqn was partially equipped with Beverleys, and was based at Changi, the famous RAF airfield in Singapore, where the HQ of the RAF Far East Air Force was located, and No. 84 Sqn was at RAF Khormaksar, Aden from 1958 to 1967. Serving the training needs of the Beverley Force was No. 242 Operational Conversion Unit.
The last RAF unit to use the Beverley was No. 34 Squadron at RAF Seletar, also in Singapore, which flew them until 1967. No. 34 was active all across the region, even making flood relief flights to South Vietnam in October, 1960. The unit lost a Beverley, when an aircraft making a low-level flight over jungle terrain hit a ridge, and was lost with all onboard.
The very last service flight came in 1967, when No. 34 Sqn put up a ‘box of four’ over RAF Seletar and Singapore Island – that must have sounded rather like 16 Sea Furies flying in extremely close formation! The aircraft were parked at Seletar until 1968, when they were scrapped by having their tails unceremoniously hacked off.
Here she lies, the very last of the breed, parked in an obscure courner of the world – and with an uncertain future. Look well, for you will not see her like again.