Over thirty years ago I started my first job out of college as a Technical Writer at British Aerospace’s airfield located in Filton just to the north of the city of Bristol in the southwest of England.
The then Head of Technical Publications, and my new boss had a large framed picture that hung on his office wall. It was of a large majestic silver aircraft flying low over some building, and a strange misshapen tree, clearly coming in to land nearby. I thought I knew my aircraft types, having been interested in most things mechanical and transport related since early childhood, but I’d never seen this one before. “It’s the Brabazon landing at the Farnborough airshow in 1949.”
I wanted to know more, and over the following few years, I would ask questions about the Brabazon whenever I got the chance. It also didn’t take me long to appreciate just how big the Brabazon had been, for the massive three-bay hanger on the airfield was referred to by everyone as “The Brab Hanger.” Clearly, it had been associated with the project, and on one walk through the hanger on the way to a meeting on the other side of the airfield, I asked how many Brabazon’s could fit in each bay, as after all, I could see multiple aircraft in the bay on that particular day. The answer of “one” made me understand that this had been a true giant of the skies.
When my boss retired I inherited his role as Head of the Technical Publications department, and his office with the Brabazon picture on the wall. With most of our work at that time focused on the Airbus program, specifically the upcoming launch of the A320, we were looking ahead to the future. We still did some work supporting older aircraft that were still in service, such as Concorde, and the BAC 1-11 airliners, plus some military contract work., but no one had any time for talking about the past.
One day walking across the airfield I came across a dumpster and noticed a thick blue book sticking out of the top. It looked like an aircraft manual, and as that was my department’s responsibility I pulled it out to see what it was. I found myself holding a copy of the Handling and Servicing Notes for the Brabazon Mark 1.
There weren’t any Brabazon manuals in the Technical Publications archives (I’d already looked) so I assumed this had come from someone clearing out an office. I asked around. No one knew where it had originated, and no one cared. I talked to a few executives and was told “Keep it if you want, it’s only a curiosity now.” So I did. It still sits in my home office today.
During my investigations into the source of my find, I kept hearing the same things. “It was a failed project,” “No one’s interested,” “What’s past is past,” and similar sentiments. In fact, a detailed company history published at the time only gave the Brabazon a cursory and somewhat dismissive mention. But while on the surface this magnificent giant of the skies may have been a failure, I knew that it had shaped the very structure of the facility where I worked, and without it, we wouldn’t have been working on Concorde or Airbus projects.
This aircraft needed its story to be told. Now 30 plus years later I’m going to tell that story, thanks to Pen & Sword Books
I am now in the early stages of writing “Lost Airline of the Skies: The Remarkable Story of the Bristol Brabazon and its Legacy” to be published by Pen & Sword under its Air World imprint – provisionally scheduled for 2025. I’m excited to be diving into the research around this unique aircraft and the people who designed, built, and flew her.