The VC10 was designed to carry passengers and to take them to distant places. This page collects those stories that are somehow related to that experience as a passenger, either from the passenger's viewpoint or from the (cabin) crew who looked after them.
This story was told to me by an ex-flight engineer whom I met when he visited the Brooklands Museum. I'm afraid I can't recall his name, and I may not remember all the details of the story correctly so if you recognize this and can offer corrections, please mail me.
"During a long flight, a respected business man and his wife were travelling in first class. At some point during the flight the wife, an upper class lady, visited the flight deck where she found the crew hard at work, monitoring the instruments. Probably prompted by a remark made by the lady about the aircraft's vintage, the flight engineer told the lady that the newest technologies were incorporated in the aircraft: voice-controlled throttles. Now, for the non-initiated, the VC10 has two sets of throttles, one set on the pedestal in between the two pilots, and a second set, which is mechanically connected to the first one, on the corner of the flight engineer's station. It is fairly easy for a flight engineer to keep his set of throttles hidden from view by leaning an elbow on that corner of his station, with his arms crossed he can then operate his throttles without the unsuspecting visitor noticing this. Obviously the flight engineer got an incredulous look both from the lady and the pilots, who figured they would let the flight engineer have some fun and quickly went back to staring at their instruments. The flight engineer went on to explain to the lady that all the pilots had to have their voices recorded for use with the system as it was quite sensitive. Still getting a questioning look, he asked the pilot to demonstrate the system. The pilot, not wanting to interrupt the ploy, only uttered: "number two, throttle back", and to the lady's astonishment the number two throttle on the pedestal moved back an inch. The flight engineer then asked her to try it, and strengthened by the demonstration she cautiously said: "number two, throttle back", but unfortunately nothing happened. The flight engineer explained that she had to get a bit closer to the pedestal, as the system probably didn't pick up her command. A second try didn't get a result either, and now the flight engineer suggested that she lowered her voice a bit to better emulate the pilot's voice as the system was obviously set up to recognize masculine voices. The pilots by now were staring intently outside, not to look for other aircraft but to keep the visitor from seeing their faces as they were doing their best not to laugh out loud at the image of the lady, on her knees behind the pedestal speaking to the throttles in as low a tone as she could. This of course only got worse when she became ecstatic at the first sign of a throttle moving under her command.
It must have been the combined shaking and muffled sounds of laughter that emanated from the crew that finally made her realize that something was wrong on the flight deck. The end result being an angry visitor storming back to the cabin, leaving the flight deck filled with laughter."
It's been years since I typed up this story, and even longer since it was told to me. I recently heard that the flight engineer in question may have been disciplined over this prank. I guess that is one of the inherent risks of pulling stunts like these, you never know who the lady might be married to...
This little snippet was found in a brochure that features a reprint of Aircraft Engineering's special on the Super VC10.
"The passengers were comfortably settled in a Super VC10 at Kennedy Airport preparatory to departure for London when a red-faced steward hurried down the aisle and made the following announcement: 'Will Mr. Hucklebaumer please come forward since he is on the wrong aircraft.'
Quick-as-a-flash representative from British Aircraft Corporation: 'Correction, right aircraft, wrong flight.'"
Jerry Lister sent in these images from one of two flights that he made with his family on BOAC's VC10s in the 1960's. He also became a member of the BOAC Junior Jet Club, as you can see from his logbook.
"I was the child in the family, just 9 years old in Late Dec1966 when we (Mother 'Mary', Father 'Stanley' and Brother 'Nicholas') flew out to India on a standard VC10 G-ARVM, we stopped at Bahrain and Tehran. We have no photos of that one unfortunately.
Coming back we did a stop-off tour (a day or so overnight at Delhi, Athens, Rome).
The VC10 was special. Something about it's curves! We caught a Super VC10 G-ASGI on July 12th 1968 in Rome."
Super VC10 G-ASGI at Rome when the Lister family boarded for the last leg of their journey to London
Photos J. Lister
The BOAC Junior Jet Club Badge and Logbook, with skilfully coloured illustrations by the owner!
Photos J. Lister
Peter Mitchell shares his experience of flying on the VC10 when his father worked in Doha
I thought that you may like to hear of my recollection of flying in G-ARVI from London to Doha on July 15th 1964:
My father worked in Qatar for some time from around 1955 until 1964 and I flew many times on this route. I usually flew on these trips with my mother and siblings but occasionally just my elder brother and I flew unaccompanied. We would hand our BOAC Junior Jet Club books to the stewardess on boarding and would usually be invited to the flight deck during the journey to meet the crew and have the details entered into our logs.
We loved flying unaccompanied as we were treated like royalty by the lovely cabin crew!
I still have one of my Junior Jet Club logbooks (unfortunately the earlier one has been lost) which records our flights from 1959 to 1964. It’s worth noting that the flight to Doha in March 1959 in a Brittania 102 G-ANBH took 10hrs 45mins via Rome, Beirut, Kuwait and Bahrain.
The first non-stop flight was in a Comet 4 G-APDP which completed the trip in 5hrs 55mins in July 1962.
The introduction of the VC10 service to Doha was very exciting for us; from the incredible power and climb from take-off to the smooth and quiet cruise, our memories of our first flight in G-ARVI on the 15th of July 1964 are still very vivid including our father testing the quality of the flying by balancing two bottles neck to neck on the table in front of us.
The VC10 was a fantastic aircraft which failed to reach it’s service potential as a commercial airliner, despite being superior in design and capability to most of its competitors, due to circumstances that were more political than technical. Sadly British aircraft design has often been the victim of political decisions (the TSR2 debacle springs to mind), superior design and capabilities falling victim to other forces not least the US aircraft industries’ malign influence on purchasing decisions.
Just to add that the Pilots working for BOAC at that time prided themselves on the quality of the landings; sometimes touchdown was undetectable! The cabin crews were always immaculate and attentive; flying was a really enjoyable experience in those days.
Geoff Hall sent me this account describing his career on the VC10, with accompanying photos.
"I started off my Cabin Crew career on VC10 / B707s - both classics in their own right. As everyone else was going onto the B747 this was the last course on 'Mini's' - we trained in late '76 and went on line in early '77.
I'd already trained as a 'General Apprentice' with BOAC since 1973 and I'd already clocked up quite a few hours on VC10s. My first trip was a training flight on Standard G-ARVJ - we flew up to Bedford for night circuits; I sat in the jump seat and the flight lasted 45 mins. My longest passenger flight was BA 891 26.9.74 Hong Kong - Calcutta - Beirut - Frankfurt - Divert Prestwick - LHR: 18hrs 45mins - and there was no In Flight Entertainment fitted to VC10s!
My first Op was to Abu Dabi via Jeddah on G-ASGP, 31.1.77 and my last was Larnaca - Dar-es-Salaam - Blantyre on G-ASGF, 20.2.81 (the last few weeks of operation). In those 5 years I flew everywhere you could on the VC10 (all Supers apart from 3 trips on a leased Gulf Air Standard and a few training flights).
The SVC10 was used mainly on African routes towards the end (what she was originally intended for!) but we used to do an interesting cross-country route spanning Africa to the Far East and calling at, variously, JNB (Johannesburg) - NBO (Nairobi) - SEZ (Seychelles) - CMB (Colombo, Sri Lanka) - BSW (Brunei) - HKG (Hong Kong) - TPE (Taipei) - HND (Tokyo Haneda). We also flew to E.USA, Canada, Indian, Pakistan, Ceylon (where we regularly got pissed with RAF VC10 crews in the same hotel), Middle East, Bermuda; Prestwick and Manchester to USA Canada.
Although the SVC10 was renown as being the whispering jet, I can assure you that as a lowly steward two, seated right down the back in the galley sandwiched between four Rolls-Royce Conways screaming at full power on take-off, it was anything but! The cockpit was huge and I enjoyed many take-off's and landings (Hong Kong being memorable) up there - I think I even flew it once!
I'm still with BA as Cabin Service Director on
B747, B767, B777's - it's not the same!"
Steve Frampton also has some fond memories of the VC10 as both he and his wife used to work as cabin crew for BOAC in the early seventies. The photo below is a reminder of those days.
UPDATE: There is now a sequel to this story, have a look here: Cabin Crew - Again?
Anyone who has been to New York has seen the neon lights on Times Square. If you were there in 1965 like Jim Ferris, you would have seen a BOAC neon advertisement there, as his son Robert tells us.
"My father's name is Jim Ferris and he was going to the US as part of his job working for Kodak. He flew into JFK on a BOAC 707 and then on to Rochester NY where the main Kodak factory is located. He was formerly in the RAF and always did, and still does, like aircraft. On the return leg of the journey he and his colleagues got to spend a couple of days in New York City. At the time BOAC was making much of the passenger appeal of the VC10 and as he was taking pictures of the Broadway and Times Square area the BOAC advert caught his eye, knowing that he would be flying home on one in the next day or so. He commented that although the VC10 was quiet and smooth he missed the fact that there was no in-flight film like there was on the 707!
We later visited New York as a family in August 1978 and I remember seeing a BA VC10 arrive at JFK. I think BA still ran a daily London - NY schedule with the VC10 in amongst the 747 schedules due to its lasting passenger appeal. The VC10 was obviously a favourite on that particular route."
All photos J. Ferris
Former photographer Sue Chapman found herself photographing VC10s or being transported to photo shoots by VC10s. Now that the aircraft has been retired she wrote down her memories for Eynsham online and they e-mailed me about it. Follow the link below to read her recollections.
In November 2013 ex-VC10 steward Ian Middleton passed away after a brief struggle with cancer. He was an active contributor to the Classic British Flight Sim forums and at one point shared this story about a Soviet Mig intercepting a BOAC VC10. I felt that having this story on my site would also help us remember Ian.
"...of course, Lightning/Bear intercepts were happening regularly but this was a civil passenger aircraft on a scheduled flight. It was a bit scary at the time, though.
I didn't keep a record of the flight but it was mid-70s and we were in a VC10 en-route to London somewhere near Sofia about lunchtime. I was silver-serving some greens to a First Class punter on the starboard side. In a terribly British restrained manner he nodded his head out of the window and said, "I suppose the chaps up front know about this?". I bent down to look out of the window and nearly dropped my brussels sprouts because there was an armed, silver Mig with a red star on the tail flying parallel to us about 200 ft from the wingtip. You need to have lived during the Cold War to appreciate the concern as the Russians were our enemies and we had lived for many years with the expectation of a nuclear war breaking out.
The first contact was ATC who said they could do nothing about it, so the flight crew contacted Ops in London who patched them through to the Foreign Office who immediately contacted Moscow. Meanwhile, to our relief, the Mig slipped behind, only to re-appear a couple of minutes later on the Port wingtip. It also slid underneath us at one stage and popped up on the other side. The poor pilots didn't know which way to look next. The most important thing was not to change course!
It stayed with us for around 20 minutes and then disappeared - I assume that the diplomatic hotline call had done the trick. It sounds quite fun now but in the tensions of that time it was easy to imagine it turning ugly."
Graham Perry sent me the photo below and the story behind it. In it, he explains how a trip from Hong Kong to London ended up with a Scottish breakfast.
Hong Kong was on the TV news tonight and something made me look in my logbook. Sure enough, it was 50 years ago, 29th September 1964, that I was lucky enough to be a passenger on the inaugural VC10 service from Hong Kong to London, on G-ARVF. I took this picture from the roof terrace of Kai Tak's terminal shortly before boarding.
Presumably the aircraft had been through Hong Kong the day before and had done a Tokyo rotation - I am not sure. The route back to London was via Rangoon (first ever visit by a VC10, so presumably it had flown via Bangkok on the way out), New Delhi, Karachi, Cairo, and then Zurich before London. However, Zurich was fogbound and we carried on to London, where we attempted 2 approaches in fog before diverting to Prestwick. After a superb Scottish breakfast, courtesy of BOAC and presided over by the captain (Captain N.F. Eagleton), we took off at 1115 BST (just before crew duty time expired) and stacked over Bovingdon until the London fog cleared, landing at 1240. Over breakfast, Captain Eagleton was asked about fuel, given that we had over-flown Zurich, had two goes at Heathrow (London Airport then) and diverted the length of the UK. He replied that if Prestwick had been unavailable, he had enough fuel for Copenhagen...
A year before, in 1963, I had worked on the VC10 production line at Brooklands during the summer, on a university vacation training placement. G-ARVG, 'VH, 'VI and 'VJ were in the final assembly 'Cathedral' shed in the summer of '63, as was the first Super VC10 G-ASGA, into which I helped fit the nose undercarriage leg. But I had seen 'VF there, even though it had flown; it was the first aircraft to return from Wisley (they said it couldn't be done...) to be assessed for the drag-reduction modification of tilting up the engines. So it was an especial pleasure to fly in it back home a year later, looking very smart in its new colour scheme, after a summer spent visiting my parents in Hong Kong.
For more on Graham's experiences on the production line, see here.
Never was BOAC's motto more true than when a lady became ill on board a VC10 sometime during the last days of 1967, or the first days of 1968. Nev Boulton was on board and remembers it well.
50 years ago (on 3rd December 1967) the first heart transplant took place in South Africa under Doctor Christiaan Barnard. About a month later, I was operating the northbound VC10 out of Nairobi when one of our lady passengers keeled-over with a suspected heart attack. The chief steward got onto the passenger address system and asked if there was a doctor on board. We immediately got about 20 heart specialist surgeons who had been to a heart implant conference in South Africa including himself - Christiaan Barnard!
After all the kerfufle was all over, I went back to the toilet and found the lady passenger lying (on a blanket) on the floor in the forward galley drinking a cup of tea with the 'A Lady' fussing over her. Apparently she had been diagnosed with 'Wind'. I enquired how she was feeling and she told me that she felt much better. I responded that I was pleased to hear that - and that she must admit that BOAC really was taking very good care of her by rustling up the world's number one heart surgeon and all his friends to attend her! We had a little laugh and I got on with the job.
John Downey had to travel to Beirut in February 1965, which meant two flights on BOAC's still relatively new VC10s. He took plenty of photos and on the way back he was fortunate enough to be invited to the flight deck when they overflew the Alps. Here are the photos from those trips.
I have copied the following account from 'Life on the Airliners' by Bob Price (1991, Brooks Books). I have tried to get in touch with the publisher or the author, but was not able to open a line of communication. I liked the story too much to keep it off the site, but please get in touch with me in case of copyright issues.
The captain of a VC10, en-route from Los Angeles to Australia, had just been served his in-flight meal and was about to tuck in with relish when his chief steward arrived on the flight deck with news of a passenger confrontation. "There's a lady wants to see you, skipper. Claims she's been grossly insulted by the crew," he informed his hungry captain. Groaning inwardly at the unsavoury prospect of a domestic scene, he asked the chief steward to explain the situation fully.
A young Australian man had apparently been invited to sit alongside a flirtatious American lady and an excess of alcohol had led to what the steward referred to as "a fair old grope!" As passion overtook them, so the language became very fruity indeed and, as there were women and children on board, the steward had taken the Australian to the back of the cabin for a word of caution. "I told him that we'd received complaints from the other passengers and that this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated any longer," he related. "I warned him that a resumption of their disgraceful antics would force me to inform the captain." The Australian had staggered back to inform his new-found lady love of the threat and she immediately demanded, in a very strident voice, to see the captain with regards to the 'gross insult' suffered at the hands of the chief steward.
Staring longingly at his fast-congealing meal, the captain instructed the steward to inform the lady that he would see her in fifteen minutes when he had finished eating, reasoning that this would also give her time to cool down. Thirty seconds later, a dishevelled chief steward re-appeared on the flight deck. Behind him could be heard the sounds of a frantic struggle and the raised voice of the indignant American lady. Enraged at the captain's seemingly indifferent attitude she had attempted to storm the flight deck single handed. Cabin staff had forcibly restrained her in the forward galley.
Acknowledging the futility of further delay, the captain climbed out of his seat, donned his uniform cap ("It adds dignity to the occasion.") and went out into the forward galley.
The sight of the inebriated women was not a pretty one. Lipstick was smeared liberally over her lower face and mascara was running free on the upper reaches. The captain, with grim dignity, asked if he could be of any assistance. "Yeah - I've been grossly insulted by that bludger over there," she slurred, jerking a thumb in the direction of the chief steward. "Madam, I do not believe that to be the case," replied the captain. "Furthermore, you have behaved in a disgraceful manner, your language has been disgusting and obscene and I will not tolerate it any longer. You will return to your seat and behave yourself for the remainder of the flight or I shall radio the authorities and ask them to off-load you in Honolulu." The lady in question considered this statement for all of ten seconds before responding: "Up yours, Jack. I'm going right back there and I'm going to screw that feller in front of all the passengers and, what's more, when we arrive in Honolulu - I'm going to shoot you!" With that she turned and stormed back to her seat.
Thinking quickly, the unruffled pilot informed his chief steward to turn off the cabin lights and if the lady couldn't restrain herself from carrying out the first part of her threat, he was to throw a blanket over the couple. She couldn't and he did!
All passion spent, the amorous couple were fast asleep when the VC10 touched down at Honolulu, and it was decided that no charges would be made against them. They were allowed to continue their journey and caused no further problems. The wording of the Hawaiian duty officer's report of the incident was worth framing: "Once they had had an intercourse they went fast asleep and were fast asleep right through the transit to Honolulu. We did not consider that, now that they had had-it-off, that there would be any further bother."
Word of the incident spread quickly along the grapevine and the airline fraternity lost no time in according the unfortunate captain a new title. 'The fastest brothel-keeper in the west.'
In 'Collected Articles' Jeff Gray referred to the same incident:
“Tommy Thompson was flogging his way amongst the anti-Greenwich meridians when the Chief Steward came up to say they had a couple of passengers causing a disturbance and could he come back and sort it out. Tommy was a big outgoing sort of chap, well equipped for sorting things out. When he got back the situation was beyond even his powers. The troublesome couple were coupling in full view right there in the middle of the first class cabin. You know how it is if you come upon dogs beyond a certain stage, beyond the bucket of water treatment stage.”
Excerpt From: Jeff Gray. “Collected Articles”. Robert Gray, 2017. Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/nl/book/collected-articles/id1242635689?l=en
The last opportunity to fly on a British Airways VC10 occurred in 1981 when a special, final, charter was flown with several invited guests. G-ASGL took off from Heathrow with 137 passengers on board and it overflew Manchester, Prestwick and the Vickers factory at Brooklands before landing back at Heathrow 2 hours later. Robert Underwood's mother was on board this final flight and collected these souvenirs.