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  • Writer's pictureroy blewett

Bristol 170 Freighter/Wayfarer

Photographed at Ardmore in 2016, Freighter Mk.31 NZ5911 has since been shipped to Bristol to become the only example of the Bristol 170 in the United Kingdom

The “Bifo” was a development of the Bristol Bombay, initially designed against specification 22/44 as a simple-to-operate, rugged freighter for the post-war civil market. When that specification was cancelled, Bristol re-engineered the design to meet specification C.9/45 for a medium-range military freighter capable of also performing a variety of utility roles. Although this specification was cancelled too, the Ministry of Supply ordered two prototypes (on the condition that Bristol funded construction of a further two) and agreed to help fund production. This led to the construction of an initial batch of 25 production aircraft. Despite the lack of an order fom the Royal Air Force, the Freighter proved popular as a military airlifter, with the Pakistan Air Force the largest customer with 73 aircraft. Other military operators included Argentina, Canada and New Zealand. It is as an “air ferry” the Freighter is perhaps best known, carrying passengers and their cars quickly from the United Kingdom to continental Europe. Once memorably described as “40,000 rivets flying in close formation”, the Freighter entered service with Silver City Airways on the Lympne to Le Touquet route on 7 July 1948. The “air ferry” concept was an outstanding success, and led to development of a stretched version of the Bristol 170 and ultimately to the much larger ATL-98 Carvair. The type made its last commercial flight in Canada in 1999.

First flight: 2 Dec 45 (c/n 12730, G-AGPB)

Production: 214 in the UK, comprising 180 at Filton and 34 at Weston-super-Mare

First delivery: 21 Jun 46, to Channel Island Airways (c/n 12732, G-AGVC)

Last delivery: 31 Mar 58, to Dan-Air Services (c/n 13250, G-APLH)

Variants: Freighter Mk.I - one of two initial production versions, equipped in all-cargo configuration with nose loading doors, and powered by 2 Bristol Hercules 131 radials (6 built);

Freighter Mk.IA - Mk.I optimised for mixed traffic with seating for 16 passengers (18 built);

Wayfarer Mk.II - second initial production version, effectively a Mk.I with nose doors deleted (3 built);

Wayfarer Mk.IIA - passenger version of Mk.II with seating for up to 32 passengers (13 built);

Wayfarer Mk.IIB - Mk.IIA for British European Airways (1 built);

Wayfarer Mk.IIC - Mk.IIA for Indian National Airways with accommodation for 20 passengers and main-deck cargo (2 built);

Freighter Mk.XI - developed version of Mk.I with increased wing span and higher weights, powered by Hercules 632 engines (2 built);

Freighter Mk.XIA - mixed traffic version of Mk.XI (1 built);

Freighter Mk.21 - Mk.XI with Hercules 672 engines (12 built);

Freighter Mk.21E - improved version with cabin heating, sound insulation, adjustable bulkhead and removable seating for up to 32 passengers (16 built);

Freighter Mk.21P - Mk.21 for Pakistan Air Force (32 built);

Freighter Mk.31 - Mk.21 powered by Hercules 734s and increased take-off weight (11 built);

Freighter Mk.31C - Mk.31 for use as a support aircraft by the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (1 built);

Freighter Mk.31E - Mk.21E with same improvements as Mk.31 (13 built);

Freighter Mk.31M - military version of Mk.31 (63 built);

Freighter Mk.32 - development of Mk.21A with Mk.31 improvements, with seating for up to 23 pasengers and a lengthened nose section to accommodate an additional car (20 built, known as the Superfreighter in Silver City Airways service).

Bristol 170 survivors
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