Big BA boost for Blackbushe Viking project

UK flag-carrier donates £20,000 towards classic airliner’s repatriation

Viking G-AGRW at Bad Vöslau Airport on 12 December. The fin and rudder are stored nearby.
Viking G-AGRW at Bad Vöslau Airport on 12 December. The fin and rudder are stored nearby. VIA PATRICK MARCHANT

The Blackbushe Heritage Trust’s project to move Vickers Viking G-AGRW from Austria to the Hampshire airfield for eventual display received a major boost in early December with the donation of £20,000 by British Airways. The 1946-built airliner has been in open storage with the Austrian Aviation Museum at Bad Vöslau Airport, south-west of Vienna, since being moved from a display site adjacent to a McDonald’s restaurant near Vienna Airport.

Peter Brown, chairman of the recently formed Blackbushe Heritage Trust — which was launched at the airport’s 80th Anniversary Fly-in Party on 11 June 2022 — says, “Our Viking was first operated commercially by British European Airways. During the period from 1946 to 1960 Blackbushe became London’s second airport, the home to several independent airlines, all of whom operated the Viking. G-AGRW was flown by Hunting-Clan during her days at Blackbushe, while some 30-plus Vikings were based here during those challenging times as the UK’s air transport system recovered from the Second World War. Blackbushe, famous for being intersected by the London-Southampton A30 trunk road, was also famous for the unique views offered of her busy civil and military operations. A Viking returning to Blackbushe would be a triumphant moment not just for the Viking but also for the airport that has fought for its improvements under private ownership for the past six decades.

“Together, Blackbushe and the Viking have the makings of a great story of hope, determination and appreciation of our rich aviation heritage. The Viking was the first British commercial airliner to be produced after the cessation of hostilities, its lineage having direct links to the Vickers Wellington and the geodetic structure designed by Sir Barnes Wallis.”

Although built with geodetic wings, the fabric covering of the mainplanes on ’GRW was long ago replaced with an aluminium skin. Constructed as a Vickers 198 Viking 1A, the machine originally went to the Ministry of Supply and was operated as XF640 before going to BEA during September 1946, bearing the name Vagabond. It was subsequently operated by Autair and Hunting-Clan, before being retired in late 1963. On 10 January 1964 ’GRU made its last flight from Southend to Soesterberg air base in the Dutch province of Utrecht, where it became one of three Vikings converted into the Avio Resto restaurant. Another of them, G-AGRU, is now preserved at the Brooklands Museum, but the third, G-AHPB, ended up at the Technorama museum in Winterthur, Switzerland before being scrapped during the early 1990s.

Peter Brown continues, “Blackbushe Airport’s history alone has all the ingredients of a unique story: wartime fighter and bomber operations, post-war commercial growth and support of the independent carriers, the United States Navy’s only UK land base, and famous fog diversions in the ’50s when London Airport was below limits. Closure and destruction in 1960 has been followed by an extraordinary six decades of fighting for permission to develop hangars and a suitable infrastructure. The future shows promise for the long-awaited revival of this great aviation asset.

“The Blackbushe Heritage Trust is working closely with the management of the airport, and together we fully intend to form a ‘history hub’ at Blackbushe where the Viking and the airport’s history together will form a valuable public insight as to the value of our British aviation heritage for generations to come. The Viking’s rebuild will alone provide valuable educational benefits to share amid the centres of education in the south.”

Among those who have expressed interest in restoring ’GRW are a group of British Airways engineers. For details of how to support this important project, go to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/the-return-of-vagabond.

Named Vagrant by British European Airways, this is G-AGRW in the late 1940s, accompanied by BEA personnel.
Named Vagrant by British European Airways, this is G-AGRW in the late 1940s, accompanied by BEA personnel. VIA PATRICK MARCHANT