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Marconi Research and Demonstration Aircraft

Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 6 years, 10 months ago



Two aircraft types were used, mainly by Avionics Division for Marketing and Sales demonstrations and R&D work - two Vickers Vikings, the first leased from Airwork at Hurn, the second purchased from Airwork at Blackbushe and operated up until around 1968, followed by a Piaggio P166B maintained and operated by McAlpines at Luton.





Vickers Viking 1B


An article about the Marketing and Sales activities.


An article describing the flight trials of the AD 560 Doppler Navigation System in the early 1960s.


Inputs by Mike Thornton


Viking G-AHOP was the second Viking used by Radio Division for system testing and demonstration work, the first was leased from Airwork at Hurn and formed the basis of civil test and public viewing of Doppler navigation systems which up to that time (late 1950s) was a classified system. The aircraft carried out a number of overseas trips including one to the Middle East and Gulf States.          


When the time came to renew the cloth wings on the aircraft with metal ones. it was decided to invest in a company owned machine and "Oscar Pappa" was bought. Still operated and modified with more modern equipment by Airwork at Blackbushe it was used for introducing a new range of avionics based on solid-state technology and capable of being installed on the latest American and UK designed airliners including the VC10 and Trident Blind Landing Systems.


The main claim to fame of G-AHOP was that it was previously owned by Lord Guinness and had a low mileage on the clock and a special large toilet compartment for Her Ladyship. Ray Walls has advised you of the sterling flying up and down the canals of Norfolk and you have unearthed the story of a typical sales exercise to Germany. The Viking became too expensive and difficult to maintain  and was replaced by the Piaggio P166


As far as the Viking is concerned it is a confused history. It seems that aircraft registration was similar to motor car number plates, with the ability to move the plates around almost at will. G-AHOP seems to have been a good example of that procedure. I should explain that I was not really involved in Aeronautical Division airways until the early sixties  when the up-rated Viking was purchased by the Company. As I said the original flights on G-AHOP were carried out using a charter aircraft from Airwork in the 1957 era, and this continued on an ad hoc basis until the Division had settled at Basildon and the Sixty Series was finalizing development and ready for fight testing and customer demonstration. The platform was again a Viking. At about this time an aircraft was returned to the UK from West Indies Airline and was registered as G-AHOP. This airframe was scrapped at about the time that the original "OP" was being heavily modified to be suitable for our work. All this activity was under Airwork design control who by then had many Vikings under modification and charter at Blackbushe. The "new" G-AHOP seems to have been a combination of many bits and pieces from the West Indies aircraft. However the original registration was retained albeit with new metal wings and electrical supply systems ready for the increased workload that we needed. The aircraft was finally scrapped in 1967. All this was about 57 years ago and whatever was done, seems to have been successful, and the Division was extremely profitable  following the introduction of the sixty series and laid the basis for rapid expansion at Basildon.






Piaggio P 166 G-APWY circa 1980 - Abingdon BoB Display

Input from Peter Burlong

Piaggio-166B reg G-APWY was operated and maintained by McAlpine Aviation at Luton Airport. It was given to an aviation museum in the early 1990s. I did fly on its last flight for the Division which was a demonstration of equipment to a selection of the technical press.


Input from Mike Thorton

When the Viking became too expensive and difficult to maintain it was replaced by the Piaggio P166. This unusual bird was a twin engine "pusher" gull-wing design by the Italian company whose main claim to fame was of course a scooter. It was however ideal for our purpose, with six seats and single pilot operation. It was maintained and operated for us by McAlpines at Luton who were, at that time, operating corporate aircraft for a number of Large UK companies, including at a later date the GEC HS125.


As with the Vikings the aircraft was used extensively for experimental and sales promotion work. This included a demonstration of a map display to BOAC for use on Concord. Capt. Brian Calvert, chief development pilot for the Concord, flew G-APWY to final approach at Luton using the map display in the same way as today we would use GPS. Of course in those 1980 days the map was a complex mechanical device which was superseded by today's electronic displays. It indicates the type of work that the actual working of avionic equipment that could only be confirmed by installation and test in a controlled flight environment under development supervision.


As the development of GEC avionics became more based on defense requirements the need for our own aircraft became less important, and the Piaggio was finally retired with a ceremonial handover to the Aeronautical Museum at Southend Airport by Wally Patterson MD Basildon and featured on BBC East for the Last Time.


The aircraft was shown at the Southend site until the Museum closed due to the redevelopment of that area of the airport. It was kept in the Marconi livery as an example of the association with the local industrial activity in SE Essex.


The final resting place is in the Science Museum at Wroughton, and it was flown there under special CAA regulation as the aircraft was not under full airworthy clearance. The paintwork was also changed to remove any association with the Company. To my knowledge it is still on display, but as an example of the specific design by Piaggio rather than the use of the aircraft.


(Editors note - out of interest I contacted the museum and they have provided the pictures of the current situation of the aircraft shown below;






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