The Vickers VC10 aircraft had a distinguished career in both civil and military aviation. Built at Vickers-Armstrong’s Brooklands plant from 1962 onwards, they were popular planes, designed to cope with short runways and “hot and high” airfields. Fifty-four VC10s were built, of which nine survive in retirement.
Of these, A4O-AB is undoubtedly the most luxurious. Originally sold to Freddie Laker’s British United Airways and registered G-ASIX in 1964, it found its way into the royal flight of the Sultan of Oman in 1974. The Sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said (born 1940), understandably values his comfort, and his aircraft was adapted accordingly to provide a lounge dominated by two large swivel chairs alongside a comfortable couch and walnut tables, two bedrooms, a commodious galley and a section seating 32 staff in an approximation to orthodox business class configuration.
During its thirteen years in the Omani Royal Flight A4O-AB inevitably gained its share of legends – flights to London purely to pick up fresh strawberries, and journeys to India in which the Sultan’s hawks travelled in the main cabin to the detriment of the carpets and upholstery.
When A4O-AB was replaced in 1987, the Sultan offered it to the Brooklands Museum as a memento of the aircraft that were built there.
This presented a practical problem, in that each of the fifty-four VC-10s had flown out of Brooklands when new, but very few had ever returned. Though these planes customarily landed at 10,000-feet runways, at the disused but practical Brooklands airfield only 3,500 feet were available. Return visits for maintenance had been directed to the nearby runway at Wisley.
The numerous precautions for this one-off landing were interesting, if slightly unnerving. Following the pilot’s premise “if there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt”, the crew inspected the approach on the ground and by helicopter. Various trees and lamp-posts were removed, police and fire-services were alerted, trains on the nearby London-Bournemouth line were paused and residents were warned to expect more noise than usual.
In the event, A4O-AB arrived on time and in good order, to be greeted by its designer, Sir George Edwards (1908-2003), on July 6th 1987.
The pilot of that final flight, Captain Richard King, gives an account of his encounters with G-ASIX/A4O-AB, including the final flight, at http://www.vc10.net/Memories/A4OAB_Royalflight.html.
Visitors to the Brooklands Museum [http://www.brooklandsmuseum.com/index.php?/explore/vickers-1103-vc10-ex-g-asix-a4o-ab-1964] can board A4O-AB to admire the facilities, including the bathroom, and – by invitation – sit in the cockpit.