Passengers bid farewell to the Viscount

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Prince Philip will be delighted. The last Vickers Viscount to carry passengers took off from Heathrow yesterday, almost 46 years after the first passenger flight of the aircraft's prototype.

The workhorse of the skies during the 1950s and 1960s will in future only be used for cargo flights in the UK because British World Airways will no longer use them for carrying North Sea oil workers.

Prince Philip, clearly, will be glad to see the back of them. Writing from Windsor Castle, he said: "The distinctive whine of its Dart engines were very familiar over this castle for years." He added that the aircraft's passengers - he was on one of the early flights - "will be pleased that it is being given a suitable farewell into retirement".

It almost did not happen. BWA has three Viscounts still fitted for passenger use and the one due to be used for yesterday's hour-long trip for VIPs was driven into a temporary fence by an engineer making preparations at Stansted airport. BWA faces a pounds 45,000 bill and had hastily to fly down one of the other two Viscounts from Scotland for the ceremony.

The 70 passengers included the original designer of the aircraft, 87- year-old Sir George Edwards, and Lord King, the president of British Airways whose predecessor, British European Airways, was the launch customer for the aircraft, 444 of which were eventually built. While BWA has had no mishaps with its Viscounts since it bought them from British Airways in 1980, the aircraft's safety record is not that good with around 25 per cent having ended their days prematurely following some form of accident.

There was to be no such problem yesterday, though there were a few white knuckles as the old crate took off from Heathrow in a strong crosswind. The pilot, Captain Colin Towle, claimed "the turbulence isn't too bad". He might have felt so but at 1,500ft a few passengers were eyeing their sick-bags.

The foolhardy wanting to experience a flight in a Viscount can still find them operating in Zaire, Colombia and Indonesia, with airlines such as Bouraq, Filair Sprl, Mandala and Sankuru. Bon voyage.

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