Short Brothers Belfast


Belfast aircraft were the first British aircraft designed to meet the RAF’s need for long-range transport, and were the world’s first military cargo aircraft with a fully automatic landing system.

Broadly based on the Bristol Britannia, the Belfast was selected as the RAF’s strategic freighter in 1959, and first flew on 5 January 1964. All ten Belfasts built were delivered to the only unit to operate the type, No.53 Squadron, at Fairford and Brize Norton.

Their early performance was affected by suction drag on the tail and rear fuselage, hence the RAF nickname ‘The Dragmaster’. Retrospective modifications improved their cruising speed by 40mph. The Belfast went on to serve as a versatile freighter able to carry a wide variety of loads including troops.

Defence cuts in the RAF’s transport fleet eliminated the Britannia, Comet and Belfast fleets. The Belfasts were withdrawn from June 1976, and No.53 Squadron disbanded on 14 September 1976.

Five Belfasts passed to Southend-based Heavy Lift Cargo Airlines for further service, often under contract to the RAF (including supporting the Falklands Operations in 1982). Three were flown and two kept as reserves, and at least one aircraft is still flying (2005) on contract freight work in the southern hemisphere.

Typical loads:

Three Wessex helicopters
Up to 250 troops
One Chieftain Main battle tank
10 Land Rovers with trailers
Two Polaris missiles

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