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June 1919: Versatile Vimy

Originally designed as a bomber, the record-breaking Vickers Vimy was reconfigured for passenger flight

The Vickers Vimy Commercial variant
The Vickers Vimy Commercial variant - MAG

Our latest look back into the archive provides a glimpse into early efforts to design an aircraft capable of taking passengers on flights across the Atlantic.

The first commercial transatlantic flight took place in 1939, when passengers paid $375 for a one-way Pan American flight between New York and Southampton.

Twenty years earlier, Vickers had completed construction of the transatlantic Vickers Vimy Rolls at the company’s Weybridge Aeroplane Works. Within a week of The Engineer’s report, John William Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown would complete the world’s first transatlantic flight in a Vimy, which was originally designed as a WWI bomber.

Our correspondent noted that ‘this airplane is practically similar in every respect to the standard Vimy bombing machine, as supplied to His Majesty’s Government.’

It was equipped with two standard 350HP Rolls-Royce engines and the capacity of the petrol tanks and lubricating oil tanks were increased to 865 gallons and 50 gallons respectively.

“With these quantities of fuel and oil, the aeroplane has a range of 2440 miles,” The Engineer said. “The maximum speed is over 100mph, but during the flight across the Atlantic the engines, it is intended, will be throttled down to give an average cruising speed of 90mph. The span of the machine is 67 feet and its overall length 42 feet and eight inches. The cord of the planes is 10 feet 6 inches.”

It was further stated that the aircraft was fitted with a ‘wireless telegraphy set capable of sending and receiving messages over a distance of 250 miles’ and that the pilot and navigator would stay warm with electrically heated clothing.

As noted, the Vickers Vimy commercial aeroplane for passengers was a modification of the bomber and our correspondent observed ‘it is of interest to note that the different fuselages constitute the sole difference between the Vimy Bomber and the Vimy Commercial, and the Vimy Rolls Royce transatlantic aeroplanes.’


“The fuselage of the commercial machine…is constructed on the monocoque principle, the shell of the cabin being attached to oval wooden rings of box section built up of three-ply wood,” The Engineer said. “The shell or cover of the cabin is made of ‘Consuta’, a material superseding three-ply, manufactured by S.E. Saunders Limited of Cowes, a company allied with Messrs Vickers.”

The Engineer continued: “The material is constructed of thin layers of selected wood with the grain placed diagonally, the layers being glued and sewn together. The rows of stitching run in parallel lines about 1.5 inches apart. The material is claimed to be very strong and to give a high factor of safety to the whole construction of the cabin. Its use entirely dispenses with all cross-bracing wires, the absence of which must add materially to the comfort of the passengers.”

Safety features on the Vimy included watertight doors and the ability to float on water in the event of a transatlantic emergency. The electrically-heated pilots sat side by side in a cockpit placed high up in the ‘nose’ for ‘a wide range of vision’.

Safety features on the Vimy included watertight doors and the ability to float on water in the event of a transatlantic emergency

“The cabin is totally enclosed and has a seating capacity for 10 passengers each in a separate armchair,” our correspondent said. “A gangway runs down the centre of the car and there is ample space between the chairs, the passengers being in no way crowded. Cupboards are provided at the end of the cabin for the storage of light hand luggage. A separate window is placed at the side of each person and both height and speed indicators are fitted for those who are interested in the new conditions of traveling. In addition, telephone conversations can be carried out between the pilot and the passengers.”

Noise, it was claimed, had been reduced to a minimum and vibration entirely eliminated. The seats in the cabin could be detached in a few minutes, giving a floor area of 53 square feet and a volumetric capacity of 300 cubic feet for freight.

“Such freight can, if necessary, be kept dry and at an even temperature.” The Engineer said. “The maximum weight which can be carried is 2500 pounds.

The Engineer was informed that the aircraft had passed its flying tests with full passenger loads and had taken part in an aeronautical demonstration at Hendon by the time the journal went to press. 

The Vimy, conceived and designed in four months by Vickers’ chief designer Reginald Kirshaw Pierson, arrived too late to see active service in WWI. Later variants, however, were produced in bomber configurations and introduced into RAF service as the Vickers Vernon troop transporter.

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