A4O-AB pictured at Brooklands in 1998
Picture by J. Hieminga
VC10 construction number 820 first flew from Weybridge on 17 October 1964 as G-ASIX. The plane was built as a Type 1103 for Freddie Laker's British United Airways. The Type 1103 incorporated several 'upgrades' compared to BOAC's 1101s, some of which are: a 4% wing chord extension on the inboard section to improve the cruise drag, a large cargo door in the forward fuselage side, downturned 'Kuchemann' wingtips which helped to cure an instability in the stall. It flew with BUA for several years (during which it was involved in the Andes incident described here) alongside it's sister ships G-ASIW and G-ATDJ until in 1970 BUA merged with Caledonian Airways to become British Caledonian. In their new colors the VC10s flew on, joined by the VC10 prototype which had been converted to airline standard in 1969. As BCal had already ordered 707s the VC10's days were numbered and in 1974 they were sold off with G-ASIX going to the Omani Government for the Sultan's Royal Flight.
This change of ownership initiated it's second career, but not before some redecoration took place inside the aircraft. The Sultan of Oman appreciating some level of comfort on his personal transport, after a registration change to A4O-AB (fitting in nicely with the Sultan's Gulfstream G-II: A4O-AA), the aircraft was moved to Hurn to be suitably converted and decorated. This saw the aircraft emerge as a very luxurious transport indeed, with a lounge incorporating two large swivel chairs, a comfortable couch and walnut tables, two bedrooms, an extremely large galley and a section for staff members seating 32 which may just have been a bit more comfortable than a business class seat is today.
The conversion at Hurn was quite extensive, and after this the aircraft was repainted in a quite attractive white livery with a red and green cheatline. For the next 13 years the aircraft would be a regular visitor to the United Kingdom for visits, maintenance at Dan-Air's facilities at Lasham as well as many other purposes. In 1982 the aircraft went to Basle where the interior got an upgrade which created the two bedrooms with twin beds and some other changes. The story goes that the VC10 would occasionally be sent to the UK when someone in the Sultan's household would get a craving for fresh strawberries, the crew doing a quick round-trip flying an otherwise empty aircraft back with a few trays of strawberries on board. Another popular story involved one member of the Sultan's crew, known as the 'flying spanner' to his colleagues. Although trained as a Ground Engineer, he travelled on board the aircraft and was responsible for sorting out any snags that might occur whilst in flight or on the ground. One of the Sultan's favourite destinations in the VC10 was India where he would go with a retinue of hawks and their handlers. They travelled in the passenger cabin which would usually leave some tell-tale traces on the floor. As it was the engineer's job to keep the aircraft looking pretty, after these regular outings his job may just have been a bit less attractive than on other days. Not knowing the usual wages Sultans pay, we can of course only guess at his salary except to say that it must have been sufficient.
After enjoying the use of his VC10 for 13 years the Sultan felt it was time for something different. As it held sentimental value the Sultan decided that the aircraft should be preserved somewhere. The by then newly established Brooklands Museum was interested, and in the end a deal was struck in which the VC10 would return to its birthplace to remain there as a tribute to all the VC10s that were built at the site. One slight problem remained though: although every VC10 built was flown out from Weybridge, flying one back was something on which little experience was available. It is known that the prototype went back to be converted to airline standard, and there is a picture in existence of a BOAC Standard (G-ARVK) on a very low approach to the Weybridge runway but there the available information ended (although Brian Trubshaw remarks in his book 'Test Pilot': "The return of both VC10s and BAC 1-11s into Brooklands became a regular event"). At least everyone agreed that it could be done, and even though the runway hadn't been used for a while all of it was still there, and all was done to facilitate the crew of the Sultan's aircraft.
This involved pulling down some trees and lamp-poles on the road beyond the approach end, flying the crew in a helicopter down the approach so they could hover there to study the view they would have from the aircraft, but also going round Byfleet to explain to the citizens that there would be an aircraft flying low over their neighborhood and that this should not pose any danger, all was under control. Many questions were asked by the insurance company: would there be a fire crew available? Yes, they would be there. Would there be police to control the crowd? Yes again, and for the same reason as the fire crew: they wanted to see this event with their own eyes! And so it happened that on 6th July 1987 the VC10 flew its last ever flight from Heathrow to Brooklands, first performing a fly-by and after this touching down smoothly on the same runway it left 23 years before. It met with a tremendous reception, with Sir George Edwards amongst the invited guests, and to this day the aircraft is still appreciated at this historic site.
To read more about the arrival of A4O-AB, as seen from the flightdeck by Captain Richard King, see here: The first and last VC10 flight of Captain Richard King.
In 1991 a request was received to remove the registration A4O-AB from the airframe. Up until that point the aircraft was still registered in Oman, but the Sultan wanted to be able to use the markings on a new aircraft and so in December 1991 the registration was painted over on the VC10.
From 1998 on the Brooklands Museum Summer Project made it possible to get a lot of restoration work done on the outside of the aircraft. For more info on the project have a look here. Since then the VC10 has also had some worse days, as in 1999 a large crack was discovered in the left main undercarriage which needed repairing. To add a further indignity, the fall of 2000 saw the river Wey burst its banks and this left the VC10 in a large pool of water as can be seen from the photo below. Fortunately the undercarriage was repaired in 2002, for the full story visit this page. In 2004 developments at the museum meant that the Vanguard and VC10 had to be moved inside the museum grounds, this page shows how they crossed the river Wey.
For the curious: What does a Sultan buy after donating a VC10? A Boeing 747SP of course, have a look here for an impression.
Small note: In December 2006 a visitor pointed out that the official prefix for Omani registrations is A4O- and not A40- as I had been using. The difference is in the letter 'O' instead of the number zero. All the registrations listed here should now be correct as set down in ICAO Annex 7.
1. In 1966 the movie 'Born Free' was released in which G-ASIX plays a small part. In this shot a BUA VC10 can be seen, this may be 'IX. A dynamic take off shot of a BUA VC10 followes this scene.
1. G-ASIX parked, seen in the second BUA scheme of a
blue/sandstone cheatline over white.
1. Undergoing maintenance at Gatwick in 1969.
1. The VC10 parked next to another Royal Flight aircraft: a
Gulfstream G-II registered as A4O-AA.
1. A4O-AB on approach to land at Zurich-Kloten Airport on 15 February 1981.
1. Arrival at Brooklands: the aircraft first performed a flypast
with gear and flaps still up.
shots of A4O-AB taken at Brooklands in 1999.
back end of a VC10.
flight deck of A4O-AB. In the center are the two Inertial Navigation Systems
that were put in during its time with the Sultan of Oman Royal Flight.
1. Two bedrooms, the rear one being shown here, are situated on
the right-hand side, behind the forward lounge. Both bedrooms have twin beds
with safety belts!