Handley Page Hastings – coal, cod and the Cold War

By: shortfinals

Jun 11 2011

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, British Isles, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, RAF, Royal Air Force, Second World War, warbird


Focal Length:30mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

The Handley Page H.P. 67 Hastings was an anachronism. At a time when most other large four-engined transports were being designed with tricycle undercarriages, the Hastings betrayed its WW2 roots and stuck with the ‘taildragger’ conformation, which makes ground-handling trickier, and imposes stricter cross-wind limitations on landing. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Hastings the step-child of the excellent WW2 heavy bomber, the Handley Page Halifax. Immediately post-war, some of these had been converted to freighters, and others were modified as Handley Page H.P. 70 Haltons, a civil version aimed at rebuilding the pre-war air routes. Indeed, the Hastings uses so much WW2-era technology that the only surviving complete Halifax in the U.K., at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, used a set of Hastings wings in the rebuilding of  the composite aircraft (there is also a Halifax Mk.VII in Canada). The distance between inner and outer engines is slightly incorrect and there are other detail differences, but the composite Halifax still looks impressive. Also, there are so many smaller components which are common to aircraft of the Second World War, that a main hydraulic manifold from a Hastings will fit straight into an Avro Lancaster (a situation that the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight has exploited in the past!)

The Hastings was intended as a troop carrier and freighter, and the first flight of the prototype (TE580) took place on 7th May, 1946; its four Bristol Hercules 101 radials, each of 1,675 hp, producing a surprisingly high top speed of 342 mph. No. 47 Squadron, RAF, (motto, ‘Nili nomen roboris omen’ – ‘The name of the Nile is an omen of our strength’) was the first unit to operate the Hastings C. Mk 1 in September, 1948 and the squadron were immediately thrown into ‘Operation Plainfare’, the Berlin Airlift (June 1948 – May 1949). The not very glamorous, but absolutely vital, function of carrying coal into the beleaguered city was their main task, indeed, it was a Hastings that made the final flight into West Berlin on 6th October, 1949. Hastings aircraft were also used in combat, when No. 70 Squadron dropped paratroops on Port Said, Egypt, during the Suez Campaign of November 1956.

Inevitably, as newer transports started to come into service, examples of the Hastings were converted to specialist tasks. Sixteen converted C. Mk 1 became Hastings (Met) Mk 1 and were used for long-range weather reconnaissance by No. 202 Squadron from bases in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Even more interestingly, eight aircraft (seven C. Mk 1 and one (Met) Mk 1) were converted to Hastings T. Mk 5, by Airwork Ltd at Blackbushe Airport, Surrey. The T. Mk 5 was fitted with a very large under-fuselage radome, carrying an H2S Mk 9 radar and other components of the Navigation and Bombing System, a vital piece of equipment of the RAF’s new four-turbojet powered, atomic-capable, ‘V’ bombers (Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and the Vickers Valiant). Joining the Bomber Command Bombing School at RAF Lindholme (a satellite of RAF Finningley, which had Vulcans and Valiants based there), the T.5 could carry the bomb-aimers and navigators of three ‘V’ bomber crews at a time, during training sorties. With the amalgamation of Fighter Command and Bomber Command, this became Strike Command Bomber School in April, 1968. The T.5s were even used on reconnaissance sorties during the so-called Third ‘Cod War’ between Iceland and Great Britain from November 1975 to June 1976. The last Hastings were finally withdrawn from the Radar Flight of No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Scampton in June, 1977. Here we can see T.5, TG517, on display at Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire; strangely, no less than three of the four remaining Hastings are T.5s – out of a total of eight of this specialized variant, and a total production of 151 aircraft. A nose section (and several other major components) of one of four Hastings C. Mk 3 built for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, is preserved in the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT), in Auckland, New Zealand.

The Hastings suffered some unfortunate accidents, it is true, but its record was no worse than other transport aircraft of the period. In its long, 30 year, career, the Hastings covered the world and did everything from carrying bulk coal supplies to training ‘V’ Force navigators – a truly memorable aircraft.





7 comments on “Handley Page Hastings – coal, cod and the Cold War”

  1. An interesting aircraft and I cannot wait to see one for myself. Odd how the English kept conventional designs in their heavy bomber aircraft on the one hand though they led in aircraft carrier innovations on the other.


    • You are right! The Hastings was built to a 1944 specification, using end-of-war technology, and the prototype flew in 1946. Yet it survived long after the last Lancaster, Mosquito, Spitfire, and Sunderland were retired from military service. There is a very nice example in Germany, which I won’t be seeing this trip. However, I SHOULD be able to see, and photograph, the other two (out of the total of four – complete – survivors) during the upcoming road trip (Imperial War Museum – C.1A; RAF Museum, Cosford – another T.5).


    • The taildragger undercarriage was due to air ministry specification. The civil Hermes flew more than a year before the Hastings and had a nosewheel u/c.


  2. The Hastings was the *last* aircraft flown in by my father, whilst employed as an RAF national service engine mechanic during Operation Firedog in Malaya in the early 50s. I joined the RAF as an air communications and air radar apprentice in 1975 and was treated to an air experience flight in a Hastings of 230 OCU from RAF Scampton whilst undergoing basic recruit training at RAF Swinderby, making it the *first* aircraft I ever flew in as a member of the RAF!


    • The Hastings (in T.Mk 5 form) was used to train Bomber Command ‘V-crew’ navigators, as a flying classroom. Some were based at RAF Lindholm – a satellite of RAF Finningley, as you know – but they were long gone by the time I got there!


  3. I was an Air Engineer on the Hastings based at Lindholm between 1971 until 1973 when I left to go onto Nimrods. By this time we had moved to Scampton. The aircraft were used to train Nav Radars for the V Bomber fleet but we also trained Navigators for the Buccaneer used by the RAF in the low level role. We also had two Mk 1A aircraft which we used as transport aircraft under the the control of HQ 1Group based at Bawtry. A very enjoyable with such characters as Jacko Jackson.


    • I arrived at Finningley in 1992, and several items pertaining to Lindholm were still being held by our Admin Wing. The low-level navigation training role had been taken over by Hawks, by this time. I enjoyed my time at Finningley very much (close to my family).


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