There is more to life than airplanes, Part 4

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The prototype of the Britten-Norman Islander at the 26e Salon international de l’aéronautique et de l’espace, Le Bourget, Paris, June 1965. RuthAS, via Wikipedia

Greeting, my reading friend. Are we ready to blow some air, hot or cold or whatever? No reaction? Blowing air, a whale, hovercrafts? Still no reaction. Sigh. You’re no fun. Anyway, let us begin. As was mentioned in Part 1 of this article, the small British aircraft maker Britten-Norman Limited was experiencing serious financial problems as of 1971. As we both know, it went into receivership around October. As a result, the company became Britten-Norman (Bembridge) Limited in November.

Unconfirmed reports published in August 1972 stated that the Cartierville, Québec, aircraft maker Canadair Limited, a subsidiary of American defence giant General Dynamics Corporation, was partnering with the federal and Québec governments to purchase Britten-Norman (Bembridge). The relocation to Canada of the assembly line of the BN-2 Islander, a small twin engine commuter airliner, and of its larger modified 3 engine version, the Trislander, two aircraft first tested in June 1965 and September 1970, was being considered. This project soon fell apart. Fairey Group Limited finally won the prize in August 1972. This British group mentioned in a March 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee founded Fairey Britten-Norman Limited and moved the assembly line to the workshops of its Belgian subsidiary, Avions Fairey Société anonyme.

With your permission, yours truly will now pontificate on the Islander. Design of this airplane began in late 1963. Two British aircraft makers, F.G. Miles Engineering Limited and Westland Aircraft Limited, a company mentioned in an August 2017 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, provided a little assistance when the time came to build a prototype. Robust, reliable, economical and cheap, the “Land Rover of the skies,” as the Islander was sometimes called, proved so popular that Britten-Norman was forced to find partners to produce all the airplanes on order. In 1968, it signed a deal with a government owned company in Romania, a country behind the Iron Curtain. Întreprinderea de Reparaţii Material Aeronautic assembled at least some Islanders using components shipped from the United Kingdom. Întreprinderea de Avioane Bucureşti, as it became before turning into Romaero Societate pe Acţiuni, in the early 1990s, when privatised, soon produced complete airplanes. British Hovercraft Corporation also signed a deal with Britten-Norman to make Islanders.

National Aero Manufacturing Corporation, a subsidiary of Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation, produced some Islanders under licence during the 1970s. The government of the Philippines had formed Philippine Aerospace Development to develop a national aerospace industry.

By the second half of the 1970s, Fairey Group was in trouble. As a result, Fairey Britten-Norman went into receivership, in August 1977. In 1978 or 1979, a well-known Swiss arms manufacturer, Werkzeugmaschinenfabrik Oerlikon, Bührle & Company, bought the production rights of the Islander as well as workshops in the United Kingdom to continue production. One of its subsidiaries, Pilatus Flugzeugwerke Aktiengesellschaft, became the parent company of Pilatus Britten-Norman Limited. Acquired from Oerlikon-Bührle Holdings Limited in 1998 by a private British investment firm, Litchfield Continental Limited, the aircraft maker became the property of an American company involved in environmental activities, in 1999. Having acquired Biofarm Societate pe Acţiuni, a Romanian manufacturer of food and homeopathic products, Global Spill Management Incorporated changed its name to Biofarm Incorporated.

Britten-Norman Limited, a new name adopted with the change of ownership, went into receivership in the spring of 2000. An Omani businessman bought the company and gave it a new name, B-N Group Limited. This British aircraft maker was still active as of the spring of 2018.

By August 2016, close to 1 180 Islanders, both civilian and military, had been made in the United Kingdom, Romania, the Philippines and Belgium. At one time or another, these aircraft flew with more than 500 civilian and military operators in 120 countries. And yes, a number of Islanders have flown and continued to fly in Canada as late as 2018. In production more or less continuously for more than 50 years, the Islander is one of the most successful feederliners in history. The Trislander proved rather less popular than its sibling, with little more than 80 examples completed.

This being said (typed?), a trio of Trislanders counted for a time among the oddest looking aircraft in Canada. Used to conduct geological surveys, these machines belonged to Questor Surveys Limited of Brantford or Toronto, Ontario. They came to Canada around 1975, a couple of years before an Australian company, Aerodata Holdings Limited, acquired their owner. One of Trislanders was lost in March 1980, while the other 2 left Canada around March and July 1990. Both of them lost their sophisticated survey equipment and strange appearance at some point after that. One of the Trislander’s final users, in the 2010s, was apparently a small airline based in New Zealand, Great Barrier Airlines Flight Operations Limited. The other airplane remained airworthy until at least 2012. Its owner at the time was a small Filipino airline, PinoyAir.

Would you believe that close to 20 (airworthy?) Islanders could be found in the Canadian civil aircraft register as of early 2018? One of these is the 7th airplane produced, back in 1967. It is one of the oldest Islanders in service anywhere in the world. As such, it might be worth collecting some day, before it’s too late. Just sayin’.

As you undoubtedly know, dedicated cinephile that you are, my reading friend, an Islander suffered a terrible fate at the hand of James Bond, the internationally known secret agent, an oxymoron if there ever was one, in the somewhat disappointing 2015 blockbuster movie Spectre. Apologies for the spoiler, and that’s it for now. Well, almost. Before I set you free, I wish to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs. See you later.

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Rénald Fortier