Bristol 170 Superfreighter Mk32 – c/n 13251

With Air Charter from Mar 1955 to Feb 1959

Given Name – ‘Valiant’

On March 25th 1955, G-ANVR arrived on lease to Air Charter, becoming its very first, brand new Mk32 Superfreighter, a plane that was a vast improvement on theHandover G-ANVR earlier Mk31 aircraft, by virtue of the fact that it could carry 3 cars rather than the standard 2. She was handed over to Freddie Laker personally after which she was quickly put into service on April 4th, flying the very first flight on the new ‘Air Bridge’ route to Calais, going on to complete 4 return trips on this most auspicious of days. By the end of the month, this number of daily trips had almost doubled although the arrival of sister ship G-ANVS during April eased her burden somewhat. As such, being the most efficient aircraft in the Bristol 170 fleet, the two larger Superfreighters would spend much of the rest of the summer, hauling loads of Continental bound tourists and their cars, backwards and forwards between Southend and Calais. 

However, other work would see ANVR and some of her sister ships making two trips to Le Touquet on the 15th and 16th of July, although it was highly likely that these were freight rather than ferry flights. While the planes were often flying 12 or 13 hours a day and the loads going out usually packed the aircraft to the gills, the return trips would often see them returning virtually empty. An example of this occurred on July 26th when the finally trip of the day saw Victor Romeo returning to SEN with just one bicycle, one tandem and two passengers. Needless to say, something needed to be done about this and as such, these Superfreighters would increasingly return to Southend with freight aboard. Another break from the monotony of cross-Channel trips came at the beginning of August when VR began to operate a series of flights between Southend and Rome via Marseilles, although invariably, this service would only last for a few weeks.

October 17th 1955 would witness the addition of a second destination to the ‘Air Bridge’ schedule, namely that of Ostend. However, with the summer clamour to escape to more Continental climes slowing to a crawl, VR would only make the odd trip to this coastal airport, before being closed down entirely by the end of the month. Victor Romeo would as such return to hauling cargo during the winter from Amsterdam, while making the occasional support trip to Lille and Wildenrath in support of ACL’s German contract. By the end of March 1956, ferry services were ready to resume and on the 29th, four aircraft (including VR) would make a total of 16 return trips between Southend and Calais/Ostend. As the season progressed, Calais would see the bulk of these services, the ratio being around 6:1, although by the end of July, this would increase to almost 8:1, when on the 29th, VR and her stable mates flew 54 return trips to Calais and 7 to Ostend.

Once more, the month of October would see services expanded further with the opening of Rotterdam Airport on the 1st. Laker wasted no time in getting his aircraft into service on this route although ACL would be pipped to the post by Channel Airways as far as inaugurating operations between Southend and Rotterdam were concerned. Three B170s would make this initial trip and while she would not be the first to land at Rotterdam, VR was the only aircraft carrying a car and thus, in essence, could claim the credit for opening the first, car ferry service to this new destination. Indeed, the introduction of Rotterdam brought with it daily flights which would even continue (although at a slower pace) through the winter for the first time. Such was the success of these services that two more Superfreighters would join the fleet at the beginning of 1957, giving ACL a total of 4 Mk32s and 3 of the smaller Mk31s, the former (including VR) given the primary task of maintaining the three car ferry routes.

The fleet would be expanded further still in 1957, with the addition of two more Superfreighters which arrived during the summer, while two of the three Mk31s would disappear into the ATEL hanger to undergo conversion to Mk32s. With the ever continuing success of these services, VR was finally purchased outright after having been on lease from Bristol for almost 3 years. So, in 1958, ACL found itself with 8 Mk32s ready to tackle the ever increasing number of cross-Channel passengers. However, freight would still be carried and in July, VR was one of five Superfreighters that hauled meat to the UK from Rotterdam after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. In fact, even when ferrying, Victor Romeo would often return to Southend loaded with goods of all shapes, sizes and smells.

In October 1958, a Russian trade delegation would make their way to the UK where they had purchased livestock and dogs for Russian farms. Victor Romeo was one of a number of B170s given the task of flying these animals as far as Rotterdam where they would continue the rest of their journey to Russia by train (to see a video of this event by clicking here). Later on December 10th, she flew to Rotterdam and returned to SEN with a load of laundry machines, while on the 23rd, she returned from the same destination loaded to the gills with flowers, clogs, fruit and textiles. Goods would often fly in the opposite direction too with VR freighting a load of furniture and musical instruments to Rotterdam on January 16th 1959.

“CAB Bristol 170 Freighter Mk-31 G-ANVR ‘’Vigilant’’ being loaded with two new Enfield Constellation motorcycles for the start of a continental holiday around the 1959/60 period. The rear bike is being loaded by Fred Lusby (Chief Loader) & he is being assisted by Frank McDonald to the rear (He was Fred’s No. 2).” – Peter Clark

For more on this aircraft’s post-1958 history, please see the menu CAB/BUAF/BAF/BWA – Bristol 170s


History of G-ANVR

3/55 to 2/59

Air Charter Ltd (purchased – 12/57)

2/59 to 1/63

Channel Air Bridge Ltd

1/63 to 10/67

British United Air Ferries

10/67 to 3/71

British Air Ferries

3/71 to 3/74

Sold to Midland Air Cargo


WFU, Baginton, Coventry – 1/73 and B/U – 3/74


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