Silver City

Silver City B170 G-AWNM

Operated from Dec 1946 to Dec 1962

Main Bases – Lympne, Lydd and Hurn

Founder/Director – Air Comm. Griffith ‘Taffy’ Powell, Mr J.V. Govett and Mr W.S. Robinson

It goes without saying that for many, the ‘Silver City’ name will forever be associated with the cross-Channel, car ferry services that it both pioneered and operated from 1948-1962. Indeed, while others would attempt to emulate its success, no other airline would come close to matching the number of crossings or the vast amount of passengers or cars that it would ultimately transport back and forth to the Continent.

Started by Air Commodore ‘Taffy’ Powell in 1945 as British Aviation Services, the company initially concerned itself with technical support, although G-AOBNin 1946 it began providing charter and freight services to the ‘Zinc Corporation’ which had several mines in Australia. To reflect its new remit the name ‘Silver City’ emerged, stuck and became part of the BAS Group; this new airline commencing flights to Australia from Gatwick in October 1946. Equipped with DC-3 and Avro York equipment, Silver City would go on to participate in the Berlin Airlift and the transport of a large number of refugees from India during 1947 and in attempts to increase payloads, this would witness the introduction of the first Bristol Freighter – an aircraft that would become synonymous with this airline.

As with many good ideas that were first nurtured and then realised due to necessity or an obvious gap in the market, the car ferry emerged as the brainchild of ‘Taffy’ Powell himself who came to the conclusion that ifG-AIMH he modified an existing Bristol Freighter, he could easily transport his own vehicle across the water on yet another of his beloved, European driving jaunts. Bristol 170 G-AVGC was summarily put into service on June 15th 1948 and thus the car ferry service was born. Lympne was to be the airfield of choice, being close to the Channel and less than 30 minutes flying time from most of the coastal airfields of France, although a number of services would operate from other airfields such as its Southend-Ostend service that operated for a short period during the spring of 1952. However by 1953, the grass airfield at Lympne could no longer sustain the kind of traffic that was now using it. So, during the summer of 1954, Silver City would eventually move to Lydd ‘Ferryfield’ a site that had been purpose built for the airline. In the meantime however, this company would base itself at other airfields, one of which included Southend.

By the early 1950s, Silver City had 8 x Mk21 and 21E Bristol Freighters in its fleet although a number of these were leases. However in 1953 and with a new base waiting in the wings, these would slowly be replaced with the longer nosed, Mk32 Superfreighter which could carry 3 rather than the 2 B170 G-AMWBcars that the Mk21 and 21E was limited to. In 1958, the number of aircraft had more than doubled with 19 Superfreighters now plying their trade, to and fro across the water and as a result, daily crossings for each aircraft sometimes entered double figures. While ferry flights were Silver City’s forte, it would haul almost anything that could be lifted. Outsized cargo, theatrical equipment, racing cars and livestock were just some of the payloads carried over the years. A number of passenger flights were also carried out with other aircraft that were in its inventory such as De Havilland Doves and Herons, the odd C-47 and later in 1959, six Handley Page Hermes airliners that would be used on charter flights from Britain’s larger airports.

The success of Silver City lie in its cheap, short flights, however, to compete with the seaborne cross-Channel ferry services, prices needed to be keptSilver City Heron G-AOZM extremely low. Margins were already tight, especially if a car or several passengers failed to show and thus by the turn of the 60s, while business was booming, in attempts to remain competitive, profits began to plummet. Other car ferry services such as the ‘Air Bridge’ service operated by Air Charter Ltd at Southend were also starting to bite, creaming off much of the population north of the Thames who simply found it easier to drive to Southend rather than negotiating their way through London before making their way down to Lydd. Eventually, a series of mergers and reorganisations would see Silver City becoming part of the huge BUA group who now also owned Channel Air Bridge.

Rumours of an impending merger would soon be all but confirmed when at the end of October 1962, several Silver City aircraft began operating to Southend on the cross-Channel routes. B170 G-AMWB began this period on the 28th with G-AMWC & G-ANWJ turning up on the 29th and G-AMWA & G-ANWN on Nov 1st, while from this point on C-47 G-AOBN would fly passenger only flights to and from Ostend or ferry passengers in from Lydd over the coming few days. As such, the B170 flights would continue on and off up until the beginning of December, by which time most Silver City car-ferry flights had ceased. Meanwhile, Southend based G-APAU was later dispatched to Lydd to work on Silver City services. With two car ferry services on their books, both were inevitably absorbed into one new airline and on January 1st 1963 British United Air Ferries emerged, its main base being located at Southend. Although Silver City’s aircraft were subsequently transferred to BUAF’s ownership, the aircraft themselves would for the most, remain at their original bases from where they would continue flying cross-Channel services under this new guise.

Silver City fleet from 1947-1962

Airspeed Consul

G-AHRK – 6/46 to 2/49

(Sold in Spain)

G-AIBF – 7/46 to 2/54

(WFU and B/U Blackbushe 2/54)

G-AIUS – 3/54 to 6/58

(Sold)

Avro Lancastrian

G-AHBT – 8/46 to 6/47

(Sold to Skyways)

G-AHBV – 10/46 to 5/48

(Sold to AIRC Ltd)

G-AHBW – 10/46 to 1/48

(Sold in Australia)

Percival Proctor

G-ALFB – 4/49 to 6/51

(Sold in Algeria)

De Havilland Dragonfly

G-AEWZ – 7/50 – 5/60

(Sold – V.H Bellamy)

De Havilland Dragon Rapide

G-AKOE – 10/57 to 2/58

(Sold – Hants and Sussex Aviation)

De Havilland Dove

G-AIWF – 1/48 to 11/51

(Sold – CAS South Africa)

G-AKJG – 10/47 to 3/51

(Sold in Southern Rhodesia)

G-AKJP – 12/48 to 1/51

(Sold – Iraq Petroleum Ltd)

G-AOYC – 2/59 to 1/62

(To BUA – To Moreton Air Services 4/64)

Douglas C-47 Dakota

G-AIRG – 11/46 to 3/48

(Sold to Burma Corporation)

G-AIRH – 10/46 to 10/48

(Sold to Africair)

G-AIWC – 4/58 to 2/62

(Sold to Sabena)

G-AJAU – 11/46 to 10/47

(Sold to Malayan Airways)

G-AJAV – 1/47 to 9/50

(Sold to GEC USA)

G-AJZD – 2/48 to 3/48

(Sold to British Nederland)

G-AKNB – 12/59 to 1/62

(To BUA)

G-ALFO – 2/47 to 12/50

(Sold to Standard Industries USA)

G-ALPN – 11/59 to 1/62

(To BUA)

G-AMJU – 3/58 to 1/62

(To BUA)

G-AMPZ – 3/62 to 11/62

(To BUA)

G-AMWV – 10/57 to 1/62

(To BUA)

G-AMYV – 4/53 to 11/62

(To BUA)

G-AMYX – 4/53 to 1/62

(To BUA)

G-AMZB – 10/57 to 1/62

(To BUA)

G-ANAE – 10/57 – 1/62

(To BUA)

G-ANLF – 10/57 to 9/61

(Sold to Sabena)

G-AOBN – 10/57 to 11/62

(To BUA)

Breguet Deux Ponts

G-AGVC – 6/53 to 6/62

(DBR Isle of Man)

Bristol Freighter Mk21 and 21E

G-AVGB – 4/54 to 2/57

(To CIE Transport)

G-AHJI – 12/55 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU SEN 10/64 and B/U 11/65)

G-AHJP – 3/51 to 11/53

(Sold in France)

G-AICS – 6/52 to 2/58

(Crashed Nr Bolton)

G-AIFM – 10/57 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 10/63 and B/U at SEN 10/64)

G-AIFV – 6/53 to 10/61

(WFU Lydd and B/U 5/62)

G-AIME – 11/50 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 10/63 and B/U SEN 5/64)

G-AIMH – 4/52 to 10/62

(WFU Lydd and B/U 5/63)

Bristol Superfreighter Mk32

G-AMWA – 5/54 – 1/63

(To BUAF – Crashed Guernsey 9/63)

G-AMWB – 4/56 – 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 3/68 and B/U 4/68)

G-AMWC – 8/57 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 10/64 and B/U 4/67)

G-AMWD – 8/57 to 1/63

(To BUAF – To CIE Transport)

G-AMWE – 8/57 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 12/65 and B/U 4/67)

G-AMWF – 8/57 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 10/67 and B/U 3/68)

G-ANWG – 6/54 to 5/61

(To BUAF – To CIE Transport)

G-ANWH – 7/54 to 10/61

(To BUAF – To CIE Transport)

G-ANWI – 7/54 to 6/61

(To BUAF – To CIE Transport)

G-ANWJ – 9/56 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 3/68 and B/U 7/70)

G-ANWK – 7/56 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU Lydd 10/69 and B/U 8/70

G-ANWL – 7/56 to 11/61

(Crashed on Guernsey)

G-ANWM – 4/57 to 1/63

(To BUAF – WFU and B/U Lydd 10/70)

G-ANWN – 4/57 to 1/63

(To BUAF – To CIE Transport)

De Havilland Heron

G-AOZM – 4/57 to 12/59

(Sold – Aircraft Leasing)

G-AOZN – 2/57 to 11/59

(Sold – Aircraft Leasing)

Handley Page Hermes

G-ALDG – 10/59 to 10/62

(WFU Gatwick – Fuselage preserved at Duxford)

G-ALDI – 9/59 to 10/62

(WFU and B/U Stansted)

G-ALDP – 6/59 to 10/62

(WFU and B/U Stansted)

G-ALDU – 7/59 to 10/62

(WFU and B/U Stansted)

G-ALDX – 8/59 to 11/59

(WFU and B/U Blackbushe)

Silver City generally leased a large number of the aircraft above before later purchasing them outright. They also leased a number of additional aircraft although they have not been listed here.

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Many thanks from the SAAD Admin Team.