A Brief History…


Based at Southend from Feb 1979 to Sep 2002

The uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking that Heavylift was a Southend based airline, especially if the amount of time that this company’s aircraft spent at Southend is taken into consideration. While Heavylift operated very few commercial flights from or to SEN due to its short runway, this Stansted based cargo airline nevertheless, made effective use of both the airport and its rather large engineering facility that once housed the likes of Aviation Traders. Indeed, from February 1979, when Heavylift moved its engineering base to the airport, up until around the turn of the century, it was rare for a month to go by without seeing at least one of its aircraft, somewhere on the airfield. However, even though commercial services were rare, from time to time its aircraft would fly vehicles and spares to the airport on behalf of the Ford Motor Company based at Dagenham.

It was in March 1979 that this company purchased the first of its large aircraft from the RAF – six Short Belfast freighters, most of which would be converted into civilian aircraft capable of carrying oversized cargo. Five of these aircraft were almost immediately transferred from their RAF base to SEN while the remaining airframe which was not airworthy, was broken up in situ for spares. Four Belfasts were quickly turned around, with one being used as a test aircraft, while the other three would go on to enter service with Heavylift. Needless to say, the test aircraft and G-OHCA, the spares aircraft would become something of a permanent fixture on the eastern perimeter of the airport until the mid-1990s when they were finally scrapped for parts.

While Heavylift’s Belfasts were certainly the most prominent visitors to SEN, other types could often be seen at the airport. Most common were their L-100s, B707s and CL-44s (including the rather curious looking Conroy Skymonster) while a one off visit was made by one of their wide-bodied A300s too. That said, despite having a large fleet of their own to service and maintain, the Heavylift hangar would also provide various airlines worldwide with their engineering services to the delight of many an aviation enthusiast. During the 80s, common types included Vanguards, Viscounts, Britannias and CL-44s while during the 90s an ever increasing number of classic jet liners would make themselves evident, especially towards the very end of the 90s when one could be mistaken for believing that SEN had become a huge parking lot for the developing world’s 707s!

Yet despite such clear evidence of Heavylift’s engineering prowess, within the space of just a few short years, it was forced into administration, having become one more victim of the 9/11 downturn which had already claimed several, well known names that had previously made Southend their home. By September 2002, it was all over and this company closed its doors for the final time, although this would not mean the closure of the facility itself – a company called ‘Britavia’ eventually stepping in to take over the hangars, workshops and a good number of Heavylift’s former customers.