In 1955, I was hired by Capital Airlines. I had just completed a 2 year job as a DC-3 and C-46 copilot for Zantop Air Transport flying in the US and in the far north of Canada in support of the Distant Early Warning (DEW Line) radar operation.
Capital Airlines took delivery of their first Viscount the day I was hired in June 1955. It was a beautiful plane sitting in the hangar and I said to myself that I didn't know that they were using in-line engines in airline aircraft. Little did I know that it was a turbine aircraft and that I would be flying copilot in this beautiful, fast machine in less than two years.
The initial delivery was for 3 aircraft and it took almost a year before additional new planes began to arrive at a rapid rate of a couple per month. It was an exciting time for everyone who worked for Capital since we were the only ones getting US delivery. The speed was faster than the DC-6B and we could almost keep up with the DC-7 until descent and we were limited to 238 kts and later to 233 kts whereas the DC-7 could indicate 405 kts!
There are many stories about the Viscount and while I was in school the first full motion simulator arrived from England and on a break we watched a contract company enter the hanger next to our classroom and place new cables around the machine and hook it up to the crane getting ready to lift the entire unit to the 3rd floor of the building where it would be permanently installed. The break was over and we returned to our classroom and about 30 minutes later we heard and felt a loud "THUD." Everyone knew what had happened and ran to the open bay, looked out and saw our new simulator laying on its side on the hangar floor, below! Needless to say it was ruined and needed to be sent back to England to be rebuilt.
The advertising for the Viscount was fantastic and used a large coin sitting on its edge to show the complete lack of vibration and the large windows. While the windows were larger than on other aircraft, they were placed too low and one would need to lean down to see out. Still the public loved to ride the new turbine powered aircraft.
Airline management has not changed much over the past 60 years and very poor decisions were made in the scheduling of the Viscount on Capital Airlines routes. Initially they flew from Washington, D.C. to Chicago Midway Airport and later from New York LaGuardia Airport to Midway. In good weather it would appear that we had the right plane for the right routes but in poor weather the plane had little reserve fuel and diversions could and did strand passenger in places they didn't want to be. Such scattering and delaying people caused the Viscount to gain a bad name.
On shorter routes such as the US east coast to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit the Viscount would shine and did capture more than their share of the total business. Many of those flights would continue on the Chicago and reliable service to Chicago with a 30 minute stop worked very well.
The Collins Integrated Flight System made the plane a pleasure to fly and precision approaches allowed us to land when other aircraft types had their hands full. We learned that on a standard day 16,000 ft was our optimum altitude and a standard +10 day that 14,000 ft would be our best speed altitude. Of course, we didn't always get our best speed altitude and had to accept the compromises. We loved the climb ability in the colder or winter weather and flying at 25,000 ft allowed us to take advantage of some good tailwinds.
I flew the Viscount for 7 years and 5,000 hours as a copilot. I was also fortunate to be one of 7 crews who were qualified on the three 805 series Viscounts that Capital Airlines leased from Continental Airlines. I lost a good friend in a fatal crash on Easter evening 1959 at Saginaw, Michigan . We found that an accumulation of ice on the horizontal stabilizer caused the controls to be sluggish and extending the flaps on approach made the plane uncontrollable and the nose would drop rapidly. This was confirmed by Vickers-Armstrong.
I have a number of stories associated with my flying the Viscount during the period 1956-1963 and will try to put some more together if you believe that anyone would be interested.
We noticed very little difference between the V745 and the V805 except that we did have a higher VMO which allowed us to almost keep up with the DC-7s on descent. We had the Collins FD-104 in our V745s and they had a FD-105 in the V805 which was just a bigger instrument. I can't remember if there was a difference in the fuel capacity but i the 800s burned more fuel with higher power engines. The differences were taught in a couple of hours and then one training flight. Handling characteristics were quite similar but we needed to watch the fuel flow and plan accordingly.
I have no idea as to why they changed from the oval doors to the squared off ones. It was a longer fuselage and they just probably had more room for that type of door.
The Capital cabin configuration was delivered with 44 seats. Later they removed one of the forward lavatories or coat room next to the forward entry door and placed a couple of seats facing aft in that location for a total of 46 seats. The Continental 800 series had 56 seats and we operated them that way since they needed to be returned in the same configuration.
In cold weather our climb performance was phenomenal and lots of fun to be able to make climb restrictions with ATC with ease. We used FL240 and FL250 frequently on the longer trips to take advantage of favorable winds up there on flights between MSP-DCA and MDW-NYC.
On the hot days we were using water/methanol which allowed us to run the fuel trim switches up higher to get more fuel to the engines without over temping them. After landing we would cut the outboard engines and needed to be very careful to keep the plane in the middle of the taxiway because of the limited clearance of the inboard props and strut extension was watched very carefully by both maintenance and pilots.
In order to check the hydraulic fluid quantity, it was necessary for the mechanic to pull a T-Bar located in the right side accessory panel. I remember one day at EWR after a normal arrival, the mechanic pulled the "T" Bar and the nose gear collapsed. He ran into operations and told the captain who took one look at it and said it was all right when I got out of it and I'm going home. Evidently, there was another problem that had not manifested itself until the head pressure was removed. I never did hear any more about that one.
I believe that Capital was the first airline that installed FREON air conditioning. It worked quite well but demanded lots of electrical current especially on the ground. The cold air would enter the cabin from the ducts near the passengers feet and it was quite alarming to many passengers who had not seen the white cold air rising and some even grabbed fire extinguishers to put out the fire! On the Viscount we had only curtain between the cockpit and the cabin. On hot days with the curtain pulled, we could look back and see only the passengers heads sticking out of the fog which covered the bottom of the cabin. The condition could be corrected almost immediately if we would just turn off one of the spill valves. With seasoned Viscount travellers it caused no concern and it was rather funny to look at such a picture!