BAC Weybridge – The Abandoned Vickers Airplane Factory

The BAC Weybridge factory in Surrey, England was built in the 1960s as the final assembly building for the VC10 airplane built by Vickers and BAC. Weybridge at that time was home to some of the heavyweights of the British aviation industry with an airfield built at the Brooklands motor racing circuit. The 2.75-mile (4.43 km) track was built in 1907 as the world’s first purpose-built banked racing circuit. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway followed two years later. The racing track was used as a runway as flying grew in popularity and in 1909, an aerodrome was built at Brooklands.

Brooklands Racing Circuit
The banking of the Brooklands Racing Circuit can still be seen today.

Weybridge became the largest aircraft manufacturing centre in Britain by 1918 with Vickers-Armstrong producing both military and civilian aircraft there. Hawker, Blériot and Martinsyde also had factories at Brooklands. The Hawker Hurricane, which was deemed instrumental to victory in the Battle of Britain, first flew at Brooklands on 6 November 1935. By that year, Vickers-Armstrongs was the third-largest manufacturing employer in Britain. The aircraft factories in the area became vital to the war effort. Despite being heavily camouflaged during World War II, the Vickers factory was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 4 September 1940 which resulted in the death of 90 aircraft workers. The Hawker factory was bombed two days later without major damage or any loss of life.

Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane was instrumental to the RAF forces in World War II.

After the war, Vickers-Armstrong bought the entire Brooklands site and began extensive expansion. Production of the VC10 began in 1960, the same year that Vickers-Armstrong merged with English Electric Aviation Ltd and the Bristol Aeroplane Company to become the British Aircraft Corporation or BAC. The new company’s head office was initially at what became known as BAC Weybridge before moving to the top floors of the 100 Pall Mall building in the City of Westminster, London. The first VC10 was rolled out of the factory on 15 April 1962 and had its maiden flight 2 months later.

The Vickers VC10 was built at BAC Weybridge
A Vickers VC10 operated by BOAC at London Heathrow airport.

The Vickers VC10 was designed for long-range flight, with BOAC the main operator of the aircraft . Capable of operating long-range on shorter runways and in hot and arid conditions in Africa, the VC10 was hailed for its performance which included the fastest London to New York flight on any sub-sonic airliner, a record held until February 2020 when it was beaten by a British Airways Boeing 747 during Storm Ciara. The quad rear engine design of the VC10 has been used only in a small number of aircraft and gave the plane a striking appearance. Sales of the VC10 were not as expected though and only 54 were built, with BOAC, British United Airways, East African Airways and Ghana Airways the only customers.

BOAC (which later merged into what is now British Airways) began to retire their fleet in 1974 and by 1981, they had none left in service. High fuel consumption following the oil crisis of 1973 was ultimately what caused the downfall of the VC10. The huge BAC Weybridge factory at Brooklands went on to manufacture the BAC TSR.2, One-Eleven and major assemblies for Concorde but it failed to recover from the disappointing initial sales of the VC10. When Concorde sales were also below target, the factory began to contract and in 1977, BAC was nationalised to form part of British Aerospace. The Weybridge factory became a manufacturing plant for aviation components. One of the hangars was emptied and used as a studio to film the 1980s cult classic Flash Gordon.

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