US Special Events

SEP 05 2011
Special Events >> USA: N999BW - Classic Jet Tours' BAC1-11 Charter Flight

The company that operates the BAC1-11 in question, N999BW, Business Jet Access (BJA), was approached by Classic Jet Tours about running a special charter to allow enthusiasts to fly on this, all too rare, British airliner. In the end the 30-seat executive configured aircraft carried 21 happy passengers on a two-hour flight around Amarillo, the Palo Duro Canyon and along the Red River.

The idea behind this flight was an unusual one, as Sean Burris explains below. Surprisingly, Sean is only in 11th grade (16 years old) and will be applying to get accepted into a university next year. His high school counselor suggested that Sean should do something entrepreneurial to add to his resume, to better his chances of being accepted into a competitive business school, in order to pursue an MBA.

"Of course my mind immediately turned to aviation. Having always had a special interest in 1st and 2nd generation jet airliners, I have always longed to fly aboard them. With their dwindling numbers it has become increasingly challenging to do so. Having heard of Airevents enthusiast charters in Europe, I decided to bring a similar type of operation to the US as there are still a few classics plying our skies.

"So, with my father's guidance, I recorded my business name, Classic Jet Tours, I built a website, and then began looking for the right aircraft. I decided on the BAC due to the extremely small number of operational aircraft and the fact that the operator had an excellent website and seemed like they would be open to my unusual proposition.

"On August 27 we were graced with the presence of many great enthusiasts and it was a joy to meet them all. In hindsight, we may have been able to get better returns with a DC-8 flight (we have received an astounding number of requests from people asking us to organize a flight) and it may have been a better choice for our first endeavor. That said, the flight on Saturday was absolutely spectacular and I wouldn't change a thing about it. It was a phenomenal experience to be able to bring folks from around the world together on account of their one common interest."

The evening before I had arranged a sunset shoot of the aircraft as the next day, when the planned flight would take place, the heat would be fierce and the lighting harsh.

The majority of the 21 enthusiastic passengers came all the way from Europe, including the UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Greece and were joined by participants from the USA and Canada. One passenger was so excited that he wouldn't even step aboard the plane during the sunset shoot, saving his excitement for the flight.

On the day of the flight Business Jet Services, the fixed base operator side of BJA, escorted us to the approximate rotation point along the runway, and the owner, his son and the charter manager joined us. We could already tell that they were proud of their aircraft.

BAC1-11 Startup (2nd engine)

BAC1-11 Startup (2nd engine).

N999BW, construction number BAC.120, is unusual, as it has never seen airline service. It's a BAC1-11-419EP and was originally delivered to Engelhard Industries and later flew for Amway Corporation. The 400 Series of BAC1-11 was effectively a 300 Series aircraft manufactured specifically for the North American market, with different instrumentation and equipment, and was the most widely built of the short-fuselage versions. This aircraft has Spey Mk.511-14 engines fitted with Quiet Technology Stage 3 hush kits.

Richard Church, well known BAC1-11 historian and author of Air Britain's 'The One-Eleven Story', takes up the tale of the flight. "The forward door remained open so the characteristic scream of the starter motors on engine start could be heard. The One-Eleven provided an incredibly smooth and remarkably quiet flight (especially up front) throughout, as the type usually did. We were served bucks fizz or champagne in flight while a selection of biscuit-type snacks were available throughout."

Richard also gave us a little information regarding the remaining BAC1-11s operating passenger flights in Africa. Tombouctou Aviation, in Mali, which was the only other commercial operator of the type, has been forced to ground its two Series 475s and is now just left flying a Stage 3 hush-kitted TZ-BSB Series 401AK, c/n BAC.086. There is a remote possibility that one of its 475s, TZ-BSC Series 488GH c/n BAC.259, currently stored at Bucharest-Baneasa, could fly under Mali military marks.

While the flight took place I took the opportunity to chat with the owner of the operation, Robert Wright. Robert started in the flying business around 1987 with a single Falcon 20F and used this aircraft to add the very first EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrument System) into its cockpit in the USA.

BAC1-11 Take-off

BAC1-11 Take-off.

As time went by Robert was buying larger and larger aircraft until he reached Gulfstream-sized machines. He had heard of a BAC1-11 that was available and already kitted out with an executive interior via one of his friends. A company in Africa was already looking at this example, but Robert happened to be in Denver and flew to Oklahoma to view the aircraft and decided that he wanted it, offering cash up-front. At the time it was fitted with Stage 2 hush-kits and was also a low time aircraft at under ten thousand airframe hours. Another couple of examples were bought later on, with one being stripped for spares and the other later sold. Basically, owning the 1-11 was a happy accident.

Robert says the aircraft is very well built and, when flown regularly with proper maintenance, it usually flies with zero squawks. An unusual advantage for owning this type is that it will fit in a normal sized hangar, which for an airliner is very rare with its tail being shorter than a Gulfstream. It can also carry an insane amount of equipment as it has the storage capacity of an airliner; something that a biz jet can only dream of.

Sometimes there's push-back on charters because of the age of the aircraft, as risk management people will simply look at the age of an aircraft and not take into account flight hours, cycles or maintenance schedules, so occasionally age does hinder this aircraft, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

It has however found itself utilized for a number of interesting charters such as tours with Bon Jovi and Santana and even two US Presidents have used the 1-11 from time to time. Stars On Ice charted the aircraft for two years in a row, visiting 65 cities, and it never missed a connection. The crew was changed every two weeks and a maintenance guy would fly out to check it over. The only issue they had was that the vodka would always run out with the Russian skaters on board.

When asked about the future and if he would ever sell the aircraft, Robert explained, "It's an absolute joy to have", and "the pilots and crew love the aircraft. If the crew and maintenance guys didn't like it, I'd probably sell it, but as it stands I have to keep it, even though it might be a foolish move on my part.

"I've never found a pilot who flew the BAC that didn't love it."

BAC1-11 Taxi

BAC1-11 Taxi.

The day meant a lot to Robert who was clearly delighted to see everyone so happy to be on the flight, and he even took the opportunity to bring out his copy of Richard Church's book from his office to get the man himself to sign it.

Before the landing back at Love-Field the aircraft performed a go-around for the passengers, followed by a visual circuit, touching down one hour fifty-three minutes after take-off, and quite spectacularly holding up a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 at the hold because of the tight circuit it executed.

So what's it like to fly a BAC1-11? Talking to Ward Abbs, who was the captain for this flight, "The 1-11 is a very stable flyer, heavy on the ailerons, but very responsive and reliable." Ward's aviation background has included flying many different types, with quite a few being British built; Electra, DC-6, Metroliner, Dash 7, BAC1-11, Fokker 50, ATP and BAe146 being some of those in his logbook.

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