Liverpool and Charlie Fox

Our Bristol Britannia airliner, Charlie Fox, has an important connection with Liverpool. The airline that it flew with, British Eagle, had a base at Liverpool Speke Airport from 1964 to 1968, and Britannias, including Charlie Fox, were regularly seen on the apron and on maintenance in the hangar.

Starways started at Speke in 1948 as a charter operation, but expanded during the 1950s to fly summer holiday flights to the South of France using DC-3 Dakotas. They later acquired larger DC-4 Skymasters, and operated a scheduled service from Liverpool to London. By 1963 the airline was struggling, after negotiations was acquired by British Eagle, forming a new company on 31st December 1963 - British Eagle International (Liverpool) Ltd.

The new company was a major expansion for British Eagle, as it gave it a network of regional scheduled services in the North West as well as several local tour operators. What was a struggling local employer now had the support of a large national airline.

A maintenance base was set up in Number 1 Hangar at Speke, which is now the David Lloyd fitness centre, and domestic and international services from Liverpool were improved and expanded. Over 400 people were employed in the maintenance department alone. On the first operational day of the new company, 1st January 1964, a Britannia was used on the Liverpool to London service. There was a great improvement in comfort for passengers, and it was half an hour faster than the Dakotas that had previously been used on this route.

Two weeks after the formation of the Liverpool company, British Eagle added another Britannia to its fleet - namely Charlie Fox, which is now being restored on the apron at Speke. It became the first Britannia to be converted to carry cargo, by the addition of large freight door and a strengthened floor. This was done at Heathrow, but later conversions were done in the hangar at Speke. The conversion meant that it could carry either 132 passengers or 16,500 kg of freight, or a combination of both. The conversion was finished in July 1964, and Charlie Fox made its first visit to Liverpool on 4th August 1964, with the name 'New Frontier' proudly painted on its nose. This configuration made ideal for the Minstry of Defence (MoD) contract to transport staff and equipment from the UK to the missile range at Woomera in Australia.

British Eagle went into financial difficulties at the end of 1968, and ceased operations. Over its four years of operations at Liverpool, it played a significant part in the development of facilities at the airport, including a runway extension in 1966, and introduced a higher standard of comfort in air travel nationally. Many local celebrities flew from Liverpool Speke by British Eagle, including the Beatles, and the then Liverpool mayor, Ethel Wormald.

This was not the end of the story for Charlie Fox and Liverpool. After the demise of British Eagle, Charlie Fox was the first of several Britannia sold to Monarch Airlines, which was formed in 1967 as the charter airline division of tour operator Cosmos. Monarch resumed the MoD Woomera contract, but Charlie Fox was used on other charters when available. It visited Liverpool on several occasions between 1970 and 1979, with Monarch and later Invicta, transporting components for the Ford Motor Company.

Charlie Fox made its last flight in 1980, and was stored in sections at various locations until 2007, when it joined the growing band of preserved aircraft on the historic apron next to the former terminal building, now the Crowne Plaza Hotel.