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  Aircraft History, Specification and Information
Bristol 170 Freighter / Wayfarer
Bristol 170 Freighter - C-GYQS - Hawkair Aviation
1952 Bristol 170 Freighter (Mk 31) - C-GYQS (sn 13060)
Hawkair Aviation
Photo taken Sep. 04, 2001
Terrace, BC - Canada (YXT / CYXT)
Photo © Marcel Siegenthaler

The Bristol Type 170 Freighter was a British twin-engine aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company as both a freighter and airliner, although its best known use is as an air ferry to carry cars and their passengers over relatively short distances.

Design and development

The Bristol Type 170 was designed to Air Ministry Specifications 22/44 and C.9/45 originally as a rugged, heavy-duty transport to operate from unimproved airstrips. After the end of the Second World War the design was adapted by the Bristol Chief Designer A.E. Russell and his design team as a rugged, heavy-duty aircraft. It was an all-metal, twin-engine high-wing monoplane and built without the use of expensive alloys and with a minimum of machined parts. The square-sectioned fuselage was designed to be clear of internal obstructions. The flight deck was high in the fuselage nose, accessed via a ladder.

The Freighter was a somewhat bulbous and cumbersome-looking aircraft. Like the more slender prewar Bombay, it was a high-wing monoplane with fixed undercarriage, the main gear legs supported by substantial vertical struts beneath the Bristol Hercules radial engines and horizontally from the lower edge of the (slab-sided) fuselage. The cockpit sat atop the forward fuselage, with two large clamshell doors in the nose, making the unpressurised fuselage somewhat breezy; one Kiwi pilot claimed his charge was "40 thousand rivets flying in close formation."

The prototype, registered G-AGPV, first flew at Filton on 2 December 1945; it was an empty shell without nose doors.

Operational history

The second prototype and the first 34-seat Wayfarer, registered G-AGVB, first flew on 30 April 1946, and began proving flights in the colours of Channel Islands Airways. It carried over 10,000 passengers in under six months. The third aircraft, registered G-AGVC, was the first Freighter I and had fully operating nose doors. After a number of demonstration flights around the world, the Bristol 170 entered full production. One of the first sales was to the Argentine Air Force, which ordered 15 aircraft.

The managing director of Silver City Airways was Wing Commander Griffith James Powell, who realised that he could adapt the Bristol Freighter to fly passengers with their cars from Britain to Continental Europe and Jersey. This "air ferry" would allow Britons on holiday to avoid lengthy waits for the sea ferries. On the 14 July 1948, the airline made the first flight with a car, from Lympne Airport in Kent to Le Touquet on the northern coast of France.

In 1953, production of the freighter was moved to Weston-super-Mare. An elongated version, the Freighter 32, was introduced which featured movable wooden partitions in the cargo compartment. It could be configured to carry either three 14 foot cars and 20 passengers or two large size American cars and 12 passengers, the passenger seats being in the rear section of the fuselage. Silver City Airways dubbed this variant the Superfreighter and subsequently built an airport named "Ferryfield" at Lydd in Kent, beginning air ferry services in 1955. In the same year, Channel Air Bridge started operations from Southend, with four Bristol Freighters flying to Calais.

The last two freighters of the 214 built were delivered in 1958, one to New Zealand in February and the last aircraft to Dan-Air in March 1958. The New Zealand aircraft was delivered to SAFE, who eventually operated one of the largest fleets of Freighters. One of the elongated aircraft, registered G-AMWA, had 60 seats fitted and was known as a Super Wayfarer.

Other civil uses

In New Zealand SAFE Air (Straits Air Freight Express) moved rail freight from Wellington (the North Island) to Blenheim (the South Island) and back, using Bristol Freighters reconfigured to accept palletised cargo loaded on patented "cargons." This was a first anywhere in the aviation world.

Cargons were loaded near the rail yards and their load was calculated and arranged to remain within the aircraft's load and centre of gravity limits. They were then trucked to the airport and placed on the Freighter using a mechanical loading device. The loader accepted cargons from horizontal-tray road vehicles and then raised them to the level of the aircraft's cargo deck on electrically-powered screw-jacks. The pallets could then be rolled into the nose of the aircraft. Other adaptations allowed the carrying of horses and other high-value large animals.

Freighters were the major link between the Chatham Islands and the rest of the world until Armstrong Whitworth Argosys replaced them. SAFE Air developed a 'container' for the half of the aircraft given over to passengers on these flights.

Military uses

In military service, Bristol Freighters were operated by the air forces of Argentina, Australia, Burma, Canada, Iraq, Pakistan and New Zealand. Bristol Freighters were operated briefly by the Pakistan Air Force. Some of their aircraft were bought by SAFE Air and used in New Zealand.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force ordered 12 Mk 31M Freighters in the late 1940s. RNZAF Freighters ranged as far as supplying the New Zealand Army in Malaya, the British High Commissions (and other support staff) in the Maldives, Ceylon, India and Nepal, performing FEAF tasks in Malaya (often when other aircraft types were unserviceable owing to maintenance problems) and Hong Kong. They ran a highly reliable military shuttle service for allies in Thailand during the Vietnam War and served several other roles, being adapted for—amongst other things—aerial top dressing experiments, although to avoid competition with private enterprise, the NZ government did not use them in that role.


  • On 4 July 1946, Bristol Freighter 170 registration G-AHJB, flying from Bathurst (Banjul)-Jeshwang to Natal (2970km., 1845mi.) on a delivery flight to Argentina, was forced to ditch owing to fuel shortage probably caused by faulty navigation. The crew were rescued by an American steamship with no fatalities.
  • On 27 February 1958, a Silver City Bristol Freighter on a charter flight from the Isle of Man to Manchester crashed through navigation error on Winter Hill, Lancashire; 35 passengers were killed.
  • On 12 June 1967, a Bristol 170 Freighter 31E, registration EI-APM, operated by Irish charter/freight airline Aer Turas, crashed on landing at Dublin on a flight from Prestwick (Scotland). Both crew members were killed when the aircraft crashed into airport buildings while attempting an overshoot.

Final days

The New Zealand Freighters were retired from military use when replaced by Hawker Siddeley Andovers in the 1970s. After retirement, a number of smaller local operators briefly flew Freighters. Some were exported to Canada. A SAFE Air Freighter is preserved in taxiable condition at Blenheim and another at the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum in Christchurch. A third is on display at Founders Historical Park in Nelson, and a fourth is being restored at Ardmore near Auckland. Other Freighter airframes around New Zealand now serve as novelty tea-rooms, backpacker hostels, and motel rooms, such as ex NZ5906 (c/n 13059) in Otorohanga.

One Freighter was in service in turn with British Ministry of Supply (G-AIMI then WB482), the RAAF (A81-1) and subsequently went into commercial use in Australia until 1978 after which it went on to become a museum exhibit and was given over to the RAAF museum at Point Cook, Victoria, Australia in 1988.

Bristol freighter Mk 31M G-BISU (c/n 13218) was operated by Instone Airline at Stansted, Essex, UK, for a number of years. This was an ex-RNZAF aircraft and left Ardmore on 2 March 1981 for its 86-hour ferry flight to the UK, it subsequently flew its first charter flight on 3 August 1981 delivering two racehorses to Deauville. This role of flying livestock was to take up half a year while other work included carriage of oil drilling machinery, car parts, newspapers and mail. Re-registered as C-FDFC, in 1996 it crashed on takeoff with the crew escaping but was essentially a write-off. The captain - John Duncan - and co-pilot - Malcolm Cutter - reported that the aircraft entered a severe yaw after takeoff which was uncontrollable despite use of full opposite aileron and rudder control.

The last Freighter in service, which flew for Instone Airline then later returned to New Zealand, was bought from surplus by Hawkair in Terrace, British Columbia, Canada. In 2004, this aircraft undertook its final flight to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta.

An example of the Mark 31M, CF-WAE, ex Royal Canadian Air Force 9699, is displayed at the Western Canada Aviation Museum. It was last flown by Norcanair.


  • Freighter Mk I
    Utility transport Series I or Freighter with a strengthened floor and hydraulically operated nose doors.
  • Freighter Mk IA
    Mixed-traffic variant with 16-passenger seats
  • Freighter Mk IB
    Variant of Mk I for British European Airways
  • Freighter Mk IC
    Variant of Mk IA for British European Airways
  • Freighter Mk ID
    Variant of Mk IA for British South American Airways
  • Wayfarer Mk II
    Airliner (passenger variant) Series II or Wayfarer. Nose doors were omitted and additional windows were added.
  • Wayfarer Mk IIA
    Variant of Mk II with 32 seats
  • Wayfarer Mk IIB
    Variant of Mk IIA for British European Airways
  • Wayfarer Mk IIC
    Variant of Mk II with 20 seats and baggage hold
  • Freighter Mk XI
    Variant of Mk I with 108 ft (32.92 m) wing and extra tankage
  • Freighter Mk XIA
    Mixed-traffic version of Mk IX
  • Freighter Mk 21
    More powerful engined version
  • Freighter Mk 21E
    Convertible version of Mk 21 with 32 removable seats
  • Freighter Mk 31
    Variant of Mk 21 with larger fin
  • Freighter Mk 31E
    Convertible version of Mk 31
  • Freighter Mk 31M
    Military version of Mk 31 with provision for supply dropping
  • Freighter Mk 32
    Higher capacity version with fuselage lengthened by 5 ft (1.52 m)
  • Type 179 Freighter
    Unbuilt project. Twin-boom version. Not built
  • Type 179A Freighter
    Unbuilt project. The aircraft was intended to have an unswept tail and a ramp-loading door.
  • Type 216 Freighter
    Unbuilt project. Car ferry version. It was intended to be powered by two Roll-Royce Dart turboprop engines.


Civil operators

  • Argentina
    Argentine Civil Aeronautics Board
  • Australia
    Air Express
    Australian National Airways
    Brain & Brown Airfreighters
    Jetair Australia
    Trans Australia Airlines
  • Belgium
    Avions Fairey
  • Brazil
    Real Transportes Aéreos
  • Canada
    Associated Airways
    Central Northern Airways
    Maritime Central Airways
    North Canada Air
    Pacific Western Airlines
    Trans Canada Airlines
    Trans Provincial Airlines
  • Ecuador
    Shell Company of Ecuador
  • Ireland
    Aer Lingus
    Aer Turas
  • France
    Air Atlas
    Air Fret
    Air Outremer
    Cie Air Transport
    Cie des Transportes Aeriens Intercontinentaux
    Corse Air
    Societe Aerienne du Littoral
    Societe Indo Chinoise des Transportes Aeriens
    Transportes Aeriens Reunis
  • Germany
    Panavia Ltd
  • India
    Bharat Airways
    Dalmia Jain Airways
    Indian National Airways
  • Italy
    Societe Avio Transporti Torino
  • Laos
    Air Laos
  • Lebanon
    Middle East Airlines
  • New Zealand
    SAFE Air
  • Nigeria
    West African Airways Corporation
  • Rhodesia
    Central African Airways
  • Saudi Arabia
    Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Spain
  • South Africa
    Suidair operated one Bristol Wayfarer.
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
    Air Charter
    Air Ferry
    Air Kruise
    Aviation Traders
    BKS Air Transport
    British Air Ferries
    British European Airways
    British United Air Ferries
    Channel Air Bridge
    Channel Airways
    Channel Island Airways
    Hunting Aerosurveys
    Instone Airlines
    Manx Airlines 1947-1958
    Midland Air Cargo
    Ministry of Civil Aviation
    Silver City Airways
    Trans European Aviation
  • Vietnam
    Air Vietnam

Military operators

  • Argentina
    Argentine Air Force
  • Australia
    Royal Australian Air Force - Four in service from 1949 to 1967. They were used for transport duties in support of the Weapons Research Establishment, Woomera, South Australia. No. 34 Squadron RAAF / No. 1 Air Trials Unit / No. 2 Air Trials Unit
  • Burma
    Burmese Air Force
  • Canada
    Royal Canadian Air Force
  • Iraq
    Iraqi Air Force
  • New Zealand
    No. 1 Squadron RNZAF
    No. 3 Squadron RNZAF
    No. 41 Squadron RNZAF
    Transport Support Unit RNZAF
  • Pakistan
    Royal Pakistan Air Force
  • United Kingdom
    A&AEE Boscombe Down
    Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE)

Specifications (Freighter Mk 32)

General characteristics
Crew: 2
Length: 73 ft 4 in (22.4 m)
Wingspan: 108 ft 0 in (32.92 m)
Height: 25 ft 0 in (7.62 m)
Wing area: 1487 ft2 (138.13 m2)
Empty weight: 29,950 lb (13,404 kg)
Gross weight: 44,000 lb (19,958 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Bristol Hercules 734 14-cylinder sleeve-valve radial piston engine, 1,980 hp (1,476 kW) each each

Maximum speed: 225 mph (362 km/h)
Range: 820 miles (1,320 km)
Service ceiling: 24,500 ft (7,470 m)

Last updated May 25, 2012
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Bristol Freighter".
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