Fastest Non-Stop England-Australia Flight - 1987

VC10 ZA147

The year 1987 saw the 50th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the associated celebrations were the catalyst for a remarkable non-stop flight from the United Kingdom to Australia that set a world record that has stood for more than 25 years. The record flight was the first leg of a goodwill and defence sales demonstration tour that took in Canberra, New Zealand and, on the way home, Singapore and Bahrein.

On Wednesday, 8 April 1987 Vickers VC10 K3 air refuelling tanker ZA147 'F' (above) of the RAF's 101 Squadron departed Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, UK, for Perth, Australia. Aboard were two 101 Squadron crews, captained by the then OC 101 Sqn, Wg Cdr Jim Uprichard. The complete crew is shown below at Brize Norton prior to departure. From left to right, they are:

  • Colin Bates - Crew Chief/Ground Engineer
  • Gareth Walters - Master Air Engineer (Crew 2)
  • Ian Elliott - Navigator (Crew 1)
  • David Davenall - Navigator (crew 2)
  • Roger Lever - Captain (Crew 2)
  • David Bowring - Reserve Pilot
  • Jim Uprichard - Captain (Crew 1)
  • Tim Butler - Co-pilot (Crew 2)
  • John Fyfe - Co-Pilot (Crew 1)
  • Leon Slee - Master Air Engineer (Crew 1)

Also on board the flight, but not shown above, were a representative from the Paris-based Federation Aeronautique International who was responsible for certifying the world record and Mr Michael Cobham, the then Chairman of Flight Refuelling Ltd., makers of the VC10's in-flight refuelling equipment. 

MEng Leon Slee had previously served as a ground engineer on Vulcans and had the particular distinction of sitting in 1964 in the jump seat when an Avro Vulcan – also of 101 Squadron – set the previous world record 18h 10min for a UK-Australia non-stop flight. The Vulcan did not 'enjoy' the same level of comfort as the VC10!

The 101 Squadron crest shows 'A Lion Rampant in a Turret', hence the lion mascot (known as Lenny).


Crew of ZA147

The flight was refuelled in the air twice, uplifting over 40 tonnes of fuel from another VC10K between Cyprus and Egypt and then a further 40 tonnes from a Lockheed Tristar tanker of 216 Squadron abeam Sri Lanka. The official world record flight time was established from beacon to beacon and the official time was 15h 53min, giving a point-to-point speed of 914.07 km/h. By the time they landed in Perth, the aircraft had been airborne for a total of 16h 10min.

After demonstration flights in Canberra, the crew flew ZA147 to New Zealand for the RNZAF 50th anniversary, where they were the RAF's representatives along with a 216 Squadron Tristar. The aircraft is seen below in formation with four RNZAF A-4 Skyhawks and two RAAF F/A-18 Hornets flying over RNZAF Whenuapai.


VC10 ZA147 Whenuapai

Below is the FAI world record Diploma awarded to Wing Commander Jim Uprichard for the flight. It is signed by Prince Andrew as representative of the Royal Aero Club, the UK FAI member, and also by the long-time FAI President, Australian G.A. 'Peter' Lloyd.

FAI world record Diploma Jim Uprichard

Some two year after this marathon flight, Qantas made the first non-stop, unrefuelled flight from London to Sydney. Read about it here.

(Photos: via Jim Uprichard)

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