DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the world’s first automatic landing of a commercial airliner during a scheduled air service took place in 1965.
The Trident 1C (G-ARPR) of British European Airways (BEA) touched down at London Heathrow (LHR) after operating flight BE343 from Paris Le Bourget (LBG).
Development of the Hawker Siddeley HS-121 Trident began in 1957 after BEA requested a new short to medium-haul “second-generation jet airliner.” The Trident became the world’s first trijet aircraft after BEA stated it wanted “more than two engines.”
From the outset, Hawker Siddeley designed the jet with advanced avionics for the time. This included the development of automatic approach and landing abilities within a few years of service entry.
Hawker Siddeley provided this capability thanks to the Smiths Aircraft Industries Autoland System, a pioneering feature that allowed crews to operate in almost zero visibility conditions. This permitted the Trident to be guided automatically to an airfield, approach the runway, flare, touchdown, and then roll out from the landing runway.
However, an issue later discovered caused by the automatic landings was inaccurate flares. This led the jet to make rather hard landings and subsequently caused fatigue spars on many jets. The problem was discovered in the 1970s, and carriers simply removed the affected aircraft from service rather than carry out expensive repairs.
BEA capitalized on this feature, allowing the airline to improve its on-time performance and winter dispatch reliability significantly. Indeed, the type would become the backbone of the airline’s fleet. BEA would push the manufacturer to develop various larger and upgraded variants of the Trident (1E, 2E, and 3B) through the years.