The first flight of the Britten-Norman Islander

Monday June 13 marks the 57th anniversary of the first flight of the Britten-Norman Islander. Powered by a pair of Royce/Continental IO-360B piston engines, the BN-2 Islander prototype was shown to the world four days later at the Paris Air Show.

A repainted Defender version of the aircraft. Photo: Britten Norman

The Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander is a high-wing cantilever monoplane powered by twin-piston and newer turboprop engines. The rectangular fuselage and sturdy tricycle landing gear allow it to perform many tasks. The aircraft can accommodate a single pilot and nine passengers when fitted out as a commuter aircraft. call it “The most versatile aircraft in the world” Britten-Norman has always promoted the aircraft’s low operating costs, minimal maintenance, and flight stability as the aircraft’s main selling points.

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Britten-Norman saw the need for a small commuter aircraft

Two years earlier, the company’s founders, John Britten and Desmond Norman, had sensed there would be demand for an inexpensive twin-engine aircraft. Their belief in this notion was the rapid growth they had seen in the commuter airline industry. They determined that payload was the key factor these smaller regional airlines were looking for rather than range or speed.

On April 24, 1967, the first production Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander aircraft performed its maiden flight, gaining UK certification four months later. The aircraft then received its airworthiness certification in the United States in December 1967.

Production moved to Romania

Initially the aircraft was manufactured at the Britten-Norman factory in Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, but with the aircraft so requested the site could not make the aircraft fast enough. The solution to the problem was to have the aircraft built in kit form overseas and then shipped back to the UK for final assembly.

Britten-Norman has signed an agreement with Romanian aerospace company Intreprinderea de Reparatii Material Aeronautic (IRMA) to undertake manufacturing. The Bucharest-based company proved to be not only economically successful in building the Islander, but could manufacture between 30 and 40 aircraft per year. IRMA proved so adept at manufacturing the Islander that from 1977 all Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders were built in Romania.


The defender. Photo: Britten Norman

Due to the success of the Islanders, Britten-Norman proposed a military version of the aircraft that could be used for light troop transport and support aircraft duties. Marketed as the Britten-Norman Defender, the aircraft’s rugged construction and simplicity made it ideal for operations in less developed countries.

Despite the aircraft’s success, Britten-Norman struggled financially which eventually led to the company going into receivership. Seeing the value of the Islander’s business and backlog, the Fairey Aviation Group stepped in. He immediately moved all manufacturing to his Avions Fairey factory in Gosselies, Belgium. The completed Islanders were then airlifted to Bembridge for preparation and delivery to the end customer.

Manufacturing has returned to the UK

Seeking to further develop the Islander, Fairey Aviation embarked on the development of a turboprop aircraft called BN-2T, fitted with a pair of Allison 250 turboprop engines. Much like Britten-Norman, Fairey ran into financial difficulties and ended up being purchased by Oerlikon-Bührle of Switzerland. Now operating as Pilatus Britten-Norman, much of the manufacturing was moved back to the Isle of Wight.

Over 1,250 Islanders were built. Photo: Britten Norman

In production for over 50 years, over 1,250 Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders have been built, of which 750 are still in service with commercial operators worldwide.

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