John Britten and Desmond Norman started in developing crop spraying equipment in the early 1960's. They set up on the Isle of Wight, where they turned their hand to aircraft design. The origins of the Islander date back to 1963 when the aircraft was conceived as a low cost light transport in the mould of the earlier DH89A Rapide. (Britten and Norman had trained with De Havilland). The first prototype BN-2 was flown on June 13 1965, with the second following on Aug 20 1966. These utilised 210hp engines, whereas production aircraft are normally fitted with 260 or 300hp engines). (Note: the BN-1 was the unsuccessful Finibee, and the BN-3 is the Nymph).
The first production BN-2 flew on April 24 1967. The series 2 or BN-2A was introduced in 1969. This incorporated aerodynamic and equipment improvements, and changes to the baggage arrangements. A military variant, the Defender which featured hardpoints and other military adaptions first flew on May 20 1970. The BN-2B Islander II followed in 1978, with interior alterations, increased weight capacity, and propeller changes to improve noise levels. Other options include a long nosed version with increased baggage capacity, raked wingtip auxilliary fuel tanks, and a twin 320 shp Allison 250-B17C turboprop installation. The latter is designated the BN-2T. Development of an Islander with increased capacity resulted in the BN-2A Mk III Trislander. This incorporated a fuselage stretch, modified undercarriage, and a third tail mounted powerplant. The prototype was constructed from G-ATWU (the second BN-2 prototype) and flew on September 11 1970.
Islander production has passed through a number of hands. The Fairey group acquired the aircraft in 1972, and Oerlikon-Buhle in 1977. the latter is associated with Pilatus and resulted in the Pilatus Britten-Norman Islander designation. As well as Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, production has occurred in Rumania (by URMA from 1969), in Belgium (at a factory in Gosselies from 1973) and assembly in the Philipinnes.
In New Zealand the Islander has operated in a number of roles, primarily as a commuter and tourist/charter aircraft. It also operates in a freight and air ambulance roles but this is less common. Currently 15 aircraft are operating (as at July 1999), these being: ZK-CRA (c/n C609), ZK-DBV (c/n 164), ZK-EVO (c/n 785), ZK-EVT (c/n 152), ZK-FLU (c/n 104), ZK-FVD (c/n 316), ZK-FWH (c/n 43), ZK-FWZ (c/n 52), ZK-FXE (c/n 110), ZK-MCD (c/n 719), ZK-MCE (c/n 724), ZK-PIY (c/n 344), ZK-PIZ (c/n 2012), ZK-SFK (c/n 236), ZK-WNZ (c/n 278). With the number of aircraft in use, and their high utilisation, the Islander's operations have not been without incident. A BN-2A, ZK-EVK was involved in one of New Zealand's worst air accidents. Ten lives were lost when it crashed on Mt Ian during a flight to Milford Sound in 1989. The same year ZK-SFE was written off after landing in Pelorus Sound following a wire strike, but fortunately all seven on board survived. But in general the aircraft is popular with crew and passengers (if a little noisy).
The aircraft illustrated below are operated by Southern Air Ltd at Invercargill and Wings over Whales at Kaikoura.
Last Update:- 12 June, 1999
Data is for the BN-2B
© 1999 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved