The Britten-Norman Islander: An Airplane Design Through The Years

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The Britten-Norman Islander: An Airplane Design Through The Years

A Britten-Norman BN-2A-21 of the Philippine National Police

               The Britten-Norman Islander is a light utility aircraft design that was the brainchild of two British aircraft designers, John Britten and Nigel Desmond Norman back in the early 60s. But unlike other aircraft designs that only proved their worth for the time period of their introduction, this aircraft platform has evolved through the years and remained existent with a little difference from the original with only the engines upgraded and structural changes necessary for the variation in weight. Being a former aircraft mechanic who have logged close to a hundred hours flying with this aircraft as a passenger and crew, let us consider what makes this airplane different from other airplanes still flying out there.

The typical cockpit lay-out for a Britten-Norman BN-2A-21

A typical view by the right side passenger window 

The Islander showing the fixed main and nose landing gears

               Work on the design of this aircraft started in 1963 which was completed with the first prototype that took the air on 13 June 1965 followed by a second prototype on 20 August a year later. On 24 April 1967, the first production Islander first flew followed by its certification four months later. In general perspective, the Islander is a high-wing cantilever monoplane easily identified against other aircraft with its rectangular fuselage and two wing mounted engines. A conventional tail unit with comparatively big vertical stabilizer added by its fixed tricycle gear sets the Islander apart from the competition. The fixed landing configuration do add to the drag when the aircraft is airborne but the simplicity of the mechanism not failing compared to retractable types makes it safer in landing. Then of course, the high-wing providing big clearance to the engines and propellers against stones and hard objects which maybe blown away during landing and take-off runs sets another good safety concern, the main reason why this type of aircraft had been the choice in remote destinations with semi-prepared airstrips or short runways and grassy fields. The Islander’s slow handling characteristics and short take-off and landing (STOL) capabilities is uncontested.

Aircraft Performance based on the BN-2B-20:

Powerplant : 2 x Lycoming 300 hp piston engines

Take-Off Distance : 704 ft/ 215 m (Ground Roll), To Clear 50 ft Obstacle: 1,166 ft/ 355m

Landing Distance: 459 ft/ 140 m (Ground Roll), To Clear 50 ft Obstacle: 980 ft/ 299 m

Rate of Climb: 1,130 ft per min (both engines), 198 ft per min (one inoperable)

Maximum Cruise Speed: 143 kt/ 265kph (TAS)

Stall Speeds (IAS at 8,000 ft): 50 kt/ 93 kph (Flaps up, power off), 40 kt/ 74 kph (Flaps down, power off)

Absolute Ceiling: 19,700 ft/ 6,004 m (both engines), 6,150 ft/ 1,874 m (one inoperable)

Range: 503 nm/ 923 km (IFR), 639 nm/ 1,184 km (VFR)

(data obtained from

               There have been a lot of Islander variants that emerged through its 45-year history but B-N Group, the present company overseeing the production of the aircraft narrowed down the variants into three, the Defender, Islander and Trislander which can be modified into configurations according to the demands of the operator like the choice of appropriate engines (piston or turbine) or the operational requirements of the mission (special, military, cargo and commuter, etc).

Britten-Norman BN-2T-4S Defender 4000 of Manchester Police

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Britten-Norman BN-2T Islander (turbine) at Farnborough Airshow


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The Britten-Norman BN-2A-MkIII Trislander

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                Like typical aircraft manufacturing companies which have fought hard to keep their business going (you will be amazed if you knew William Boeing once left aircraft manufacturing to venture into furniture business just to make his business afloat before he eventually got back on it and made Boeing the largest aircraft manufacturing company it is now) Britten-Norman Limited met its difficulties that led it to be sold to Fairey Aviation Group in 1972. When Fairey Britten-Norman suffered similar fate it accepted bid from Pilatus Aircraft of Switzerland back in July 1978. It took 20 years until Pilatus turned over the company to Biofarm Inc in 1998, which took two years until it passed the company to B-N Group (the present company which oversees the manufacture of Islander aircraft owned by the Zawawi family from the Sultanate of Oman). Islander aircraft were still built through its sole factory based at Bembridge, Isle of Wight, UK. Although the aircraft components were manufactured in Romania, they are shipped as kits in the UK for assembly and certification.



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