Founded in 1978 at Stanstead Airport in Essex TAC/Heavy Lift Cargo Airlines bought up the lease on the former during Aviation Traders hangers at Southend Airport in 1979.
After modifying the hangers with a “Top Hat” it began the task of civilianizing the ex-RAF Belfast freighters that had been retired.
Initially five Belfast freighters were purchased with another two being bought later to act as spares ships, the five original aircraft were all flown to Southend, with the two spares aircraft remaining at RAF Hucknall where after a time they and the remaining two aircraft (still owned by the MoD) were scrapped.
The first Belfast to arrive at Southend on the 1st March 1979 was G-OHCA (XR363) it carried the name “Goliath” the aircraft was never fully civilianised and remained in its RAF Transport Command colours until it was scrapped in February 1994.
The first fully civilianised aircraft was G-ASKE (XR362), the registration was used for overseas test flights, one certification was granted the aircraft became G-BEPE this was formally XR326 “Samson” (G-52-14) this first flew as a civilian aircraft on 26th October 1984 however its civilian life was short with its Certificate of Airworthiness expired 11th March 1985, the aircraft was mainly used as a flying test-bed for the rest of the Belfast conversions, and the aircraft was scrapped in February 1994.
Belfast G-BFYU (XR367) flew to Stansted for a short period of storage, it was transferred to Southend in 1980 where it was resisted G-52-15, it begun test flights on 28th September 1981, its Certificate of Airworthiness expired on 10th April 1993, the aircraft became a spares ship for the remaining two aircraft (G-BEPS & G-HLFT), G-BFYU was finally scrapped in August 2001.
All five of the aircraft bought by Heavy Lift were placed on the civil air register, all but one gained full Heavy Lift colours.
To help maintain the fleet Heavy Lift Engineering was set up in 1984, this new company also maintained other types in the Heavy Lift fleet including Lockheed Hercules and Boeing 707’s, they also maintained and carried out major overhauls on other operators aircraft.
Soon after the launch of Heavy Lift Engineering the Heavy Lift Cargo Airlines broke away from TAC in the late 1980s Heavy Lift added a Canadair CL44J Guppy fitted with a swing-tail to its fleet of aircraft , they also had an operating agreement with Russian airlines which have seen Ilyushin IL-76's operated in full Heavy Lift colours.
The largest type operated by Heavy Lift was an Antonov AN 124 that was owned and operated by the Russian airline Volga-Dnepr.
Heavylift was also involved in a consortium with Air Foyle (Air Foyle Heavy Lift) which operated the large Antonov An-124s as well as An-12, An-22, and Aa-224 on a charter basis for cargo flights.
During 2001 Heavy Lift had also started up passenger operations with an Airbus A300 (G-HLAD) under the name of Prime Airlines; however this proved to be short-lived as by September G-HLAD was placed in to storage at Shannon, Ireland
Since the early 1990's Heavy Lift held a number contracts which saw the last two Belfast’s becoming frequent visitors to Schiphol, bringing parts for Fokker Aircraft Industries and operating cargo flights on behalf of KLM.
Heavy Lift had also been operating a number of all freight Airbus A300s but by August 2002 the Airbus A300 operation had been scaled down; G-HLAB had been parked at Bristol-Filton and G-HLAC had been leased or sold to Aero Union in Mexico as XA-TVU.
Heavylift’s fleet of Belfast’s had been slowly reduced until only two were operational during the 1990s (G-BEPS & G-HLFT) by the time of the demise of the airline on Friday 13th September 2002 only G-HLFT remained in service with G-BEPS in open storage at Southend.
With the collapse of Heavy Lift G-BEPS became a millstone around the airports neck, Heavy Lift was re-launched in Australia and flew the airworthy Belfast G-HLFT out of Southend to Prestwick where she was readied for the long flight across the Atlantic and down the US coast to eventually island hop to Australia.
This left the slowly decaying G-BEPS still languishing at Southend, engineers from the re-launched airline made trips to Southend to survey the aircraft and found that there was a chance to return the aircraft to the air, work begun to restore the aircraft but eventually the costs and a lack of spares ended the chance to get the aircraft flying, she was stripped of all reusable parts and left as a shell.
With the aircraft no longer needed it was destined for the scrapheap a number of museums and interested individuals looked at moving the aircraft to preserve it but the size of task in dismantling, moving and the reassembling the restored aircraft proved far too costly it was finally scrapped in October 2008. Heavy Lift had five Belfasts over the time they were operating these were:
G-BEPE (XR362)(G-52-14) "Samson" Last flight 26-10-1984 CoA Exp 11-3-1985 scrapped Southend 2-94
G-OCHA (XR363) "Goliath" Scrapped Southend 2-1994
G-HLFT (XR365) "Hector" Heavy Lift Australia (grounded and up for sale January 2011)
G-BFYU (XR367)(G-52-15) "Heracles" Last flight 26-2-1992 CofA Exp 10-4-1993 Scrapped 2001
G-BEPS (XR368) "Theseus" Scrapped Southend 10-2008
Heavy Lift had five Belfasts over the time they were operating these were: