British Overseas Airways Corporation was Britain's flag carrier from 1939 to 1974. It was formed by the merger of Imperial Airways and the first incarnation of British Airways at the start of World War II, perhaps the most chaotic time in British aviation history. While British forces were being battered by the Third Reich, BOAC's planes were painted in camouflage, with the famous Imperial speedbird logo on the tail. When the Battle of Britain broke out, their planes worked overtime to bring extra supplies to airfields throughout the UK. Throughout the war, their planes flew the return ferry run to America, the ball bearing run to Scandinavia, and the horseshoe route to Africa and India. Their planes at the time included Boeing 314's, converted B-24 bombers, and scores of Allied cargo planes.

After the war, the airline slowly phased out its many British-designed aircraft, in favor of newer American models. They continued to fly a plethora of routes: transatlantic service with Lockheed Constellations, Australia with Lancastrians, India with Avro Yorks, and the Middle East with Douglas DC-3's.

In 1946, BOAC was nationalized and spun off two smaller carriers, BEA (British European Airways) and BSAA (British South American Airways). BSAA rejoined BOAC in 1949, leaving BEA to cover Europe and BOAC to cover everywhere else. They slowly upgraded their fleet with Douglas DC-4, Boeing 377, and Handley-Page Hermes aircraft in the early 1950's.

Then, in 1952, BOAC inaugurated the jet age with its de Havilland Comet service from London to Johannesburg. For the next two years, BOAC had a monopoly on intercontinental jet travel, until all the first-generation Comets were grounded in 1954 because of their unfortunate tendency to break apart in midair. After that, BOAC reverted to piston aircraft, flying Bristol Britannia, Douglas DC-6 and Douglas DC-7 aircraft. Fortunately, they got new Comets in 1958, and added the Boeing 707 to their fleet in 1959, bringing them back into the jet market.

In 1964, they added one of Britain's most famous jetliners, the Vickers VC-10, to their fleet. The 707 and VC-10 were the mainstays of BOAC's fleet until 1971, when their first Boeing 747 was delivered. They had planned to be one of the first operators of the Concorde, but in 1972, three years before the Speedbird was first delivered, BOAC merged with BEA to form the airline now known as British Airways. The airlines' fleets were completely merged by the end of 1974, and BOAC passed into aviation history.