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The "Vital" Force?

By the end of the Second World War Britain had amassed a powerful military defence force. The back bone of this force was the Royal Air Force and their piston-powered Lincoln and Lancaster aircraft.

However, with the advent of the jet engine, and the recently developed nuclear bomb, the Air Ministry quickly decided a new class of aircraft would be required to keep the RAF air superiority intact. An operational requirement for a long range jet-powered strategic bomber was created.

In January 1947, after a number of previous operation requirements, OR229 was published. This called for a bomber which could deliver a payload of either 2 x 10,000lb concrete piecing , 2 x 10,000lb HC , 4 x 5,000lb HC, 20 x 1000lb MC,
20 x 1,000lb incendiary or cluster bombs or 1 x special gravity bomb, 
a range of 3350nm (3,858 miles) in all weather conditions. 

Although not specified as such, the special gravity bomb was clearly a nuclear device. Maximum performance was the order of the day, and as such, no defensive armament was requested. Although such a requirement would push engineering of the day to its limit 6 companies tendered bids. 

Designs were submitted by Armstrong Whitworth, Avro, English Electric, Handley Page, Short and Vickers.

None of the designs were completely satisfactory. 

On 15th January 1948 a conference concluded that 4 of the original designs should be approved. Vickers received an instruction to proceed on 16th April 1948. In the same month Handley Page were contracted to produce 2 HP80 prototypes. Although Avroís design was considered best at the conference , the instruction to proceed was delayed until the ministry of supply was convinced Avroís team had sufficient technical competence to handle the project. The first Avro prototype took to the air on August 30th 1952.

 The first approved design was that of the Shorts A4,
 later called the Sperrin.

In March 1950 the Treasury considered cancelling the contract on the Sperrin as an operational aircraft. By the time the Sperrin made itís first flight in 1951 it was clear the "interim" bomber would not be required. 

Having 3 separate designs were chosen in order to spread the risk.

 Remember only 3 years earlier the Avro Lancaster was seen as a state of the art bomber.

Click below to discover more about each of he aircraft which made up the RAF V-Force.



Vickers Valiant

The Vickers 660 was first flown in May 1951 from Wisley, Surrey. 

A month later the aircraft was renamed Valiant and 16 months after this the then chief of the air staff Sir John Slessor decided to break with the long RAF tradition of naming aircraft after significant British towns and cities. 
He ordered that the Handley Page and Avro aircraft were given names beginning with V. 

The Valiant is, perhaps, the most impressive of the V force as this aircraft would be the only one of 3 winning designs to actually deliver a nuclear payload. Albeit as part of an exercise over the Maralinga test in Australia and not against an enemy.

 The Valiant also completed the first non-stop 
transatlantic flight by a V-bomber. 

The first production Valiant flew in December 1953.

 By 1954 Gaydon, in Warwickshire was reactivated and extensively rebuilt as the first V- bomber base.

By January 1955,  the 138 squadron, consisting of 6 Valiants, flew to RAF Wittering . They were armed with Britain's first operational nuclear weapon "Blue Danube". 
The V-force was ready.

In June 1956 Valiants travelled overseas when 2 aircraft flew to Libya, to take part in a NATO exercise.

In June 1957 Wing Commander K. Hubbard captained Valiant XD818 on a mission from Christmas Island. At 11.38 a nuclear bomb which had been released from the bay detonated on schedule and produced a one megaton yield. The aircraft is preserved at RAF Morton in Norfolk. In 1961 nine RAF squadrons possessed the Valiant. In 1963 the white anti-flash paintwork was replaced with camouflage for itís new role as a low level bomber.

By 1964 serious fissures were discovered in the rear spars of a number of air frames, caused by the extra stress of low level flights. The last Valiant sorties were flown in December 1964. 

The last remaining intact Valiant (XD818) 
on display at RAF Museum, Hendon.

The aircraft was withdrawn from service in January 1965.

Technical Specifications

Vickers Valiant B Mk I

Length :

108 ft 3 in

Wing Span:  114 ft 4 in
Weight (empty) 75,880lbs
Weight (max load) 175,000lbs
Max Speed 0.82 Mach @ 40,000ft
Service Ceiling 49,000ft
Range: 3,450 miles
Engines: 4 x Rolls Royce 
Avon 204 / 205
Crew: 5

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Archive Vailant footage, taken from YouTube.


Handley Page Victor

The above pictures of K2 XH672 were taken at 
RAF Museum Cosford Sept 2002

The Victor B1 entered RAF service in November 1957. Less than five years later the technically more advanced B2 variant became operational. By the Summer of 1963 modifications were made to some of the Victor fleet to enable them to carry the Blue Steel strategic nuclear weapon.
By the end of 1968 the aircraft changed roles from that of a long-range bomber, to a tanker aircraft.

XA917, the first production Victor became the largest aircraft to break the sound barrier at the time. This was purely accidental, and due to the skill of the aircraft designers, the crew experienced no adverse handling problems.

In June 1959 XA921 dropped 35 1,000lb bombs, allowing it to claim the record for the heaviest bomb load delivered by a British bomber to date.

The Victor tankers had their finest hour during the Falklands conflict in 1982. There they flew over 600 sorties (lasting over 300 hours) to refuel other aircraft such as the Vulcan, Hercules, Nimrod and Harrier.

Victors were used during the Gulf war to deliver fuel to the RAF Tornados and Jaguars, as well as providing support facilities to aircraft from other NATO comrades. 

Images copyright Bob Shackleton, Cape Town.

Copyright G. Bartlett - "Teasing Tina" at Bruntingthorpe 2003 (XM715)

"Teasing Tina" - Cold War Jets Open Day - Bruntingthorpe 2008

"Teasing Tina" - Cold War Jets Open Day - Bruntingthorpe 2008

Technical Specifications

Handley Page Victor B Mk I

Length : 114 ft 11 in
Wing Span: 110 ft
Weight (max load) 180,000 lbs
Max Speed 0.9 Mach @ 40,000 ft
Service Ceiling 55,000 ft
Range: 2,500 miles
Engines: 4 x AS Sapphire 207
Crew: 5

Hadley Page Victor B Mk II

Length : 114 ft 11 in
Wing Span: 120 ft
Weight (max load) 223,000lbs
Max Speed 0.95 Mach @ 40,000 ft
Service Ceiling 60,000 ft
Range: 3,500 miles
Engines: 4 x Rolls Royce Conway
Crew: 5


This video, taken from Youtube, shows a very
low level pass by a Victor.

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Avro Vulcan

Arguably the RAF's prime V-bomber, the Vulcan could delivery both a conventional or nuclear payload. During the Cold War the fear of reprisal from the Vulcan fleet helped prevent the Soviet Union from attacking the Western Allies.

Although the last Vulcan flew almost ten years ago both the aviation community and public in general, are still thrilled by the sight of the great delta winged aircraft. No other aeroplane, except perhaps Concorde, capture the hearts and minds of those who see them as does the mighty Vulcan.

Please use the menu on the left to discover more about possibly the greatest aircraft every flown by the RAF. 

Technical Specifications

Avro Vulcan B1

Length : 97ft 1in
Wing Span: 99ft 0 in
(max load)
Max Speed Mach 0.93@40,000ft
Service Ceiling 55,000ft
Range: 2607 nautical miles
Engines: 4 Bristol Siddeley Olympus 101, 102 or 104 
Crew: 5


The above photos of XL426 were taken during 2002 at Southend Airport

Avro Vulcan B2

Length : 99ft 11in
Wing Span: 111ft 0 in
Weight (max load) 200,000lbs
Max Speed Mach 0.92@40,000ft
Service Ceiling 60,000ft
Range: 4,000 nautical miles
Engines: 4 Bristol Siddeley 
Olympus 201 or 301
Crew: 5

To discover more about the technical specifications of the Avro Vulcan click on the "Tech Specs"
 link at the bottom of this page.



The above video, taken from YouTube, shows archive footage of all three British V-Force bombers in action.



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