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V-Bomber Force

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The RAF's Nuclear Deterrent Force consisting of three types of jet bomber, all with names starting with "V".

In 1947 the Air Ministry issued specification B.35/46, which called for a bomber with a top speed of 575 mph, the ability to fly at up to 50,000 ft, a range of 3,500 miles and a bomb load of five tons: its projected mission was to carry nuclear bombs to targets within the Soviet Union. Several British aircraft manufacturers responded to a specification that was, for the time, bordering on science fiction, and the ministry gave the go-ahead to two of them, Handley Page and Avro, to produce prototypes.

Both were highly advanced: no one had experience back then of huge delta wings (Avro) or crescent wings and a fuselage that looked like a rocket ship from Flash Gordon (Handley Page), so when Vickers approached the ministry and suggested that their more conventional design could be ready sooner, the ministry agreed and gave them the nod too. Just in case Vickers were stretching it a bit, the ministry also gave Shorts a contract to produce two prototypes of the Sperrin, a design that was thoroughly conventional. To continue the theme of "let's not be caught with more than one egg per basket" even further, a later contract also went to Shorts to investigate the potential of a design with a bizarre wing design called aero-isoclinic, presumably in case the other two weren't advanced enough.

Avro and Handley Page, of course, presented the Vulcan and Victor respectively for what they thought would be a competition: the ever-cautious ministry presented both with a contract. Thus the V-bomber force came to consist of three aircraft types . . .

Vickers Valiant


(Above): Valiant B-1 in Anti-Flash White

The Valiant was designed by George Edwards, Chief Designer at Vickers Aircraft. He personally lobbied the Royal Air Force (RAF) to adopt his lean, clean airframe as the starting point for Britain's new generation of strategic jet bombers. The potential for nuclear weapons delivery was the main attraction for the RAF chiefs. The original Specification B.35/46, was modified to B.9/48 to permit entry of Vickers' new bomber into RAF service.

The Type 660 was designed with four Rolls Royce Avon engines, although the aircraft later flew as the Type 667 powered by Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines. First prototype flew in May 1951. A handsome aircraft with smooth, uncluttered lines, the B-1 variant could carry a payload of 1 x 10000lb nuclear device - usually the Yellow Sun free-fall bomb - or 21000lbs of conventional bombs.

In October 1956, the Valiant became the first V-Bomber to drop bombs in anger. Flying from airfields in Malta, a squadron of Valiants flew missions against seven Egyptian airbases in support of Operation MUSKETEER. The joint British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt called for the neutralisation of Egyptian air defences in the Suez Canal area. This objective was achieved, although only three of the seven targets were seriously damaged.

At around the same time, a Valiant dropped the first British atomic weapon, marking the start of a series of tests in the Maralinga area of South Australia. This series continued until November 1958, when the British discontinued all nuclear weapon tests. The Maralinga testing grounds were the subject of a recent massive cleanup at the expense of the British Government, prior to being returned to the Aboriginal people who are the traditional owners. A Valiant also dropped the first UK thermonuclear device during the "Operation GRAPPLE" series of tests in the Pacific (see "Bucket of Sunshine").

The B-2 version of the Valiant was offered to the RAF as a low-level attack bomber, with strengthened wings and airframe. (Incredibly, at that time, the RAF still believed that Pathfinders would be required to mark target areas in Europe, preparatory to the main-force bomber attack.) When they came to their senses and politely declined the B-2, the Valiant was doomed.

By 1960, the RAF had realised that Soviet air defences would be a major challenge, and almost impenetrable by high-flying aircraft. The bomber force was therefore reassigned to the low-level penetration role. Clad in new camouflage paint schemes, the Valiants undertaking this demanding mode of attack were the unreinforced B-1s, which soon started to suffer from the stresses of low-level manoeuvring at high speed.

After a series of fatal crashes during low-flying exercises, the aircraft were found to have sustained severe stress fractures in the main wing spars - the major components which were to have been reinforced in the cancelled B-2 variant. This fatigue-related failure led to the grounding of the entire Valiant fleet in October 1964 (a mere eight years after their glory days at Suez and Maralinga).

The Valiant was officially retired from RAF service in January 1965 - an ignominious end for a pioneering aircraft which, given the chance, could have been much better than it turned out. It certainly was poorly served by the RAF planners.


Wingspan 34.8 metres (114 feet 4 inches)

Wing area 219.43 sq metres (2,362 sq feet)

Length 33.0 metres (108 feet 3 inches)

Height 9.8 metres (32 feet 2 inches)

Empty weight 34,400 kilograms (75,880 pounds)

Max loaded weight 79,400 kilograms (175,000 pounds)

Max speed at altitude 912 KPH (567 MPH / 493 KT) S

Service ceiling 16,460 metres (54,000 feet)

Range with tanks 7,245 kilometres (4,500 MI / 3,915 NMI)

Avro Vulcan


(Above): 2 Vulcans at the Vulcan 30th Anniversary celebrations. (Image courtesy of Cliff Knox, 2001.)

The firm of A.V. Roe built a reputation as bomber specialists in World War II, with their Manchester and later highly successful Lancaster designs. The post-war demands of the Cold War saw Avro involved in the bomber scene again, this time proposing a radical delta-wing aircraft as their answer to Specification B.35/46. So revolutionary was this concept, that a small-scale research aircraft, the Avro 707, was built to test the characteristics of the airframe.

The full-scale prototype Type 698 made its maiden flight in August 1952. It was not officially named the Vulcan until 1953. Deliveries of the Vulcan B-1 to RAF squadrons began in 1956. This version featured changes to the wing geometry, which now presented as a "triple delta" form, in order to counteract buffeting and fatigue during high-g manoeuvres at high altitude.

Vulcan B-2s started entering squadron service with the RAF in 1960. This variant featured a longer fuselage, as well as new wings with a longer span and improved control surfaces. By now it was realised that the low-level attack option was unsatisfactory. The British Blue Steel nuclear stand-off weapon was seen as the key to breaching Soviet air defences, and the B-2 was designed to carry a single Blue Steel to a release point almost 200 miles outside the target area.

The US-built Skybolt missile was sought as a replacement for Blue Steel. Vulcan B-2s could carry two of these weapons as opposed to only one Blue Steel. Cancellation of Skybolt saw the nuclear deterrent role pass from the RAF to the Royal Navy, per medium of their four Resolution-class Nuclear-powered Strategic Missile Submarines, or SSBNs, in 1963.

This was not, however, the end of the Vulcan saga. The SR-2, introduced in 1974, provided an Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) capability. The B-2 continued in the ground attack role from 1963 until superseded by the Tornado in 1983. This period also witnessed a remarkable Vulcan combat operation. Black Buck 1 and Black Buck 2, were long-range bombing missions in the South Atlantic in 1982. They involved a lone Vulcan, supported by a huge fleet of Victor K-2 tankers, flying from Ascension Island to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, to deliver a 21000lbs bomb load on the runway there.

Despite the limited damage inflicted on the runway and installations, the psychological impact on the Argentine garrison (and the Argentine population as a whole) was considerable. The realisation that they were not immune from long-range bombing attack, severely undermined their morale and their determination to defend the islands against the British.

With the last RAF squadron disbanding two years later, the Vulcan can be said to have gone out with a bang.....

Well not quite totally out yet maybe,as the Bods at Vulcan to the Sky (Gor bless em!) have recently flown XH558 and are hoping to put her on the display circut ,assuming everything goes according to plan and they can maintain enough Beer tokens......And would they be Walting?



Length (B-1) 97.08 ft (29.62 m); (B-2) 99.92 ft (30.45 m)

Wingspan (B.1) 99.00 ft (30.20 m); (B-2) 111.00 ft (33.83 m)

Height (B.1) 26.50 ft (8.08 m); (B-2) 27.17 ft (8.28 m)

Wing Area (B.1) 3,554 ft2 (330.80 m2); (B-2) 3,964 ft2 (368.26 m2)


Empty unknown

Normal Takeoff unknown

Max Takeoff (B-2) 250,000 lb (113,400 kg)

Fuel Capacity internal: 11,100 gal (42,050 L)

Max Payload 21,000 lbs (9,525 kgs)


Powerplant (B.1) four Bristol Siddeley Olympus 101, 102, or 104 turbojets; (B.2) four Rolls-Royce Olympus 201 or 301 turbojets

Thrust (Olympus 101) 44,000 lb (195.7 kN); (Olympus 102) 48,000 lb (213.5 kN); (Olympus 104) 54,000 lb (240.2 kN); Olympus 301) 80,000 lb (355.9 kN)


Max Level Speed at altitude: 645 mph (1,040 km/h), Mach 0.98

Max Level Speed at sea level: unknown

Cruise speed: 625 mph (1,005 km/h), Mach 0.94

Initial Climb Rate unknown

Service Ceiling (B-1) 55,000 ft (16,780 m); (B.2) 65,000 ft (19,810 m)

Range (B-1) 2,605 nm (4,825 km); (B.2) 3,995 nm (7,400 km)

ARMAMENT: Gun none Stations one internal weapons bay Air-to-Air Missile none Air-to-Surface Missile none (GAM-87 Skybolt planned) Bomb up to 21 1,000 lb (454 kg) GP Other mines

Handley Page Victor


(Above): Victor B-2 c.1961

In 1947, Sir Frederick Handley Page - still firmly in control of the aircraft manufacturing firm which bore his name - determined that the company would submit a design to the Air Ministry to fulfil Specification B.35/46, for a long-range strategic bomber capable of flying higher and faster than contemporary jet fighters. The HP80 concept was offered to the Ministry, undertaking its first flight in December 1952. It was christened "Victor" the following June, when an order for 25 was placed.

A unique feature of the plane was its crescent-shaped wing, designed to give an even Mach number along the length of the wingspan. A further order for 33 was received in May 1955. These would be the Victor B-1A variant which first flew in February 1956, and featured improvements to the pressurised cabin and engines, as well as incorporating a tail-warning radar. Entry to RAF squadron service was in 1957.

An elegant, futuristic-looking plane, the Victor was larger and more powerful than the Vulcan which had preceded it into RAF service. The Rolls Royce Conway-powered B-2 which appeared in February 1959, was a faster and higher-flying machine, designed to carry the Blue Steel nuclear-tipped stand-off weapon. The change to a low-level attack policy by the RAF, had not worked to the Victor's advantage. The huge airframe was not designed for such violent manoeuvres at low level.

The advent of the American Douglas Skybolt missile, led to cancellation of orders by the powers-that-be. They somehow reasoned that, as the Victor could carry four Skybolts rather than only one Blue Steel, only one-quarter of the original Victor fleet was required! When Skybolt was cancelled in 1963, the Victor team seemed to be out of the game altogether. Not so. The reconnaissance version - B(SR)-2 - was an extremely successful plane. One of them carried out a marathon reconnaissance and mapping sortie over the South Atlantic in 1982, flying non-stop for 14 hours, 45 minutes and covering 7000 miles!

Another successful variant was the tanker conversion. The first of these - B-1A(K2P) was a dual-purpose (bomber/2-point refueller) aircraft. Subsequent Victor tankers were the dedicated 3-point refuellers of the K-2 series. These were vital to the success of the Black Buck missions flown by Vulcan B-2s - no less than eleven Victor K-2s being used to keep one Vulcan in the air on each mission.

Swan-song for the Victor was Operation "Granby" - the liberation of Kuwait in the Gulf War of 1991. In this campaign, Victor K-2 squadrons scheduled 300 missions - and flew 300, an availability rate of 100% in extremely hostile conditions. A suitable note on which to finally enter an honourable retirement in 1993, handing over the tanker role to converted VC-10s. Like its predecessor the Vickers Valiant, the Victor was a far better aircraft than it was allowed to be.

General characteristics


Crew: 5

Length: 114 ft 11 in (35.05 m)

Wingspan: 120 ft (36.58 m)

Height: 28 ft 1½ in (8.57 m)

Wing area: 2,406 ft² (223.5 m²)

Loaded weight: 165,000 lbs (75,000 kgs)

Max takeoff weight: 185,000 lbs (83,900 kgs)

Powerplant: 4 × Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire A.S.Sa.7 turbojets, 11,000 lbf (49 kN) each


Maximum speed: 650 mph (1,050 km/h)

Range: 1,500 mi (2,400 km)

Service ceiling: 49,000 ft (14,900 m)

Thrust/weight: 0.27

Armament: up to 35 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs; Blue Steel stand-off nuclear missile

(HANDLEY PAGE VICTOR B-2RS - As for B-1 except as below)


Maximum speed: 640 mph or Mach 0.92 at 40,000 ft

Maximum cruising height: 55,000 ft

Combat radius: 2,300 miles at high level


Empty: 109,900 lb

Normal Maximum take-off: 223,000 lb

Emergency Operational Max weight: 238,000lb