Vickers Valiant B1 (XD818)  [@ RAF Cosford]

Designed in response to the same specification that also eventually produced the Avro Vulcan and Handley Page Victor, the Valiant was the first of the RAF’s trio of  “V Bombers” and played a vital part in our strategic nuclear deterrent. The first Vickers Type 600 (WB210) flew on 18th May 1951 with Vickers' chief test pilot 'Mutt' Summers at the controls. WB210 was powered by four Rolls Royce Avons buried in the wing roots; the intakes were thin slots in the leading edge of the wing. This first prototype was lost in a crash after an engine fire in early 1952 with one of the crew being killed. The casualty in this crash was the co-pilot, unusually an RAF officer attached to Vickers for Valiant testing, due to his ejector seat striking the tailfin.

The second Valiant, WB215, first flew on the 11th of April and had enlarged engine intakes (necessary for higher powered Avon engines) and fitted with internal strakes to straighten the airflow into the engines. The new aircraft was called the Type 667. Not many noticeable changes were made to the Valliant’s shape during development; compared with the many changes in the Vulcan's design and the many modifications that were needed between the prototype Victor and production versions.

The production Valiant B.1’s was delivered in January 1955. The first B.1s entered service with 232 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Gaydon in June 1954. No 138 Squadron was the first to equip with the type and became fully operational in July 1955 at RAF Wittering. No 49 Squadron was the nuclear weapons trials unit and on 11th October 1956 flying at 35,000 ft over the Maralinga test range in Australia WZ366 dropped the first UK air-drop nuclear bomb. On the 15th May 1957 XD818 released the UK’s first hydrogen bomb at 39,000 ft over Malden Island. Valiants, along with Sea Venoms, Sea Hawks, Venoms and Hunters, saw action in the Suez operation on October/November 1956, attacking Egyptian airfields with conventional bombs.

XD818 is the only complete Valiant remaining anywhere in the World and was the actual aircraft that dropped Britain's first hydrogen bomb on 15th May 1957. Fortunately while the rest of the Valiant force was being scrapped XD818, by then converted to a BK.1 variant, was saved and for many years was on display in green and grey camouflage at RAF Marham. On 25th March 1982 XD818 was towed into one of the hangars at RAF Marham and dismantled and then taken by road to the RAF Museum at Hendon. Soon after, XD818 was repainted in the original anti-flash white finish. In late 2005 XD818 was dismantled again and moved to RAF Cosford, reassembled and stored outside waiting for the completion of the new Cold War exhibition hall.

Vickers Valiant B1 (XD818)  [@ RAF Cosford]

As the first production B.1’s were being finished off, the B.2 prototype (WJ954) flew for the first time on the 4th of September 1953. The B.2 was a one-off prototype stressed for low-level, high speed penetration as a target marker required by outdated RAF WW2 tactics. Shown off at Farnborough a few days later, the aircraft had two major visible changes - the nose was longer and the undercarriage was now located in big fairings underneath the wings instead of within the wing itself. This meant the wing could be a stronger structure for its low level requirements. WJ954 continued as a flying test-bed for a while but was eventually transported to Foulness in 1958 to be destroyed by having various weapons fired at it to assess the vulnerability of modern aircraft to gunfire. Vickers intended to design a civil airliner, the V1000, which was loosely based on the Valiant design but with wings mounted low on the fuselage. However, it was cancelled along with the B.2 by the government of the day.

In 1963 the Valiant force was assigned to the tactical bombing role but in January 1965 all Valiants were withdrawn prematurely from service and scrapped after metal fatigue was found in the main wing spar of a few aircraft. Most were scrapped at their bases very quickly after the disbanding of their operating squadrons. Others became fire training airframes, being burnt quickly, or 'damage to aircraft' targets. Several remained in flying condition, being on loan to what was now the British Aircraft Corporation (incorporating Vickers) for various flight test purposes.

The RAF had realised earlier that their new bombers would be ideal reconnaissance platforms as well. The B(PR).1 variant could carry up to eight cameras in the bomb bay instead of a bomb load. The first deliveries of these were to the newly formed 543 Squadron at RAF Wyton in June 1955. Once B.1 and B(PR).1 production finished, another variant was produced, the B(PR)K.1. Similar to the B(PR).1 in that it could carry cameras or bombs, this variant could also carry a refuelling pack in the bomb bay, enabling it to act as an airborne tanker. In-flight refuelling was a relatively new innovation and had been trialled with Lincolns and Meteors; Vickers proved the Valiant was up to the job as well by using a modified B.1 with a cutaway bomb bay during 1955. The cutaway bomb bay was not necessary with the production BK.1 variant of the Valiant.

Valiant production amounted to 108 aircraft, plus 2 prototypes and the single B.2. Of this total, 14 were B(PR)K.1s and 45 were BK.1s.