Handley Page Victor B.1, B.1A, B(K).1A (XH648) [@ RAF Duxford]
Although the Victor was bigger, faster and could fly higher than the Avro Vulcan it somehow always lost out to it. The Vulcan was retired soon after its glory days of bombing the Falkland Islands, whereas the Victor enjoyed a longer service career mainly in the routine task of tanker due the untimely demise of the Vickers Valiant force. Perhaps it was this that kept the Victor away from the headlines and wider public appeal? Last in a long line of Handley Page bombers and the last of the RAF’s trio of V-bombers, the HP.80 Victor design owed much to research into the crescent wing carried out in Germany during WW2. By the start of 1947 an official specification (B.35/46) was issued to cover the development of this new aircraft, designated by Handley Page as the HP.80, after initial design of a type designated the HP.75. Handley Page decided to test their crescent wing and tail design on a smaller aircraft. A Swift (type 521) was bought from Supermarine and was married to appropriate crescent-shaped wings and a T-tail, becoming known as the YB.2 or HP.88. Coded VX330, it actually flew too late to be of much use in the Victor programme and was lost in an accident on 26th August 1951 killing the pilot.
The prototype, WB771, flew on the 24th December 1952, but was destroyed when the tailplane broke away during a low level run 14th July 1954. WB771 was carrying out a low level calibration run over the runway at RAF Cranfield when the tail ripped off and the aircraft crashed, killing the crew. A combination of mistakes in calculations had led the engineers to believe there would be no problems with the tailplane, when in actual fact the three bolts holding it on were subject to more stress and fatigue than expected, especially when the tail began to flutter. WB771 differed a lot from the initial tail-less design of the HP.75A, it now had a large T-tail but retained the crescent wings (so designed to keep a constant critical mach number throughout the wing's length). Compared to the Vulcan and Valiant, the HP.80 had a much larger bomb bay and a very different crew compartment. On the Vulcan and Valiant the crew compartment was smaller, caused by it being a single sealed unit with pressure bulkheads fore and aft. On the Victor the pressurised crew compartment extended right to the tip of the nose, giving more room and a better view for the pilots. The second prototype, WB775, flew on 11th September 1954 and had its tail fitted using four bolts.
XH648 is the only surviving B.1 in the world and was the twenty-first aircraft of the second production batch of 25 B.1s that were ordered in February 1956. It first flew on 27th November 1959 and delivered to 57 Squadron at RAF Honington on the 22nd December 1959. On the 25th October 1960 XH648 was flown to Handley Page at Radlett for conversion B.1A standard. After conversion XH648 was delivered on the 11th May 1961 to 15 Squadron at RAF Cottesmore. While with 15 Squadron XH648 visited the Far East for duties with 'Exercise Profiteer' during the Confrontation with Indonesia in 1962-63. On the 3rd April 1964 XH648 was delivered to 55 Squadron. It was during this period that XH648 lost the white colour scheme for camouflage and started flying in the low-level bombing role. XH648 is one of six B.1As converted to two-point tanker status and so retained its bombing capability, unlike K.1s and K.2s which were dedicated three point tanker conversions, and resulted in the designation from K.1A to B(K).1A. XH648 returned to Handley Page for this modification on 15th February 1965 and on 19th May 1965 XH648 went RAF Honington to rejoin No 55 Squadron, which was in the process of converting from the bomber to the tanker role. A move to RAF Marham followed in the next few days and remained there for the next ten years. The six two-point tankers were to serve with 55 Squadron until mid-1967 when the conversion of the Squadron to the three-point tanker version was complete. This left the two-pointers available for other duties and this resulted with them being divided between the three squadrons and the TTF. XH648 was to stay with 55 Squadron for the next eight years, to be used as a continuation trainer, daylight tanker and often for Lone-Ranger Flights overseas to such places as the Far East and the Mid-West USA. XH648 moved back to 57 Squadron on 23rd June 1975 and spent the last operational year supporting 57's final year as an K.1 tanker squadron before finally retiring to RAF Duxford on 2nd June 1976. The photograph was taken when XH648 was showing signs of weather damage, although I am informed that structurally the plane is in very good condition. The plan is to move XH648 into the new "Airspace" exhibition hanger where a full restoration programme will take place.
In common with the Valiant and Vulcan, only the pilots had ejector seats and the rear crew died if there was an emergency. Both WB771 and WB775 had a miss-positioned centre of gravity, while lead weights sorted this out in the first two, future examples had a lengthened front fuselage. This also had the bonus of allowing the crew more chance of escape; originally the engine intakes were so close to the crew door that escape was a very risky business.
Handley Page Victor B.2R, B(SR).2, K.2 (XH672) [@ RAF Cosford]
The first production Victor B.1 was completed on 1st February 1956 and the variant was given smaller tails to counter the fatigue problem that had destroyed WB771, otherwise few changes were considered necessary to the exceptionally trouble-free airframe. They were built at a cost of £244,000 each, less loan items, such as engines, radio, radar and navigational aids and many other items. Fitted with more powerful versions of the Sapphire engines used in the HP.80 prototypes, the Victor's cleared maximum speed of mach 0.95 soon proved to be a little on the low side when an Hanley Page test pilot on the 1st June 1956 inadvertently achieved mach 1.1 (i.e. broke the Sound Barrier) in a one to two degree dive. In fact, the only fighters in the country that could intercept them at the time were the American F-101 Voodoos of the 81st TFW. Deliveries to the first RAF unit, 232 OCU, began in November 1957 and 10 Squadron of Bomber Command became operational with the Victor in April 1958. By 1960 three more Squadrons, 15, 55 and 57, had formed. The B.1A was an updated variant with more advance equipment, including the fitting of a large amount of ECM [Electronic Counter Measures] equipment in the front and rear of the aircraft, improved radar and radio equipment, changing the engines to Sapphire Mk.20701s and various other modifications to the fuel and electrical systems.
Originally ordered as a B.1, XH672 was upgraded to B.2 standard in the first batch on the production line and flew for the first time on 26th May 1960. Entering RAF service on the 25th June 1960, XH672 served as a B.2 until 2nd July 1964 when it was converted by Handley Page to SR.2 standard (the fifth such conversion) and re-entered service with 543 Squadron. The last of the K.2 conversions, XH672 served with 57 and 55 squadrons and served in the Gulf as 'Maid Marion' in Operation Granby. The last Victor to fly, XH672 landed at RAF Shawbury for preservation at RAF Cosford Aerospace Museum on 30th November 1993. Having spent twelve years outdoors at Cosford, XH672 has recently been repainted in preparation for going undercover in the new 'Landmark' building.
Handley Page Victor B.2, K.2 (XH717) [@ RAF Hendon]
The B.2 was to be a 'fly higher, fly faster' design (in fact, it would beat the Vulcan in this respect). With the cancellation of the higher thrust Sapphire 9 engines, Rolls Royce Conways were installed instead. Much redesign of the wing roots, intakes and engine boxes were required but eventually the B.2, with extended wingspan, changed tailcone, all-new electrical system and many other modifications, was finally put into production. The first B.2 flew in February 1959 and was designed to carry the cancelled US Skybolt IRBM and two squadrons; 100 and 139 were equipped with B.2Rs which were armed with the Avro Blue Steel [photograph - right] standoff missile. The final B.2 rolled off the line in April 1963 and was delivered to the RAF in May.
In January 1965 while working on the conversion of B.1s to K.1s the Valiant force was suddenly grounded after fatigue fractures were found in the main wing spars of many aircraft. Low-level operations had badly fatigued the Valiant that proved unable to cope with the stress of this new environment and suddenly the RAF was without its Valiant tankers. With the need for the Victor tanker now urgent six B.1As (including XH648) were taken out of service for a rush-job (refuelling taking place from pods under the outer wings - later Victor tankers would have a centreline point as well). The work involved the fitting of two Mk 20B-refuelling pods under each outer wing with the associated wiring and piping and removing most of the ECM equipment. The first converted aircraft flew on 28th April 1965 and the RAF had regained its tanker force by August, with 55 Squadron being the first operational Victor B(K).1A unit (receiving its first example in May). This two-point variant was still capable of being used as a bomber, hence the B, and Squadrons 57, 214 and 19 followed on with the three point K.1s (converted Victor B.1s). Twenty-seven B.2’s were also converted to K.2 tankers, XL231 being the prototype, in 1973/74 and these aircraft served with 55 and 57 Squadrons and were withdrawn from service in the early 1990s after participating in the Gulf War.
Originally delivered to the RAF on the 14th March 1963 as a B.2, XM717 went on to serve as 'Lucky Lou' with 55 Squadron in the 1991 Gulf War in Operation Granby refuelling RAF Tornados and RAF Jaguars as well as US Navy aircraft. XM717 flew for the last time on the 1st October 1993. Luckily the nose was preserved as the remainder of XM717 was sold as scrap at RAF Marham in December 1993.
Handley Page Victor B.2, B(SR).2, K.2 (XL231) [@ RAF Elvington]
The Victor B(SR).1 and a B(SR).2 were Strategic Reconnaissance variants, both serving with 543 Squadron of the Wittering Wing at RAF Wyton. The Squadron provided the strategic reconnaissance element to the RAF's "V" Force and undertook intelligence and survey photography and radar reconnaissance around the globe including the Arctic, the South Atlantic, East Africa, and the Pacific and Far East. With the phasing out of the Valliant at the end of 1964, a few B.1s were converted to bridge the gap until the arrival of the Victor B(SR).2s. Building on the experience gained in fitting radar reconnaissance equipment to the B.1s, nine Blue Steel variant B.2s were converted to B(SR).2 standard. The Blue Steel mounts were not needed and the bomb bay was filled with cameras and powerful photoflashes. The B(SR).2 proved to be an exceptional photoreconnaissance platform and gave useful service for around eight years before being retired; three were then converted to K.2 standard (XL231, XH672 and XM715).
XL231 is not just another plane parked out in the rain, XL231 is “living and breathing” and performs engine and taxi runs. XL231entered RAF service with 139 Squadron on the 1st February 1962 and was returned to Handley Page for conversion to the B(SR).2 standard in November 1963; re-entering service with 543 Squadron in July 1964. On 23rd January 1972, XL231 became the prototype Victor K.2 tanker conversion. XL231 went on to support the “Black Buck” raid on Port Stanley and was nicknamed “Lusty Lindy” in operation Granby during the Gulf War. When 55 Squadron disbanded on the 15th October 1993 XL231 was sold and retired to RAF Elvington on the 25th November 1993.
Handley Page Victor B.2, B.2R, B(SR).2, K.2 (XM715) [@ RAF Bruntingthorpe]
In December 1963 the Victor was deployed to Singapore as a show of force when Indonesia threatened the British protectorate of Malaysia. Indonesia backed down when Victors (including XH648) were deployed to the area and the V-force, especially Vulcans, remained regular visitors from then on. However it was the Victor tanker variant that would see action, first in 1982 when the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands. The famous Black Buck missions were at the time the longest undertaken in the history of air warfare; the refuelling plan called for no less than eleven Victors to take off with a single Vulcan, the Victors refuelling both a Vulcan and other Victors in order to get the Vulcan and a single Victor to the last refuelling point. Unfortunately the Falklands operations (which continued until 1985 when a new larger airfield was built in the Falklands) also used up a lot of the Victor's remaining fatigue hours (sortie rate being 30 times the peacetime norm), so by 1986 a number of Victors were retired and 57 Squadron was disbanded, leaving only 55 Squadron. In 1990 Victor tanker force went to war again when Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait. On the eve of retirement in early 1991 the Victor went to war again when Operation Granby (the RAF's designation for Gulf War operations) needed eight Victors to fly in support of allied sorties into Kuwait and Iraq. The Victor force really distinguished themselves in the Gulf, with 299 sorties tasked and 299 carried out - a 100% availability rate not matched by any other RAF aircraft. Retirement finally came on 15th October 1993 when 55 Squadron disbanded at RAF Marham, the Victors being replaced by VC-10s which themselves have been in service since the early 1980s.
XM715 is the only other "living and breathing" Victor and regularly performs engine runs (the above photograph was taken with all four Conway engine on full power) and fast taxi runs on open days at RAF Bruntingthorpe. XM715 was built in the fourth B.2 batch and served with 139, 100, 543, 55 Squadrons and 232 OCU (twice). XM715 first flew on the 31st December 1962 and was delivered to the RAF on the 4th May 1963. XM715 was one of the last Victors to be delivered under contract 6/Acft/15566/CB6. After conversion to B(SR).2 standard in 1965, and a brief spell in this role, XM715 was handed back to Handley Page and subsequently did very little flying. On 12th May 1975, XM715 was delivered to 232 OCU after conversion to K.2 standard (the ninth such conversion) and was heavily used to 'catch-up' on fatigue index. XM715 spent most of her later life with 55 Squadron and was nicknamed "Teasin' Tina" in operation Granby during the Gulf War. Eventually sold and flown to RAF Bruntingthorpe on the 19th November 1993.
Victor production totalled 50 B.1/1As and 34 B.2s. The success of the type prompted Handley-Page to offer a transport variant to the RAF, the HP.111, but sadly for the future of Handley Page this never saw realization.