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Vickers Valiant

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Title: Vickers Valiant  
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Collection: British Bomber Aircraft 1950–1959, Quadjets, Vickers Aircraft
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Vickers Valiant

Vickers Valiant
Valiant XD826 in 1961
Role Strategic bomber, Aerial tanker
Manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs
Designer George Edwards
First flight 18 May 1951
Introduction 1955
Retired January 1965
Status Retired
Primary user Royal Air Force
Produced 1951-1957
Number built 107

The Vickers-Armstrongs Valiant was a British four-jet bomber, once part of the Royal Air Force's V bomber nuclear force in the 1950s and 1960s. The Valiant was the first of the V bombers to become operational, and was followed by the Handley Page Victor and the Avro Vulcan; however it was noticeably less advanced than its counterparts. Several Valiants were soon converted to perform various support roles, such as aerial refuelling tankers and reconnaissance aircraft.

The Valiant was intended for operations as a high-level strategic bomber. By late 1964 it was found that all variants of the Valiant showed premature fatiguing and inter-crystalline corrosion in wing spar attachment castings traced to the use of a poorly understood[1] [N 1] aluminium alloy, DTD683. Rather than proceeding with an expensive rebuilding program, the Valiant was formally retired in 1965. Its duties were continued by the other V-bombers which remained in service until the 1980s.


  • Development 1
    • Background and origins 1.1
    • Prototypes 1.2
  • Design 2
  • Operational history 3
    • Nuclear deterrent 3.1
    • Conventional warfare 3.2
    • Tanker operations 3.3
    • Countermeasures and reconnaissance roles 3.4
    • Fatigue failures and retirement 3.5
  • Variants 4
  • Operators 5
  • Survivors 6
  • Accidents and incidents 7
  • Specifications (Valiant B.1) 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
    • Notes 10.1
    • Citations 10.2
    • Bibliography 10.3
  • External links 11


Background and origins

In November 1944, the Joint Technical Warfare Committee, along with a separate committee chaired by Sir Henry Tizard, examined the future potential of "weapons of war" and the accompanying Tizard Report published on 3 July 1945 made specific policy directions for the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command.[2] After the Second World War, the policy of using heavy four-engined bombers for massed raids continued into the immediate postwar period; the Avro Lincoln, an updated version of the Avro Lancaster, became the RAF's standard bomber. In 1946, the Air Staff issued Operational Requirements OR229 and OR230 for the development of turbojet-powered heavy bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons at high altitude and speed, without defensive armament, to act as a deterrent to hostile powers and, if deterrence failed, to perform a nuclear strike.[2]

In January 1947, the British Air Ministry issued Specification B.35/46 for an advanced jet bomber intended to carry nuclear weapons and fly near to the speed of sound at altitudes of 50,000 ft (15,000 m).[3] Three firms: A.V. Roe, Handley-Page and Vickers-Armstrongs submitted advanced designs intended to meet the stringent requirements.[4] While Short Brothers submitted a design, by Geoffrey T. R. Hill,[5] that was judged too ambitious, the Air Staff accepted another submission from the company for a separate requirement, B.14/46, as "insurance" in case the advanced B.35/46 effort ran into trouble. Short's conservative design became the S.A.4 Sperrin.[3] Two prototypes were completed, the first flying in 1951, but the type was relegated to research and development.[4]

First prototype at Farnborough Airshow, 1951

Both Handley-Page and Avro came up with very advanced designs for the bomber competition. These would become the Victor and the Vulcan respectively; the Air Staff decided to award contracts to each company as a form of insurance in case one design failed. The submissions were known as V bombers, with all the aircraft names starting with the letter "V" and consequently, were known collectively as the V-class.[6]

Vickers' submission had initially been rejected as not as advanced as the Victor and Vulcan,[3] but Vickers' chief designer

  • RAF Museum
  • Valiant History
  • "The Vickers Valiant" version 1.1

External links

  • Andrews, C.F. The Vickers Valiant (Aircraft in profile no. 66). Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1965.
  • Andrews, C.F. and Eric B. Morgan. Vickers Aircraft since 1908. London: Putnam, 1988. ISBN 978-0851778150 .
  • Barfield, Norman. "Vickers Valiant: Precient programme management par excellence". Air International, Vol. 43, No. 3, September 1992, pp. 153–161. ISSN 0306-5634.
  • Brookes, Andrew. Force V: The History of Britain's Airborne Deterrent. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0238-3.
  • Brookes, Andrew. Valiant Units of the Cold War (Osprey Combat Aircraft: 95). Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2012. ISBN 978-1-84908753-7.
  • Burnet, Charles and Eric B. Morgan. "The V-Bombers: Vickers Valiant, Part 1." Aeroplane Monthly, Volume 8, No. 8, August 1980.
  • Burnet, Charles and Eric B. Morgan. "The V-Bombers: Vickers Valiant, Part 2." Aeroplane Monthly, Volume 8, No. 9, September 1980.
  • Downey, Bob. V Bombers (Warbirds Illustrated No. 35). London: Arms and Armour Press, 1985. ISBN 0-85368-740-4.
  • Ellis, Ken. Wrecks & Relics: 20th Edition. Leicester, UK: Midland Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-85780-235-7
  • Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1973, pp 38–53. ISBN 0-7110-0456-0.
  • Halley, James. Royal Air Force Aircraft WA100 to WZ999. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Limited, 2003, First edition 2001. ISBN 0-85130-321-8.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1980. ISBN 0-85130-083-9.
  • Jackson, Robert. Modern Combat Aircraft: 11 - V-Bombers. Shepperton, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 1-901945-03-0.
  • Jones, Barry. V-Bombers: Valiant, Vulcan and Victor. Ramsbury, Malborough, UK: The Crowood Press, Paperback edition, 2007. ISBN 978-1-86126-945-4.
  • Laming, Tim. V-Bombers: Vulcan, Victor and Valiant - Britain's Airborne Nuclear Deterrent. London: Patrick Stephens Limited, 1997. ISBN 978-1-85260-529-2.
  • "Light Alloys and Production Problems: Two Further Papers from the A.F.I.T.A. Congress." Flight, 17 July 1953, pp. 91–93.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Bomber since 1914. London: Putnam, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
  • McBrearty, J. F. "Fail-Safe airframe design: The Lockheed philosophy: 'Fail-Safe' preferred to 'Safe Life'." Flight, 6 April 1956, pp. 394–397.
  • Morgan, Eric B. Vickers Valiant: The First V-Bomber. Leicester, UK: Midland Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-85780-134-2.
  • Rosemeyer, Maurice Patrick. Adventure in the Air: Memoirs of a Flight Test Engineer. London, Ontario, Canada: Insomniac Press, 2009. ISBN 1-926582-14-4.
  • "Structural Problems - and Some Suggested Solutions: a Digest of Mr H. H. Gardiner's R.Ae.S Lecture." Flight, 14 December 1951, pp. 756–758.
  • Turpin, Brian. "Database: Vickers Valiant." Aeroplane, Volume 30, No. 2, Issue 346, February 2002.
  • "Valiant: Last of the Vickers Bombers?" Flight, 4 July 1958, pp. 13–20.
  • Wilson, Stewart. Combat Aircraft since 1945. Fyshwick, Australia: Aerospace Publications, 2000. 1-875671-50-1.
  • Wynn, Humphrey. RAF Nuclear Deterrent Forces. London: The Stationery Office. 1996. ISBN 0-11-772833-0.


  1. ^ “Pitfalls of the substitution of sophistication for Common Sense” D Howe, Cranfield University. IMechE Vol 212 Part G, Sec 5.1 Metals, p. 307. May 1998
  2. ^ a b Turpin 2002, p. 71.
  3. ^ a b c Rosemeyer 2009, p. 52.
  4. ^ a b Burnet and Morgan Aeroplane Monthly August 1980, p. 397.
  5. ^ "Aerocinema-The Lost V Bomber". 
  6. ^ Downey 1985, p. 5.
  7. ^ Rosemeyer 2009, pp. 52–53.
  8. ^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 438.
  9. ^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 439.
  10. ^ Turpin 2002, p. 72.
  11. ^ Jones 2007, pp. 31, 33.
  12. ^ Flight 4 July 1958, p. 13.
  13. ^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 440.
  14. ^ Turpin 2002, p. 74.
  15. ^ Jones 2007, p. 34.
  16. ^ Burnet and Morgan Aeroplane Monthly August 1980, p. 400.
  17. ^ Jones 2007, p. 37.
  18. ^ Brookes 2012, p. 12.
  19. ^ Jones 2007, p. 26.
  20. ^ Jones 2007, pp. 32, 36.
  21. ^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 445.
  22. ^ Jones 2007, pp. 36–37.
  23. ^ Brookes 2012, pp. 83–84.
  24. ^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 449.
  25. ^ a b Andrews and Morgan, p. 442.
  26. ^ a b c Barfield Air International September 1992, p. 158.
  27. ^ Burnet and Morgan Aeroplane Monthly August 1980, p. 398.
  28. ^ Andrews 1966, p. 16.
  29. ^ a b Flight 4 July 1958, p. 19.
  30. ^ Turpin 2002, p. 78.
  31. ^ Flight 4 July 1958, p. 18.
  32. ^ Turpin 2002, pp. 79–80.
  33. ^ Flight 14 December 1951, p. 756.
  34. ^ Flight 17 July 1953, p. 91.
  35. ^ Brookes Valiant Units of the Cold War pp83
  36. ^ The Journal of the Institute of Metals (JIM), Vol. 86, No. 1790, 1957–1958.
  37. ^ Flight 6 April 1956, p. 394.
  38. ^ Jones 2007, pp. 79–82.
  39. ^ Mason 1994, p. 378.
  40. ^ Morgan p. 66-68
  41. ^ Valiant Units of the Cold War, Brookes p. 88
  42. ^ [2] Fatigue Loadings in Flight-Loads in the Nose Undercarriage and Wing of a Valiant, E.W. Wells, ARC C.P. No. 521
  43. ^ Flight May 17, 1957 p. 651
  44. ^ Morgan p. 44 & p. 89.
  45. ^ Morgan App2 pp 89-94
  46. ^ Humphrey Wynne "The RAF Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Forces" p. 469.
  47. ^ Brookes, Victor Units of the Cold War, p. 67.
  48. ^ Morgan, App 2, Individual Valiant Histories pp. 89-94
  49. ^ Air Clues, Vol 19 No 6 March 1965. p. 208
  51. ^ "V-Bombers” Barry Jones p. 117.
  52. ^ "blue steel - 1965 - 0310 - Flight Archive". 
  53. ^ Wynn 1996, p. 465.
  54. ^ "Valiants to be Scrapped." Glasgow Herald, 27 January 1965.
  55. ^ Wynn 1996, pp. 464–471, 500.
  56. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Brookes 2012, p. 92.
  57. ^ Halley 1980, p. 203.
  58. ^ Halley 1980, p. 315.
  59. ^ Brookes 2012, pp. 34–35.
  60. ^ "60th Anniversary of Valiant’s First Flight." Royal Air Force Museum, 17 May 2011.
  61. ^ "Powered Aircraft, Gliders & Aircraft Cockpit Sections." Brooklands Museum, Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  62. ^ "Exhibits - External ." Highland Aviation Museum, Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  63. ^ "Our Aircraft." Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  64. ^ "Sole British Jet Atom Bomber Crashes." New York Times, 13 January 1952.
  65. ^ a b c d Halley 2003, p. 95.
  66. ^ "Valiant Crash Inquest Verdict." The Times, Issue 53289, August 1955, p. 11.
  67. ^ a b c d Halley 2003, p. 128.
  68. ^ a b Halley 2001, p. 20.
  69. ^ Morgan 1994, p. 32.
  70. ^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 450.
  71. ^ Mason 1994, p. 379.


  1. ^ The rapid development of aircraft during World War II led to a demand for very high strength aluminium alloy, especially for use in highly loaded tension and compression members. One result was a zinc /magnesium based alloy given the identification DTD 683. It was ideal for such applications as wing spar caps providing, as was the case with wartime operations, the life of the aircraft was short. Use in early post-War transport aircraft showed that DTD 683 was very crack sensitive and hence prone to fatigue failure. In many cases it had to be replaced by steel components. DTD 683 is an example of a material developed to meet a particular need, but whose wider characteristics were not investigated until too late. D.Howe 1998
  2. ^ Traditionally, RAF bombers had been named after towns and cities, for example Lancaster, Halifax and Canberra, but the new aircraft technology seemed to suggest a break from tradition; the name also fitted in with an equally long held tradition of alliteration in aircraft names.
  3. ^ Structural Changes Caused by Plastic Strain and by fatigue in Aluminium-Zinc-Magnesium-Copper Alloys Corresponding to DTD.683 (Broom and Mezza)
  4. ^ The Valiants had not yet been fitted with their operational Navigational and Bombing System (NBS) and were dropping largely using Second World War techniques.
  5. ^ XD818 was also the aircraft which had dropped nuclear weapons during Operation Grapple.



Related lists
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

See also

  • Bombs:
    • 1 × 10,000 lb (4500 kg) Blue Danube nuclear bomb[71] or
    • 21 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs



  • Crew: five - two pilots, two navigators (one navigator plotter + one navigator bomber), air electronics officer
  • Length: 108 ft 3 in (32.99 m)
  • Wingspan: 114 ft 4 in (34.85 m)
  • Height: 32 ft 2 in (9.80 m)
  • Wing area: 2,362 ft2 (219 m2)
  • Empty weight: 75,881 lb (34,491 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 140,000 lb (63,600 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Avon RA28 Mk 204 turbojet, 10,000 lb (44.6 kN) each
General characteristics

Data from Vickers Aircraft since 1908.[70]

Specifications (Valiant B.1)

  • 12 January 1952; the first Valiant prototype WB210 crashed near Hurn following a mid-air fire.[64]
  • 29 July 1955; Valiant B1 WP222 of No. 138 Squadron crashed on takeoff at RAF Wittering following aileron malfunction killing all four crew.[65][66]
  • 11 May 1956; Valiant B1 WP202 of the Royal Aircraft Establishment lost control and crashed attempting to land at Southwick Recreation Ground, near Hove in Sussex.[65]
  • 13 September 1957: Valiant B(PR)K1 WZ398 of No. 543 Squadron caught fire in a hangar at RAF Wyton, not repaired.[67]
  • 11 September 1959: Valiant BK1 XD869 of No. 214 Squadron flew into the ground after a night take off from RAF Marham.[68]
  • 12 August 1960: Valiant BK1 XD864 of No. 7 Squadron nose wheel failed to retract on takeoff from RAF Wyton, while sorting it out the aircraft stalled and crashed into the ground at RAF Spanhoe disused airfield.[68]
  • 11 July 1961: Valiant B1 WP205 of the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment overshot runway and hit control caravan at Boscombe Down.[65]
  • 3 November 1961: Valiant B(PR)K1 WZ399 of No. 543 Squadron abandoned takeoff at Offut AFB, Nebraska, United States, caught fire after overshooting runway onto a railway line.[67]
  • 14 March 1961 Valiant B. 1 WP200 at RRFU Pershore, failed to complete take off, written off [65][69]
  • 6 May 1964: Valiant B1 WZ363 of No. 148 Squadron (although a 148 Sqn aircraft, it was on loan to, and crewed by, members of 207 Sqn) dived into the ground at night at Market Rasen, Lincolnshire.[67]
  • 23 May 1964: Valiant B(PR)K1 WZ396 of No. 543 Squadron landed on foam with landing gear problems at RAF Manston, not repaired.[67]

Accidents and incidents

  • Vickers Valiant B1 XD818 - RAF Museum Cosford, on display with the other two V bombers, the Victor and Vulcan in the National Cold War Exhibition, this is the only fully intact example in existence, and so is the only place where an example of all three V bombers can be seen together.[60]
  • Cockpit sections surviving comprise XD816 at Brooklands Museum in Surrey and XD875 at the Highland Aviation Museum at Inverness Airport.[61][62] A third surviving section is the cockpit of XD826 which is part of a private collection in Essex and the flight deck of XD857 is displayed at the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, Suffolk.[63]
Vickers Valiant B1 XD818 - RAF Museum Cosford in 2006


  • Royal Air Force operated Valiants out of RAF Gaydon, RAF Finningley, RAF Honington, RAF Marham, RAF Wittering and RAF Wyton by:
    • No. 7 Squadron - Reformed at Honington on 1 November 1956, moving to Wittering on 26 July 1960 and disbanding 30 September 1962.[56]
    • No. 18 Squadron - Valiant equipped C Flight of 199 Squadron renumbered 18 Squadron at Finningley on 17 December 1958 and disbanded 31 March 1963.[56]
    • No. 49 Squadron - Reformed Wittering 1 May 1956, moving to Marham 26 June 1961 and disbanding 1 May 1965.[56]
    • No. 90 Squadron - Reformed at Honington on 1 January 1957 and disbanded on 1 March 1965 .[56]
    • No. 138 Squadron - Reformed at Gaydon on 1 January 1955, moving to Wittering on 6 July 1955 and disbanding 1 April 1962.[56]
    • No. 148 Squadron - Reformed Marham 1 July 1956 and disbanded 1 May 1965.[56]
    • No. 199 Squadron - C Flight of 199 Squadron received Valiants on 29 May 1957 at Honington in the ECM training role, replacing Avro Lincolns, with the rest of the Squadron operating the Canberra. 199 Squadron was disbanded in December 1958, with C Flight becoming 18 Squadron.[56][57]
    • No. 207 Squadron - Reformed at Marham on 1 April 1956, disbanding on 1 May 1965.[56]
    • No. 214 Squadron - Reformed at Marham on 21 January 1956 and disbanded on 1 March 1965.[56]
    • No. 543 Squadron - Reformed at Gaydon on 1 April 1955 in the strategic reconnaissance role and moved to Wyton on 18 November 1955. It received Victor Mk 1s to replace its grounded Valiants in 1965.[56][58]
    • No. 232 Operational Conversion Unit RAF - Formed at Gaydon 21 February 1955 to train Valiant flight crews, with Victor training added in 1957. The Valiant equipped B flight disbanded in February 1965.[56]
    • No. 1321 (Valiant/Blue Danube Trials) Flight[59]
 United Kingdom


Valiant production ended in August 1957; the last six had been cancelled in 1956.

  • Valiant B.1: 39 pure bomber variants, including five pre-production Type 674, which were powered by Avon RA.14 engines with the same 9,500 lbf (42 kN) thrust each as the earlier Avon 201 and 34 Type 706 full-production aircraft, powered by Avon RA.28 204 or 205 engines with 10,500 lbf (47 kN) thrust each, longer tailpipes, and water-methanol injection for take-off boost power.
  • Type 710 Valiant B(PR).1: eight bomber/photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Edwards and his team had considered use of the Valiant for photo-reconnaissance from the start, and this particular type of aircraft could accommodate a removable "crate" in the bomb-bay, carrying up to eight narrow-view/high resolution cameras and four survey cameras.
  • Type 733 Valiant B(PR)K.1: 13 bomber/photo-reconnaissance/tanker aircraft
  • Type 758 Valiant B(K).1: 44 bomber / tanker aircraft. Both tanker variants carried a removable tanker system in the bomb-bay, featuring fuel tanks and a hose-and-drogue aerial refuelling system. A further 16 Valiant B(K).1s were ordered, but cancelled.
  • Vickers also considered an air transport version of the Valiant, with a low-mounted wing, wingspan increased to 140 ft (42.7 m) from 114 ft 4 in (34.8 m), fuselage lengthened to 146 ft (44.5 m), and uprated engines. Work on a prototype, designated the Type 1000, began in early 1953. The prototype was to lead to a military transport version, the Type 1002, and a civilian transport version, the Type 1004 or VC.7. The Type 1000 prototype was almost complete when it, too, was cancelled.

Including three prototypes, a total of 107 Valiants were built.


On 9 December 1964, the last Valiant tanker sortie involved refuelling Lightning aircraft over the North Sea. On the same day, the last Valiant bomber sortie was carried out, using XD818.[N 5] The Valiant was Vickers' last purpose-built military aircraft. It was followed by the Vanguard, a passenger turboprop designed in 1959, and the Vickers VC10, a jet passenger aircraft from 1962, also used as a military transport and tanker by the RAF.

Inspections of the entire fleet showed that the wing spars were suffering from fatigue at between 35% and 75% of the assessed safe fatigue life, probably due to low level turbulence. After this inspection, the aircraft were divided into three categories, Cat A aircraft continuing to fly, Cat B to fly to a repair base, and Cat C requiring repair before flying again. The tanker squadrons had the highest proportion of Cat A aircraft because their role had been mainly at high level. This also caused the methods of assessing fatigue lives to be reviewed.[53] However, in January 1965, the Wilson government with Denis Healey as Secretary of State for Defence decided that the expense of the repairs could not be justified and the fleet was permanently grounded as of 26 January 1965.[54] The QRA alert that had been in place for SACEUR was maintained until the final grounding and was then allowed to lapse.[55]

Denis Healey said when asked to make a statement about the scrapping in the House of Commons, that it "was not in any way connected with low-level flying".[50] Barry Jones commented in his book “A question has to be asked. For two years before the demise of the Valiant, Handley Page at Radlett had 100 Hastings go through their shops. They were completely dismantled and rebuilt, having DTD683 components removed and replaced by new alloy sections. What was so special about the Hastings and why was the Valiant not treated similarly? Perhaps we will know one day -- but I doubt it.” [51] In a Flight[52] report about the scrapping it states "Fatigue affected all Valiants ... not only those ... used for ... low flying" it was the "limited-life" design (Safe-Life) or "actual fatigue problems" (DTD683) that were the cause.

In July 1964 a cracked spar was found in one of the three Valiants (either WZ394 - Wynne, or WZ389 - Morgan) involved in Operation Pontifex[46] followed shortly afterward on 6 August, by a failure of a rear spar at 30,000 ft,[47] in WP217 an OCU aircraft from Gaydon flown by Flight Lieutenant "Taffy" Foreman. The aircraft landed back at Gaydon but without a flap because of damage in the rear of one wing. Later inspection of the aircraft showed the fuselage skin below the starboard inner plane had buckled, popping the rivets; the engine door had cracked and the rivets had been pulled and the skin buckled on the top surface of the mainplane between the two engines. Both these aircraft were PR variants,[48] operating at 30,000 ft.[49]

By the time the type was scrapped only around 50 aircraft were still in service, the rest had been slowly accumulating at various RAF Maintenance Units designated as "Non effective Aircraft"[45]

In May 1957 Flight reported an "incident at Boscombe Down, when a Valiant cracked a rear spar member after a rocket-assisted take-off in overload conditions"[43] This aircraft was the second prototype WB 215, it was subsequently broken up for wing fatigue testing, it had flown 489 hours[44]

Later the RAE ran a similar series of tests that more closely resembled actual operational conditions including low level and taxiing, the report[42] published in 1958 produced data that could be used to get a better grasp on which flight conditions produced the most damage, and better enable a projection of the future life span for the type.

In 1956, Vickers began a series of low level tests in WZ383 to assess the type for low level flight at high speed. Several modifications to the aircraft were made, including a metal radome, debris guards on the two inboard engines, after six flights the aileron and elevator artificial feel was reduced by 50%. Pilots reported problems with cabin heating and condensation that would need remedying. The aircraft was fitted with data recording equipment and this data was used by Vickers to estimate the remaining safe life of the type under these flying conditions. Initially a safe life of 75 hours was recommended, which became "the real figure might be less than 200 hours".[40] How many hours a Valiant flew in a year was seen as an operational issue for the RAF,[41] Vickers could only give recommendations.

Originally the bombing role was at high level but with the shooting down in 1960 of the Lockheed U-2 flown by Gary Powers by an early SA-2 Guideline missile, the SAM threat caused the V-force to train for low-level attack. They were repainted in grey/green camouflage, replacing their anti-flash white scheme. Three squadrons of Valiants were assigned to the low-level tactical bombing role (49, 148, 207) and two more squadrons (90 and 214) served as tankers. They also continued to serve in the strategic photo-reconnaissance role (543 Squadron).

Camouflaged Valiant at Filton, England. Date uncertain but probably the mid-1960s

Fatigue failures and retirement

Valiants of number 543 Squadron at RAF Wyton were modified to serve in the photographic reconnaissance role.

Valiants of No. 18 Squadron RAF at RAF Finningley were modified to the "radio countermeasures" (RCM) role - RCM is now called "electronic countermeasures" (ECM). These aircraft were ultimately fitted with APT-16A and ALT-7 jamming transmitters, Airborne Cigar and Carpet jammers, APR-4 and APR-9 "sniffing" receivers, and chaff dispensers. At least seven Valiants were configured to the RCM role.

Countermeasures and reconnaissance roles

With inflight refuelling probes fitted to Valiants, Vulcans and Victors and Valiant tankers available, the so-called "Medium Bomber Force" of the RAF could go beyond "medium range", and the RAF had a true strategic bombing capability. Long-range demonstration flights were made using Valiant tankers pre-deployed along the route. In 1960, a Valiant bomber flew non-stop from Marham in the UK to Singapore and in 1961 a Vulcan non-stop from the UK to Australia. The two tanker squadrons regularly practised long range missions, refuelled by other Valiant tankers on the way. In 1963 a squadron of Gloster Javelin All-weather interceptors was refuelled in stages from the UK to India (Exercise "Shiksha"). The tankers going on to Butterworth near Penang in Malaysia and returning the Javelins to the UK three weeks later. Four of the Javelins were refuelled to Singapore to join 60Sqn during Confrontation. Other aircraft refuelled at this time included Victor and Vulcan bombers and English Electric Lightning fighters, also the de Havilland Sea Vixen fighter of the Royal Navy.

Valiant tankers were flown by 214 Squadron at RAF Marham, operational in 1958 and 90 Squadron at Honington, operational in 1959. These aircraft were fitted with a Hose Drum Unit (HDU or "Hoodoo") in the bomb bay. The HDU was mounted on bomb-mounting points and could be removed if necessary. However, this arrangement meant that the bomb doors had to be opened in order to give fuel to a receiver aircraft.

Tanker operations

The Valiant was the first of the V-bombers to see combat, during the Anglo-French-Israeli Suez intervention in October and November 1956. During Operation Musketeer, Valiants operating from the airfield at Luqa on Malta dropped conventional HE bombs on targets inside Egypt. Although the Egyptians did not oppose the attacks and there were no Valiant combat losses, the results of the raids were disappointing. Their primary targets were seven Egyptian airfields. Although the Valiants dropped a total of 842 tons (856 tonnes) of bombs, only three of the seven airfields were seriously damaged. [N 4] It was the last time the V-bombers flew a war mission until Avro Vulcans bombed Port Stanley airfield in the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War in 1982.

Peacetime practice involved the dropping of small practice bombs on instrumented bombing ranges, also a system of predicted bombing using radio tones to mark the position of bomb drop over non-range targets, the bomb error being calculated by a ground radar unit and passed either to the crew during flight or to a headquarters for analysis. When the Navigational and Bombing System (NBS) was fitted and crews well-trained, bombing accuracies became typical of other aircraft of the time and from 40,000 ft/12,190 m a 100 yd (90 m) error was not uncommon.

Conventional warfare

On 15 May 1957, a 49 Squadron Valiant B(K).1 dropped the first British hydrogen bomb, the "Short Granite" (AKA "Green Granite Small"), over the Pacific as part of Operation Grapple. The test was largely a failure, as the measured yield was less than a third of the maximum expected and while achieving the desired thermonuclear explosion the device had failed to operate as intended. The first British hydrogen bomb that detonated as planned, "Grapple X Round A" (AKA "Round C1"), was dropped on 8 November 1957. The Grapple series of tests continued into 1958, and in April 1958 the "Grapple Y" bomb exploded with 10 times the yield of the original "Short Granite". Testing was finally terminated in November 1958, when the British government decided it would perform no more air-delivered nuclear tests.

A Valiant B.1 (WZ366) of No 49 Squadron was the first RAF aircraft to drop a British operational atomic bomb when it performed a test drop of a down-rated Blue Danube weapon on Maralinga, South Australia, on 11 October 1956.[39]

The first squadron to be equipped with the Valiant was 138 Squadron, which formed at RAF Gaydon on 1 January 1955, with 232 Operational Conversion Unit forming at Gaydon on 21 February 1955 to convert crews onto the new bomber. Since the Valiant was part of an entirely new class of bombers for the RAF, the crews for the new type were selected from experienced aircrew, with first pilots requiring 1,750 flying hours as an aircraft captain, with at least one tour flying the Canberra, with second pilots needing 700 hours in command and the remaining three crewmembers had to be recommended for posting to the Valiant by their commanding officers.[38] Valiants were originally assigned to the strategic nuclear bombing role, as were the Vulcan and Victor B.1s when they became operational. At its peak, the Valiant equipped nine RAF squadrons.

Side view of a Yellow Sun nuclear bomb under the wing of a Vickers Valiant at RAF Cosford museum

Nuclear deterrent

Operational history

The Valiant B.1 could carry a single 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) nuclear weapon or up to 21 1,000 lb (450 kg) conventional bombs in its bomb bay. Large external fuel tanks under each wing with a capacity of 1,650 Imp gal (7,500 L), could be used to extend range.

The Valiant was built around a massive backbone beam that supported the wing spars and the weight of bombs in the long bomb bay.[31] The crew were contained in a pressurized "egg" and consisted of pilot, copilot, two navigators, and an electronics operator. Only the pilot and copilot had ejection seats. The other three crew members had to bail out of the crew door on the port side of the fuselage.[32] The main structural components, spars and beams etc. were built with the zinc/magnesium/copper aluminium alloy designated as DTD683 in the U.K., which was problematic in the production of the Valiant.[33][34] The aircraft was designed with a 'Safe-Life' strategy.[35] This combination of 'Safe-Life' and DTD683 came to be viewed as a severe mistake. In 1956, a publication within the Journal of the Institute of Metals[36][N 3] condemned the material DTD683 as being unstable and capable of catastrophic failure while stressing the airframe close to its design limits. The "Safe-Life" design strategy was dismissed by a Lockheed engineer in a talk given to the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1956, because it did not guarantee safety in a catastrophic failure.[37]

Electrics were based on 112 volt direct current generators for functions requiring large amounts of electrical power and a 28 V DC system provided a controlling voltage for other systems and the actuators that initiated the high-voltage system functions. Backup batteries were a bank of 24 V units and 96 V batteries. 115 V alternating current was provided to systems such as radio and radar that required it.[29][30] The brakes and steering gear were hydraulic, however pumps were electrically driven. The flight controls consisted of two channels of power control with full manual back-up; flying in manual was allowed but limited.[29]

Initial Valiant production aircraft had four Rolls-Royce Avon 201 turbojet engines, with 9,500 lbf (42 kN) thrust each. Trials were performed with two underwing de Havilland Sprite rocket booster engines; however these were deemed unnecessary due to the availability of more powerful Avon variants, as well as fear of accidents if one booster rocket failed on take-off, resulting in asymmetric thrust. The engine inlets were long rectangular slots in the first prototype, but later Valiants featured oval or "spectacle" shaped inlets to permit greater airflow for more powerful Avon engine variants.[25] The jet exhausts emerged from fairings above the trailing edge of the wings. Water injection was fitted to some Valiants and increased takeoff thrust by about 1,000 lb (450 kg) per engine.

The Valiant wing had a "compound sweep" configuration, devised (and patented) by Vickers aerodynamicist Elfyn Richards.[26] It had a 37° angle of sweepback in the inner third of the wing, reducing to an angle of about 21° at the tips.[27] This was because the thickness/chord ratio could be reduced closer to the tips, balancing this against the sweep reduction in postponement of Mach effects such as buffeting and drag rise.[26] Limiting in-service speed was Mach 0.84 and a typical cruise of Mach 0.75 at heights up to 55,000 ft when light.[28] A "clean" Valiant (one without underwing tanks) could climb straight to 50,000 ft after takeoff unless it had heavy stores in the large bomb bay. The tail surfaces were swept back, and the horizontal tailplane was mounted well up the vertical fin to keep it clear of the engines' exhaust.[26] The wing loading was low by modern standards and the Valiant was fitted with double-slotted flaps for takeoff (20° flap) and landing (40° or full flap, about 60°). The aircraft featured tricycle landing gear, with twin-wheel nosegear and tandem-wheel main gear retracting outward into the wing. Most of the aircraft's systems were electric including flaps and undercarriage.

Valiant B(PR)K.1 WZ393 of 90 Squadron in original all-metal finish displaying at Blackpool Squires Gate airport in 1957

The Valiant was a conservative design, with a shoulder-mounted wing and four Avon RA.3 turbojets, each of 6,500 lbf (29 kN) thrust, two in each wing root. The design gave an overall impression of a plain and clean aircraft with simple aerodynamics. George Edwards described it appropriately as an "unfunny" aircraft.[24] The root chord thickness ratio was 12% and allowed the Avon engines to be within the wing rather than on pods as in the contemporary Boeing B-47.[25] This "buried engine" fit contributed to the aircraft's aerodynamic cleanliness. However, it made engine access for maintenance and repair difficult and increased the risk that the failure of one engine would contribute to the failure of its pair due to flying debris such as turbine blades. It also increased the complexity of the design of the main spar which had to be routed around the engines.


The prototype B.2, serial number WJ954 first flew on 4 September 1953.[21] Finished in a gloss black night operations paint scheme, it became known as the "Black Bomber". Its performance at low level was superior to that of the B.1 (or any other V-bomber), with the aircraft being cleared to 580 mph (930 km/h) at low level (with speeds of up to 640 mph (1,030 km/h) being reached in testing). This compared to the B.1s sea-level limit of 414 mph (666 km/h). The Air Ministry ordered 17 production B.2s, which were to be powered by Rolls-Royce Conway turbofans. However, although the Valiant B.2's low-level capabilities would later prove to be highly desirable, the B.2 program was abandoned as the RAF realised that the Pathfinder concept, born in a time of mass raids, was obsolete in the nuclear era. The B.2 prototype was used for tests for a few years, including testing use of rockets to boost take-off, before being scrapped in 1958.[22][23]

Of the three prototypes, two were Mark 1s[19] and one was for a developed version, the Valiant B.2, intended as a Pathfinder to mark targets for the main bomber force and to reach its targets at low level and high speed. To cope with the rougher ride compared with high altitude operations, the B.2 had a strengthened airframe. In particular, the wing was strengthened by removing the large cut-outs in the wing structure into which the main wheels retracted, allowing the wing torsion box structure to be uninterrupted and giving more room for internal fuel storage; instead the main landing gear, which had four wheels instead of the two large wheels of the B.1, retracted backwards into large fairings to the rear of the wings. The B.2 had a lengthened fuselage with a total length of 112 ft 9 in (34.37 m), in contrast to a length of 108 ft 3 in (32.99 m) for the Valiant B.1, with the extra length giving room for more avionics.[20]

An initial production order for 25 Valiant B.1 (Bomber Mark 1) aircraft had already been placed in April 1951.[16] The first production aircraft flew on 21 December 1953, again within the schedule Edwards had promised,[17] and was delivered to the RAF on 8 February 1955.[18] Britain's "V-bomber" force, as it had been nicknamed in October 1952, was now in operation. The Victor and Vulcan would follow.

The Valiant jet bomber prototype was lost due to an in-flight fire in January 1952, all the crew escaping safely except for the co-pilot, who struck the tail after ejecting.[12] After modifications to the fuel system (thought to be the cause of the fire), the second prototype, serial number WB215, the Vickers Type 667, flew on 11 April 1952.[13] It was fitted with RA.7 Avon engines with 7,500 lbf (33 kN) thrust each, rather than the Sapphires originally planned, with more rounded air inlets replacing the narrow slot-type intakes of the first prototype, in order to feed sufficient air to the more powerful engines. The short delay before the second prototype was available meant that loss of the initial prototype did not seriously compromise the schedule.[14][15]

The Vickers Type 660 was given the official name of "Valiant" the next month, recycling the name from the Vickers Type 131 general-purpose biplane of 1931.[N 2] The name Valiant was selected by a survey of Vickers employees.[11]

The first prototype, Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, who had also been the original test pilot on the Supermarine Spitfire, and wanted to add another "first" to his record before he retired. His co-pilot on the first flight was Gabe "Jock" Bryce, who succeeded Summers on his retirement soon afterwards.[10]


In April 1948, the Air Staff issued a specification with the designation B.9/48 written around the Vickers design, which was given the company designation of Type 660. In February 1949, two prototypes of the aircraft were ordered. The first was to be fitted with four Rolls-Royce RA.3 Avon engines, while the second was to be fitted with four Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines as the Type 667.[8]


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