Handley Page Victor

HP.80 Victor
RAF Victor in anti-flash white
RoleStrategic bomber, tanker
National originUnited Kingdom
ManufacturerHandley Page Limited
Designed byReginald Stafford
First flight24 December 1952
IntroducedApril 1958
Retired1993
Primary userRoyal Air Force
Produced1952-1963
Number built86

The Handley Page Victor was a British jet bomber aircraft produced by the Handley Page Aircraft Company. It was the third and final of the "V bombers" which provided Britain's nuclear deterrent. The other two V-bombers were the Avro Vulcan and the Vickers Valiant.

Design and development

Like the other V-bombers, the Victor was designed for high-altitude, high-speed penetration of Soviet airspace to deliver a free-fall nuclear weapon. It was intended to fly higher and faster than contemporary fighter aircraft.

HP.80

Handley Page's design, the HP.80, was prepared in response to Air Ministry Specification B.35/46. To achieve the required performance, the HP.80 was given a crescent wing developed by Handley Page's aerodynamicist Dr. Gustav Lachmann and his deputy, Godfrey Lee. The sweep and chord of the wing decrease in three distinct steps from the root to the tip, to ensure a constant limiting Mach number across the entire wing and consequently a high cruise speed. The crescent wing was tested on a third scale glider, the HP.87, and a modified Supermarine Attacker, the Handley Page HP.88. The HP.88 crashed after completing only a few flights and by the time the HP.87 was ready the HP.80 wing had changed such that the former was no longer representative. In the event, design of the HP.80 had sufficiently advanced that the loss of the HP.88 had little effect on the programme. The HP.80 also had an advanced construction, featuring a sandwich of two aluminium skins with a corrugated filling.

Two HP.80 prototypes - WB771 and WB775 - were built. The Victor was a futuristic-looking machine - streamlined, the engines buried in the thick wing roots and a large, highly-swept T-tail with considerable dihedral on the horizontal stabilisers. A feature of the Victor was the prominent chin bulge that contained the targeting radar, cockpit, nose landing gear unit and an auxiliary bomb aimer's position. Unlike the Vulcan and Valiant, the Victor's pilots sat at the same level as the rest of the crew, thanks to a larger pressurised compartment that extended all the way to the nose. As with the other V-bombers, only the pilots were provided with ejection seats; the three systems operators relying on explosive cushions that would help them from their seats and towards a traditional bail out.

HP.80 prototype WB771 was broken down at the Handley Page factory at Radlett and transported by road to RAE Boscombe Down for its first flight. Bulldozers were used on the route to create new paths around obstacles. The sections of the aircraft were hidden under wooden framing and tarpaulins printed with "GELEYPANDHY / SOUTHAMPTON" to make it appear to be a boat hull in transit. GELEYPANDHY was an anagram of "Handley Pyge" marred by a signwriters error.

The HP.80 prototypes performed well, but there were a number of design miscalculations that lead to the loss of WB771 in July 1954. Attached to the fin using three bolts, the tailplane was subject to considerably more stress than had been anticipated and it sheared off, causing the aircraft to crash with the loss of the crew. Additionally, the aircraft were considerably tail-heavy. This was remedied by large ballast weights in the HP.80 prototypes. Production Victors had a lengthened nose that also served to move the crew escape door further from the engine intakes and the tailplane attachment changed to a stronger four-bolt fixing.

Victor B.1

Production B.1 Victors were powered by the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire ASSa.7 turbojets rated at 11,000 lbf (49 kN) and carried the Yellow Sun weapon. 24 were upgraded to B.1A standard by the addition of Red Steer tail-warning radar in an enlarged tailcone and a suite of radar warning receivers and electronic countermeasures (ECM).

On 1 June 1956, a production Victor XA917 flown by test pilot Johnny Allam inadvertently exceeded the speed of sound after Allam let the nose drop slightly at a high-power setting. Allam noticed a cockpit indication of Mach 1.1 and ground observers from Watford to Banbury reported hearing a sonic boom. The Victor was the largest aircraft to have broken the "sound barrier" at that time.

Victor B.2

The B.2 was an improved Victor powered by the Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.11 turbofan engines providing 17,250 lbf (76.8 kN). This required enlarged and re-designed intakes to provide greater airflow. The wing was stretched and incorporated two "speed pods" or "Küchemann carrots". These are anti-shock bodies; bulged fairings that reduced wave drag at transonic speeds (see area rule). Unlike the B1, the Mk 2 featured distinctive retractable "elephant ear" intakes on the rear fuselage forward of the fin. These scoops fed ram air to turbine driven alternators, thus their name "Ram Air Turbine (RAT) scoops. In the event of a high altitude flame out, for example from a nuclear shock wave, the loss of electrical or hydraulic power would trigger the RATs to open and provide emergency electrical power until the main engines could be re-lit. The right wing root also incorporated a Blackburn Artouste airborne auxiliary power plant (AAPP) or airborne auxiliary power unit (AAPU). This small "5th" engine provided high pressure air for engine starting, and provided electrical power on the ground, or in the air as an emergency back up in the event of main engine failures or flameout. Tha APU was also a useful feature to support operations away from specialist Victor support equipment. The aircraft also featured an extension at the base of the fin containing ECM cooling equipment.

21 B2 aircraft were upgraded to the B2 (BS) standard with Conway RCo17 engines - 20,600 lb thrust, and facilities to carry a Blue Steel stand-off nuclear missile. It had been intended to modify the aircraft to carry four Skybolt missiles (AGM-48) ballistic missiles but this plan was abandoned when the US cancelled the whole Skybolt programme in 1963. Some aircraft were further modified to conduct high altitude reconnaissance and air sampling - B2 (SR)

With the move to low-level penetration missions, the Victors were fitted with air to air refuelling probes above the cockpit, large underwing fuel tanks and received a two-tone camouflage finish in place of the Anti-flash white. Trials were also conducted with terrain following radar and a side scan mode for the bombing and navigation radar but neither became operational.

Victor B.2 Strategic Reconnaissance

Nine B.2 aircraft were converted for strategic reconnaissance purposes to replace Valiants withdrawn due to wing fatigue. They received cameras, a bomb-bay mounted radar mapping system and wing-top sniffers to detect particles released from nuclear testing.

Victor tankers

An RAF Victor at the Civil Air Terminal, NAS Bermuda ca. 1985.

The withdrawal of the Valiant fleet left the RAF with a shortfall in front-line tanker aircraft, so the B.1/1A aircraft, now judged to be obsolescent in the strike role, were re-fitted for this duty. Six B.1A aircraft received a two-point system with a hose and drogue system carried under each wing as B.1A (K2P). Fourteen further B.1A and eleven B.1 were given a more thorough conversion, receiving bomb-bay fuel tanks and a centreline dispenser unit as three-point tankers - the K.1A / K.1 respectively.

The remaining B.2 aircraft were not as suited to the low-level strike mission as the Vulcan with its strong delta wing. This, combined with the switch of the nuclear deterrent from the RAF to the Royal Navy (with the Polaris missile) meant that the Victor was now surplus to requirements. Hence, 24 B.2 were modified to K.2 standard. Similar to the K.1/1A conversions, the wing was trimmed to reduce stress and had the nose glazing plated over. The K.2 could carry 91,000 lb (41,277 kg) of fuel. It served in the tanker role until withdrawn in October 1993.

Operational history

The Victor was the last of the V-bombers to enter service and the last to retire, nine years after the last Vulcan (although the Vulcan survived longer in its original role as a bomber). It saw service in the Falklands War and 1991 Gulf War as an in-flight refuelling tanker. During the Borneo conflict of 1962–66, two B.1A aircraft flew the Victor's only offensive mission.

Variants

Ventral plan of a Victor K Mk.2
  • HP.80
    • Prototype, two aircraft built.
  • Victor B.1
    • Stategic bomber aircraft, 50 built.
  • Victor B.1A
    • Strategic bomber aircraft, B.1 updated with Red Steer tail-warning radar and ECM suite, 24 converted.
  • Victor B.1A (K.2P)
    • 2-point in-flight refuelling tanker retaining bomber capability, 6 converted.
  • Victor BK.1
    • 3-point in-flight refuelling tanker (renamed K.1 after bombing capability removed), 11 converted.
  • Victor BK.1A
    • 3-point in-flight refuelling tanker (renamed K.1A as for K.1), 14 converted.
  • Victor B.2
    • Strategic bomber aircraft, 34 built.
  • Victor B.2RS
    • Blue Steel-capable aircraft with RCo.17 Conway 201 engines, 21 converted.
  • Victor B(SR).2
    • Strategic reconnaissance aircraft, 9 converted.
  • Victor K.2
    • Inflight refuelling tanker.

Operators

Victor B.1A XH648 preserved at the Imperial War Museum Duxford
  • Royal Air Force
    • No. 10 Squadron RAF operated B.1 variant only.
    • No. 15 Squadron RAF operated B.1A variant only.
    • No. 55 Squadron RAF operated B.1, K.1 & K.2 variants.
    • No. 57 Squadron RAF operated B.1, K.1 & K.2 variants.
    • No. 100 Squadron RAF operated B.2 variant only.
    • No. 134 Squadron RAF
    • No. 139 (Jamaica) Squadron RAF operated B.2 variant only.
    • No. 214 Squadron RAF operated K.1 variant only.
    • No. 543 Squadron RAF operated B(SR).2 variant only.
    • No. 232 Operational Conversion Unit RAF
    • Radar Reconnaissance Flight RAF Wyton

Accidents and incidents

  • 20 August 1959 XH668 a B2 of the AAEE lost a pitot head and dived into the sea off Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire.
  • 19 June 1960 XH617 a B1A of 57 Squadron caught fire in the air and was abandoned near Diss, Norfolk.
  • 23 March 1962 XL159 a B2 of the AAEE stalled and dived into a house at Stubton, Lincolnshire.
  • 14 June 1962 XH613 a B1A of 15 Squadron lost power on all engines and was abandoned on approach to RAF Cottesmore.
  • 16 June 1962 XA929 a B1 of 10 Squadron overshot the runway and broke-up at RAF Akrotiri following an abandoned take-off.
  • 2 October 1962 XA934 a B1 of 'A' Squadron, 232 OCU had an engine fail on take off from RAF Gaydon after which the 2 engines failed on approach. The aircraft crashed into a copse several miles from RAF Gaydon. Of the 4 crew on board only the co pilot survived.
  • 20 March 1963 XM714 a B2 of 100 Squadron stalled after take-off from RAF Wittering.
  • On 29 June 1966, XM716 from RAF Wyton was to give a demonstration flight for an Anglia Television crew. The aircraft took off and performed a sharp turn to the right. The aircraft broke up in the air during the turn and crashed nearby. As it was only intended to be a local flight there was no navigator on board. The other crew members all died. The subsequent enquiry decided that the pilot had been attempting to put on an impressive display for the TV crew and had exceeded the g-limit of the airframe.
  • On 19 August 1968, Victor K1 XH646 of 214 Squadron collided in mid-air near Holt, Norfolk in bad weather with a 213 Squadron English Electric Canberra WT325; all four crew members of the Victor died
  • 10 May 1973 XL230 a SR2 of 543 Squadron bounced during landing at RAF Wyton and exploded.
  • On 24 March 1975, Victor K1A XH618 of 57 Squadron was involved in a mid-air collision with Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer XV156 during a simulated refuelling. The Buccaneer hit the Victor's tailplane causing the aircraft to crash into the sea 95 mi (153 km) East of Sunderland, County Durham.
  • 19 June 1986 XL191 a K2 of 57 Squadron undershot approach in bad weather at Hamilton, Ontario.
  • On 3 May 2009 during a "fast taxi" run at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, XM715 made an unplanned brief flight (YouTube video), reaching a height of between 120-130 ft before being landed. The aircraft does not have a permit to fly. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) stated that they will not be conducting an investigation. The causes have been identified as the co-pilot failing to reply to the command 'throttles back', thus resulting in the pilot having to control the throttles himself, resulting in a brief loss of control of the aircraft, causing it to rise. No legal action is to be taken by the CAA against either of the crew aboard XM715 or the operators of Bruntingthorpe Airfield.
XM648, 2001

Survivors

Five Victors have survived (as of 2007) plus a few cockpit sections. All are located in England. They are, in age order;

Victor B.1A

  • XH648 - a B.1A at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire. The only Mark 1 to survive and the only one with bombing capability preserved (bomb doors and bomb aimer's positions are visible signs of this).
Victor K.2 XM715 preserved at the British Aviation Heritage Centre, Bruntingthorpe

Victor K.2

  • XH672 - Maid Marion - at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford, Shropshire, in the new Cold War building.
  • XH673 - the gate guardian at RAF Marham, Norfolk, the Victor's last home.
  • XL231 - Lusty Lindy - at the Yorkshire Air Museum, York. The prototype for the B.2 to K.2 conversion.
  • XM715 - Teasin' Tina / Meldrew - at the British Aviation Heritage Centre, Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire.

The names, and accompanying nose art, were applied during the 1991 Gulf War. Of these Lindy and Tina are the only "live" aircraft. They are run up regularly, performing high speed taxi runs with parachute braking at annual events.

Popular culture

A Handley Page Victor features prominently in the 1962 British movie comedy The Iron Maiden. A number of sequences show the aircraft in close-up, taxiing, taking off, climbing, flying past and landing with parachute deployed. Although a bomber, in the film it purports to be a prototype supersonic jetliner designed by the protagonist.

Specifications (Handley Page Victor B.1)

3-view of Victor B.1

General characteristics

  • Crew: 5
  • Length: 114 ft 11 in (35.05 m)
  • Wingspan: 110 ft (33.53 m)
  • Height: 26 ft 9 in (8.15 m)
  • Wing area: 2,406 ft² (223.5 m²)
  • Loaded weight: 165,000 lb (75,000 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 185,000 lb (83,900 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4× Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire A.S.Sa.7 turbojets, 11,050 lbf (49 kN) each

Performance

3-view of Victor B.2
  • Maximum speed: 650 mph (1,050 km/h)
  • Range: 2,500 mi (4,000 km)
  • Service ceiling: 56,000 ft (17,000 m)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.27

Armament

  • up to 35 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs
  • Blue Steel stand-off nuclear missile (B.2RS)
  • 1 × Grand Slam bomb or
  • 2 × Tallboy bomb