Handley Page Victor B-1
Handley Page Victor
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The Handley Page Victor is a British jet-powered strategic bomber, developed and produced by the Handley Page Aircraft Company, which served during the Cold War. It was the third and final V-bomber to be operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the other two being the Avro Vulcan and the Vickers Valiant. The Victor had been developed as part of the United Kingdom’s airborne nuclear deterrent. In 1968, it was retired from the nuclear mission following the discovery of fatigue cracks, which had been exacerbated by the RAF’s adoption of a low-altitude flight profile to avoid interception.
A number of Victors were modified for strategic reconnaissance, using a combination of radar, cameras, and other sensors. As the nuclear deterrence mission was given to the Royal Navy‘s submarine-launched Polaris missiles in 1969, a large V-bomber fleet could not be justified. Consequently, many of the surviving Victors were converted into aerial refuelling tankers. During the Falklands War, Victor tankers were used in the airborne logistics operation to repeatedly refuel Vulcan bombers on their way to and from the Black Buck raids.
The Victor was the last of the V-bombers to be retired, the final aircraft being removed from service on 15 October 1993. In its refuelling role, it was replaced by the Vickers VC10 and
Painting of test Victor B1 XA918 by artist and former Handley Page employee Peter Coombs
The origin of the Victor and the other V bombers is heavily linked with the early British atomic weapons programme and nuclear deterrent policies that developed in the aftermath of the Second World War. The atom bomb programme formally began with Air Staff Operational Requirement OR.1001 issued in August 1946, which anticipated a government decision in January 1947 to authorise research and development work on atomic weapons, the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (McMahon Act) having prohibited exporting atomic knowledge, even to countries that had collaborated on the Manhattan Project. OR.1001 envisaged a weapon not to exceed 24 ft 2 in (7.37 m) in length, 5 ft (1.5 m) in diameter, 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) in weight, and suitable for release from 20,000 ft (6,100 m) to 50,000 ft (15,000 m).
At the same time, the Air Ministry drew up requirements for bombers to replace the existing piston-engined heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster and the new Avro Lincoln which equipped RAF Bomber Command. In January 1947, the Ministry of Supply distributed Specification B.35/46 to aviation companies to satisfy Air Staff Operational Requirement OR.229 for “a medium range bomber landplane capable of carrying one 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) bomb to a target 1,500 nautical miles (1,700 mi; 2,800 km) from a base which may be anywhere in the world.” A cruising speed of 500 knots (580 mph; 930 km/h) at heights between 35,000 ft (11,000 m) and 50,000 ft (15,000 m) was specified. The maximum weight when fully loaded ought not to exceed 100,000 lb (45,000 kg). The weapons load was to include a 10,000 lb “Special gravity bomb” (i.e. a free-fall nuclear weapon), or over shorter ranges 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) of conventional bombs. No defensive weapons were to be carried, the aircraft relying on its speed and altitude to avoid opposing fighters.
The similar OR.230 required a “long range bomber” with a 2,000 nautical miles (2,300 mi; 3,700 km) radius of action at a height of 50,000 ft (15,000 m), a cruise speed of 575 mph (925 km/h), and a maximum weight of 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) when fully loaded. Responses to OR.230 were received from Short Brothers, Bristol, and Handley Page; however, the Air Ministry recognised that developing an aircraft to meet these stringent requirements would have been technically demanding and so expensive that the resulting bomber could only be purchased in small numbers. As a result, realising that the majority of likely targets would not require such a long range, a less demanding specification for a medium-range bomber, Air Ministry Specification B.35/46 was issued. This demanded the ability to carry the same 10,000 lb bomb-load to a target 1,500 nmi (1,725 mi, 2,800 km) away at a height of 45,000–50,000 ft (13,700–15,200 m) at a speed of 575 mph.
Production B.1 Victors were powered by the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire ASSa.7 turbojets rated at 11,000 lbf (49 kN), and was initially deployed with the Blue Danube nuclear weapon, re-deploying with the more powerful Yellow Sun weapon when it became available. Victors also carried U.S.-owned Mark 5 nuclear bombs (made available under the Project E programme) and the British Red Beard tactical nuclear weapon. A total of 24 were upgraded to B.1A standard by the addition of Red Steer tail warning radar in an enlarged tail-cone and a suite of radar warning receivers and electronic countermeasures (ECM) from 1958 to 1960.
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 maintained stability throughout the event. Aviation author Andrew Brookes has claimed that Allam broke the sound barrier knowingly to demonstrate the Victor’s superiority to the earlier V-bombers. The Victor was the largest aircraft to have broken the sound barrier at that time.
The RAF required a higher ceiling for its bombers, and a number of proposals were considered for improved Victors to meet this demand. At first, Handley Page proposed use of the 14,000 lbf (62.4 kN) Sapphire 9 engines to produce a “Phase 2” bomber, to be followed by “Phase 3” Victors with much greater wingspan (137 ft (42 m)) and powered by Bristol Siddeley Olympus turbojets or Rolls-Royce Conway turbofans. The Sapphire 9 was cancelled, however, and the heavily modified Phase 3 aircraft would have delayed production, so an interim “Phase 2A” Victor was proposed and accepted, to be powered by the Conway and having minimal modifications.
The “Phase 2A” proposal was accepted by the Air Staff as the Victor B.2, with Conway RCo.11 engines providing 17,250 lbf (76.7 kN). The new Conway engines required redesigned enlarged intakes to provide the greater airflow required. The wingtips were extended, increasing the wingspan to 120 ft (36.6 m). The B.2 featured distinctive retractable “elephant ear” intakes not found on the B.1, located on the rear fuselage forward of the tail fin. These scoops fed ram air to Ram Air Turbines (RAT) which could provide electrical power during emergency situations, such as engine failure, during flight.
The first prototype Victor B.2, serial number XH668 made its maiden flight on 20 February 1959. It had flown 100 hours by 20 August 1959, when, while high-altitude engine tests were being carried out by the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE), it disappeared from radar screens, crashing into the sea off the coast of Pembrokeshire. An extensive search operation was initiated to locate and salvage the wreckage of XH668 to determine the cause of the crash. It took until November 1960 to recover most of the aircraft; the accident investigation concluded that the starboard pitot head had failed inflight, causing the flight control system to force the aircraft into an unrecoverable dive. Only minor changes were needed to resolve this problem, allowing the Victor B.2 to enter service in February 1962.
Specifications (Handley Page Victor B.1)
- Crew: 5
- Length: 114 ft 11 in (35.05 m)
- Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in (33.53 m)
- Height: 28 ft 11⁄2 in (8.57 m)
- Wing area: 2,406 sq ft (223.5 m2)
- Empty weight: 89,030 lb (40,468 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 205,000 lb (93,182 kg)
- Powerplant: 4 × Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire A.S.Sa.7 turbojets, 11,050 lbf (49.27 kN) each
- Maximum speed: 627 mph (545 knots, 1,009 km/h) at 36,000 ft (11,000 m)
- Range: 6,000 mi (5,217 nmi, 9,660 km)
- Service ceiling: 56,000 ft (17,000 m)
- Up to 35 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs or
- 1× Yellow Sun free-fall nuclear bomb