Handley Page Victor Heavy Bomber / Aerial Tanker Aircraft
The Handley Page Victor formed the third - and last - point of the RAF V-Bomber triangle of nuclear-capable bombers.
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The Handley Page Victor formed the last part of the RAF's "V-Bomber" triangle which also included the Vickers Valliant and the Avro Vulcan (both entries detailed elsewhere on this site). All three would make up the British strategic nuclear strike arm (given life by way of a 1946 British Air Ministry requirement) throughout the Cold War (1947-1991) and, though the Victor was never to fire a shot in anger, it served the Royal Air Force well in her twilight years as an aerial tanker aircraft. The Victor was noted for its elegant lines and streamlined design - very distinct in overall appearance when compared to her contemporaries.
Victor began life as the "HP.80", an early Handley Page design with superior altitude capabilities and speed. The distinct wing arrangement was courtesy of Godfrey Lee who, after the war with Germany had ended, visited the leftover plans of German aircraft. Following his journey, Lee returned to England and designed the crescent wing concept. Two prototypes were built in April of 1948. To test the validity of this new wing, a radio-controlled glider known as the HP.87 was constructed at 1/3 scale. Unfortunately for Handley Page, this test aircraft crashed on its maiden flight. This set the project back some to the point that the British Air Ministry called for a full-scale piloted version - this becoming the HP.88. The HP.88 design consisted of a Supermarine Attacker fuselage mated with the crescent wing. The tail of the Attacker was revised to a traditional high-mounted "T"-style arrangement. Despite all of this work to prove the validity of the wing design, the original HP.80 had already evolved into something more different than a Supermarine Attacker could faithfully represent, effectively nullifying all the progress done on the HP.88, itself lost in a fateful flight on August 26th, 1951. Despite the setback, production had already been ordered with an initial batch of 25 "Victor" bombers, this occurring even before either of the first two prototypes were ever completed.
The first of the two HP.80 prototypes took to the air on Christmas Eve, 1952 as the WB771 taking off from Boscombe Down (WB775 becoming the second prototype). The initial flight proved the design a success. Despite an impressive showing at the 1953 Farnborough Air Show, WB771 was also fatally lost in July of the following year due to a weakness in the tail unit. WB775 was revised to include a reinforced tail unit and went airborne on September 11th, 1954. This new tail unit, however, proved to make the design quite tail-heavy and thus production Victors had their fuselages lengthened a full 42 inches and their vertical tail fins shortened to compensate. The instrument panel was rearranged through feedback during testing and the crew entry/exit door was positioned in a more safe manner away from the engines.
The first production aircraft was airborne by early 1956 and entered service trials. This period saw the aircraft delayed on a variety of fronts as challenges were found and applicable fixes were sought in response. On June 1st, 1957, the Victor became the largest aircraft in the world to break the speed of sound. Operational status was achieved in November of that year and eventually found its first home with RAF No. 10 Squadron and then made up No. 15m No. 55 and No. 57 Squadrons. Initial production models were designated as Victor B.Mk 1's and totaled 50 examples. Due to the countless Victor program project delays - either due to fatalities or technological issues - along with enemy technological advancements, the B.1 was already in some ways made inadequate for the given role. A new standard, Victor B.Mk 1A, was devised, giving the massive bomber a defensive chance with the inclusion of the "Red Steer" tail-warning radar system. Along with this addition came jamming transmitters and a radar warning receiver (RWR) to complement the bombers defensive suite. The B.Mk 1A was also fitted with the Blue Steel, an air-launched, rocket-propelled nuclear stand-off missile common throughout the whole of the "V-Bomber" force and of British origin. These Blue Steel-armed Victors were fielded with their nuclear potency during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
1955 saw Handley Page attempting to iron out all of the workings that had made the initial production Victors a handful. The Victor B.Mk 1 served as the prototype (which was, again, fatally lost) and featured 4 x Rolls-Royce RCo.11 Conway 103 series turbojet engines of 17,250lbf thrust each. The wings were extended a total of 10 feet while the electrical suite was revamped. A mid-air refueling probe was added over the cockpit as were underwing fuel tanks for increased range. Additional defensive measures were integrated to the mix and the role of the bomber was now of a low-altitude attacker as opposed to the original high-altitude version. This move was necessitated by the defensive technological advancements made on the part of the Soviets and was quite unavoidable considering the cost and energies put forth into the Victor design up to this point. The new aircraft emerged as the Victor B.Mk 2. Just 34 examples of the B.Mk 2 model were produced. These were followed up by the Victor B.Mk 2(RS) model which featured more powerful engines up to 20,600lbf. Additionally, these aircraft had provisions for the "Blue Steel" standoff missile. The missile - due to its sheer size - was held externally in a recessed belly position.