Narrow-Body Passenger Airliner / Aerial Refueling Tanker
Appearing in both civilian and military guises, the Vickers VC10 managed production into the 1970s and service well beyond that.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The VC10 was born under the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) brand label founded in 1960. The company was something of a consortium in that it included the storied concerns of Vickers, Bristol and English Electric. In 1951, a government initiative requested a design for a military transport to haul both man and material for the Royal Air Force (RAF). The commercial-minded British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) became aware of the impending design and threw its interest into the fold, seeking a capable passenger airliner for "hot and high" routes across Africa, the Far East and the lower Pacific. The civilian design was given the designation of VC7 ("Vickers Civil - Design No. 7") while RAF interest was dashed with an upcoming budget cut. The program then evolved over a period of a few years to produce the VC10 designation to which BOAC formally adopted the aircraft in May of 1957. A 35-strong order was then placed on January 14th, 1958.
Design work on the VC10 continued throughout the remaining years of the decade to which a prototype saw its first flight on June 29th, 1962. After passing the requisite testing, evaluation and certification requirements (achieved in April 1964), the VC10 was formally introduced on April 29th, 1964 with British Overseas Airways Corporation (the company would eventually go defunct on March 31st, 1974) based out of London Heathrow. Manufacture of the VC10 spanned from 1962 into 1970 though production totaled just 54 units due to the narrow-body jet airliner market share primarily dominated by the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 lines. In 1960, the RAF eventually regained traction with the product to fulfill a strategic transport role and placed an initial order for five VC10s. Militarized VC10s were given uprated engines, expanded internal fuel stowage, an oversized cargo access door and a refueling probe. At its peak, the RAF would go on to own and operate as many as 28 of the jets - originally as all-new production examples and, later, conversions of existing ex-civilian models for the aerial refueling tanker role.
The VC10 line was born through the prototype which was designated the Type 1100. Only one example was produced. BOAC received the Type 1101 model which was completed to customer requirements and numbered 12 examples. The Type 1102 was similarly completed to Ghana Airways standards though produced in just three examples. The Type 1103 was produced in two examples for BUA. Nigeria ordered two examples of the Type 1104 standard though these were never constructed. Laker Airways leased the Type 1109 (born from the Type 1100). The Type 1102, Type 1103, Type 1104 and Type 1109 were all known under the collective BAC "Standard VC10" heading which differentiated them from the upcoming "Super VC10 line.
The original Model 1101 series was outfitted with 4 x Rolls-Royce Conway Mk.301 series turbofan engines, each producing upwards of 22,500lb thrust and providing a maximum speed of 580 miles per hour. Range was in the vicinity of 5,850 miles with a service ceiling of 43,000 feet. Empty weight was listed at 140,000lb with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 334,880lb. Overall length was 159 feet with a wingspan reaching 146 feet and height of 39.5 feet.
The Super VC10 line began with the Type 1150 base model which led to the Type 1151 for BOAC of which 17 examples were produced. Thirteen examples of the Type 1151 were to follow though none were actually manufactured. Five Type 1154 aircraft were produced for East African Airways.
Military marks included the original VC10 C1 strategic transport for the RAF which were based on a Type 1106 configuration and were manufactured in 14 examples. The VC10 C1 achieved first flight in November of 1965 with deliveries commencing in 1966. The VC10 C1K was a Type 1180 model designed as a hybrid transport/aerial refueling tanker airframe, the later with two-point. Thirteen examples of the preceding VC10 C1 were then converted to the VC10 C1K standard. The VC10 K2 (Standard VC10) became another RAF model (as the Type 1112) and born from the original Type 1101 line to be used as refueling tankers. The VC10 K3 (Super VC10) and VC10 K4 (later Super VC10 conversions) then joined the RAF stable as aerial tankers, though these with three-position fueling, the K4 lacking the maindeck of the K3. The first RAF tankers were delivered in 1984.
Externally, the VC10 followed well-accepted commercial airliner design which included a tubular, aerodynamically-refined fuselage, a well-forward flight deck, low-mounted swept-back monoplane wings and a high "T" style tail unit. Engines numbered four and these were fitted as paired nacelles along either side of the rear fuselage. Dorsal strakes were noted along the main wing surfaces. Vision out of the cockpit was relatively good with a multi-paned window arrangement. The undercarriage included two main legs with four wheels each and a two-wheeled nose leg. Cabin entry was through doors fitted at the fuselage sides. Original cockpits were naturally dotted with needle gauges and seated the two pilots side-by-side with a center console in between. Two additional crew could be located just aft of these primary seating positions. A complete VC10 crew was four plus three cabin attendants and passenger capacity totaled approximately 151 persons (for commercial passenger-hauling versions).
Today (Sep 2013), with increasing use of the Airbus A330-200 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), the RAF has elected to retire its entire fleet of VC10 aircraft with a few examples being ferried to final destinations to live out their days as museum showpieces. The MRTT aircraft, designated by the RAF as "Voyager", are detailed elsewhere on this site and will be joined in retirement by the aged fleet of Lockheed L1101 TriStar aircraft scheduled for retirement in March of 2014. The final flight of a RAF VC10 occurred on September 25th, 2013. During her 47 years of service, the VC10 formed an important logistical portion of British military operations, particularly in its aerial refueling tanker role.
Qatar became the only other notable military operator of the VC10 series while there proved a surprising plethora of civilian operators: Bahrain, Ceylon, East African Community, Ghana, Lebanon, Malawi, Nigeria, Oman, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar and the UK, therefore, became both military and civil operators of the VC10 while the UK, Ghana and East African Airways hold their place in history as the original launch customers of the VC10 line.