Strategic Bomber / Fuel Tanker / Photo Reconnaissance Aircraft
The Vickers Valiant was the beginning of the V-Bomber trio of strategic bombers for the Royal Air Force.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
At a time when military satellites, ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and UAVs didn't rule the battlefield, the West was pitted against the Soviet Union in the "Cold War" through rather tried-and-true conventional means. For Britain, its distance from its potential enemy and its involvement all over the world required large aircraft of considerable reach and capable of delivery of nuclear-minded munitions. As a nuclear deterrent, the solution was reached to develop three jet-powered, high-flying strategic nuclear bombers known collectively as the "V Bombers" for they were named as the Vickers Valliant, Handley Page Victory and Avro Vulcan (the Vulcan becoming the most famous of the three). The Valliant became the first in the storied line and measured the lesser of the three though a capable flight system in its own right - laying the groundwork for much of the systems featured in the other two designs (including the Vulcan's Blue Steel stand-off nuclear bomb).
The original requirement was formed as early as 1944 (during World War 2) and came to fruition in 1947 through Specification B.35/46. The platform would have to provide the required range and delivery systems for a nuclear bomb (via conventional free fall). The resulting Vickers proposal incorporated a utilitarian-appearing cylindrical fuselage consistent with British aircraft design of the time featuring a forward-set flight deck, high-mounted cantilever swept-back wing assemblies mounting the powerplants and a traditional single-finned tail rudder with high-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage was wholly retractable as a tricycle arrangement and included a pair of main legs coupled with a nose landing gear leg. The bomb bay was centrally located along the belly and, interestingly, no defensive armament was fitted to the aircraft - its operating speeds and altitude believed to be enough to satisfy any defensive requirement. The cockpit was pressurized for high-altitude performance and included provisions for the five crew.
While initially rejected by the Air Ministry as being "too conventional", the Vickers submission was eventually accepted as insurance against the more technologically advanced Handley Page and Avro designs to follow. Additionally, it could be made available sooner than its other V Bomber counterparts due to its largely simpler design. The revised plan fell under Specification B.9/48 and Vickers designated the design in-house as the "Type 660". A pair of prototypes would be initially featured - the first model bearing Rolls-Royce RA.3 Avon series turbojets and the follow-up model showcasing the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet (as company model "Type 667").
The initial Valiant prototype (WB210) achieved first flight on May 18th, 1951 at just over two years since the Air Ministry contract was offered to Vickers. In June, the "Valiant" name was formally adopted by the company. This platform varied from subsequent production models by being fielded with 4 x Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 series turbojet engines of 6,500lbs thrust each. The initial prototype was then followed by a second developmental airframe (WB215) fitting 4 x Rolls-Royce Avon RA.7 turbojet engines which saw an increase in overall provided thrust (7,500lbs each) (the use of the Sapphire engines was dropped by this point). The first prototype was eventually lost to a fatal fire in January 1952 during flight in which the co-pilot proved a sole casualty, killed during ejection when he struck the oncoming tail unit. This prompted the second prototype to become the developmental lead for the life of the Valiant program. In October of 1953, WB215 participated in a record-setting race from London, England to New Zealand and was equipped with specially-developed underwing fuel stores for the lengthy journey. A third prototype (WJ954) - originally intended as a target marker ("pathfinder") to precede waves of the bomber versions - eventually joined the original two in the development stage. This form was given a lengthened fuselage, reinforced airframe and additional fuel stores in the wings.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) liked what it had in the Valiant product and ordered 25 of the type as the Valiant B.Mk I in April of 1951. The initial five of the batch were to serve as pre-production airframes in working out operational-level kinks in the design, a production-quality mount going airborne for the first time on December 21st, 1953. Power of production B.Mk I mounts was served through 4 x Rolls-Royce Avon 28 series turbojet engines arranged as two pairs at either wingroot. The nacelles were of a most unique design appearance utilizing a semi-circular opening at the wing leading edges for aspirating the engine while exhausting though conventional circular ports along the wing trailing edges. The arrangement supplied the Valiant with a maximum speed of 912 kmh at 30,000 feet with an operational ceiling of approximately 54,000 feet. Range was out to 7,240 kilometers under a full fuel load.
Dimensionally, the Valiant was given a running length of 33 meters with a wingspan of 35 meters. Wing area was 2,362 square feet. The airframe was cleared to carry upwards of 21,000lbs of internal ordnance including both nuclear and conventional munitions. The Valiant served as an important testbed for British engineers to perfect the free-fall nuclear bomb concept.
The first squadron-strength group was formulated in January of 1955 through No. 232 OCU training group at Gaydon (Warwickshire), beginning the career of the Vickers Valiant. The RAF was handed its first example on February 8th, 1955. It was almost immediately pressed into service during the Suez Crisis which committed British, Israeli and French forces to the Middle East against Egypt in attempting to protect the vital waterway to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean from nationalization. During the intervention that followed, Valiants were outfitted with conventional drop bombs and charged with neutralizing Egyptian airfields to minimize the aerial-based threat posed by the Egyptian Air Force on friendlies.
A more notable effect on British military aviation history that the Valiant held was in the dropping of the nation's first atomic bomb, this in October of 1956 in Australia. Another drop (of a hydrogen bomb) followed in May of the 1957 on Christmas Island and testing continued into 1958. On July 9th, 1959, a Valiant belonging to No. 214 squadron was credited with the first-ever nonstop flight from the British Isles reaching Cape Town, South Africa. To compensate for its limited internal fuel load, the aircraft was refueled twice in-air during the flight. In March of 1960, another No. 214 Valiant covered 8,500 miles on the longest non-stop flight by a RAF aircraft to that point. In May of 1960, yet another No. 214 Valiant reached Singapore from Britain during a non-stop flight. By 1963, Valiant strength was removed from its nuclear and strategic high-level bombing role and rolled into a medium-to-low-altitude, tactical-level bombing role once Soviet air defense missile technologies ruled high-level bombing moot.
To the original B.Mk I bomber stable was then added the B(PR). Mk I photoreconnaissance platform outfitted with specialized cameras and applicable mission equipment. Some were then converted to a multirole form to undertake bombing sorties, reconnaissance missions and in-flight refueling for other RAF aircraft in faraway theaters. A multirole bomber/tanker platform also existed as B(K).Mk I. The B.Mk II series (based on the third prototype) was a proposed high-speed, low-altitude penetrator based on the existing Mk.I though this one-off development did not proceed beyond its prototype phase. Final Valiant production wrapped in August of 1957.
The last of the Valiant aircraft were retired in full by 1965 mainly due to their airframes exhibiting fatigue stresses (primarily at the wing spars). The final Valiant flight was recorded back in December of 1964. It proved cost-feasible to retire the lot than to process them through some expensive repair program. In all, the bomber formed the strength of Nos. 7, 18, 49, 90, 138, 148, 199, 207, 214 and 543 squadrons. Squadron No 49 served as the nuclear trials detachment. No 138 became the first formal Valiant operator while No 232 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) at Gaydon served as the training group until disbanded in February of 1965.
Total Valiant aircraft production topped 107 units. In all, 39 B.Mk 1 bombers were produced followed by 8 B(PR).Mk 1 bomber/photographic-reconnaissance versions. 13 B(PR)K 1 bomber/reconnaissance mounts then followed leading up to 44 of the B(K)Mk 1 tankers. Add to these the three prototypes and this completes the Valiant production story.