Vickers-Armstrongs Valiant was a British four-jet high-altitude
bomber, once part of the Royal Air Force's
V bomber nuclear force in
the 1950s and 1960s. It was developed by Vickers in response to
Specification B.35/46 issued by the
Air Ministry for a nuclear-armed
jet-powered bomber. The Valiant was the first of the V bombers to
become operational, and was followed by the
Handley Page Victor
Handley Page Victor and
Avro Vulcan; it was noticeably less advanced than its
counterparts. The Valiant has the distinction of being the only V
bomber to have dropped live nuclear weapons.
As developed, the Valiant was intended for operations as a
high-altitude strategic bomber. During the late 1950s, in response to
rapid advances in surface-to-air missile (SAM) technology, the Valiant
fleet switched to flying a low-level mission profile to perform the
strike mission. Beyond the nuclear deterrence role, the Valiant was
also used by the RAF for other purposes, a number were converted to
perform various support roles such as aerial refuelling tankers and
aerial reconnaissance aircraft. Valiants were used for conventional
bombing missions over
Egypt for Operation Musketeer during the Suez
Crisis of 1956.
By late 1964 it was found that all variants of the Valiant showed
premature fatiguing and inter-crystalline corrosion in wing spar
attachment castings, traced to the use of a poorly understood
aluminium alloy, DTD683.[N 1] Rather than proceeding with an
expensive rebuilding program, the Valiant was formally retired in
1965. Its duties were continued by the other V-bombers which remained
in service until the 1980s.
1.1 Background and origins
3 Operational history
3.1 Nuclear deterrent
3.2 Conventional warfare
3.3 Tanker operations
3.4 Countermeasures and reconnaissance roles
3.5 Fatigue failures and retirement
7 Accidents and incidents
8 Specifications (Valiant B.1)
9 See also
11 External links
Background and origins
In November 1944, the Joint Technical Warfare Committee, along with a
separate committee chaired by Sir Henry Tizard, examined the future
potential of "weapons of war" and the accompanying Tizard Report
published on 3 July 1945 made specific policy directions for the Royal
Air Force (RAF)
Bomber Command. After the Second World War, the
policy of using heavy four-engined bombers for massed raids continued
into the immediate postwar period; the
Avro Lincoln, an updated
version of the
Avro Lancaster, became the RAF's standard
bomber. In 1946, the Air Staff issued Operational
Requirements OR229 and OR230 for the development of turbojet-powered
heavy bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons at high altitude and
speed, without defensive armament, to act as a deterrent to hostile
powers and, if deterrence failed, to perform a nuclear strike. In
conjunction with this ambition, Britain set about developing its own
In January 1947, the British
Air Ministry issued Specification B.35/46
for an advanced jet bomber intended to carry nuclear weapons and to
fly near the speed of sound at altitudes of 50,000 ft
(15,000 m). Three firms: A.V. Roe, Handley-Page and
Vickers-Armstrongs submitted advanced designs intended to meet the
stringent requirements. While
Short Brothers submitted a design, by
Geoffrey T. R. Hill, that was judged too ambitious, the Air Staff
accepted another submission from the company for a separate
requirement, B.14/46, as "insurance" in case the advanced B.35/46
effort ran into trouble. Aviation authors Bill Gunston and Peter
Gilchrist described Specification B.14/46 as "calling for little more
than a traditional jet aircraft fitted with jet engines" Short
submitted a conservative design to meet B.14/46, which became the
S.A.4 Sperrin. Two prototypes were completed, the first conducting
its maiden flight in 1951, but the Sperrin was ultimately relegated to
research and development purposes only.
Vickers had emerged from the Second World War as one of the world's
pre-eminent companies in the field of aeronautical manufacturing and
development. Furthermore, the company operated its own secretive Skunk
Works-like development organisation based at Weybridge, Surrey, which
had been involved in several secret wartime development projects; it
was this secretive division in which the early stages of the
development of the Valiant took place, including the later assembly of
the initial two prototypes. Vickers initially produced a
six-engine jet bomber design proposal to meet Specification B.35/46;
however, as rapid progress in the development of more powerful jet
engines had been made, this was re-worked to a four-engine proposal in
1948. The proposed design submitted by Vickers was relatively
straightforward, being less aerodynamically advanced and "unfunny" in
comparison to competing bids made by rival firms.
Both Handley-Page and
Avro had produced very advanced designs for the
bomber competition. These would be produced as the Victor and the
Vulcan respectively; the Air Staff decided to award contracts to each
company as a form of insurance in case one of these designs had
failed. The submissions became known as the V bombers, the aircraft
all being given names that started with the letter "V", becoming
collectively known as the V-class. Vickers' submission had
initially been rejected as not being as advanced as the Victor and the
Vulcan, but Vickers' chief designer George Edwards lobbied the
Air Ministry on the basis that it would be available much sooner than
the competition, going so far as to promise that a flight-capable
prototype would be flown by the end of 1951, that subsequent
production aircraft would be flown prior to the end of 1953, and that
serial deliveries would commence during early 1955. Gunston and
Gilchrist observe that measures offered by Edwards were a "gigantic
risk", and that gaining the bomber contract has been deemed of crucial
importance to the future of aircraft manufacturing at Vickers.
Although developing and operating three overlapping large aircraft in
response to a single Operational Requirement (OR) was wasteful and
very costly, events such as the
Berlin Blockade had led to officials
placing a sense of urgency in the necessity to provide an effective
deterrent to the Soviet Union from acts of aggression in
Europe. In April 1948, the Air Staff issued a specification
with the designation B.9/48 written around the Vickers design, which
was given the company designation of Type 660; an Instruction to
Proceed was received by Vickers on 16 April 1948. In February
1949, two prototypes of the aircraft were ordered. The first of these
was to be fitted with four Rolls-Royce RA.3 Avon turbojet engines,
while the second was to be fitted with four Armstrong Siddeley
Sapphire engines as the Type 667.
First prototype performing a flight display at Farnborough Airshow,
On 18 May 1951, the first prototype, serial number WB210 took to the
air for its maiden flight, within the deadline that George Edwards
had promised, and preceded the first
Short Sperrin into the air by
several months, being only 27 months since the contract had been
issued. The pilot was Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, who had also been
the original test pilot on the Supermarine Spitfire, and wanted to add
another "first" to his record before he retired. His co-pilot on the
first flight was Gabe "Jock" Bryce, who succeeded Summers as Vickers'
chief test pilot upon his retirement shortly afterwards. The
next month, the Vickers Type 660 was given the official name of
"Valiant", recycling the name given to the Vickers Type 131
general-purpose biplane of 1931.[N 2] The name Valiant had been
selected by a survey of Vickers employees.
On 11 January 1952, the first Valiant prototype was lost during a
noise estimation trial flight as the result of an in-flight fire on
the starboard wing; all of the crew managed to escape the aircraft
safely except for the co-pilot, who struck the tail after
ejecting. After modifications to the fuel system, which had
been thought to be the cause of the fire, the second prototype, serial
number WB215, the Vickers Type 667, conducted its maiden flight on 11
April 1952. It was fitted with more powerful RA.7 Avon engines
with 7,500 lbf (33 kN) thrust each, rather than the
Sapphires that had been originally planned; it also featured more
rounded air inlets, replacing the narrow slot-type intakes of the
first prototype, in order to feed sufficient air to the more powerful
engines. The short delay until the second prototype became available
for testing, which was accelerated by three months, meant that loss of
the initial prototype did not seriously compromise the
Of the three prototypes, two were representative of the Valiant
B.1, while one was built as a further developed version, referred
to the Valiant B.2. The B.2 variant was intended to serve as a
Pathfinder aircraft, functioning to mark targets for the main bomber
force and to reach its targets at low level and high speed. To cope
with the rougher ride compared with high altitude operations, the B.2
had a strengthened airframe. In particular, the wing received design
alterations to strengthen it, a key change being the removal of the
large cut-outs in the wing structure into which the main wheels
retracted, allowing the wing torsion box structure to be uninterrupted
and giving more room for internal fuel storage; instead the main
landing gear, which had four wheels instead of the two large wheels of
the B.1, retracted backwards into large fairings set into the rear of
the wings. The B.2 had a lengthened fuselage with a total length
of 112 ft 9 in (34.37 m), in contrast to a length of
108 ft 3 in (32.99 m) for the Valiant B.1, with the
extra length giving room for more avionics.
The prototype B.2, serial number WJ954 first flew on 4 September
1953. Finished in a gloss black night operations paint scheme, it
became known as the "Black Bomber". Its performance at low level was
superior to that of the B.1 (or any other V-bomber), being strong
enough to fly at full power at sea level, with the aircraft being
cleared to 580 mph (930 km/h) at low level (with speeds of
up to 640 mph (1,030 km/h) being reached in testing). This
was compared to the B.1's sea-level limit of 414 mph
(666 km/h). The
Air Ministry ordered 17 production B.2s, which
were to be powered by
Rolls-Royce Conway turbofans. However, although
the Valiant B.2's low-level capabilities would later prove to be
highly desirable, the B.2 program was abandoned as the RAF considered
that the Pathfinder concept, born in a time of mass raids, was
obsolete in the nuclear era. The B.2 prototype was used for tests
for a few years, including testing use of rockets to boost takeoff,
contributing to improvements for the Valiant B.1, before being
scrapped in 1958.
Valiant B(PR)K.1 WZ393 of 90 Squadron in original all-metal finish
displaying at Blackpool Squires Gate airport in 1957
In April 1951, an initial production order for 25 Valiant B.1 (Bomber
Mark 1) aircraft was placed by the Ministry of Supply on behalf of the
RAF. The timing of this order was key to establishing production
quickly. Due to shortages of steel and other materials while setting
up an assembly line at Brooklands, substantial portions of the
production jigs for the Valiant were composed of concrete. The
first five Valiants produced were completed to a pre-production
standard, the first of which being WP199. On 21 December 1953, the
first production aircraft conducted its first flight, this had
occurred again within the schedule that Edwards had promised.
On 8 February 1955, this first production Valiant was delivered to the
RAF. Britain's "V-bomber" force, as it had been nicknamed in
October 1952, formally entered operational service on that day. The
Victor and Vulcan would soon follow the Valiant into service, for a
total of three types of nuclear-armed strategic bombers in RAF
service. In September 1957, the final Valiant was delivered.
According to Bill Gunston and Peter Gilchrist, all production aircraft
had been delivered on time and below budget.
A total of 108 Valiants would be manufactured, including the sole B.2
prototype. In addition to their principal role as the RAF's delivery
platform for Britain's nuclear deterrent, the Valiant was capable of
performing, or was otherwise adapted to perform, in other capacities;
these included conventional bombing, aerial reconnaissance, aerial
refuelling tanker, and electronic countermeasures. Valiants of 90
and 214 squadrons were used for air refuelling through the addition of
a Hose Drum Unit (HDU) in the bomb bay, mounted on the same suspension
units that were also used for bombs. This meant that for refuelling,
the bomb-bay doors had to be opened so that the refuelling hose could
be streamed (unlike later tankers where the HDU was flush with the
under fuselage rather than inside a bomb bay). Several Valiants were
also used for testing and development purposes, such as its use as a
flying testbed during trials of the Blue
Steel nuclear-armed standoff
missile, which was later added to the arsenal of munitions equipped
upon the other V-Bombers.
Unlike its Vulcan and Victor peers, the Valiant did not see the
procurement of a refined and more capable B.2 model. Instead, the
Valiant B.1 fleet was later switched to a low-level flight profile,
after which fatigue due to increased turbulence was discovered and
this ultimately led to the type's premature retirement. Vic Flintham
observed that: "There is a fine irony to the situation, for Vickers
had produced the Type 673 B Mk 2 version designed as a fast, low-level
Air Ministry was not interested..." The Valiant
was Vickers' last purpose-built military aircraft. It was followed by
the Vanguard, a passenger turboprop designed in 1959, and the Vickers
VC10, a jet passenger aircraft in 1962, also used as a military
transport and tanker by the RAF.
Forward view of a preserved Vickers Valiant
The Valiant was a conservative design of the era, being equipped with
a shoulder-mounted wing and four
Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 turbojet
engines, each capable of providing up to 6,500 lbf (29 kN)
of thrust, installed in pairs in fireproof bays embedded within each
wing root. The design of the Valiant gave an overall impression of
a plain and clean aircraft with simple aerodynamics. George Edwards
described the Valiant appropriately and simply as an "unfunny"
aircraft. The root chord thickness ratio was 12% and allowed the
Avon engines to be within the wing rather than on pods as in the
contemporary Boeing B-47. This "buried engine" fit contributed to
the aircraft's aerodynamic cleanness, and was viewed as the typical
place to locate the engines. However, this arrangement also made
engine access for maintenance and repair difficult and increased the
risk that the failure of one engine would contribute to the failure of
its pair due to flying debris such as turbine blades; it also
increased the complexity of the design of the main spar which had to
be routed around the engines.
The wing of the Valiant used a "compound sweep" configuration, devised
by Vickers aerodynamicist Elfyn Richards. Richard found that the
inboard section of the wing could be swept forward for positive
results, a discovery which he later patented; the Valiant's wing made
use of a 37° angle of sweepback for the inner third of the wing,
which reduced to an angle of about 21° at the tips. This was
because the thickness/chord ratio could be reduced closer to the tips,
balancing this against the sweep reduction in postponement of Mach
effects such as buffeting and drag rise. The choice to have little
sweepback around the aerodynamic surfaces meant that in-service speeds
were limited to Mach 0.84 and a typical cruise of Mach 0.75
at heights up to 55,000 ft when light. A drogue parachute
was deemed unnecessary due to the aircraft's easy operation from
runways as short as 6,000 ft.
The wing was mounted high on the aircraft's fuselage and it caused the
problem of limited fuel capacity, necessary compromises were in design
were made due to the placement of the engines and main landing gear
within the wing's internal space. The leading edge of the wing was
fixed while the trailing edge incorporated large outboard two-section
ailerons, the inner section featuring trim tabs, alongside
double-slotted flaps again split into inboard and outboard
sections. Direct electrical drives were used to move the flaps and
most other mechanically-powered input devices on the aircraft.
The wing root and air intakes of a Valiant
Production aircraft were powered by an arrangement of four Avon 201
turbojet engines, each capable of generating 9,500 lbf
(42 kN) of thrust. In addition to being the aircraft's primary
source of propulsion, the engines also provided bleed air for the
pressurization, ice protection, and air conditioning systems as well
as the aircraft's assorted electrical generators. Napier Spraymat
electric heaters were present within the engine inlets as a de-icing
measure. The shape of the engine inlets were long rectangular slots in
the first prototype, while the production Valiants featured oval or
"spectacle" shaped inlets to permit greater airflow for the more
powerful engines that were installed. The jet exhausts emerged
from fairings above the trailing edge of the wings.
For additional takeoff performance in hot and high conditions, such as
tropical climates, a jettisonable rocket booster engines pack was
developed for the Valiant. Trials were performed with two
underwing de Havilland Sprite boosters; however these were ultimately
deemed unnecessary due to the availability of more powerful variants
of the Avon engine, as well as fears of potential accidents if one
booster rocket failed on takeoff, resulting in asymmetric thrust.
A number of Valiants received water injection equipment, which had the
effect of increasing takeoff thrust by about 1,000 lb
(450 kg) per engine.
The crew of the Valiant was contained in a pressurized "egg" in the
forward area of the aircraft and consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, two
navigators, and an electronics operator; the manufacturing of this
pressured section was subcontracted to Saunders-Roe. The pilot and
co-pilot were located on an upper level in a side-by-side arrangement
akin to the flight deck of an airliner, the remaining three crewmen
sat at stations set lower in the cockpit to the rear. A crew of
five had been enabled by the discontinuation of use of defensive gun
turrets and accompanying air gunners, a design philosophy proved by
De Havilland Mosquito
De Havilland Mosquito bomber of World War II.[N 3]
The pilot and copilot were provided with
Martin-Baker Mk.3 ejector
seats, while the rear crewmen were expected to bail out of the oval
main entrance door. It has been claimed that the survivability of
the rear crewmen was substantially reduced due to the ineffectiveness
of this method of escape.
The crewmen's entry door on the side of the forward fuselage
The fuselage area behind the pressurised crew section and forward of
the wing was used to house much of the Valiant's avionics, air
conditioning, and the retractable main landing gear. The Valiant
featured a tricycle landing gear arrangement, with twin-wheel nosegear
and tandem-wheel main gear that retracted outwards recessed set into
the wing. Each of the main gear were equipped with multipad anti-skid
disc brakes, and were telescopically linked so that a single drive
could pull them up into the wing recesses. Most of the aircraft's
systems were electrically powered, including the flaps and
undercarriage. The brakes and steering gear were hydraulically
powered, the pumps themselves were electrically driven. The
lower half of the aircraft's nose contained the scanner of a powerful
H2S radar in a large glass fiber radome; in addition, a visual bomb
sight was set beneath the lower floor of the pressurised section.
The avionics bay could be accessed via an entrance at the base of the
rear fuselage leading to an internal catwalk above the aft of the bomb
The electrics were powered by 112 volt direct current generators
for functions requiring large amounts of electrical power, and a
28 V DC system provided a controlling voltage for other systems
and the actuators that initiated the high-voltage system functions.
Backup batteries were a bank of 24 V units and 96 V
batteries. 115 V alternating current was provided to systems such as
radio and radar that required it; the actuators for the flight
surfaces, flaps, air brakes and undercarriage were also powered via
this facility. It was decided during development that as
much of the aircraft would be electrically-driven as was possible;
this design choice was due to electrical cabling being lighter than
its hydraulic counterparts, and the already-present high power
electrical generators to meet requirements of energy-hungry equipment
such as the radar.
The flight controls of the Valiant consisted of two channels of power
control with full manual backup; flying in manual was allowed but
limited, being intended to be used only in the event of complete
electrical failure. The flight controls reportedly required
considerable effort to manually operate. All three axis of the
flight controls featured a dynamic artificial feel system, the
pressure for which was provided via a ram-air inlet. A Smith
Aerospace autopilot and instrument landing system (ILS) functionality
was installed along with various navigational aids, such as the
Marconi Company-built Green Satin doppler radar, Gee radio navigation,
Automatic Direction Finder (ADF), VOR/Distance Measuring Equipment
(DME), and radar altimeters. Provisions for additional equipment
and sensors, such as side looking airborne radar, were also made.
Landing gear and wing of a Valiant
The main centre fuselage of the Valiant was immensely strengthened
around a massive backbone beam to appropriately support the weight and
stresses of the two widely-set wing spars and five protected fuel
cells located in the upper portions of this section, the sizable bomb
bay was also present in the lower half of the centre fuselage.
The aft fuselage used a semi-monocoque structure, being far lighter
than the centre fuselage; the Boulton-Paul-produced electro-hydraulic
power units for the ailerons, elevators, and rudder were contained
within this space. The tail, which was attached onto the rear
fuselage was of a simple design, being tapered rather than swept
back, the horizontal tailplane was mounted well up the vertical
fin to keep it clear of the engines' exhaust. The tailcone
contained a tail warning radar.
The main structural components, spars and beams of the Valiant had
been constructed from a zinc/magnesium/copper aluminium alloy
designated as DTD683 in the UK, which later proved
problematic. The Valiant had been designed with a 'Safe-Life'
strategy; this combination of 'Safe-Life' and DTD683 came to be
viewed as a severe mistake. In 1956, a publication within the Journal
of the Institute of Metals[N 4] condemned the material DTD683 as
being unstable and capable of catastrophic failure while stressing the
airframe close to its design limits. The "Safe-Life" design strategy
was dismissed by a Lockheed engineer in a talk given to the Royal
Aeronautical Society in 1956, because it did not guarantee safety in a
The Valiant B.1 could carry a single 10,000 lb (4,500 kg)
nuclear weapon or up to 21 1,000 lb (450 kg) conventional
bombs in its bomb bay. The Valiant had been designed not only to
accommodate the early fission-based nuclear weapons, but also the
newer and larger thermonuclear hydrogen bombs. A "clean" Valiant
(one without underwing tanks) could climb straight to 50,000 ft
after takeoff unless it had heavy stores in the large bomb
bay. In the aerial reconnaissance role, a camera
crate would be installed in the bomb bay, along with a pair of cameras
set into the fuselage and larger rear fuel tanks to extend the
aircraft's endurance. Large external fuel tanks under each wing
with a capacity of 1,650 Imp gal (7,500 L), could be used to
extend range; an auxiliary fuel tank could also be installed in the
forward area of the bomb bay; the external wing tanks were fitted as
standard on Valiants that were operated as aerial refuelling
tankers. For receiving fuel, a fixed refuelling probe was fitted
onto the aircraft's nose, this was connected to the fuel tanks via a
pipe running along the outside of the canopy to avoid penetrating the
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Side view of a Yellow Sun nuclear bomb under the wing of a Vickers
RAF Cosford museum
The first squadron to be equipped with the Valiant was 138 Squadron,
which formed at
RAF Gaydon on 1 January 1955, with 232 Operational
Conversion Unit forming at Gaydon on 21 February 1955 to convert crews
onto the new bomber. Since the Valiant was part of an entirely new
class of bombers for the RAF, the crews for the new type were selected
from experienced aircrew, with first pilots requiring 1,750 flying
hours as an aircraft captain, with at least one tour flying the
Canberra, with second pilots needing 700 hours in command and the
remaining three crewmembers had to be recommended for posting to the
Valiant by their commanding officers. Valiants were originally
assigned to the strategic nuclear bombing role, as were the Vulcan and
Victor B.1s when they became operational. At its peak, the Valiant
equipped nine RAF squadrons.
According to Gunston and Gilchrist, the Valiant had performed
"extremely well" during bombing competition hosted by American
Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command (SAC). Edwards claimed that the five most
United States Air Force
United States Air Force generals had been impressed by the
Valiant during a visit to
Wisley Airfield and that there had been a
lot of top-level American interest in the type, including in
potentially operating it from aircraft carriers due to its take-off
performance; Edwards alleged that the Valiant had influenced the
design of the American
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber.
On 11 October 1956, a Valiant B.1 (WZ366) of No 49 Squadron was the
first RAF aircraft to drop a British operational atomic bomb when it
performed a test drop of a down-rated Blue Danube weapon on Maralinga,
South Australia. Windscreen blinds were fitted in advance of the
test to protect the crew from the intense flash of light from the
nuclear detonation. Following the landing of the aircraft after
deploying the weapon, WZ366 was assessed for potential damage and for
On 15 May 1957, a Valiant B(K).1 dropped the first British hydrogen
bomb, the "Short Granite" (AKA "Green Granite Small"), over the
Pacific as part of Operation Grapple. No 49 Squadron was selected to
perform the live weapon drop, and were equipped with
specially-modified Valiants to conform with the scientific
requirements of the tests and other precautionary measures to protect
against heat and radiation. The test was largely a failure, as the
measured yield was less than a third of the maximum expected and while
achieving the desired thermonuclear explosion the device had failed to
operate as intended. The first British hydrogen bomb that detonated as
planned, "Grapple X Round A" (AKA "Round C1"), was dropped on 8
November 1957. The Grapple series of tests continued into 1958,
and in April 1958 the "Grapple Y" bomb exploded with ten times the
yield of the original "Short Granite". Testing was finally
terminated in November 1958, when the British government decided it
would perform no more air-delivered nuclear tests.
Originally the bombing role was to have been carried out at from high
altitude, but following the shooting down in 1960 of the Lockheed U-2
flown by Gary Powers by an early Soviet
SA-2 Guideline missile, the
SAM threat caused the V-force to train for low-level attack as means
of avoiding radar detection when flying within hostile airspace. They
were repainted in grey/green camouflage with normal markings,
replacing their anti-flash white scheme. By 1963, four Valiant
squadrons (49, 148, 207 and 214) had been assigned to
SACEUR in the
low-level tactical bombing role. By this point, there had been a
noticeable decline in flying rates for the type.
Camouflaged Valiant at Filton, England. Circa mid-1960s
Peacetime practice involved the dropping of small practice bombs on
instrumented bombing ranges, also a system of predicted bombing using
radio tones to mark the position of bomb drop over non-range targets,
the bomb error being calculated by a ground radar unit and passed
either to the crew during flight or to a headquarters for analysis.
Use of the Valiant's Navigational and Bombing System (NBS) and the
high quality of assigned crews, which were typically veterans and
often had been previously decorated for wartime service, a high level
of bombing accuracy could be achieved, greater than that of aircraft
during the Second World War. According to Gunston and Gilchrist,
Valiant crews were able to place practice bombs from an altitude of
45,000 ft within a few meters of their assigned target.
The Valiant was the first of the V-bombers to see combat, during the
Anglo-French-Israeli Suez intervention in October and November 1956.
During Operation Musketeer, the British military operation in what
became popularly known as the Suez Crisis, Valiants operating from the
airfield at Luqa on
Malta repeatedly dropped conventional bombs on
targets inside Egypt. Egyptian military airfields were the principal
target of these bombing raids; other targets included communications
such as radio stations and transport hubs. On the first night of
the operation, six Valiants were dispatched to bomb Cairo West Air
Base (which was aborted in flight due to potential risk to US
personnel in the vicinity) while six more attacked
Almaza Air Base
Almaza Air Base and
a further five bombed
Kibrit Air Base
Kibrit Air Base and Huckstep Barracks.
Although the Egyptians did not oppose the attacks and there were no
Valiant combat losses incurred, the results of the raids were
reportedly disappointing. Although the Valiants dropped a total of
842 tons (856 tonnes) of bombs, only three of the seven
airfields attacked were seriously damaged.[N 5] However, the Egyptian
Air Force had been effectively destroyed in a wider series of
multinational attacks of which the Valiant bombing missions had been a
part. It was the last time the V-bombers flew a live combat
Avro Vulcans bombed Port Stanley airfield in the
Falkland Islands during the
Falklands War in 1982.
Valiant tankers were flown by No. 214 Squadron at RAF Marham,
operational in 1958, and 90 Squadron at Honington, operational in
1959. Aircraft assigned to the tanker role were fitted with a Hose
Drum Unit (HDU or "HooDoo") in the bomb bay. The HDU was mounted on
bomb-mounting points and could be removed if necessary; this
arrangement meant that the bomb bay doors had to be opened in order to
give fuel to a receiver aircraft. A control panel at the radar
navigator station in the cockpit was used to operate the HDU. All of
the HDU equipment was designed to be easily removable so that the
aircraft could be reverted to the bomber role.
With in-flight refuelling probes fitted to Valiants, Vulcans and
Victors and Valiant tankers available to give fuel and extend the
range of the aircraft being refuelled, the RAF Medium
could go beyond "medium range", and the RAF had a long range
capability. Long-range demonstration flights were made using Valiant
tankers pre-deployed along the route. In 1960, a Valiant bomber flew
non-stop from Marham in the UK to Singapore and in 1961 a Vulcan flew
non-stop from the UK to Australia. The two tanker squadrons
regularly practised long range missions, refuelled by other Valiant
tankers on the way. These included flights from the UK to Nairobi for
which the tanker was stationed at RAF Idris in Libya, and flights from
Aden (RAF Khormaksar) to the UK with tankers from Idris or RAF El Adem
In 1963 a squadron of
Gloster Javelin fighters was refuelled by
tankers from 214 squadron in stages from the UK to India (Exercise
"Shiksha") to support the Indian Air Force in a dispute over their
border with China. The 214 squadron tankers flew on to the airfield at
Penang in Malaysia, then a station of the Royal
Australian Air Force. Later, they re-deployed to India (Calcutta Dum
Dum airport) in order to refuel the Javelins in stages back to the UK
three weeks later.
Other aircraft refuelled by Valiants at this time included Victor and
Vulcan bombers and
English Electric Lightning
English Electric Lightning fighters, also the de
Havilland Sea Vixen fighter of the Royal Navy. 
Countermeasures and reconnaissance roles
No. 18 Squadron RAF
No. 18 Squadron RAF at
RAF Finningley were modified to the
"radio countermeasures" (RCM) role – RCM is now called "electronic
countermeasures" (ECM). These aircraft were ultimately fitted with
APT-16A and ALT-7 jamming transmitters, Airborne Cigar and Carpet
jammers, APR-4 and APR-9 "sniffing" receivers, and chaff dispensers.
At least seven Valiants were configured to the RCM role.
Valiants of No. 543 Squadron at
RAF Wyton were modified to serve in
the photographic reconnaissance role. In one notable operation in
1965, Valiants of No. 543 Squadron photographed around 400,000 square
Rhodesia across an 11-week period.
Fatigue failures and retirement
In 1956, Vickers had performed a series of low level tests in WZ383 to
assess the type for low level flight at high speed. Several
modifications to the aircraft were made, including a metal radome,
debris guards on the two inboard engines, after six flights the
aileron and elevator artificial feel was reduced by 50%. Pilots
reported problems with cabin heating and condensation that would need
remedying. The aircraft was fitted with data recording equipment and
this data was used by Vickers to estimate the remaining safe life of
the type under these flying conditions. Initially a safe life of 75
hours was recommended, which became "the real figure might be less
than 200 hours". The number of hours flown by each Valiant in a
year was viewed as being an operational issue for the RAF.
Vickers Valiant on display
Later the RAE ran a similar series of tests that more closely
resembled actual operational conditions including low level and
taxiing, the corresponding report published in 1958 produced data that
could be used to get a better grasp on which flight conditions
produced the most damage, and better enable a projection of the future
life span for the type.
In May 1957 Flight reported an "incident at Boscombe Down, when a
Valiant cracked a rear spar member after a rocket-assisted takeoff in
overload conditions" This aircraft was the second prototype WB
215, it was subsequently broken up for wing fatigue testing after it
had flown 489 hours In July 1964, a cracked spar was found in one
of the three Valiants (either WZ394 – Wynne, or WZ389 – Morgan) on
Operation Pontifex. This was followed on 6 August by a failure of
the starboard wing rear spar at 30,000 ft, in WP217, an OCU
aircraft from Gaydon captained by Flight Lieutenant "Taffy" Foreman.
The aircraft landed back at Gaydon but without flap deployment because
damage to the starboard rear spar caused the flap rollers to come out
of their guides so that the flap would not lower on that side. Later
inspection of the aircraft also showed the fuselage skin below the
starboard inner plane had buckled, popping the rivets; the engine door
had cracked and the rivets had been pulled and the skin buckled on the
top surface of the mainplane between the two engines. Both of
these aircraft were PR variants.
Inspections of the entire fleet showed that the wing spars were
suffering from fatigue at between 35% and 75% of the assessed safe
fatigue life, probably due to low level turbulence. After this
inspection, the aircraft were divided into three categories, Cat A
aircraft continuing to fly, Cat B to fly to a repair base, and Cat C
requiring repair before flying again. The tanker squadrons had the
highest proportion of Cat A aircraft because their role had been
mainly at high level. This also caused the methods of assessing
fatigue lives to be reviewed. By the time the type was scrapped,
only about 50 aircraft were still in service, the rest had been slowly
accumulating at various RAF Maintenance Units designated as "Non
Initially there was no question of retiring the type, or even the
majority of affected aircraft. Repairs were actively taking place at
Valiant bases such as Marham using working parties from Vickers plus
RAF technicians from the base. However, in January 1965, the Wilson
Denis Healey as
Secretary of State for Defence
Secretary of State for Defence decided
that the expense of the repairs could not be justified, given the
short operational life left to the Valiant and the fleet was
permanently grounded as of 26 January 1965. The QRA alert that had
been in place for
SACEUR was maintained until the final grounding and
was then allowed to lapse. When asked to make a statement
regarding the Valiant's scrapping in the House of Commons, Denis
Healey stated that it "was not in any way connected with low-level
flying" and that "last Government took the decision to continue
operating the Valiant force for another four years after its planned
fatigue life was complete".
Aviation author Barry Jones commented in his book that: "A question
has to be asked. For two years before the demise of the Valiant,
Handley Page at Radlett had 100 Hastings go through their shops. They
were completely dismantled and rebuilt, having DTD683 components
removed and replaced by new alloy sections. What was so special about
the Hastings and why was the Valiant not treated similarly? Perhaps we
will know one day – but I doubt it."  A Flight report about the
scrapping it states "Fatigue affected all Valiants ... not only those
that had been used for some low flying".
On 9 December 1964, the last Valiant tanker sortie in XD812 of 214
Squadron was refuelling Lightning aircraft over the North Sea and was
recalled to land back at Marham before the scheduled exercise was
completed. On the same day, the last Valiant bomber sortie was carried
out by XD818.[N 6]
Including three prototypes, a total of 107 Valiants were built.
Valiant B.1: 39 pure bomber variants, including five pre-production
Type 674s, which were powered by Avon RA.14 engines with the same
9,500 lbf (42 kN) thrust each as the earlier Avon 201 and 34
Type 706 full-production aircraft, powered by Avon RA.28 204 or 205
engines with 10,500 lbf (47 kN) thrust each, longer
tailpipes, and water-methanol injection for takeoff boost power.
Type 710 Valiant B(PR).1: eight bomber/photo-reconnaissance aircraft.
Edwards and his team had considered use of the Valiant for
photo-reconnaissance from the start, and this particular type of
aircraft could accommodate a removable "crate" in the bomb-bay,
carrying up to eight narrow-view/high resolution cameras and four
Type 733 Valiant B(PR)K.1: 13 bomber/photo-reconnaissance/tanker
Type 758 Valiant B(K).1: 44 bomber / tanker aircraft. Both tanker
variants carried a removable tanker system in the bomb bay, featuring
fuel tanks and a hose-and-drogue aerial refuelling system. A further
16 Valiant B(K).1s were ordered, but cancelled.
Vickers also considered an air transport version of the Valiant, with
a low-mounted wing, wingspan increased to 140 ft (42.7 m)
from 114 ft 4 in (34.8 m), fuselage lengthened to
146 ft (44.5 m), and uprated engines. Work on a prototype,
designated the Type 1000, began in early 1953. The prototype was to
lead to a military transport version, the Type 1002, and a civilian
transport version, the Type 1004 or VC.7. The Type 1000 prototype was
almost complete when it, too, was cancelled.
Valiant production ended in August 1957; the last six had been
cancelled in 1956.
Silhouette of the Valiant B.1
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force operated Valiants out of RAF Gaydon, RAF Finningley,
RAF Honington, RAF Marham,
RAF Wittering and
RAF Wyton by:
No. 7 Squadron – Reformed at Honington on 1 November 1956, moving to
Wittering on 26 July 1960 and disbanding 30 September 1962.
No. 18 Squadron – Valiant equipped C Flight of 199 Squadron
renumbered 18 Squadron at Finningley on 17 December 1958 and disbanded
31 March 1963.
No. 49 Squadron – Reformed Wittering 1 May 1956, moving to Marham 26
June 1961 and disbanding 1 May 1965.
No. 90 Squadron – Reformed at Honington on 1 January 1957 and
disbanded on 1 March 1965 .
No. 138 Squadron – Reformed at Gaydon on 1 January 1955, moving to
Wittering on 6 July 1955 and disbanding 1 April 1962.
No. 148 Squadron – Reformed Marham 1 July 1956 and disbanded 1 May
No. 199 Squadron – C Flight of 199 Squadron received Valiants on 29
May 1957 at Honington in the ECM training role, replacing Avro
Lincolns, with the rest of the Squadron operating the Canberra. 199
Squadron was disbanded in December 1958, with C Flight becoming 18
No. 207 Squadron – Reformed at Marham on 1 April 1956, disbanding on
1 May 1965.
No. 214 Squadron – Reformed at Marham on 21 January 1956 and
disbanded on 1 March 1965.
No. 543 Squadron – Reformed at Gaydon on 1 April 1955 in the
strategic reconnaissance role and moved to Wyton on 18 November 1955.
It received Victor Mk 1s to replace its grounded Valiants in
No. 232 Operational Conversion Unit RAF
No. 232 Operational Conversion Unit RAF – Formed at Gaydon 21
February 1955 to train Valiant flight crews, with Victor training
added in 1957. The Valiant equipped B flight disbanded in February
No. 1321 (Valiant/Blue Danube Trials) Flight
Vickers Valiant B1 XD818 –
RAF Museum Cosford
RAF Museum Cosford in 2006
Vickers Valiant B1 XD818 – RAF Museum Cosford, on display with the
other two V bombers, the Victor and Vulcan in the National Cold War
Exhibition, this is the only fully intact example in existence, and so
is the only place where an example of all three V bombers can be seen
Cockpit sections surviving comprise XD816 at
Brooklands Museum in
Surrey and XD875 at the Highland Aviation Museum at Inverness
Airport. A third surviving section is the cockpit of XD826
which is part of a private collection in Essex and the flight deck of
XD857 is displayed at the
Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum
Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at
Accidents and incidents
12 January 1952; the first Valiant prototype WB210 crashed near Hurn
following a midair fire.
29 July 1955; Valiant B1 WP222 of No. 138 Squadron crashed on takeoff
RAF Wittering following aileron malfunction, killing all four
11 May 1956; Valiant B1 WP202 of the Royal Aircraft Establishment lost
control and crashed attempting to land at Southwick Recreation Ground,
near Hove in Sussex.
13 September 1957: Valiant B(PR)K1 WZ398 of No. 543 Squadron caught
fire in a hangar at RAF Wyton, not repaired.
11 September 1959: Valiant BK1 XD869 of No. 214 Squadron flew into the
ground after a night takeoff from RAF Marham.
12 August 1960: Valiant BK1 XD864 of No. 7 Squadron nosewheel failed
to retract on takeoff from RAF Wyton, while sorting it out the
aircraft stalled and crashed into the ground at
RAF Spanhoe disused
11 July 1961: Valiant B1 WP205 of the Aircraft and Armament
Experimental Establishment overshot runway and hit control caravan at
3 November 1961: Valiant B(PR)K1 WZ399 of No. 543 Squadron abandoned
takeoff at Offut AFB, Nebraska, United States, caught fire after
overshooting runway onto a railway line.
14 March 1961 Valiant B. 1 WP200 at RRFU Pershore, failed to complete
takeoff, written off 
6 May 1964: Valiant B1 WZ363 of No. 148 Squadron (although a 148 Sqn
aircraft, it was on loan to, and crewed by, members of 207 Sqn) dived
into the ground at night at Market Rasen, Lincolnshire.
23 May 1964: Valiant B(PR)K1 WZ396 of No. 543 Squadron landed on foam
with landing gear problems at RAF Manston, not repaired.
Specifications (Valiant B.1)
Data from Vickers Aircraft since 1908, Jet Bombers
Crew: five – two pilots, two navigators (one navigator plotter + one
navigator bomber), air electronics officer
Length: 108 ft 3 in (32.99 m)
Wingspan: 114 ft 4 in (34.85 m)
Height: 32 ft 2 in (9.80 m)
Wing area: 2,362 ft2 (219 m2)
Empty weight: 75,881 lb (34,491 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 140,000 lb (63,600 kg)
Powerplant: 4 ×
Rolls-Royce Avon RA28 Mk 204 turbojet, 10,000 lb
(44.6 kN) each
Maximum speed: 567 mph (493 knots, 913 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,150 m)
Range: 4,500 mi (3,910 nmi, 7,245 km) with underwing tanks
Service ceiling: 54,000 ft (16,500 m)
Rate of climb: 4,000 ft/min (20 m/s)
1 × 10,000 lb (4500 kg) Blue Danube nuclear bomb or
21 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs
Newsreel footage of Valiant following 1955 Speed Record
Footage and Description of the Valiant B2
Period footage of RAF Valiant operations
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Boeing B-47 Stratojet
Handley Page Victor
North American B-45 Tornado
Tupolev Tu-16/Xian H-6
List of aircraft of the Royal Air Force
^ The rapid development of aircraft during
World War II
World War II led to a
demand for very high strength aluminium alloy, especially for use in
highly loaded tension and compression members. One result was a zinc
/magnesium based alloy given the identification DTD 683. It was ideal
for such applications as wing spar caps providing, as was the case
with wartime operations, the life of the aircraft was short. Use in
early post-War transport aircraft showed that DTD 683 was very crack
sensitive and hence prone to fatigue failure. In many cases it had to
be replaced by steel components. DTD 683 is an example of a material
developed to meet a particular need, but whose wider characteristics
were not investigated until too late. D.Howe 1998
^ Traditionally, RAF bombers had been named after towns and cities,
for example Lancaster, Halifax and Canberra, but the new aircraft
technology seemed to suggest a break from tradition; the name also
fitted in with an equally long held tradition of alliteration in
^ Vickers had proposed the installation of a pair of 20 mm cannons in
the tailcone, however this concept was never explored beyond the
^ Structural Changes Caused by Plastic Strain and by fatigue in
Aluminium-Zinc-Magnesium-Copper Alloys Corresponding to DTD.683 (Broom
^ The Valiants had not yet been fitted with their operational
Navigational and Bombing System (NBS) and were dropping largely using
Second World War techniques.
^ XD818 was also the aircraft which had dropped nuclear weapons during
^ Lord de L'Isle and Dudley (Sidney, William) (17 February 1953),
"Supply of Aircraft", House of Lords Debates, Hansard, vol 180, cc463,
retrieved 30 May 2016
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 33.
^ “Pitfalls of the substitution of sophistication for Common
Sense” D Howe, Cranfield University. IMechE Vol 212 Part G, Sec 5.1
Metals, p. 307. May 1998
^ a b Turpin 2002, p. 71.
^ a b c d e Flintham 2008, p. 131.
^ a b c Rosemeyer 2009, p. 52.
^ a b Burnet and Morgan
Aeroplane Monthly August 1980, p. 397.
^ "Aerocinema-The Lost V Bomber". aerocinema.com. Archived from the
original on 24 November 2014.
^ a b c d Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 72.
^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 72–73.
^ a b c Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 73.
^ a b Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 17.
^ Downey 1985, p. 5.
^ Rosemeyer 2009, pp. 52–53.
^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 438.
^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 439.
^ Turpin 2002, p. 72.
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 10.
^ Jones 2007, pp. 31, 33.
^ Flight 4 July 1958, p. 13.
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, pp. 11–16.
^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 440.
^ Turpin 2002, p. 74.
^ Jones 2007, p. 34.
^ Jones 2007, p. 26.
^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 77–78.
^ Jones 2007, pp. 32, 36.
^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 445.
^ a b c d e f Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 77.
^ a b c d e Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 78.
^ Jones 2007, pp. 36–37.
^ Brookes 2012, pp. 83–84.
^ a b Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 20.
^ Burnet and Morgan
Aeroplane Monthly August 1980, p. 400.
^ Jones 2007, p. 37.
^ Brookes 2012, p. 12.
^ a b c d Hubbard and Simmons 2008, p. 26.
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, pp. 19–20.
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, pp. 24–26.
^ a b c Flintham 2008, p. 133.
^ a b c d e f g h i Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 75.
^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 449.
^ a b c Andrews and Morgan, p. 442.
^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 73–74.
^ a b c Barfield
Air International September 1992, p. 158.
^ Burnet and Morgan
Aeroplane Monthly August 1980, p. 398.
^ a b Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 74.
^ Andrews 1966, p. 16.
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, pp. 17–18.
^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 75–76.
^ a b c d e Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 76.
^ Darling 2012, p. 41.
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 28.
^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 74–75.
^ Turpin 2002, pp. 79–80.
^ Darling 2012, p. 39.
^ a b c Flight 4 July 1958, p. 19.
^ a b c Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 18.
^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 76–77.
^ Turpin 2002, p. 78.
^ Flight 4 July 1958, p. 18.
^ Flight 14 December 1951, p. 756.
^ Flight 17 July 1953, p. 91.
^ Brookes Valiant Units of the Cold War, pp. 83.
^ The Journal of the Institute of Metals (JIM), Vol. 86, No. 1790,
^ Flight 6 April 1956, p. 394.
^ a b Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 19.
^ a b c d e f Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 79.
^ a b c Darling 2012, p. 40.
^ Jones 2007, pp. 79–82.
^ a b Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 80.
^ Mason 1994, p. 378.
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, pp. 33–36.
^ Hubbard and Simmons 2008, pp. 61, 68.
^ Hubbard and Simmons 2008, p. 157.
^ Hubbard and Simmons 2008, p. 167.
^ Bowman 2016, p. 158
^ Blackman and Wright 2015, p. 42.
^ Darling 2012, p. 42.
^ Bowman 2016, pp. 158, 161.
^ Tanner 2006, pp. 113–114.
^ Morgan p. 66-68
^ Valiant Units of the Cold War, Brookes p. 88.
^ "Fatigue Loadings in Flight-Loads in the Nose Undercarriage and Wing
of a Valiant." E.W. Wells, ARC C.P. No. 521.
^ Flight May 17, 1957 p. 651
^ Morgan p. 44 & p. 89.
^ Humphrey Wynne "The RAF Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Forces" p. 469.
^ Brookes, Victor Units of the Cold War, p. 67.
^ Darling 2012, pp. 39–40.
^ Morgan, App 2, Individual Valiant Histories pp. 89–94.
^ Wynn 1996, p. 465.
^ Morgan App2, pp. 89–94.
^ "Valiants to be Scrapped." Glasgow Herald, 27 January 1965.
^ Wynn 1996, pp. 464–471, 500.
^ "ROYAL AIR FORCE (VALIANT AIRCRAFT)", House of Commons Debates, vol
705, cc723-7, 1 February 1965
^ "V-Bombers” Barry Jones p. 117.
^ "End of the Valiants", Flight International, p. 184, 4 February
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Brookes 2012, p. 92.
^ Halley 1980, p. 203.
^ Halley 1980, p. 315.
^ Brookes 2012, pp. 34–35.
^ "60th Anniversary of Valiant’s First Flight." Royal Air Force
Museum, 17 May 2011.
^ "Powered Aircraft, Gliders & Aircraft Cockpit Sections."
Brooklands Museum, Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
^ "Exhibits – External ." Highland Aviation Museum, Retrieved: 19
^ "Our Aircraft." Archived 6 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
^ "Sole British Jet Atom
Bomber Crashes." New York Times, 13 January
^ a b c d Halley 2003, p. 95.
^ "Valiant Crash Inquest Verdict." The Times, Issue 53289, August
1955, p. 11.
^ a b c d Halley 2003, p. 128.
^ a b Halley 2001, p. 20.
^ Morgan 1994, p. 32.
^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, p. 450.
^ Mason 1994, p. 379.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vickers Valiant.
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