Handley Page Victor British Jet Bomber


Handley Page Victor
The Handley Page Victor was a British jet bomber aircraft produced by the Handley Page Aircraft Company during the Cold War. It was the third and final of the V-bombers that provided Britain's nuclear deterrent. The other two V-bombers were the Avro Vulcan and the Vickers Valiant. Some aircraft were modified for strategic reconnaissance role using both cameras and radar. After the Royal Navy assumed the nuclear deterrence mission using submarine-launched Polaris missiles in 1969 many surviving bombers were converted into aerial refuelling tankers. The last Victor was retired from service on 15 October 1993.


Handley Page's design in response to B.35/46 was given the internal designation of HP.80. To achieve the required performance, the HP.80 was given a crescent wing developed by Handley Page's aerodynamicist Dr. Gustav Lachmann and his deputy, Godfrey Lee. The sweep and chord of the wing decrease in three distinct steps from the root to the tip, to ensure a constant limiting Mach number across the entire wing and consequently a high cruise speed.

Handley Page Victor HP.80

The HP.80 and Avro's Type 698 were chosen as the best two of the proposed designs to B.35/46, and orders for two prototypes of each were placed. It was recognized, however, that there were many unknowns associated with both designs, and an order was also placed for Vickers' design, which became the Valiant. Although not fully meeting the requirements of the specification, the Valiant design posed little risk of failure and could therefore reach service earlier. The HP.80's crescent wing was tested on a ⅓-scale glider, the HP.87, and a modified Supermarine Attacker, the Handley Page HP.88. The HP.88 crashed on 26 August 1951 after completing only about thirty flights and little useful data was gained during its brief two months of existence. By the time the HP.87 was ready, the HP.80 wing had changed such that the former was no longer representative. At any rate, the design of the HP.80 had sufficiently advanced that the loss of the HP.88 had little effect on the programme.

Two HP.80 prototypes, WB771 and WB775, were built. The Victor was a futuristic-looking, streamlined machine, with four turbojet engines buried in the thick wing roots. Distinguishing features of the Victor were its highly swept T-tail with considerable dihedral on the horizontal stabilisers, and a prominent chin bulge that contained the targeting radar, cockpit, nose landing gear unit and an auxiliary bomb aimer's position. Unlike the Vulcan and Valiant, the Victor's pilots sat at the same level as the rest of the crew, thanks to a larger pressurised compartment that extended all the way to the nose. As with the other V-bombers, only the pilots were provided with ejection seats; the three systems operators relying on "explosive cushions" inflated by a CO2 bottle that would help them from their seats and towards a traditional bail out in the event of high g-loading, but despite this, escape for the three backseaters was extremely difficult. It was originally required by the specification that the whole nose section could be detached at high altitudes to act as an escape pod, but the Air Ministry abandoned this demand in 1950.

The Victor's bomb bay was much larger than that of the Valiant and Vulcan, which allowed heavier weapon loads to be carried, but over shorter ranges. As an alternative to the single "10,000 lb" nuclear bomb as required by the specification, the bomb bay was designed to carry a single 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam or two 12,000 lb (5,500 kg) Tallboy earthquake bombs, up to forty-eight 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs or thirty-nine 2,000 lb (900 kg) sea mines. Underwing panniers that could carry a further 28 1,000 lb bombs were planned although never built.

HP.80 prototype WB771 was broken down at the Handley Page factory at Radlett and transported by road to RAF Boscombe Down for its first flight. Bulldozers were used on the route to create new paths around obstacles. The sections of the aircraft were hidden under wooden framing and tarpaulins printed with "GELEYPANDHY / SOUTHAMPTON" to make it appear to be a boat hull in transit. GELEYPANDHY was an anagram of "Handley Pyge" marred by a signwriter's error. It made its maiden flight on 24 December 1952.

The HP.80 prototypes performed well, but there were a number of design miscalculations that lead to the loss of WB771 on 14 July 1954, when the tailplane detached whilst making a low-level pass over the runway at Cranfield, causing the aircraft to crash with the loss of the crew. Attached to the fin using three bolts, the tailplane was subject to considerably more stress than had been anticipated and the three bolts failed due to metal fatigue. Additionally, the aircraft were considerably tail heavy. This was remedied by large ballast weights in the HP.80 prototypes. Production Victors had a lengthened nose that also served to move the crew escape door further from the engine intakes. The fin was shortened to eliminate the potential for flutter while the tailplane attachment was changed to a stronger four-bolt fixing.

Victor B.1

Production B.1 Victors were powered by the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire ASSa.7 turbojets rated at 11,000 lbf (49 kN), and was initially equipped with the Blue Danube nuclear weapon, re-equipping with the more powerful Yellow Sun weapon when it became available, although 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 tailcone 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 higher 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 was the largest aircraft to have broken the "sound barrier" at that time.

Victor B.2

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). This required enlarged and redesigned intakes to provide greater airflow. The wingtips were extended, increasing the wingspan to 120 ft (36.6 m). Unlike the B.1, the B.2 featured distinctive retractable "elephant ear" intakes on the rear fuselage forward of the fin. These scoops fed ram air to turbine-driven alternators, thus their name "Ram Air Turbine" (RAT) scoops. In the event of a high-altitude flameout, the loss of electrical or hydraulic power would trigger the RATs to open and provide sufficient electrical power to work the flight controls until the main engines could be relit. The right wing root also incorporated a Blackburn Artouste airborne auxiliary power plant (AAPP) or airborne auxiliary power unit (AAPU). This small "5th" engine provided high-pressure air for engine starting, and provided electrical power on the ground, or in the air as an emergency back-up in the event of main engine failures or flameout. The APU was also a useful feature to support operations away from specialist Victor support equipment. The aircraft also featured an extension at the base of the fin containing ECM cooling equipment.

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 the wreckage of XH668 to determine the cause of the crash. It took until November 1960 to recover most of the aircraft, with the accident investigation report concluding that the starboard pitot head had failed during the flight, causing the aircraft's 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.

A total of 21 B.2 aircraft were upgraded to the B.2R standard with Conway RCo.17 engines (20,600 lbf/92 kN thrust) and facilities to carry a Blue Steel stand-off nuclear missile. The aircrafts' wings were modified to incorporate two "speed pods" or "K├╝chemann carrots". These were anti-shock bodies; bulged fairings that reduced wave drag at transonic speeds, which were also used as a convenient place to house chaff dispensers. Handley Page proposed to build a further refined "Phase 6" Victor, with more fuel and capable of carrying up to four Skybolt (AGM-48) ballistic missiles on standing airborne patrols, but this proposal was rejected although it was agreed that some of the Victor B.2s on order would be fitted to carry two Skybolts. This plan was abandoned when the U.S. cancelled the whole Skybolt programme in 1963. With the move to low-level penetration missions, the Victors were fitted with air-to-air refuelling probes above the cockpit, large underwing fuel tanks, and received a two-tone camouflage finish in place of the Anti-flash white. Trials were also conducted with terrain-following radar and a side scan mode for the bombing and navigation radar but neither became operational.

Victor B.2 Strategic Reconnaissance

Nine B.2 aircraft were converted for strategic reconnaissance purposes to replace Valiants withdrawn due to wing fatigue, with delivery beginning in July 1965. They received cameras, a bomb bay-mounted radar mapping system and wing top sniffers to detect particles released from nuclear testing.

Victor tankers

The withdrawal of the Valiant fleet due to metal fatigue in December 1964 meant that the RAF had no front line tanker aircraft, so the B.1/1A aircraft, now judged to be surplus in the strategic bomber role, were refitted for this duty. To get some tankers into service as quickly as possible, six B.1A aircraft were converted to B(K).1A standard (later redesignated B.1A (K2P)), receiving a two-point system with a hose and drogue carried under each wing, while the bomb bay remained available for weapons. Handley Page worked day and night to convert these six aircraft, with the first being delivered on 28 April 1965, and 55 Squadron becoming operational in the tanker role in August 1965.

While these six aircraft provided a limited tanker capability suitable for refuelling fighters, the Mk 20A wing hosereels could only deliver fuel at a limited rate, and were not suitable for refuelling bombers. Work therefore continued to produce a definitive three-point tanker conversion of the Victor Mk.1. Fourteen further B.1A and 11 B.1 were fitted with two permamently fitted fuel tanks in the bomb bay, and a high-capacity Mk 17 centreline hose dispenser unit with three times the fuel flow rate as the wing reels, and were designated K.1A and K.1 respectively.

The remaining B.2 aircraft were not as suited to the low-level strike mission as the Vulcan with its strong delta wing. This, combined with the switch of the nuclear deterrent from the RAF to the Royal Navy (with the Polaris missile) meant that the Victor was now surplus to requirements. Hence, 24 B.2 were modified to K.2 standard. Similar to the K.1/1A conversions, the wing was trimmed to reduce stress and had the nose glazing plated over. The glazing was reintroduced, on some aircraft, for reconnaissance missions during the Falklands War. The K.2 could carry 91,000 lb (41,000 kg) of fuel. It served in the tanker role until withdrawn in October 1993.

Share this article :