Vickers Valiant Nuclear Bomber.
[Vickers Valiant: Sketch by Joe Bosher.]
First of the RAF's V Bombers, the Vickers Valiant flew for the first time on 18 May 1951.
The first pre-production Valiant B Mk.1 with Avon R.A.14 engines of 10,000lbs thrust made its maiden flight on 22 Dec 1953, from Brooklands, Surrey.
The public debut of operational Valiants was at the Farnborough Air Show of September 1955, when 12 aircraft of No.138 Squadron took part in a flypast.
The Many Roles of the Valiant
Three prototypes and 104 production Valiants were built, the last of these being completed and flying on August 27, 1957. Apart from the initial production B.Mk. 1 long-range medium bomber, three versions of the Valiant were produced; the B.(P.R.) Mk. 1 dual-purpose version equipped for long-range high-altitude photo-reconnaissance, the B.K. Mk. 1 and the B.(P.R.).K. Mk. 1, both of which had provision for In-flight Refuelling.
The Valiant Enters Service with the RAF.
The first Valiant B.1s entered service with 232 Operational Conversion Unit in June 1954 which became No. 138 Squadron at RAF Gaydon, Warwickshire in January 1955. No. 138 Squadron moved to RAF Wittering and became fully operational in July 1955. Wittering had been home to the RAF's slowly increasing stockpile of nuclear weapons since 1953 and now finally the RAF had bombers and bombs in the same place. In 1956 RAF Marham and RAF Honington were prepared for V-Force operations and five more Valiant squadrons were formed - No.214 Squadron, No.207 Squadron, No.148 Squadron , No.49 Squadron and No.7 Squadron.
[Vickers Valiant: Taking off at the RAF Finningley Airshow 1960 photo supplied by Ian Sadler whose dad took the photo during his days of national service.]
On 25-26 May 1960 a Valiant of No. 214 Sqn made the first non-stop UK - Singapore flight. Covering a distance of 8,100 miles (13,053 km) in 15 hr 35 min, the aircraft was refuelled over Cyprus and Karachi, Pakistan.
The Valiant Drops Britains First Hydrogen Bomb.
No. 49 Squadron had operated with Avro Lincolns in Kenya during operations against the Mau Mau between November 1953 and February 1954 and had been disbanded at RAF Upwood on 1st August 1955. The squadron's final incarnation began on 1 May 1956 when it reformed at Wittering as part of the new V-Force, equipped with Valiants. It took part in Operation Grapple, Britain's nuclear test program, from Christmas Island and one of its aircraft dropped Britain's first hydrogen bomb.
The Valiant's Photo Reconnaisance Role.
A total of 11 Valiant B(PR) Mk.1 reconnaisance variants were produced. These could carry up to eight cameras in the bomb bay instead of a bomb load. The first deliveries of these were to the newly formed No.543 Squadron at RAF Wyton in June 1955. Once Valiant B.1 and Valiant B(PR).1 production finished, another variant was produced, the Valiant B(PR)K.1.
The Suez Crisis.
During the Suez Crisis Valiants of 138, 148, 207 and 214 squadrons were deployed to RAF Luqa in Malta and the first Valiant attacks against Egyptian airfields began on 31 October 1956. After failing to stop Egyptian and Israeli fighting around the Suez Canal, RAF Canberra and Valiant bombers flying from Malta and Cyprus, in conjunction with French Air Force aircraft, attacked twelve airfields in the Canal Zone. Airfield attacks continued until 4 November, by which time the Egyptian Air Force had been decimated.
The Last Valiant Squadron.
The Valiant could carry a 10,000-lb. bomb load internally, but by the mid-1960s was relegated largely to the photo-reconnaissance and tanker roles. When metal fatigue was found in the wing spars of the Valiants, it spelled the end of the aircraft's RAF career and in 1964 the entire Valiant fleet was retired, with the OCU being first to disband and the last Valiant squadron, 49 Squadron, being disbanded in January 1965.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any stories about this aircraft; humorous, technical or historical. Please use the Feedback Form to contact me briefly, in the first instance.
Joe Bosher (74th).