TO THE VICTOR THE SPOILS
In February 2009 the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection fielded its first 1/144 scale asset – the Corgi die cast interpretation of Handley-Page Victor XL 231. This was acquired as part of a boxed set with Avro Vulcan XL 443, both of which were painted in the anti nuclear flash white of the late 1950s with pale blue RAF markings. Both models, too, represented the upgraded Mark 2 versions of their respective types and were supplied with attachable models of the Blue Steel stand-off missiles that they were designed to carry.
However, while the Avro Vulcan is arguably the most famous of Britain’s V-bombers, the Handley-Page Victor was more appropriate for a cartography themed window display at Gloucester Tourist Information Centre because as well as being posed next to a map of the World based on the North Pole – as used by Cold War stategic planners – the Rolls Royce powered B (SR) Mark 2 Victor could radar map the whole Mediterranean in seven hours and in 1982 Victor XH 675 radar mapped the South Atlantic in a 7 000 mile 14 hour 45 minute mission.
Other local Victor connections were that the Mark 1 – first flown on Christmas Eve 1952 – was powered by Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines of the type once built at Brockworth and that it was the last four-engine design of the company founded one hundred years ago by Cheltenham born Sir Frederick Handley-Page ( 1885-1962 ).
GOODIES FROM CRICKLEWOOD
Frederick (later Sir Frederick) Handley-Page first built several experimental biplanes and monoplanes at premises in Woolwich, Fambridge and Barking Creek, before settling on works at Cricklewood in North London and Radlett Aerodrome, Hertfordshire. His company, Handley-Page Ltd, became the first public company to build aircraft when it was founded on 17th June 1909.
1911 saw Handley-Page produce the twin engined O/100 heavy night bomber, pictured left, the largest aircraft built in Britain and featuring folding biplane wings, an enclosed cabin with bullet-proof glass and armour protection, and engines mounted in armoured nacelles. Improvements to the O/100 resulted in the O/400, powered by twin 360hp Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engines, of which more than 450 were built in the UK in 1918/19. Some of these made useful interim 10-seat civil transports after the Armistice and provided the basis for the twin-engined Hyderabad bomber that entered RAF service in the 1920s.
Originally titled the Handley-Page W8d in response to an Air Ministry Specification for a replacement for the DH 10 and Vickers Vimy, the four crew Hyderabad prototype first flew in October 1923 and production variants went to 99 Squadron RAF in December 1925. Two years later 10 Squadron also equipped with the type. Superior in performance to the Vickers Virginia III and Avro Aldershot, the Hyderabad was the RAF’s last wooden heavy bomber and none of its crashes ever proved fatal. It was superceded in front line service by 1931.
WINGS ACROSS THE EMPIRE
Meanwhile the O/400 conversion led to the construction of the company’s first purely civil transports, the W8, W9 and W10. Featuring an open cockpit for the pilot and an enclosed cabin for 15 passengers, the W8 made its first flight on 4th December 1919, followed on 1st October 1925 by the unique three-engined W9, and the W10 – reverting to two engines – later the same year.
Imperial Airways’ requirement for a larger aircraft for specific sections of the Empire Route was met with the HP42, an all-metal biplane with the first enclosed cockpit and accommodation for up to 24 passengers.
First flown in November 1930, the HP42 served with Imperial Airways until the advent of war in September 1939, by which time Handley-Page’s production reverted entirely to military bombers. These included the Heyford ( the last RAF biplane bomber ), its replacement the high winged twin-engined Harrow monoplane and the “flying pencil” format Hereford and Hampden monoplanes that led ultimately to the four-engined Halifax.
Early in the Second World War, a number of airliners commandeered by the British Government visited the Gloster Aircraft airfield at Brockworth, it is believed to pick up supplies for the British Expeditionary Force in France. Two Handley Page HP42 four engined biplanes can be seen just behind the bicycles while to the right is a Short Scylla single finned biplane and an Armstrong Whitworth Ensign monoplane.
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The Handley-Page Hampden was the last of the twin engined bombers to go into service with the Royal Air Force prior to the Second World War. Together with the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Vickers Wellington, the Handley-Page Hampden bore the brunt of the early raids on Germany. Although the design – with a similar format to the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 – showed promise, the Hampden lacked adequate defensive armament and bomb load and in September 1942 transferred from RAF Bomber Command ( later led by Cheltenham born Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris ) to Coastal Command as a torpedo bomber. More than half of the Hampdens built were assembled by English Electric at Samlesbury, with 80 Hampdens rolling off the production line at its peak in 1944. English Electric then built Handley-Page’s four engined heavy bomber, the Halifax.
In fact another link between Gloucestershire and Handley-Page aircraft was forged on 30 October 1965 when the nose section of Handley-Page Halifax four engined bomber PN323 arrived at the Skyfame museum at Staverton courtesy of Graham Trant and Harold Levy. Holding four of the six strong crew of the Halifax, this relic was unique until a Halifax Mark II was discovered on the bed of Lake Hoklingen and raised by the RAF for restoration and eventual display at Hendon. Strategic bomber, submarine hunter, transport aircraft, glider tug, the Handley-Page Halifax served longer with RAF Bomber Command than any other aircraft in World War II. Although never as famous as the Avro Lancaster or Short Stirling, the Halifax served four and a half years in Europe and and also flew in the Middle and Far East. In all, 6 176 were built. Unlike the Avro Lancaster, the Handley-Page Halifax also served in Coastal Command against submarines and other shipping. It was a raid by Halifaxes that crippled the German battleship Scharnhorst and stopped her sailing to meet the Bismark in 1941.
Halifaxes dropped arms and supplies to resistance fighters all over Europe and on D-Day towed the huge Hamilcar tank-transport gliders into action. At VE Day Halifaxes were the fastest four engined bombers operating from Great Britain and had established a record for the number of night fighters destroyed. The last Halifax aircraft in Bomber Command were the Mark VI variant powered by four 1 800 bhp Bristol Hercules 100 engines. With a maximum speed of 312 mph at 22 000′ the Handley-Page Halifax Mark VI could carry a six ton bomb load for 1 260 miles. Armament comprised four-gun turrets in the tail and on top of the fuselage with a single gun in the nose.
POST WAR TRANSPORTS
Long before the war ended, several transport designs were on the Handley-Page drawing boards, including the tail-dragging Hastings – first flown on 25th April 1946 with four 1,675hp Bristol Hercules engines and capable of carrying 50 fully-equipped troops – and the four-engined nosewheel Hermes, the first modern British airliner after the war, which made its first flight on 3rd December 1945. Twenty-five of the improved Hermes IV entered service with BOAC in August 1950. In the interim, converted Halifax bombers, some later known as the HP70 Halton I, were pressed into service with BOAC and other airlines
Making its first flight in April 1946 the Hastings was designed to meet the Air Ministry’s requirement for a long range, high speed, strategic transport aircraft and entered service with 47 Squadron Royal Air Force in October 1948. This was the time of the Berlin Airlift and the Hastings of 47 and 297 Squadrons moved enormous quantities of supplies to the former German capital, along with the Avro Yorks that they progressively replaced in later years.
Like the Bristol Type 170 Freighters that also took part in the Berlin Airlift, the Handley-Page Hastings was powered by Bristol Hercules radial engines – in this case four of the 216 series prime movers each rated at 1 800 bhp – yielding a maximum speed of 354 mph, an initial climb rate of 1 030′ per minute to a service ceiling of 26 500′ and a range of 4 250 miles. The wingspan was 112′ 9″, length 80′ 9″, height 22′ 5″ and wing area 1 408 square feet. Thus equipped, the Handley-Page Hastings could offer a 20 311 lb payload with an empty weight of 49 415 lb and 80 000 loaded.
The post war decision to do all trooping work by air kept the Hastings extremely busy, especially in the years 1950 to 1962 when this type bore the brunt of the ferry, supply and evacuation work in such turbulent areas as Cyprus, Suez, Borneo and Aden. A Hastings Mark II with increased range was followed by a Mark III VIP transport version and a Mark IV long range weather reconnaissance design operated by Coastal Command. Bomber Command used the Hastings at its bombing school, Training Command flew them and the Royal New Zealand Air Force also employed this ubiquitous machine. After serving the RAF well to become the first landplane to complete twenty years operational service, the Handley-Page Hastings gave way to the Lockheed Hercules and Blackburn Beverley types.
This permitted the Skyfame Hastings, TG 528, to be obtained from RAF Colerne where it had served with 24 and 36 Squadrons after hectic times in Cyprus, Aberdan, Kenya and Suez. Purchased by John Fairey, Peter Swettenham and Bill Betteridge, with seats subscribed by the Supporter’s Society, the TG 528 flew in to join Skyfame on 24 January 1968. It is now preserved at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.
MILES TO THE END
Handley-Page also took over production of the Miles Marathon at Woodley Aerodrome, Reading, Berkshire, under the HPR1 Marathon designation, setting up a separate organisation, Handley-Page (Reading) Ltd on 5th July 1948.
In subsequent years, Handley-Page built a number of research aircraft to investigate supersonic flight, new wing shapes and tail-less configurations, some of which were incorporated in the Victor bomber, test flown for the first time on 24th December 1952. This long-range, four-engined bomber, the last of the three V-bombers to enter RAF service, had an unusual ‘crescent’ wing, hydraulically-operated air brakes and a braking parachute in the tail cone.
A total of 50 high-wing, short-haul HPR7 Dart Herald airliners were built between 1959 and 1968, and the smaller 18-seat HP137 Jetstream was also put into large-scale production at Radlett. But the high cost of developing this aircraft forced Handley-Page into voluntary liquidation on 8th August 1969, and, on 1st June 1970, one of Britain’s best known aircraft manufacturers ceased to exist. The Jetstream was later redeveloped by British Aerospace into a successful regional aircraft. Handley-Page Jetstream G-BBYM is currently preserved at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford
ENTER THE VICTOR
One of two bombers designed around Specification B.35/46, the Handley-Page H.P.80 – later named the Victor – was the last of the V-bombers to enter service with the Royal Air Force. The Avro Vulcan, to the same requirements, had become operational in mid-1956. Both aircraft were designed to operate fast and high – above virtually all known defences – but when the first Victors entered service in 1957, some Soviet fighters and missiles were capable of interception at their designed operating altitudes.
Technically highly advanced for its time, the prototype – WB771 – was first flown 24th December 1952. A crescent-shaped wing – tested on the HP88 research aircraft – was chosen to allow the highest possible cruise Mach number and in the Victor B Mk1 variant WB771’s four Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 100 series turbojets were replaced by the upgraded 200 series powerplants – each yielding 17 000 lb of thrust and all buried in the sharply swept wing root. Construction was primarily of light-alloy double-skin sandwich with either corrugated or honeycomb filling.
Eventually 50 of the B Mk 1 were produced although 24 airframes from the second production batch were upgraded to Victor B.Mk 1A standard, generally better equipped and fitted with more sophisticated electronic countermeasures (ECM) housed in the rear fuselage.
In 1964 Handley-Page was contracted to convert 10 of the remaining Victor B.Mk 1 and 14 B.Mk lAs into probe-and-drogue flight-refuelling tankers for the RAF. This conversion consisted of fitting a Flight Refueling Mk 20B pod under each wing to replenish high-speed tactical aircraft and fighters while a Flight Refueling Mk 17 hose drum unit in the rear of the bomb bay supplied bombers and transport aircraft. To raise capacity, two extra fuel tanks were fitted in the remainder of the bomb bay. These were a permanent fit and the aircraft could not be returned to its previous bombing role.
With the demise of the Valiant tankers in January 1965 six additional B Mk 1A aircraft were flown to Handley-Page’s Radlett aerodrome for a quick conversion programme to two point tankers with underwing refuelling points.
These six aircraft retained their bombing role facility and entered service with 55 Squadron at RAF Honington in April 1965 before the Squadron moved to RAF Marham in May 1965. In 18 months of trials the six Victor BK.Mk 1A’s transferred 6,718,700 lb of fuel in 10,646 real and practice refuelling contacts and participated in nearly 40 overseas exercises. Two English Electric Lightning fighters could be supplied simultaneously at the rate of 150 Imperial gallons per minute; as witnessed above by Ken Guest at RAF Benson in 1969.
Nos 57 and 214 Sqns were equipped with three-point Victor K.Mk1 and the K.Mk1A’s from February 1966 and No 55 Sqn received its first improved models in the spring of 1967.
VICTOR B MARK 2
Changes compared with the Mk 1 included greater span, larger air inlets, a dorsal fillet forward of the fin and a retractable scoop on each fuselage side to supply two turbo-alternators for the totally new electrical system. A Turboméca Artouste gas turbine in the starboard wing root was the auxiliary power unit which could supply electrical power in emergency and on the ground for starting the main engines.
A retro fit programme at HP Radlett lead to the installation of the Conway 201 engines , the Blue Steel system and – for the B(SR)2 aircraft – the reconnaissance package along with many other improvements The Hawker Siddeley Blue Steel stand-off bomb (air-to-surface missile) became operational in February 1964 with No. 139 Sqn at Wittering. Two years earlier this squadron had been also the first unit to receive the updated Victor.
Although considerably improved, the Victor B.Mk 2 was no less vulnerable at height, and the aircraft’s role was changed to include low-level attack. Only 34 Victor B.Mk 2 were built, 22 planned aircraft being cancelled as Polaris submarine based missiles were seen as the next generation of British nuclear deterrent.
XH672 was initially ordered as a Victor B.1 but produced as a first batch B.2 before becoming the fifth conversion to SR.2 standard and later still the final K.2 conversion. Having served with 543 and 57 Squadrons, XH672 is preserved with 55 Squadron Maid Marian artwork and mission markings on her port nose. After 12 years outdoors at Cosford the Operation Granby veteran is now inside the National Cold War Exhibition where it is impossible to get an overall shot of her.
VICTOR B(SR) MARK 2
The Victor B(SR).Mk 2, a strategic reconnaissance version of the Victor B.Mk 2, had the primary role of high-altitude maritime reconnaissance. A single aircraft could radar-map the entire Mediterranean in one seven-hour sortie, and four could map the North Atlantic in six hours, photoflash bombs permitting night operations.
A number of Victor B.Mk 2s were converted to the strategic reconnaissance role, and 24 Victor K.Mk 2 tanker conversions of the B.Mk 2 and the B(SR)2 continued to play an important role in the RAF, serving with Nos 55 and 57 Squadrons and No. 232 OCU.
The Victor K.Mk 2 was a complete rebuild, by British Aerospace at Woodford, with three hose-reels and reduced wing span lasting in service from May 1974 with 232 OCU until 15thOctober 1993 when 55 Squadron disbanded and the surviving aircraft were withdrawn from service and disposed of.
A Handley-Page Victor B Mk 2 was captured (above) lowering its undercarriage and spreading its tail airbrake on approach to RAF Gan in 1968 by Gloucestershire photographer Ken Guest
XL231 “LUSTY LINDA”
Handley-Page Victor B Mk 2 XL231, the subject of the Corgi die cast model pictured above, is owned by businessman Andre Tempest and is pampered by Roger Brooks and his crew at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, North Yorkshire.
First flown on 28th December 1961, she was picked up by a crew from RAF Wittering and flown into service with 139 Squadron on 31st January 1962. She served with 139 in the conventional bomber role until November 1963 when she was returned to HP for upgrade to Blue Steel carrying capability (B.2R as termed by HP, though not the RAF). She was returned to Wittering on 17th July 1964 and served on until 139 Squadron was disbanded in late 1968.
Returned to HP once more in early 1969, she was stored awaiting a decision on being converted to a K.2 tanker. HP was driven to collapse and so in late April 1970 XL231 was ferried to the former Avro ( by then British Aircraft Corporation ) aerodrome at Woodford, near Manchester, and became the K.2 development aircraft, undergoing many modifications and not flying again until 1st March 1972.
Over the next two years she carried out development and trials work for the K.2 programme and service clearance flights with the A&AEE at Boscombe, returning to Woodford in January 1974 for work to complete her to the final K.2 standard. She was finally delivered back to the RAF – 57 Squadron at RAF Marham – on 8th July 1977, and quickly appeared as part of the static display at the Queens Silver Jubilee Review of the RAF at RAF Finningley later that month.
In 1982, XL231 was heavily involved in the build-up to the Falklands War, helping train many RAF crews of types such as Nimrods, Vulcans and Hercules in the somewhat neglected skills of air to air refuelling, and helping several Harriers on their way to Ascenscion Island. She then went on to become part of the regular Airbridge flights to the island in support of the Task Force and later British forces on the Falklands, only finishing these duties in July 1985 when she moved to 55 Squadron. She was back with 57 the next month, but they were disbanded in June 1986 as Falklands Airbridge operations had so reduced the fatigue life of many Victors that several had to be taken out of service.
Back with 55 Squadron, XL231’s next period of excitement was in 1990/1991, supporting operations during the first Gulf War – Operation Granby. Flown with 100% serviceability on all tasked operations, the Victor force spent the last years of their lives supporting RAF and Allied operations in the Gulf area and XL231 was finally retired on 15th October 1993. Her last flight was on 25th November 1993 – her delivery flight to Elvington.
XL231 carries out occasional taxi runs at special events . She wears her Granby nose art and carries the name of ‘Lusty Lindy’. More recently the name ‘Spirit of Godfrey Lee’ was applied as a tribute to the late HP designer often regarded as ‘Mr. Victor’.