On Tuesday 6 April, two of the RAF’s longest standing machines bade a sad farewell to their home for many years and headed off to await the scrapman’s axe. Steve Smith looks back at the life of this remarkable aircraft for AeroResource…
The aircraft in question were XR807 and XV109, two of 101 Squadron’s VC-10s. The aircraft, based at Brize Norton, were flown from here in formation, to their new home in Leicestershire – Bruntingthorpe.
The Vickers VC-10 was first flown on 29 June 1962 at Weybridge. Back then the British aircraft manufacturing industry was booming – the Comet, the Britannia and the Vanguard were in direct competition with the American Boeing 707 and the DC-8. Quick, long distance travelling was entering regular people’s lives, foreign holidays in places like Spain were becoming ever more common and Brazil had won the World Cup just days before.
You have to go right back to 1952 however, for the conception of the aircraft known as the Vickers V1000. The V1000 was a response to the Ministry of Supply’s request for a military troop/freight development of the Valiant to replace the De Havilland Comet. BOAC became interested in the type as well and entered discussions with Vickers and the Ministry of Supply.
Ironically, the RAF withdrew their interest in the project as a cost cutting measure in 1955. Vickers developed a purely civilian version for BOAC known as the VC-7. However, BOAC too cancelled the project in the late 1950s.
So, it seemed the V1000 would be consigned to the history books before even getting off the designers drawing board.
BOAC in the mean time instead purchased several Boeing 707s to operate some of the routes in the hotter countries around Africa. It was found the 707 was not suited to operating in these ‘hot and high’ environments particularly well and they began hunting for an alternative. Vickers came forward with a development of the VC-7 which was to be designated the VC-10. BOAC began discussions with Vickers and decided to take 25 examples to begin with, but they upped this to 35 soon after.
The VC-10 was not a particularly successful venture for Vickers. Plenty of Government intervention was needed to make the project viable in the early years. Vickers tried to make their aircraft more competitive with the Boeing 707, which was considered superior in many ways, by designing an upgraded version- the Super VC-10. The Super VC-10 had a longer fuselage and higher passenger capacity, together with a more powerful version of the Rolls-Royce Conway engine.
There were plenty of changes in BOACs order during the early 1960s, but it ended up as 34 aircraft (12 Standard, 22 Super). Eventually the Government offered to take some as military transports to remedy the low demand for the type. Orders also came in from Ghana Airways, British United Airways and East African Airways.
By 1964, the RAF had ordered 14 examples directly from Vickers (XR806-XR810 and XV101-XV109) and delivery had began to No. 10 Squadron in late 1965.
As the first examples began to be withdrawn from passenger service in 1974, another 20 BOAC examples for which they had failed to find a buyer, were eventually sold to the RAF (ZA140-ZA144, ZD230-ZD243, with ZD493 being for spare parts). Another 4 were purchased from Eastern African Airways (ZA147-ZA150). It was when this second larger batch entered RAF service in the early 1980s, that some began conversion to their current use as fuel tankers.
The examples currently operated by the Royal Air Force are the only remaining VC10s in service, anywhere in the world. In total, the RAF has operated 38 aircraft, of which 13 are now in service.
The two which have made their way to Bruntingthorpe are XR807; this aircraft first flew on 25 March 1966 and was delivered straight to the RAF on 17 November 1966. XV109 first flew on 18 July 1968 and again was delivered straight to the RAF on 1 August 1968.
It is not fully known what will happen to the aircraft, the general consensus is that they will be broken down for spares for the remaining fleet and the unused components will be scrapped
This of course, is not the start of the ‘10s being withdrawn and we can expect to see many more VCs heading off to meet their maker in the next few years – inevitable given the arrival of the new fleet of Airbus 330s to take over their role. The message – get out there and see them before they’re all gone!
Many thanks go to Mark Kwiatkowski, Duncan Monk, Neil Jones, Andy Martin and Michael Buckle for the photographs.