Vickers Valiant – Has she been forgotten?
Welcome once again to the #twitterVforce website and the blog area of the site. This latest blog is solely dedicated to the Vickers Type 660 – better known as the Valiant.
Thanks go out to Amy for her research and to Andy Crowcroft for the images of the sole remaining complete Valiant at RAF Museum, Cosford – XD818.
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The Forgotten V Bomber?
The Vickers Valiant was the first British bomber to have dropped a nuclear bomb, and that itself is a huge chunk of history, so has the Valiant become forgotten?
I, myself, know absolutely nothing about the Valiant, which is absolutely terrible considering I am a huge V Force fan. I had been told to do my homework, and research about the Valiant. That’s why I’m writing this, I’ve done my homework and I’m here to talk about what I’ve learnt.
Vickers Valiant XD818 is the only fully intact Valiant left in the world; she is also the very Valiant that dropped the UK’s first nuclear bomb. She was first flown on 4th September 1956, and she was delivered to 49 squadron at RAF Wittering on 14th November 1956. She was one of 8 Valiants to have been modified by Vickers for Operation Grapple – The testing of the nuclear bomb drop. Modifications include, anti-flash curtains inside the cockpit and cameras mounted upon her bomb bay to record the drop. She was flown out to Christmas Island in March 1957 and dropped the bomb on 15th May 1957. The drop had been codenamed ‘Short Granite’. She was later flown back home to Britain in 1958 where she resumed to normal duties and was stripped of her ‘Operation Grapple’ modifications in November 1959. She was later converted into a BK.1 Tanker and repainted to a green and grey camouflage scheme in 1961. She was sadly grounded in December 1964, alongside every other Valiant in service due to spar fatigue issues that had been discovered, XD818 was the last of the Valiants used in a refuelling sortie, she had refuelled English Electric Lightnings over the North Sea.. Repairs on Valiants had been deemed uneconomical and by January 1965 XD818 had been withdrawn from use and was heading for the scrap heap. However, she escaped scrapping after being spotted by a lover of history, and she was placed on exhibition at RAF Marham in May 1965. Later on in 1973 her Avon engines were removed and sold on to be used in Hunters. XD818 was transported to Hendon and shortly after her arrival she was repainted to her original anti-flash white roots. She took her final trip to RAF Cosford (RAF Museum) in late 2005, she was dismantled for the move to Cosford and spent several weeks awaiting re-assembly. She was finally re-assembled in early 2006 and now lives comfortably in the Cold War Exhibition Hangar at RAF Cosford.
Valiants during conflict – The Suez Crisis –
During the late months of 1956, conflict had erupted over the Suez Canal (Gaza Strip and Egypt). Egypt had announced its intentions to nationalise the Suez Canal. The Egyptians had taken control of the Suez Canal, causing conflict between itself (Egypt), Israel, France and the United Kingdom, this conflict meant that the Vickers Valiant became the first of the V Bombers to have seen combat, there were 7 primary targets, all being Egyptian airfields. Only 3 of the 7 were seriously damaged, with the Valiants having dropped a total of 856 Tonnes in bombs. This was the last time a V Bomber flew a war mission until a certain Mr. Withers bombed Port Stanley airfield in ‘607.
On January 24th, my good friend, co-worker, and fellow #twitterVforce guest blogger, Andy Crowcroft took a trip to RAF Cosford, where he visited XD818. He’s the only person that I personally know to have seen her in the flesh, so decided I would ask him some questions about his visit and his other thoughts on the Valiant!
Q. Hello, Andy! You’re the only person I know who has come face to face with XD818. First of all I’d like to ask, how did it feel seeing the only fully intact Valiant (in the world!) in the flesh?
A. Hi Amy, to be honest it seemed a bit surreal, she was the main reason for my visit to Cosford and not what I expected, she looked different to how I imagined and sat next to the Vulcan and Victor she did not disappoint!
Q. Awesome! Is she bigger than you imagined? I always imagined Valiants to be quite small but after seeing your pictures, she looks like a big bird!
A. She was a lot bigger than I thought, quite long if I’m honest, more like a charter plane we have today, with quite a rounded shape at the front.
Q. How did it feel to have finally seen a Valiant in front of you?
A. Amazing, I think the biggest thing was realising that she is the last fully intact Valiant on the face of the planet, it (the visit) had also completed my mission of seeing all 3 V Force bombers, not to mention XD818 is the only V Bomber to drop nuclear bomb and I was stood next to her.
Q. Nice! Moving away from Cosford now, what is your personal view on the Valiant itself?
A. Strangely I don’t know as much as I’d like to know about them, but from research I find it a shame that these planes are pretty much forgotten to people, I think the fact they were pulled out if service so early makes them a distant memory, personally I love them, they were built to guard us during the Cold War and that’s what they did.
Q. Do you think that there is a lack of information when it comes to the Valiant that’s leading them to be known as the ‘Forgotten V Bomber’?
A. Yes, I think the main problem was the fact that as tactics changed and the RAF decided to fly them at low levels, the Valiant couldn’t cope and the wings would crack, so as a result they were pulled from service too early, I kind of guess this has a big part to play, and the fact there is only one left fully built kind of leaves people unaware.
Q. Exactly, they were pulled due to their spar fatigue. What’s your opinion on all Valiants being led to the scrapping fleet?
A. It’s sad, I hate hearing about the scrapping of any plane, but for me the Cold War jets are the best of British engineering, what people need to understand is that these planes were made in the late 40’s which makes only a few years (11 years max.) from the design of the Lancaster Bomber, on that I think there should be more Valiants around the world.
Q. Do you think scrapping could have been avoided?
A. Yes, to a certain extent, the only downside was time, there wasn’t the money or interest to keep the Valiants, so I guess the government looked and thought of money, then decided to scrap them as they were no longer required.
Q. I completely agree. Do you think that Vulcans, such examples like XH558, have taken away the limelight from Valiants?
A. I think the difference between the two are the designs, what people always talk about with the Vulcan is the shape and wing span, which I do agree with, as this was a new way of technology and manoeuvrability, so yes more people are familiar with The Delta lady.
Q. I agree, as she’s a bit more modern than the Valiant, people do tend to become more smitten towards XH558, as well as the fact that she’s the only flying Vulcan. What do you think would be the best approach to promote Valiants?
A. That’s the big thing, we have no flying examples, and things may well have been different then. With regards to promoting Valiants, I think the best way would have to be through Cosford, I always add into my tours that she is the last complete Valiant and is worth the trip to see. Also through using the #twitterVforce forum to spread the word.
Q. Excellent! Exactly, that’s what #twitterVforce is for! It’s great that you add her into your tour talks for XH558 too! How did you become interested in aviation, more specifically, V Bombers?
A. It’s a strange one, I used to live close to RAF Finningley as a child, and I remember playing football with my mate (aged 10) so, 23 years ago and a Vulcan flew over, I remember the noise and this big shadow. Then last year my friend told me about Waddington Air Show and I saw XH558 was flying so we went, but she didn’t fly. I then found out she was at based at RHADS, so I went see her fly from there, from then onwards I’ve been totally hooked, and now really enjoy doing tours for XH558 and talking about the V Force.
Q. It’s the worst when you go to a show to watch her fly and she doesn’t, happened 3 times to me! How did it make you feel when she flew overhead (when you were younger)?
A. She scared the life out of me, the size and roar of those engines, I mean I’ve seen planes before, my first memory being an A10 tank buster on Flamborough Head but the Vulcan has always been in the back of my mind from that experience.
Q. She scared me too, the first time I saw her! She sure does know how to make an impression! Okay, finally back to the Valiant. Are there any final words you’d like to say about the Valiant?
A. Hand on heart, if you have the chance to get to Cosford please go and check out XD818, you’ll be surprised, after all the Valiant was part of a team that watched over us during the Cold War and kept us safe.
Final words: Fabulous. Thank you for your time and answering all my questions!
I would personally like to thank Andy Crowcroft for sparing an hour of his time to answer my questions. Don’t forget if you’re visiting the hangar, say hello to Andy, you might even get to hear one of his fabulous tour talks! I would also like to thank him for the use of his photos.
Back to XD818, I find it really sad that she is the only fully intact example of a Valiant left in the world, she’s beautiful and breathtaking, and it’s nice to have such a rare form of beauty but there’s still a part of me that wishes we had more of them, so that we can enjoy more of them, and so that we could treasure them.
Yes, we have surviving nose and cockpit sections but that’s not the same for me, unfortunately. I understand that Valiants were taken out of service very, very early; however, I still don’t understand how more of them weren’t saved.
Why weren’t they found as interesting as the Vulcan or Victor? They dropped the bomb, they’re very unique and interesting to look at, and they seemingly also make an impression. So what is so unappealing to the public and aviation enthusiasts?
I wish that there were more people around like Andy Crowcroft, myself and other members of the #twitterVforce team, people who are passionate about aviation, more specifically V Bombers and even more specifically, Valiants.
Before writing this I was prepared to say that Valiants were completely forgotten, but after talking to Rod and interviewing Andy, I realised that they are very much treasured and loved, even if it is only by a few people. They are slowly being forgotten but with the help of #twitterVforce I feel that the Valiants are very much being kept alive.
Personally, I love the Valiant. Even though I have only just learnt about them, it was very silly have to have waited so long to read about them and research their history. I missed out on something great.