Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The V bombers

click photo to enlarge
Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s will remember the "V" bombers. Until the arrival of the nuclear submarine fleet with their multiple-warhead ballistic missiles, these aircraft formed the sharp end of the country's nuclear deterrent. Other aircraft were tasked with carrying free-fall nuclear bombs, and artillery could fire low-yield nuclear shells, but projecting the country's main nuclear weapons rested with the three long-range strategic bombers, each of whose names began with the letter "V".

The Vickers Valiant was the first and least successful of the trio, though 107 aircraft were built between 1951 and 1957. Its fuselage suffered premature airframe fatigue when low-level flying became the RAF's strategy, and it was phased out in 1964. The other two bombers performed rather better. The Avro Vulcan, an elegant delta winged aircraft went into service in 1953. A total of 134 served with the RAF performing high and low level flying as required. The last operational flight was in 1984. Two years earlier, during the Falklands War, a Vulcan, receiving multiple re-fuelling, had flown a non-stop round trip from Britain to Port Stanley and back, in order to bomb the Argentine-held runway. In the past couple of years a Vulcan (XH558) has been restored to flying condition and has toured air shows, its original terrifying purpose forgotten, its unique shape and impressive presence widely admired.

The third of the "V" bombers was the Handley Page Victor (shown above) of which 86 were built. It first flew in 1956 and on its test flight accidentally broke the speed of sound. Like the Vulcan it was an elegant aircraft that had a long life, ending its service in 1993 after being an in-flight refuelling tanker for a number of years. The Victor shown above is undergoing restoration at the Imperial War Museum (IWM), at Duxford, Cambridgeshire. Alongside it are one of the the early Typhoons and a Spitfire. The large hangar they are in is part of a new building called "Airspace" that houses a fine display of ex-RAF aircraft. It's good to see that this big venerable aircraft is to take its place alongside the Vulcan there. I took this photograph on a recent visit, impressed by the size of the repair bay that dwarfed the big aircraft, the pattern of the lights, and the sense of scale that the two visitors gave to the scene.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm/44mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/20 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On