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Handley Page Victor

The Handley Page Victor was a British jet bomber aircraft produced by the Handley Page Aircraft Company. It was the third and final of the "V bombers" which provided Britain's nuclear deterrent. The other two V-bombers were the Avro Vulcan and the Vickers Valiant.

Design and development

Like the other V-bombers, the Victor was originally designed for high-altitude, high-speed penetration of Soviet airspace to deliver a free-fall nuclear weapon. It was intended to fly higher and faster than contemporary fighter aircraft.


Handley Page's design, the HP.80, was prepared in response to Air Ministry Specification B.35/46. To achieve the required performance, the HP.80 was notable for its crescent wing. This was developed by German aerodynamicist Dr. Gustav Lachmann and his Handley Page deputy, Godfrey Lee. The sweep and chord of the wing decrease in three distinct steps from the root to the tip, to ensure a constant limiting Mach number across the entire wing and consequently a high cruise speed. The crescent wing was tested in a third-scale glider, the HP.87, and a modified Supermarine Attacker, the Handley Page HP.88. The HP.88 crashed on its maiden flight and by the time the HP.87 was ready the HP.80 wing had changed such that the former was no longer representative. In the event, design of the HP.80 had sufficiently advanced that the loss of the HP.88 in flight had little negative effect on the programme. The HP.80 also had an advanced construction, featuring a sandwich of two aluminium skins with a corrugated filling.

Two HP.80 prototypes - WB771 and WB775 - were built. The Victor was a futuristic looking machine. It was carefully streamlined, had the engines buried in the thick wing roots and a large, highly-swept T-tail with considerable dihedral on the horizontal stabilisers. A peculiar feature of the Victor was the prominent chin bulge. This contained the targeting radar, cockpit, nose landing gear unit and an auxiliary bomb aimer's position. Unlike the Vulcan and Valiant, the Victor's pilots sat at the same level as the rest of the crew, thanks to a larger pressurised compartment that extended all the way to the nose. As per the other V-bombers, only the pilots were provided with ejection seats, the three systems operators relying on explosive cushions that would help them from their seats and towards a traditional bail out.

The HP.80 prototypes performed well, but there were a number of minor design miscalculations that lead to the loss of WB771 in July 1954. Attached to the fin using three bolts, the tailplane was subject to considerably more stress than had been anticipated and it sheared off, causing the aircraft to crash with the loss of the crew. Additionally, the aircraft were considerably tail-heavy. This was remedied by large ballast weights in the HP.80 prototypes. Production Victors had a lengthened nose that also served to move the crew escape door further from the engine intakes and the tailplane attachment changed to a stronger four-bolt fixing.

Victor B.1

Production B.1 Victors were powered by the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire ASSa.7 turbojets rated at 11,000 lbf (49 kN) and carried the Yellow Sun weapon. Twenty-four were upgraded to B.1A standard by the addition of Red Steer tail-warning radar and a suite of radar warning receivers and electronic countermeasures (ECM).

On 1 June 1956 a production Victor XA917 flown by test pilot Johnny Allam inadvertently exceeded the speed of sound after Allam let the nose drop slightly at a high-power setting. Allam noticed a cockpit indication of Mach 1.1 and ground observers from Watford to Banbury reported hearing a sonic boom. The Victor was the largest aircraft to have broken the "sound barrier" at that time.

Victor B.2

The B.2 was an improved Victor powered by the Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.11 turbojet engines providing 17,250 lbf (76.8 kN). This required enlarged and re-designed intakes to provide greater airflow. The wing was stretched and incorporated two "speed pods" or "Küchemann carrots". These are anti-shock bodies; bulged fairings that reduced wave drag at transonic speeds (see area rule). The right wing incorporated a Blackburn Artouste auxiliary power unit. The latter allowed the aircraft to self-start and provided systems power for when the main engines were unlit. This feature was useful for aircraft designed to sit on constant alert. The B.2 also featured an aerial refuelling probe above the cockpit, large slipper tanks on the wings and a body at the base of the tailplane containing ECM gear, this featured distinctive "elephant ears" cooling inlets.

With the move to low-level penetration missions, the Victors received two-tone camouflage patterns, terrain following radar and cockpit rolling-map displays. Twenty-one B.2 were upgraded to the B.2(RS) with upgraded Conway RCo.17 engines - 20,600 lbf (91 kN) - and the Blue Steel stand-off nuclear missile. It had been intended that the AGM-48 Skybolt cruise missile would be carried (four per aircraft) but this system was cancelled in 1963.

Victor B.2 Strategic Reconnaissance

Nine B.2 aircraft were converted for strategic reconnaissance purposes to replace Valiants withdrawn due to wing fatigue. They received cameras, a bomb-bay mounted radar mapping system and wing-top sniffers to detect particles released from nuclear testing.

Victor tankers

The withdrawal of the Valiant fleet left the RAF with a shortfall in front-line tanker aircraft, so the B.1/1A aircraft, now judged to be obsolescent in the strike role, were re-fitted for this duty. Six B.1A aircraft received a two-point system with a hose and drogue system carried under each wing as B.1A (K2P). Fourteen further B.1A and eleven B.1 were given a more thorough conversion, receiving bomb-bay fuel tanks and a centreline dispenser unit as three-point tankers - the K.1A / K.1 respectively.

The remaining B.2 aircraft were not as suited to the low-level strike mission as the Vulcan with its enormously strong delta wing. This, combined with the switch of the nuclear deterrent from the RAF to the Royal Navy with the Polaris missile) meant that the Victor was now surplus to requirements. Hence, 24 B.2 were modified to K.2 standard. Similar to the K.1/1A conversions, the wing was trimmed to reduce stress and had the nose glazing plated over. The K.2 could carry 91,000 pounds of fuel (41 metric tonnes). It served in the tanker role until withdrawn in October 1993.

Operational history

The Victor was the last of the V-bombers to enter service and the last to retire, nine years after the last Vulcan (although the Vulcan survived longer in its original role as a bomber). It saw service in the Falklands War and 1991 Gulf War as an in-flight refuelling tanker. During the Borneo conflict of 1962-66, two B.1A aircraft flew the Victor's only offensive mission.


Prototype, two aircraft built.Victor B.1
Strategic bomber aircraft, 50 built.Victor B.1A
Strategic bomber aircraft, B.1 updated with Red Steer tail-warning radar and ECM suite, 24 converted.Victor B.1A (K.2P)
2-point in-flight refuelling tanker retaining bomber capability, 6 converted.Victor BK.1
3-point in-flight refuelling tanker (renamed K.1 after bombing capability removed), 11 converted.Victor BK.1A
3-point in-flight refuelling tanker (renamed K.1A as for K.1), 14 converted.Victor B.2
Strategic bomber aircraft, 34 built.Victor B.2RS
Blue Steel-capable aircraft with RCo.17 Conway 201 engines, 21 converted.Victor B(SR).2
Strategic reconnaissance aircraft, 9 converted.Victor K.2
Inflight refuelling tanker.


Accidents and incidents

  • On 19 August 1968 Victor K1 XH646 of 214 Squadron collided in mid-air near Holt, Norfolk in bad weather with a 213 Squadron English Electric Canberra WT325; all four crew members of the Victor died
  • On 24 March 1975 Victor K1A XH618 of 57 Squadron collided with Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer XV156 during a simulated refuelling. Buccaneer hit the Victor's tailplane causing the aircraft to crash into the sea 95 miles East of Sunderland, County Durham.


Five Victors have survived (as of 2007) plus a few cockpit sections. All are located in England. They are, in age order;Victor B.1A:

The names, and accompanying nose art, were applied during the 1991 Gulf War. Of these Lindy and Tina are the only "live" aircraft. They are run up regularly, performing high speed taxi runs with parachute braking at annual events. HP.80 prototype WB771 was broken down at the Handley Page factory at Radlett and transported by road to RAE Boscombe Down for its first flight. This required bulldozers to be used on parts of the route to create new paths around obstacles. The sections of the aircraft were hidden under wooden framing and tarpaulins printed with "GELEYPANDHY / SOUTHAMPTON" to make it appear to be a boat hull in transit. GELEYPANDHY was an anagram of "Handley Pyge" marred by a signwriters error.

Popular culture

  • A Handley Page Victor features prominently in the 1962 British movie comedy The Iron Maiden. A number of sequences show the aircraft in close-up, taxiing, taking off, climbing, flying past and landing with parachute deployed. Although a bomber, in the film it purports to be a prototype supersonic jetliner designed by the protagonist.

Specifications (Handley-Page Victor B.1)

See also





  • Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1973, p. 78–102. ISBN 0-7110-0456-0.

External links

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