The first of the RAF’s V-Bombers, the Vickers Valiant was intentionally less technically radical than its Victor and Vulcan stablemates, in order to speed development. The Vickers Type 667, built to Specification B.9/48, flew for the first time in May 1951. The Valiant, as the type was later named, was the first RAF heavy bomber to forsake defensive armament, relying on its 550+mph top speed and 54,000 foot service ceiling to elude interceptors. The prototype and second aircraft had Avon RA.3 and RA.7 engines, respectively, but the production Type 706/ B Mk.1 had the significantly more powerful RA.28.
Type 710 / B (PR) Mk.1: Dual bomber/recce model.
Type 733 / B(PR) K. Mk.1: Bomber/strategic recon/drogue tanker.
The Valiant was initially armed with the Blue Danube bomb, this being the first UK nuclear weapon to go into service and an operational outgrowth of the Hurricane test device of 1952.
Valiant B Mk.2: Proposed well before the basic Valiant entered service, the Mk.2 was considerably more refined, and was optimized for low-level work, with a beefed up wing structure. The fuselage was also stretched forward, and a new landing gear design was used. Finished in all black, the solitary Mk.2 WJ954, flew in September 1953, but had a short life, being broken up five years later. The Mk.2 did not spell the end for advanced Valiant proposals, as Vickers studied a B Mk.3 with more sweepback, a specialized low-level version, and a much revised T-tailed supersonic variant, none of which made it to the hardware stage.
As the earliest and least advanced of the V-Bombers, the Valiant could have been expected to leave service first, and indeed by 1964 many examples had already been withdrawn, with others serving as tankers, or for those aircraft still tasked as bombers, retasked with a tactical role. But what really spelled the end to the type’s career was the shift to low-level operations by the bombers, where fatigue damage rapidly built up. Things came to a head in August 1964, when aircraft WP217 suffered a rear wing spar failure in flight, with the crew managing to bring the badly damaged aircraft down safely at RAF Gaydon. An inspection of the fleet showed that all examples had significant structural fatigue, with the low level bombers actually coming up on the end of their effective lives. As it turns out, the DTD683 alloy used in the Valiant’s construction had deteriorated more quickly than originally expected, leading to faster crack formation and growth, leading to an increased likelihood of failing catastrophically. The spar issue, in retrospect, should not have come as much of a surprise, as cracks had been found on Valiants before, as well as on the Viscount’s DTD683 spar structure.
Although less than half the Valiant fleet remained airworthy at the time of WP217’s accident, there were initial moves to repair the remaining aircraft, with XD816 going through a trial resparring. However, before this was completed, the costs of rebuilding the basically obsolete Valiants were deemed too much, and operations ended by December 1964 with withdrawn aircraft being broken up for scrap. XD816, loaned to BAC, continued to fly until 1968, finally being formally struck off the rolls and dismantled two years later, although her nose section was preserved.
The Valiant formed the basis for a number of proposed transport and airliner derivatives, which had they actually been built, would have generally used the bomber wing design in conjunction with evolved fuselages:
VC.5: Proposal for a Valiant-based transatlantic competitor to the Comet, powered by Conways, Avons, or Sapphires. The basic aircraft would have closely resembled the bomber, but there were also plans for a considerably stretched version with a wider wingspan
VC.6: Short-range aircraft for BOAC and the RAF, with Rolls-Royce Conways.
Further Valiant Reading
The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare p.279: color profile of Valiant B. Mk 1 WZ366
Photos (2): “Valiant Mounts Rocket Engines” Aviation Week August 20, 1956 p.34 closeup of Super Sprite installation
Photo: In-flight view of XD823 Aviation Week December 10, 1956 p.63
Photo: Valiant with Blue Steel test article Aviation Week August 24, 1959 p.153
Photo: Valiant XD861 in flight RAF Flying Review February 1961 p.6
“Photo Valiants” Photo report on No.543 aircraft, including Valiants being broken up in 1965. FlyPast February 1998 p.70-71
Tony Gloster “He Who Would Valiant Be…” Scale Aviation Modeller International December 2006 building the Mach 2 Valiant kit in 1/72 scale as XD818
Large Valiant cutaway drawing, color illustration of aircraft XD871 refueling a Javelin International Air Power Review Vol. 18
Kenneth Munson Pageant of the Air p.134: photo of crew running to a Valiant