Take a closer look at a Cold War icon as the Imperial War Museum works to repair its Victor bomber

By Richard Moss | 11 August 2016

As Imperial War Museum Duxford launches a crowdfunding campaign to fund the restoration of its old Handley Page Victor, we take a closer look at an icon of the Cold War

a photo of a man in an oxygen mask and helmet peering through the perspex glass nose cone of a plane
A crew member of a Handley Page Victor can be seen from outside the aircraft through the visual bomb aiming position whose specially designed glass gave the bomb aimer an optically flat view of the ground below. The role of bomb-aimer fell to the Radar-Navigator and the nose position would only have been manned after take off when the intended target was near© IWM (RAF-T 1010)
The third and final bomber of the Royal Air Force’s V-force, the Handley Page Victor, may not be as iconic as its delta-winged brethren the Vulcan. Neither did it have the Valiant's dubious distinction of dropping nuclear weapons, but during the height of the Cold War it was at the forefront of Britain’s strategic nuclear strike force.

Like the Vulcan, the Victor boasted a futuristic design that seemed to epitomise the jet age of the 1950s and 1960s. Its distinctive high swept T-tail was still gracing the skies as a refuelling aircraft in the early nineties.

Having entered service in 1957 as the last of the V-bombers, a move to strategic low level flying in response to surface to air missile technology saw the Victor retire from strategic bombing duties in 1968. But by then the V-bombers had seen action in both the 1956 Suez crisis and the Indonesian conflict of 1962-63.

Victor tankers were still in use by the time of the Falklands War in 1982, when they were called on to refuel Vulcans on their long-range Black Buck bombing missions of Argentinian held airfields. It was the Victor that was the last of the V-bombers to retire from active duty - in 1993, after deploying for a final refuelling role during the first Gulf War.  

a photo of a jet bomber camouflaged in white on a snowy runway with chocs beneath its wheels
A Handley Page HP.80 Victor B.1aircraft camouflaged in an anti-flash white designed to protect the aircraft against the effects of a nuclear detonation, is prepared for flying. This is probably at 232 Operational Conversion Unit, RAF Gaydon, in late 1957 or early 1958.© © IWM (RAF-T 523)
a colour photo of a pilot in oxygen mask and helmet in a cockpit surrounded by dials
The Captain of a Handley Page Victor B.1 seated in his (left hand) seat at the controls wearing full flying kit, including protective helmet and oxygen mask.© IWM (RAF-T 1060)
a colour photo of a two men in the forward cockpit of a Handley Page Victor bomber
Minister of Defence, the Right Honourable Duncan Sandys, is briefed on the Handley Page Victor B.1's controls and capabilities by Sqn Ldr Young, prior to a flight in Victor XA937 of No 10 Squadron at RAF Cottesmore, 19th June 1959.© IWM (RAF-T 1071)
a colour photo of a RAF personnel rushing to board an old bus painted RAF blue and yellow
The crew of a Handley Page Victor of No 10 Squadron RAF scramble at RAF Cottesmore: It may have been the jet age but the means of getting to the plane was distinctly 1940s looking.© IWM (RAF-T 1008)
a colour photo of a truck pulling a jet bomber with three aircrew talking to the driver
A Handley Page Victor B.2 under tow from an RAF towing truck. The flight crew talk to the driver of the truck.© Crown copyright. IWM (RAF-T 6171)
a photo of a crew men loading a large bomb into the bay of an aeroplane
A Handley Page Victor B2 is loaded with a Yellow Sun Mark 2 dummy round during a NATO exercise. © IWM (RAF-T 4141)
a black and white photo of a jet bomber dropping a payload of bombs
Handley Page Victor XH648, dropping a non-nuclear bomb load while in service with No. 57 Squadron, Royal Air Force.© Crown copyright. IWM (HU 81578).
One of the last intact Victors, and the sole B1 type with an intact glass panel in the nose cone, now resides at The Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

VictorXH648 undertook its maiden flight on November 27 1959 and, after a series of conversions in 1961, was flown as part of the Far East Air Force during the Indonesian Confrontation. It was the only Victor to drop 35 1,000lb bombs over the Song Song area.

In 1965 it was converted into a two-point tanker, a role which it served until its retirement in 1976 to Duxford airfield, where it is now part of Imperial War Museum’s collection.

But years on the tarmac have not been kind to the old aircraft and although it is in good condition internally, there are signs of corrosion externally. A deep survey is needed to assess its condition and experts say conservation may take up to five years.

a colour aerial photo of a English Electric Lightning painted in silver, refuelling via an umbilical pipeline trailing from a Handley Page Victor
An English Electric Lightning F.6 of No 74 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, Fife, being refuelled by a Handley Page Victor K1A of No 55 Squadron from RAF Marham, Norfolk.© Crown copyright. IWM (RAF-T 6977)
an aerial photo from above of a Handley Page Victor in camouflage refueling two camouflaged phantom fighter jets
Two Royal Air Force McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR2 aircraft of No 54 Squadron RAF from RAF Coningsby refuel in flight from a Handley Page Victor K 1 tanker of No 214 Squadron RAF based at RAF Marham.© Crown Copyright IWM CT 57

a photograph of large camouflaged bombers lined up on a runway
A Handley Page - Hawker Siddeley Victor K2 tanker aircraft of No 57 Squadron RAF at Wideawake Airfield, Ascension Island. A detachment of 17 Victor tankers of No 55 Squadron and No 57 Squadron RAF were sent from RAF Marham to Ascension Island for the Falklands Conflict. Initially, Victors carried out maritime radar reconnaissance patrols. In May, they provided inflight refuelling support to Vulcans (in the Black Buck bombing missions to the Falklands), Nimrods on maritime reconnaissance patrols, Hercules supply drops and Harrier and Phantom aircraft.© Crown copyright. IWM (FKD 1169)
a photo of a camouflaged jet bomber in a hangar with scaffold towers and ladders around it
The Victor in a hangar at Imperial War Museum, Duxford© IWM
a photo of an RAF Handley Page Victor in a hangar seen from the nose
VictorXH648 now needs extensive work to conserve it's outer skin.© IWM
Help fund the conservation of VictorXH648 by donating at the JustGiving Page.

See all three V-bombers together in the Cold War hangar at the RAF Museum, Cosford.

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