X-Files: VICKERS V.1000/VC7

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In today’s Sydney Flyer article we are delighted to welcome back author Anthony Coleiro and the most recent instalment of his X-Files series. This is Anthony’s 138th article under the ‘X-Files’ banner for the club magazine. What a record!

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FILE X137: VICKERS V.1000/VC7

The Vickers V.1000 and the VC7 are two separate aircraft but the story of one cannot be told without the other, one was under construction and the other only planned.

The 1950’s in the UK was a time of great strides in aviation development. The Second World War put the accelerator on with regards to aeronautic technology and all that knowledge spilled over into the post war period. The UK not only had their developments to work with but also captured German technology which in many ways surpassed that of the allies.

Now that the world was at peace, focus turned to mass transportation, after all Britain had a vast empire to connect.

In a previous instalment of the X-Files, we had a look at the initial concept of the Avro Vulcan bomber (File X134, November 2020) which started to take shape just after peace in Europe had commenced again. Just as the RAF was about to take possession of a new high altitude jet bomber fleet, it was thought that the RAF Transport Command would benefit from aircraft of similar performance as to date all they had in this role was the propeller-driven Handley-Page Hastings. It would not do that with these bombers being potentially deployed anywhere around the world, there crews would have to follow them in low altitude lumbering aircraft especially if timeliness was critical.

On 18 May 1951, the Vickers Type 660 Valiant (one of the three nuclear capable ‘V’ bombers to equip the RAF, the others being the Vulcan and Victor) had made its maiden flight and the Ministry of supply (MoS) requested of Vickers to look into the feasibility of developing a transport variant of their bomber. Vickers set to work on a number of designs and it was at this time that British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) the forerunner to British Airways became involved as they had a requirement for a 100 seat trans-Atlantic airliner. This was very much like what the Americans were doing with their 707 project. Boeing were working on a dual role for their aircraft, first as an airline and secondly as an aerial fuel tanker which they called the KC-135.

Vickers VC7

The Vickers design came together by September 1952 and it was designated the Type 1000. It had a wingspan of 42.6 metres and a length of 42 metres and a cabin width of six-abreast seating. The MoS liked what they saw and a contract was drawn up to build one prototype and it was allocated the military serial number of XD662. The contract specified that it needed to be capable of a speed of 455 knots, have a minimum range of 3380 kilometres at 40,000 ft., be capable of inflight refuelling, carry at least 120 men and their kit and also be capable of being converted to the Electronic Counter Measures role. The engines planned were the 11,500 lb thrust Rolls Royce Conway RCo.3 bypass engines.

Construction began early in 1953 at Vickers’ Foxwarren experimental site located between Weybridge and Wisley on Surrey. It was envisioned that the first flight would take place in December 1955. As a civil airliner, the Type 1000 was designated VC7 and other airlines apart from BOAC were getting interested in the project. The Air Ministry did not want these airlines interfering with their schedule and so they prevented Vickers from sending brochures to interested Airlines until 1954. It was at this time that serious doubt about the capability of the engines chosen was beginning to emerge especially in tropical climates. It was decided to go with an improved version of the Conway the RCo.5 that was rated to 15,400 lb of thrust, the thrust output could be pushed further out to 16,600 lb of thrust with water-methanol injection.

Vickers VC7

As one would expect, the building of such an aircraft does not come cheaply and even at an advanced stage of construction, political pressure was now leading to doubts for the need of such an aircraft by Transport Command who just had their budget cut. Co-incidentally, BOAC having spent a lot of money equipping themselves with Bristol Britannias and getting their fingers burned with the de Havilland Comet fatigue problems were now starting to reconsider their interest in the VC7. To add to Vickers woes, Short Brothers and Harland at Belfast had the Supermarine Swift and Comet 2 project pulled from them and so it was considered politically expedient to order more Britannias from them for Transport Command to keep them busy. This was now the final nail in the coffin for the 80% complete V.1000 and the project was cancelled on 29 November 1955 with only an estimated 6 months work left before the aircraft would fly! So close, it would make you weep.

Hope was not lost on the VC7 however. The MoS, despite BOAC’s misgivings was still keen especially with the development of the RCo.11, a new engine from Rolls-Royce that could develop 20,000lb of thrust which was more than ample to handle tropical conditions. This engine was now being fitted to the Handley Page Victor B.2 and with this BOAC asked for updated aircraft specifications, delivery schedule and prices. It was reported that the aircraft could now fly from London to New York with an all up weight of 102,514 kg.

BOAC under the leadership of Sir Miles Thomas looked at what was presented to them and they began to express doubts about what the VC7 was really capable of. By this stage the Boeing 707 was proving itself and BOAC switch its interest to these and an order for 15 of the 707-420 model was made. Ironically, the 707 was also fitted with 16,500 lb thrust Conways and these proved to be capable of lifting 143,338 kg of 707 so their doubts about the RCo.11 were completely unfounded.

There was one airline however that was still keen on the VC7 and that was Trans-Canada Airlines and they met with the MoS for them to try to persuade the minister to continue with the project. Without an order from BOAC, this was not going to be likely especially now since the production jigs were destroyed on cancellation of the order, nothing like doing a thorough job. The now unwanted aircraft was cut up into 7.6 metre sections with some of the parts going to the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Shoeburyness.

With the end of the project, this spelt the end for the British Airliner industry. In an act of monumental short-sightedness, the entire large transport aircraft production was handed on a plate to the Americans. The Vickers VC10, the handful that BOAC was forced to buy by the government was the last gasp for the industry in Britain. It would now have to be a European consortium sometime in the future before the American’s would have a serious challenger in this market place.

Acknowledgments

Aeroplane Monthly
May 2008
IPC Media Ltd.

Empire of the Clouds
When Britain’s aircraft ruled the world
James Hamilton-Paterson

Anthony Coleiro

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