With technical advancements, the strategic RAF bombers of World War Two had become dated. The turbine engine meant that new-generation aircraft could have greater performance with no defensive armament. New nagigational aids meant accurate bombing could done by day or night and the atomic bomb meant that a single aircraft could launch a devastating attack on any potential enemy.
The Valiant was the first of the RAF’s trio of “V Bombers” and played a vital part in our strategic nuclear deterrent. The first Vickers Type 600 (WB210) flew on 18th May 1951 with Vickers' chief test pilot 'Mutt' Summers at the controls. This first prototype was lost in a crash after an engine fire in early 1952 with one of the crew being killed. The casualty in this crash was the co-pilot due to his ejector seat striking the tailfin. The second prototype flew first on 11 April 1952, but was powered by Rolls-Rolls Avons turbojets instead of the original Armstrong Siddley Sapphires .
The Valiant was largely conventional in construction. One unusual feature was the extensive use of electrical power for the actuation of practically all movable units. The only exception was a minor hydraulic system for brakes and powered steering, but even this had its pumps driven by electric motors.
The Valiant B1 was the first of the V-bombers to serve with the RAF. They were followed by B(PR).1 long-range strategic reconnaissance; B(PR)K.1 multi-purpose bomber, photo-reconnaissance, tanker; and BK.1 bomber/tanker aircraft. Production totalled 111 examples, including one B.2 pathfinder prototype designed for low level strikes.
The first B.1s entered service with 232 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Gaydon in June 1954. No 138 Squadron was the first to equip with the type and became fully operational in July 1955 at RAF Wittering. No 49 Squadron was the nuclear weapons trials unit and on 11th October 1956 flying at 35,000 ft over the Maralinga test range in Australia WZ366 dropped the first UK air-drop nuclear bomb. On the 15th May 1957 XD818 released the UK’s first hydrogen bomb at 39,000 ft over Malden Island during operation Grapple.
Valiants, along with Sea Venoms, Sea Hawks, Venoms and Hunters, saw action in the Suez operation on October/November 1956, attacking Egyptian airfields with conventional bombs.
Intended for fast high-altitude strategic bombing (a role frustrated by the evolution of potent surface-to-air missiles), the Valiant - in company with other V-bombers - was switched to low-level operations. There seems little doubt that the stresses imposed by such a role accelerated the wing-span metal fatigue first reported in late 1964, and which led to the scrapping of all Valiants in January 1965. The B2 pathfinder variant was not put into production which with hind sight was a great mistake.
XD818 is the only complete Valiant remaining anywhere in the World and was the actual aircraft that dropped Britain's first hydrogen bomb on
15th May 1957 flown by No. 49 Squadron's C.O., W/Cdr. K. G. Hubbard, a very experienced WW2 bomber pilot. Each aircrew member was subsequently awarded the A.F.C. First flown on 4th September 1956, she was delivered to 49 Squadron at RAF Wittering on 14th November 1956. Fortunately while the rest of the Valiant force was being scrapped XD818, by then converted to a BK.1 variant, was saved and for many years was on display in green and grey camouflage at RAF Marham. On 25th March 1982 XD818 was towed into one of the hangars at RAF Marham and dismantled and then taken by road to the RAF Museum at Hendon. Soon after, XD818 was repainted in the original anti-flash white finish. In late 2005 XD818 was dismantled again and moved to RAF Cosford, reassembled and stored outside waiting for the completion of the new Cold War exhibition hall which it is now displayed in.
The painting depicts Valiant XD818 heading back to base just after dropping the hydrogen bomb.
More information about W/Cdr. K. G. Hubbard.
Artist Paul Howard.
Available as an A3 size or 20x16 print.