Handley Page HP.80 Victor B.2
RAF Four-Jet Swept High-Wing Strategic Bomber, UK

Archive Photos 1

Handley Page HP.80 Victor B.2 (XM717) on display (4/29/1995) at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro Airshow, MCAS El Toro, California

Overview 2

The Handley Page Victor was a British jet bomber aircraft produced by the Handley Page Aircraft Company during the Cold War. It was the third and final of the V-bombers that provided Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The other two V-bombers were the Avro Vulcan and the Vickers Valiant. Some aircraft were modified for strategic reconnaissance role using both cameras and radar. After the Royal Navy assumed the nuclear deterrence mission using submarine-launched Polaris missiles in 1969 many surviving bombers were converted into aerial refueling tankers. The last Victor was retired from service on 15 October 1993.

Design and Development 2


Following the end of the Second World War, the British Air Ministry drew up its requirements for bombers to replace the piston-engined heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster and the new Avro Lincoln which equipped RAF Bomber Command. Its first ideas, which formed Operational Requirement OR.230 were for a long-range jet bomber, capable of carrying a 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) bomb load to a distance of 2,000 nm (2,300 mi, 3,700 km) at a height of 50,000 ft (15,000 m) and a cruise speed of 575 mph (925 km/h). Responses were received from Short Brothers, Bristol, and Handley Page, but the Air Ministry realized that creating an aircraft to meet these stringent requirements would be technically demanding and would be so expensive that it could only be purchased in small numbers. As a result, realizing that the majority of likely targets would not require such a long range, a less demanding specification for a medium-range bomber, Air Ministry Specification B.35/46 was issued. This demanded the ability to carry the same 10,000 lb bomb-load to a target 1,500 nm (1,725 mi, 2,800 km) away at a height of 45,000-50,000 ft (13,700-15,200 m) at a speed of 575 mph. The weapons load was to include a 10,000 lb "Special gravity bomb" (i.e. a free-fall nuclear weapon), or over shorter ranges 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) of conventional bombs. No defensive weapons were to be carried, the aircraft relying on its speed and height to avoid opposing fighters.


Handley Page’s design in response to B.35/46 was given the internal designation of HP.80. To achieve the required performance, the HP.80 was given a crescent wing developed by Handley Page’s aerodynamicist Dr. Gustav Lachmann and his 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 HP.80 and Avro’s Type 698 were chosen as the best two of the proposed designs to B.35/46, and orders for two prototypes of each were placed. It was recognized, however, that there were many unknowns associated with both designs, and an order was also placed for Vickers’ design, which became the Valiant. Although not fully meeting the requirements of the specification, the Valiant design posed little risk of failure and could therefore reach service earlier. The HP.80’s crescent wing was tested on a ⅓-scale glider, the HP.87, and a modified Supermarine Attacker, the Handley Page HP.88. The HP.88 crashed on 26 August 1951 after completing only about thirty flights and little useful data was gained during its brief two months of existence. By the time the HP.87 was ready, the HP.80 wing had changed such that the former was no longer representative. At any rate, the design of the HP.80 had sufficiently advanced that the loss of the HP.88 had little effect on the program.

Two HP.80 prototypes, WB771 and WB775, were built. The Victor was a futuristic-looking, streamlined machine, with four turbojet engines buried in the thick wing roots. Distinguishing features of the Victor were its highly swept T-tail with considerable dihedral on the horizontal stabilizers, and a prominent chin bulge that 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 pressurized compartment that extended all the way to the nose. As with the other V-bombers, only the pilots were provided with ejection seats; the three systems operators relying on "explosive cushions" inflated by a CO2 bottle that would help them from their seats and towards a traditional bail out in the event of high g-loading, but despite this, escape for the three backseaters was extremely difficult. It was originally required by the specification that the whole nose section could be detached at high altitudes to act as an escape pod, but the Air Ministry abandoned this demand in 1950.

The Victor’s bomb bay was much larger than that of the Valiant and Vulcan, which allowed heavier weapon loads to be carried, but over shorter ranges. As an alternative to the single "10,000 lb" nuclear bomb as required by the specification, the bomb bay was designed to carry a single 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam or two 12,000 lb (5,500 kg) Tallboy earthquake bombs, up to forty-eight 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs or thirty-nine 2,000 lb (900 kg) sea mines. Underwing panniers that could carry a further twenty-eight 1,000 lb bombs were planned although never built.

The HP.80 prototype (WB771) was broken down at the Handley Page factory at Radlett and transported by road to RAF Boscombe Down for its first flight. Bulldozers were used on 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 signwriter’s error. It made its maiden flight on 24 December 1952.

The HP.80 prototypes performed well, but there were a number of design miscalculations that led to the loss of WB771 on 14 July 1954, when the tailplane detached while making a low-level pass over the runway at Cranfield, causing the aircraft to crash with the loss of the crew. Attached to the fin using three bolts, the tailplane was subject to considerably more stress than had been anticipated and the three bolts failed due to metal fatigue. 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. The fin was shortened to eliminate the potential for flutter while the tailplane attachment was 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 was initially equipped with the Blue Danube nuclear weapon, re-equipping with the more powerful Yellow Sun weapon when it became available, although Victors also carried U.S.-owned Mark 5 nuclear bombs (made available under the Project E program) and the British Red Beard tactical nuclear weapon. A total of 24 aircraft were upgraded to B.1A standard by the addition of Red Steer tail warning radar in an enlarged tailcone and a suite of radar warning receivers and electronic countermeasures (ECM) from 1958 to 1960.

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 higher 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 RAF required a higher ceiling for its bombers, and a number of proposals were considered for improved Victors to meet this demand. At first, Handley Page proposed use of the 14,000 lbf (62.4 kN) Sapphire 9 engines to produce a "Phase 2" bomber, to be followed by "Phase 3" Victors with much greater wingspan of 137 ft (42 m) and powered by Bristol Siddeley Olympus turbojets or Rolls-Royce Conway turbofans. The Sapphire 9 was canceled, however, and the heavily modified Phase 3 aircraft would have delayed production, so an interim "Phase 2A" Victor was proposed and accepted, to be powered by the Conway and having minimal modifications.

The "Phase 2A" proposal was accepted by the Air Staff as the Victor B.2, with Conway RCo.11 engines providing 17,250 lbf (76.7 kN). This required enlarged and redesigned intakes to provide greater airflow. The wingtips were extended, increasing the wingspan to 120 ft (36.6 m). Unlike the B.1, the B.2 featured distinctive retractable "elephant ear" intakes on the rear fuselage forward of the fin. These scoops fed ram air to turbine-driven alternators, thus their name "Ram Air Turbine" (RAT) scoops. In the event of a high-altitude flameout, the loss of electrical or hydraulic power would trigger the RAT’s to open and provide sufficient electrical power to work the flight controls until the main engines could be relit. The right wing root also incorporated a Blackburn Artouste airborne auxiliary power plant (AAPP) or airborne auxiliary power unit (AAPU). This small "5th" engine provided high-pressure air for engine starting, and provided electrical power on the ground, or in the air as an emergency back-up in the event of main engine failures or flameout. The APU was also a useful feature to support operations away from specialist Victor support equipment. The aircraft also featured an extension at the base of the fin containing ECM cooling equipment.

The first prototype Victor B.2, serial number XH668 made its maiden flight on 20 February 1959. It had flown 100 hours by 20 August 1959, when, while high-altitude engine tests were being carried out by the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE), it disappeared from radar screens, crashing into the sea off the coast of Pembrokeshire. An extensive search operation was initiated to locate and the wreckage of XH668 to determine the cause of the crash. It took until November 1960 to recover most of the aircraft, with the accident investigation report concluding that the starboard pitot head had failed during the flight, causing the aircraft’s flight control system to force the aircraft into an unrecoverable dive. Only minor changes were needed to resolve this problem, allowing the Victor B.2 to enter service in February 1962.

A total of 21 B.2 aircraft were upgraded to the B.2R standard with Conway RCo.17 engines (20,600 lbf/92 kN thrust) and facilities to carry a Blue Steel stand-off nuclear missile. The wings of the aircraft were modified to incorporate two "speed pods" or "Küchemann carrots". These were anti-shock bodies; bulged fairings that reduced wave drag at transonic speeds, which were also used as a convenient place to house chaff dispensers. Handley Page proposed to build a further refined "Phase 6" Victor, with more fuel and capable of carrying up to four Skybolt (AGM-48) ballistic missiles on standing airborne patrols, but this proposal was rejected although it was agreed that some of the Victor B.2’s on order would be fitted to carry two Skybolts. This plan was abandoned when the U.S. canceled the whole Skybolt program in 1963. With the move to low-level penetration missions, the Victors were fitted with air-to-air refueling probes above the cockpit, large underwing fuel tanks, and received a two-tone camouflage finish in place of the anti-flash white. Trials were also conducted with terrain-following radar and a side scan mode for the bombing and navigation radar but neither became operational.

Victor B.2 Strategic Reconnaissance

Nine B.2 aircraft were converted for strategic reconnaissance purposes to replace Valiants withdrawn due to wing fatigue, with delivery beginning in July 1965. 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 due to metal fatigue in December 1964 meant that the RAF had no front line tanker aircraft, so the B.1/1A aircraft, now judged to be surplus in the strategic bomber role, were refitted for this duty. To get some tankers into service as quickly as possible, six B.1A aircraft were converted to B(K).1A standard (later redesignated B.1A (K2P), receiving a two-point system with a hose and drogue carried under each wing, while the bomb bay remained available for weapons. Handley Page worked day and night to convert these six aircraft, with the first being delivered on 28 April 1965, and 55 Squadron becoming operational in the tanker role in August 1965.

While these six aircraft provided a limited tanker capability suitable for refueling fighters, the Mk.20A wing hose-reels could only deliver fuel at a limited rate, and were not suitable for refueling bombers. Work therefore continued to produce a definitive three-point tanker conversion of the Victor Mk.1. Fourteen further B.1A and eleven B.1 were fitted with two permanently fitted fuel tanks in the bomb bay, and a high-capacity Mk.17 centerline hose dispenser unit with three times the fuel flow rate as the wing reels, and were designated K.1A and K.1 respectively.

The remaining B.2 aircraft were not as suited to the low-level strike mission as the Vulcan with its 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, twenty-four B.2 were modified to K.2 standard. Similar to the K.1/1A conversions, the wing was trimmed to reduce stress and the bomb aimer’s nose glazing was plated over. The glazing was reintroduced, on some aircraft, for reconnaissance missions during the Falklands War. The K.2 could carry 91,000 lb (41,000 kg) of fuel. It served in the tanker role until withdrawn in October 1993.

Operational History 2

The Victor was the last of the V-bombers to enter service, with deliveries of B.1’s to No. 232 Operational Conversion Unit RAF based at RAF Gaydon, Warwickshire before the end of 1957. The first operational bomber squadron, 10 Squadron, formed at RAF Cottesmore in April 1958, with a second squadron, 15 Squadron forming before the end of the year. Four Victors, fitted with Yellow Astor reconnaissance radar, together with a number of passive sensors, were used to equip a secretive unit, the Radar Reconnaissance Flight at RAF Wyton. The Victor bomber force continued to build up, with 57 Squadron forming in March 1959 and 55 Squadron in October 1960. The Victor proved popular in service, having good handling and excellent performance. One unusual characteristic of the early Victor was its self landing capability, where once lined up with the runway, the aircraft would naturally flare as the wing was in ground effect while the tail continued to sink, giving a cushioned landing without any intervention by the pilot.

The improved Victor B.2 started to be delivered in 1961, with the first B.2 Squadron, 139 Squadron forming in February 1962, and a second, 100 Squadron in May 1962. These were the only two bomber squadrons to form on the B.2, as the last 28 Victors on order were canceled. The prospect of Skybolt ballistic missiles, with which each V-bomber could strike at two separate targets, meant that fewer bombers would be needed, while the government were unhappy with Sir Frederick Handley Page’s resistance to their pressure to merge his company with competitors. In 1964-1965, a series of detachments of Victor B.1A bombers was deployed to RAF Tengah, Singapore as a deterrent against Indonesia during the Borneo conflict, the detachments fulfilling a strategic deterrent role as part of Far East Air Force, while also giving valuable training in low-level flight and visual bombing. In September 1964, with the confrontation with Indonesia reaching a peak, the detachment of four Victor bombers was prepared for rapid dispersal, with two aircraft loaded with live conventional bombs and held on one-hour readiness, ready to fly operational sorties, but they were not required to fly combat missions, with the high readiness alert finishing at the end of the month.

Following the discovery of fatigue cracks, developing due to their low-altitude usage, the B.2R strategic bombers were retired by the end of 1968 with the intention that these would be converted to tankers. Handley Page prepared a modification scheme that would see the Victor bombers fitted with tip tanks, the structure modified to limit further fatigue cracking in the wings, and ejection seats provided for all six crew members. The Ministry of Defence delayed signing the order for conversion of the B.2 bombers until after Handley Page went into liquidation. The contract for conversion was instead awarded to Hawker Siddeley, who produced a much simpler conversion than that planned by Handley Page, with the wingspan shortened to reduce wing bending stress and hence extend airframe life. The reconnaissance aircraft remained in use until 1974 (one of their last missions was to monitor French nuclear tests in the South Pacific) when they followed the bombers into the tanker conversion line. However, the Victor would be the last V-bomber to retire in 1993, 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 refueling tanker.

Variants 2

Operators 2

Royal Air Force:

Specifications (Handley Page Victor B.1) 2

General Characteristics




  1. Shupek, John. Photos, copyright © 2001 Skytamer Images. All Rights Reserved
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Handley Page Victor

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