The Valiant was the first of the famous V-bombers and became the first British aircraft to test-drop nuclear weapons. Ironically, metal fatigue terminated their short and rather useful service.
The aftermath of the U. S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki underscored the necessity of nuclear deterrence to maintain peace and security in the postwar period. This was especially true in a world dominated by East-versus-West confrontation. Such prerogatives were in mind when the British Air Ministry issued Specification B. 35/46 in 1946 for a fleet of jet-propelled nuclear bombers. Both Avro and Handley Page submitted designs that were extremely advanced and complicated, culminating in the splendid Vulcan and Victor bombers. However, rather than go charging off into uncharted waters, Vickers forwarded a plan that was deliberately less complicated and promised lower performance. The Air Ministry, wishing it as insurance in case the more advanced machines failed to materialized, then drew up Specification B. 9/48 around the craft. The prototype Valiant first flew in 1951 as an ultramodern, all-metal jet bomber. It was a highwing configuration, with four jets buried in the wing roots, and a high tail. The Valiant flew well enough to warrant production, so in 1955 the first 30 examples of the B 1 model became operational. These were followed by 11 B(PR) 1 reconnaissance versions, 14 B(PR) K 1 reconnaissance/tankers, and 48 BK 1 bomber/tankers. Total production amounted to 104 machines.
Operationally, Valiants highlighted all the diplomatic and military perils of the age. In 1956 several flew from Malta and dropped bombs on Egypt during the Suez Crisis. On October 11 of that same year a Valiant test-dropped the first British atomic weapon over northern Australia. The feat was duplicated on May 15, 1957, when a Valiant dropped Britain’s first thermonuclear device in the Pacific. But as the more capable and modern Vulcans and Victors became operational, Valiants gradually were transferred to refueling duties. They were thus employed until 1964, when widespread metal fatigue caused the active fleet to be scrapped.
Including three prototypes, a total of 107 Valiants were built.
Valiant B.1: 39 pure bomber variants, including five pre-production Type 674, which were powered by Avon RA.14 engines with the same 9,500 lbf (42 kN) thrust each as the earlier Avon 201 and 34 Type 706 full-production aircraft, powered by Avon RA.28 204 or 205 engines with 10,500 lbf (47 kN) thrust each, longer tailpipes, and water-methanol injection for take-off boost power.
Type 710 Valiant B(PR).1: eight bomber/photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Edwards and his team had considered use of the Valiant for photo-reconnaissance from the start, and this particular batch of aircraft could accommodate a removable “crate” in the bomb-bay, carrying up to eight narrow-view/high resolution cameras and four survey cameras.
Type 733 Valiant B(PR)K.1: 13 bomber/photo-reconnaissance/tanker aircraft
Type 758 Valiant B(K).1: 44 bomber / tanker aircraft. Both tanker variants carried a removable tanker system in the bomb-bay, featuring fuel tanks and a hose-and-drogue aerial refuelling system. A further 16 Valiant B(K).1s were ordered, but cancelled.
Vickers also considered an air transport version of the Valiant, with a low-mounted wing, wingspan increased to 140 ft (42.7 m) from 114 ft 4 in (34.8 m), fuselage lengthened to 146 ft (44.5 m), and uprated engines. Work on a prototype, designated the Type 1000, began in early 1953. The prototype was to lead to a military transport version, the Type 1002, and a civilian transport version, the Type 1004 or VC.7. The Type 1000 prototype was almost complete when it, too, was cancelled.
Valiant production ended in August 1957.
Specifications (Valiant B.1)
Crew: five – two pilots, two navigators (one navigator plotter + one navigator bomber), air electronics officer
Length: 108 ft 3 in (32.99 m)
Wingspan: 114 ft 4 in (34.85 m)
Height: 32 ft 2 in (9.80 m)
Wing area: 2,362 ft² (219 m²)
Empty weight: 75,881 lb (34,491 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 140,000 lb (63,600 kg))
Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Avon RA28 Mk 204 turbojet, 10,000 lb (44.6 kN) each
Maximum speed: 567 mph (493 knots, 913 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,150 m)
Range: 4,500 mi (3,910 nmi, 7,245 km) with underwing tanks
Service ceiling: 54,000 ft (16,500 m)
Rate of climb: 4,000 ft/min (20 m/s)
1 × 10,000 lb (4500 kg) Blue Danube nuclear bomb or
21 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs