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C/n 806 - G-ARVC - ZA144
C/n 807 - G-ARVE
C/n 808 - G-ARVF
C/n 809 - G-ARVG - ZA141
C/n 810 - G-ARVH
C/n 811 - G-ARVI - ZA142
C/n 812 - G-ARVJ - ZD493
C/n 813 - G-ARVK - ZA143
C/n 815 - G-ARVM
C/n 819 - G-ASIW - 7Q-YKH
C/n 820 - G-ASIX - A4O-AB
C/n 823 - 9G-ABO
C/n 824 - 9G-ABP
C/n 825 - G-ATDJ - XX914
C/n 829 - XR809
C/n 839 - XV109
C/n 853 - G-ASGC
C/n 881 - 5X-UVA
C/n 882 - 5H-MMT - ZA147
C/n 883 - 5Y-ADA - ZA148
C/n 884 - 5X-UVJ - ZA149
C/n 885 - 5H-MOG - ZA150

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C/n 829 - XR809 / G-AXLR

G-AXLR in flight showing the RB211 test engine

Photo D. Slaybaugh

Construction number 829 was built for the Royal AirForce as the fifth example of a type 1106 VC10. These type 1106s can be described as 'hot-rods', as they combine the Super wing and the more powerful RCo.43 engines with the original length 'Standard' fuselage and therefore they did not trade performance for capacity as the Super VC10 did. XR809 flew for three years with RAF 10 squadron named 'Hugh Malcolm VC' but for some unexplained reason the RAF felt able to lease the aircraft to Rolls-Royce as a flying test bed for the RB211 turbofan engine.

At that time no aircraft was available that could accommodate the large girth of the RB211 beneath the wing and still have some ground clearance left, the mounting on the side of the fuselage of the VC10 did provide this clearance. Also with the clean wing and relatively high fuselage mounting the RB211 was in clean air and therefore the test results would be universally acceptable. To be able to attach the RB211 the engine beam was strengthened to accommodate the higher weight and aerodynamic effects of the larger frontal area. Also as the RB211 was designed for a pylon mounting some other modifications were needed to adapt to the side-mounted VC10 pylon. All went well and on the first flight of the three-engined VC10 took place on 6th May 1970. On take-off, the two starboard Conways were marginally more powerful than the one RB211.

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G-AXLR with RB211 at Hucknall, Nottinghamshire

Reregistered as G-AXLR the aircraft commenced on an extensive flight test programme. Initially it flew from Hucknall, but from May 1972 on the aircraft was based at Filton from which many more flights were made. One hair-raising flight was the test bed's 44th flight on 7th august 1974. The thrust reverser on the RB211 was not used at this point but for some reason the reverser sleeve was not positively locked in the forward position. With an expected flight time of six hours the aircraft took off laden with fuel. An incremental climb was carried out, pausing every so often for re-lights on the RB211. Following a re-light with the aircraft flying at 240 knots at 20.000 feet, the cold stream reverser of the RB211 slid back into the reverse position, sealing off the bypass duct. The effect of this was a reverse idle which produced a slight lurch on the aircraft. Shortly afterwards, a more violent lurch occurred, followed by aircraft buffet. There was adverse yaw and roll, and level flight could not be maintained with full power on the Conways. The aircraft began descending at 2,500 feet per minute and, as the crew had no control over the reverse selection, the RB211 was shut down. This slowed the rate of descent but the aircraft was still descending at about 1.500 feet per minute.

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The RB211 test engine mounted on G-AXLR

Fuel jettison was initiated as the equation was quite clear to all on board - the aircraft would hit the ground in approximately twelve minutes unless the weight could be brought down to a value that the Conways could cope with. In such circumstances the time that the Conways can spend on take-off rating become academic. At 1.000 feet the aircraft weight was low enough to enable level flight on the thrust available, and a safe landing was eventually made. After this modifications were carried out to the reverser to ensure a more positive locking system.

On 26th September 1975 the aircraft was delivered to RAF Kemble. Initially the aircraft would return to RAF service but it was found that the airframe was distorted, and repairs were deemed too costly. In the end the airframe was used for SAS training purposes and was left to decay at the site, eventually being scrapped.

When later on Rolls-Royce needed to flight test the RB211-535CF and RB211-535E variants the Boeing 'house' 747 had to be hired for two 30 hour demonstrations at a total cost that just fell short of $10 million.

As all the original RAF VC10s were named after VC holders and the intention was that G-AXLR would return to RAF service the scroll honouring Hugh Malcolm VC stayed on the airframe during its time with Rolls Royce. A photo below shows that the section carrying this scroll was cut from the aircraft during its time at Kemble, sometime between 1977 and 1982, perhaps someone still has that souvenir? When in 2011 the names from other VC10s which were taken out of service were transferred to previously unnamed 101 Squadron VC10s the question of what to do with Hugh Malcolm VC came up. It was decided that this name would be added to XR808 and so after 35 years the memory of this courageous VC holder once again flies on a VC10.


More Info

Surviving Bits and Pieces


More Images

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1. Ex-XR809, now G-AXLR, landing at RR Hucknall, Derby, after the first air test with the RB211 engine on the port side
2. G-AXLR airborne during tests with the RB211
3. Interesting view of G-AXLR, the only three-engined VC10

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1 - 3. Several views of G-AXLR undergoing servicing with the RB211 mounted

All images provided by K. White except where noted


Photo UPI Telephoto

Photo copyright Rolls-Royce
 

1. A press release from 1969 announcing the RB211 flight tests with the VC10. The photo is retouched to show what the aircraft will look like. Interesting is the statement that tests will be carried out at Lockheed's flight and test establishment! The full text is:

FOR RELEASE APRIL 23, 1969
NXP/1629227-4/23/69-HUCKNALL, ENGLAND: This retouched photograph shows how a VC10 aircraft will be used by Rolls-Royce for flight testing the RB.211 three-shaft turbofan here at Lockheed's flight and test establishment. This advanced technology engine will power the Lockheed TriStar jetliner which, after a series of severe tests on the VC10, is expected to have its maiden flight in late 1970.

2. A second press release, this one from Rolls-Royce, with a photo showing G-AXLR in flight. It looks similar to the photo below (no.2) which may have been taken on the same occasion. The full text that accompanies the photo is:

RB.211 FLIGHT TESTING

Handling of the RB.211 three-shaft turbofan in the VC10 flying test bed aircraft is bearing out the predictions made about the engine's power management system. Lockheed TriStar pilots will be able to select the correct thrust for any condition of flight with the maximum efficiency and minimum workload, benefitting both flight safety and engine life.

September, 1970

 


Photo Rolls-Royce

Photo copyright BAE SYSTEMS via P. Frei / www.aerpix.net

XR809 as the RB211 testbed
Photo Rolls-Royce via T. Postma Collection

1. Another view of the three-engine configuration on G-AXLR
2. A BAe publicity photo showing G-AXLR in flight. The pod below the right wing root contained heating elements that dissipated the electrical energy generated by the RB211's generator to the air. This was done as the generator needed to be loaded for testing, but the energy wasn't needed by the aircraft systems.
3. Promotional photo showing G-AXLR landing on a wintery day


The Michael Harries Collection The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust


The Michael Harries Collection The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust


The Michael Harries Collection The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust

1-3. In 1970 G-AXLR showed the three-engined layout to visitors at the (then) yearly Farnborough Airshow


Photo via P. Frei / www.aerpix.net


Photo G. Hall


Photo via P. Frei / www.aerpix.net

1. G-AXLR seen at RAF Kemble in 1976, shortly after its retirement
2. And this is how she ended up: lying derelict at Kemble in 1977
3. This photo shows, amongst other details, that the name and squadron crest just aft of the flightdeck have been removed, perhaps they still exist somewhere?

 


Photo via R. Lee

 

1. Another shot of the derelict airframe, the tail on the left is an ex-Dan-Air Comet
2. Another photo of XR809 at Kemble, probably taken during dismantling as the jacks are still standing next to the airframe

 


From Flight International, 7 May 1970, via A. Townshend

From Flight International, 7 May 1970, via A. Townshend

From Flight International, 7 May 1970, via A. Townshend

1. A cutaway drawing from Flight International showing the RB211 installation on the VC10
2. Detail drawing showing the steel beam that was needed to fit the RB211 on the VC10 using the same engine pickups as would be needed on the Tristar installation
3. Schematic of the instruments fitted to G-AXLR for its role as engine testbed

 

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