From early on in the VC10's career the RAF was interested in the type, but it wasn't until after the airlines had sold their aircraft that the main career of the VC10 in RAF service started. 20 years after the last fare paying passengers disembarked from a VC10 the type is still flying every day as a tanker or transport aircraft with two RAF squadrons.
The link between the RAF and the VC10 had been strong from the beginning, as the RAF originated the requirement for the V.1000 Vickers was well aware of their requirements. Several developments in the airline VC10s were of interest to the RAF, especially the cargo door that Vickers had developed for BUA. The type 1106 that the RAF eventually ordered was different in many ways compared to the Standard VC10s that had been built until then. It had the fuselage length of the Standard but incorporated many changes that were designed for the Super VC10, such as the fin fuel tank and the uprated Conway engines. The wing planform was similar to the type 1102 / 1103 wing but, as on the Super, may have incorporated a different profile, optimized for a higher cruise mach number. With the higher thrust from the more powerful Conways but without the performance penalties incurred in the Super because of the stretched fuselage and therefore increased take off weight, the RAF VC10s are even more impressive performers than the Standards. The design includes a strengthened cabin floor with a loading system, and this combined with the cargo door in the forward fuselage means that the RAF VC10s are very capable load carriers.
The RAF ordered 5 airframes initially in September 1961, followed by 6 more a year later and the final three in July 1964. The first aircraft was delivered to 10 squadron in 1966 and training flights were quickly scheduled to get the squadron operational as quickly as possible. Once the squadron fleet had been built up to its full strength the VC10s were averaging more than 1,000 flying hours per month, conducting 27 flights each month to the Persian Gulf alone.
Click on the name to read a summary of the citation text. In early 2010 GJD Services started scrapping VC10s at Bruntingthorpe. Before their last flight the names of the C1K airframes were removed and will be transferred to other aircraft in the 101 Squadron fleet. The list below will be amended to reflect this.
As the number of VC10 airframes available is limited these days, some aircraft are named after more than one Victoria Cross holder. Of interest is the fact that the K3 and K4s which have now been named sport one name which has not been used on the original batch of VC10s: Wg Cdr Leonard Cheshire VC. When the ex-XR809, which was used as a testbed for Rolls-Royce, was taken out of service the VC scroll on that airframe was removed judging by the photos. After 35 years this name has now once again been added to an RAF VC10: XR808.
In service with 10 Squadron: RAF airlines
The VC10's duties with 10 squadron can be divided into three tasks. The most heavily committed task is supporting preplanned exercises and deployments, which accounts for almost 75 percent of the squadron's flying time. The squadron also operates some scheduled routes, although these have been steadily deleted. When the VC10 reached 10 squadron the scheduled routes constituted the major part of the squadron's work and for many years the RAF operated the type as a regular airliner. The VC10s flew mixed loads of cargo and passengers, for whom the main difference between a BOAC flight and 'RAF Airlines' were the military style rear-facing passenger seats. With the British military withdrawal from the Far East the weekly or daily flights were deleted one by one, thereby ending the 'RAF Airlines' chapter. The third task undertaken by 10 squadron is the one that is foremost in the public eye as these are the so-called 'Specials'. These include VIP transports, aeromedical evacuations and disaster relief. Obviously the VIP flights get the best media coverage. Regular passengers include the Prime Minister and other Government ministers, foreign Heads of State, Service Chiefs and at times the Royal Family.
Early in the ninety's a contract was signed with Flight Refuelling for conversion of the squadron's C Mk 1s to C Mk 1 Ks. The first aircraft was ferried to Hurn in 1991 to be the first to be converted to Air to Air Refuelling Status, and by 1996 the entire fleet had been converted. The conversion added two wing mounted Mk 32 refuelling pods and a CCTV camera under the fuselage. No extra fuel tanks were installed in the fuselage so the full passenger and freight capability of the aircraft is retained. The refuelling capabilities of the C Mk 1 K are only used when military passengers are carried, and as the main role of the squadron is still its transport function only half of the crews will be trained for the AAR task.
14th October 2005 saw the last flight of a 10 Squadron VC10, as on that day the Squadron was disbanded. The remaining VC10s have all been transfered to 101 Squadron. While at first a measure to consolidate the VC10 operations, this was also a step towards the day when the VC10 will leave the RAF.
In May 2011 the RAF announced that 10 Squadron would reform on 1st July 2011 operating the new A330 Tanker (KC-30 Voyager Tanker).
In service with 101 squadron: aerial refuellers
The mainstay of an airforce can be said to be its aerial refuelling capability. Any long range deployment relies on Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) to get aircraft to remote locations without the hassle of fuel stops. A major demonstration of this concept was provided by the 'Black Buck' missions carried out during the Falklands War which saw Vulcans fly non stop from the UK to the Falklands and back.
Photo copyright BAE SYSTEMS
The RAF's tanker force has relied on converted bombers for a long time, first operating converted Vickers Valiants, but also Victors and Vulcans. In 1978 the RAF announced their intention to form a squadron of nine VC10 AAR tankers. The contract was awarded to BAe Filton for the conversion of five ex-Gulf Air Standard VC10s to K2s and four ex-EAA Super VC10s to K3 status. The first K2 flew on 22nd June 1982 from Filton with BAe pilots Roy Radford and John Lewis. Initially this aircraft was painted in a grey-green camouflage scheme but the other K2s were painted in a hemp-coloured camouflage before delivery to 101 squadron, with the single camo VC10 reverting to hemp colours later on. Over the years the other aircraft were delivered, and 101 squadron commenced operations.
The VC10 has proven itself as a very capable refueling platform. Because of the VC10s configuration the receiving aircraft is well away from the tailplane and the engine exhausts, which means less risks in turbulent weather. Since its inception almost 20 years ago, the squadron has flown too many missions to count, providing support in many troublespots, but also for a diversity of other deployments.
By the early nineties the Victor K2s that were still in service were becoming very limited on fatigue life available, and the RAF was faced with a severe shortage of tankers. The answer to this problem sat waiting in a field in Oxfordshire at RAF Brize Norton and at RAF Abingdon in the form of the ex-British Airways fleet of Super VC10s. Out of the fourteen airframes available five were eventually converted to VC10 K4s, thereby augmenting the tanking fleet of 101 squadron. At the same time the conversion of the C Mk 1s was undertaken, which further expanded the RAF's tanker fleet.
On the day of the last operational VC10 K2 flight, the opportunity was used to line up the four different VC10 types in use, the last time this would be possible. From left to right: K2, K3, K4, C1K.
Photo Crown Copyright/Darren Hall, MOD UK
In 2001 the VC10 K2 made it's last flight as a tanker. The five K2s were the oldest airframes in the fleet, and in recent years some of these airframes had already been temporarily stored when not in need. Since then all the K2s have been ferried to RAF St. Athan where they have been 'reduced to spares', a colloquial term for the scrapping process that will reduce a once lovely airliner to a pile of scrap metal.
In the meantime the VC10 tanker fleet is still going strong, and is scheduled to remain in service until early 2013. With the disbandment of 10 squadron in October 2005 the remaining C1Ks were transferred to 101 squadron and February 2006 saw the first C1Ks sporting 101 Sqn crests and tail letters. Currently 101 Sqn operates three VC10 variants but from 2010 on airframes have been taken out of service regularly for spares reclamation and scrapping. The spare parts which are generated in this way keep the remaining airframes in the air until their scheduled out of service date. At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the VC10 prototype's first flight the OC 101 Squadron explained that the backbone of 101 Squadron will be the four K3 'Supertankers', while the single remaining K4 is semi-permanently posted to the Falkland Islands with 1312 Flight. The remaining C1Ks fill in where needed but will be gradually phased out of service until in 2013 all the VC10s stand down.
On 28th August 2012 an attempt was made to fly the three remaining VC10 types in formation as ZD241 was in the UK for maintenance, unfortunately the single remaining K4 was not ready in time and had to stay on the ground performing engine runs. In its place XV108 flew, accompanied by C1K XR808 and K3 ZA147. As a three-ship formation they performed AAR training and then went on to overfly several RAF bases: Lossiemouth, Leuchars, Waddington, Cranwell, Coningsby and Marham, before returning to RAF Brize Norton.
1312 Flight - a VC10 down South
The present 1312 (In-Flight Refuelling) Flight was re-formed on 20 August 1983 at RAF Stanley on the Falkland Islands. Previous incarnations have operated Avro Ansons, tasked with transporting ferry crews and wounded airmen at the end of World War II, and HP Hastings and Vickers Valetta transports between 1954 and 1957. Moving to the newly opened RAF Mount Pleasant in 1986 the flight operated Lockheed Hercules aircraft at first but from 1996 on also borrowed VC10s from 101 Squadron to provide air to air refuelling capability around the Falkland Islands. The main task of the flight is to support the based fighters of 1435 Flight, currently four Eurofighter Typhoons, while also being tasked with air transport, search and rescue and maritime patrol. These tasks are shared between a single Hercules and a VC10, a job which has been mainly carried out by the single remaining K4 ZD241 over the past few years.
Photo MOD UK/Crown Copyright