During its 47 year career with the RAF, the VC10 was used for its main task, carrying people and cargo, and later on of course air-to-air refuelling, but also aquired some specialised tasks with associated equipment. I have tried to provide a brief overview of some interesting aspects on this page.
The first additional task that the VC10 took on was transporting VIPs. The most visible occasions were when HM The Queen would travel on a VC10 of course, but during the many years a variety of people were carried for many different purposes. The first issue when a VIP flight was laid on would be to select two aircraft (one standby) and prepare them for the flight. This involved a cleaning session, inside and out, but also an extensive inspection and replacement of any rotable component that was over a specific percentage of its safe life. The idea was to minimise the risk of any unscheduled delay due to technical issues.
After the necessary steps, both aircraft were airtested and if no snags were found, they were then available to carry out the flight(s). Several examples of VIP flights can be found in the timelines on the pages for XV105, XV107 and other RAF VC10s.
Not all the C1s were the same. For a VIP flight you would want the use of some special equipment and as far as I can tell, not all the C1s were fitted with the same mountings and connections. One such modification was the one done at Wyton in the early 80s. This left the modified VC10s with secure communication capabilities and the visual confirmation of the modification was the towel-rail like SRIM antenna on top of the fuselage.
Next to the communication gear, several C1s also incorporated fittings and connections to enable fitment of role equipment to counter infra red missile attacks. There were two options:
Both systems featured two pods, mounted below the engine pods, that contained the transmitters. Related equipment was installed within the fuselage. The transmitters could be mounted or removed depending on need. The mounting points and internal connections remained on the aircraft. It wasn't until I started comparing photos that I noticed that these mounting points were on XV105, XV106 and XV108, but not on XR808. I don't have a complete list.
The inside of the aircraft was obviously also modified, and featured a VIP fit that included more legroom and roomier seats. This fit may have varied between flights, as not every VIP passenger had the same needs. For Royal flights, the RAF would fit 'Modification no. 21' which was the full interior at VVIP level. BOAC had a similar kit that could be used to transform an airliner into a VIP-worthy mode of transport. Most if not all of BOAC's VIP fittings were later used to modify G-ARVF when it was sold to the UAE government.
Around the time of the UK's first nuclear bomb tests, Operation Grapple in March 1957, Canberras had been modified to act as sniffers, so that they could take samples of the bomb's mushroom cloud. The evolution of the Cold War meant that a capability to collect high altitude air samples for detection of nuclear material continued to be useful. The Vulcan B.2MRR version as operated by no.27 squadron, originally modified for Maritime Reconnaisance, was the next type to be tasked with this and could carry two sampling pods below its delta wing. Between 1973 and 1982 these Vulcans, re-designated as SR2s, carried out the sampling task.
After no.27 squadron stood down, the next type to be sent out to collect air samples was the VC10. At least two of the K3s were modified so that they could be sent out on this air monitoring role. Officially the role is called Meteorological and Atmospheric Research but the main job is collecting dust samples and monitoring and recording of airborne radiation. When needed, the K3 tanker is modified so that it carries two sampling pods on its wing stations instead of the refuelling pods, and a smaller instrument underneath the nose of the aircraft. Inside, an operator's station is provided on the left side of the cabin, on the rear face of the toilet cubicle.
From information released to the press we know that ZA150 was sent to Kadena Air Base, Japan, in October 2006. In May 2009 a K3 was again sent to Japan to collect information on North Korea's next nuclear test. The photos below were taken by Mark Graham in November 2009 and show ZA150 taxiing out in its air sampling role. The purpose of these flights is to gain information on the composition and yield of the weapon used, but information about the distribution of any fallout is also useful and this ties in to the meteorological aspect of the role.