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. For 32 years after the last fare paying passengers disembarked from a VC10 the type continued to fly as a tanker and/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 needs. 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, optimized for a better cruise mach number and performance. 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 were even more impressive performers than the civil Standards. The design included a strengthened cabin floor with a loading system and this, combined with the cargo door in the forward fuselage, means that the RAF VC10s were very capable load carriers.
Initially, the RAF ordered 5 airframes 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.
For more about this aspect of the VC10's career see the page Victoria Cross holders or click on the links below to read more about a particular scroll. In early 2010 GJD Services started scrapping VC10s at Bruntingthorpe. Before their last flight the names of the C1K airframes were removed and these were transferred to other aircraft in the 101 Squadron fleet. The list below has tried to give a full overview of the movements of these scrolls but especially during the last months of operations some scrolls were transferred onto the remaining airframes. Therefore the list may not be complete.
As the number of active VC10s went down some aircraft were named after more than one Victoria Cross holder. Of interest is the fact that the K3 and K4s which suddenly sported names showed one name which was not 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. 35 years later this name was once again 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 was retained. The refuelling capabilities of the C Mk 1 K were only used when military passengers were carried, and as the main role of the squadron was still its transport function only half of the crews were 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 would 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 Ascension Island to the Falkland Islands 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 VC10's 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 its last flight as a tanker. The five K2s were the oldest airframes in the fleet, and over the years some of these airframes had already been temporarily stored when not in need. Since then all the K2s were 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 rest of the VC10 tanker fleet was still going strong, and was 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. From that point on 101 Sqn operated three VC10 variants but from 2010 on airframes were taken out of service regularly for spares reclamation and scrapping. The spare parts which were generated in this way kept 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 consisted of the four K3 'Supertankers', while the single remaining K4 was semi-permanently posted to the Falkland Islands with 1312 Flight. The remaining C1Ks would fill in where needed but were to be gradually phased out of service until in 2013 all the VC10s would 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 Handley-Page 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 were shared between a single Hercules and a VC10, a job which has been mainly carried out by the single remaining K4 ZD241 over the last few years of the VC10's career. After ZD241's retirement in March 2013 both ZA150 and ZA147 have been seen at MPA and in August 2013 a Tristar was sent 'down South' to take over this tasking, bringing this chapter of the VC10's history to a close.
The final year of VC10 operations showed that the retirement plans as explained in June 2012 didn't completely work out in reality. In June 2012 there were four C1Ks still active alongside the single K4 (ZD241) and the four K3s. XV104 was retired a week after the 50th anniversary and XV106 and XV108 were flown to Bruntingthorpe in November 2012. That left the four K3s alongside K4 ZD241 and C1K XR808 to carry out the tasks alotted to 101 Squadron. One of these tasks was the posting to the Falkland Islands and ZD241 spent most of its last year here until its retirement in March 2013. In that same month K3 ZA149 was also flown to Bruntingthorpe for scrapping, indicating that the K3s would not stay together until the last month of operations. Everything went quiet for a few months after these two retirements until in July the news emerged that XR808 would not land at Cosford as had been announced earlier. Instead it would end up at Bruntingthorpe and initially it was thought that this was the nail in the coffin for the longest serving VC10 in the RAF. Just a few weeks after this shock and with the future of the remaining three aircraft insecure, an announcement by the chairman of the Classic Air Force brought good news. This led to ZA148 being flown to Newquay in August 2013 for preservation there. This left two VC10s still on active duty and obviously the number of sorties flown by the type went down because of this. ZA147 and ZA150 both spent time at Mount Pleasant airfield during these last months. On 20th September 2013 the last operational sortie of the type was carried out by the two VC10s. Leaving Brize together they carried out refuelling operations before splitting up and overflying various RAF bases individually. They arrived back overhead Brize Norton in formation and landed one after the other, bringing to a close a 47 year career. On 22nd September ZA147 starred in an enthusiasts day at Brize, together with a Tristar and a C-130K, two other types that would be leaving the RAF soon. The day after news emerged that ZA150 had been bought by the Brooklands Museum and on 24th September this airframe made its final landing at Dunsfold. On Wednesday 25th September the curtain closed when ZA147 left Brize for the last time and landed at Bruntingthorpe at 16:02LT.
Photo MOD UK/Crown Copyright