Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Our very own Vickers VC10 XV106 was delivered to the RAF on 4th May 1994 as a C Mk1 K following conversion at Hurn to add the Air to Air Refuelling capability.
Vickers VC10 C1 XV106 made its first flight from Weybridge on 17th November 1967 and joined 10 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton. It performed an air transport role, moving people and freight around the world for the armed forces. Notable passengers include the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Margaret Thatcher. XV106 also performed a medical evacuation role, extracting casualties from warzones such as Afghanistan.
Experimentation with aerial refuelling techniques began during the 1930s and became a serious proposition during the Second World War. Trials took place in 1944 with several Avro Lancasters converted into tanker and receiver aircraft. The work was continued by the Avro Lincoln and English Electric Canberra before the Vickers Valiant V bombers were converted into tankers. However, it wasn’t until around 1960 that the RAF had established its first dedicated Air Refuelling squadron. Unfortunately, the Valiant proved to be short lived due to fatigue issues and the Woodford modified Victor was selected as a replacement.
Although originally designed as a civil airliner, the VC10 proved to be a very capable platform for Air to Air Refuelling. However, tanker conversion was complicated by the different sources from where the VC10 airframes were acquired and this resulted in four different variants. The initial K2 and K3 conversions were designed by the Weybridge team but, when the Weybridge factory closed in 1986, the VC10 project responsibility and design authority was taken up by the Manchester factories and the Woodford Design Office.
The RAF realised by the early 1980s that the fleet of Victor tankers were approaching the end of their fatigue life. In 1981, the RAF bought 14 British Airways Super VC10’s with the intention of converting them into tankers in the future. A VC10 Project Team was established at Woodford both to manage the programme and find partners for the conversion work. The contract was placed in 1990 and the C Mk1’s (including XV106) were converted to C Mk1 K’s by FR Aviation at Hurn. The Design Team, Conversion Programme Management and In-Service Support of the VC10 was subsequently consolidated at Chadderton in 1993.
The conversion of XV106 into a C1 K tanker involved the fitting of two wing pods and altering the fuel system to allow on-board fuel to be dispensed to other aircraft. However, unlike the other conversions, the C1 K was not fitted with the centreline HDU. An alteration was made to the flight engineer’s panel to allow control of the AAR process but otherwise the main cabin remained unchanged. The aircraft was therefore able to continue its original mission profiles in addition to tanking until its retirement in 2012.