The Vickers VC10 is a British airliner designed and built by Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Ltd and first flown in 1962. The airliner was designed to operate on long distance routes with a high subsonic speed and also be capable of hot and high operations from African airports.

Today a handful of these aircraft are still in service as aerial refuelling and transport aircraft with the RAF. Despite the VC10's lack of commercial success, many consider it to be a particularly elegant and even beautiful design. With four Rolls-Royce Conway engines grouped in pairs at the back it is rather loud by modern standards, though for its time it was not and was regarded by passengers as being quiet and comfortable, something the original operator, BOAC, was keen to trumpet, describing it as "triumphantly swift, silent, serene". "Hush Power" was a motto used by BOAC to advertise these aircraft. Generally, the "10" is regarded as a second generation "jetliner" because in addition to pioneering the innovative concept of tandem aft fuselage mounted turbofan engines, the elegant VC10 was also a product of strongly nationalistic purchasing policies and a matter of post-war prestige after the industrial lead lost by the missteps of the de Havilland Co

In the early 1950s, Vickers-Armstrong designed the Type 1000 (V.1000): a military troop/freight development of the Valiant V-bomber with trans-Atlantic range. At this point, Atlantic routes were flown by slow aircraft and a jet would have cut hours off the flight. The only jet airliner to have seen service by then was the Comet I, whose range was too short for the Atlantic.

As the RAF ordered six V.1000 strategic troop/freight transports, Vickers proposed a 120-seat airliner version known as the V.C.7 (the seventh civil design by Vickers). The government agreed to fund development and work began on a prototype. However, the RAF order was cancelled in a 1955 round of defence cuts, and the project ended.

Rolls-Royce repeatedly adapted its V-bomber Conway by-pass engine to suit the V.1000 as the airframe weight grew, also "civilianising" it for the V.C.7. However, the engine maker was unconvinced of the success of the Vickers designs, turning its attention to getting the Conway onto the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. In the next two decades, Rolls-Royce courted US airliner makers and lobbied for the complete cessation of British airliner production, which was providing minor but irritating competition to the Americans. In Rolls-Royce's view, Britain had forfeited its chances with the Tudor, Hermes, Comet, and Britannia, and its further attempts to enter the sector put engine making, the only viable and lucrative part of Britain's civil aviation sector, at risk of alienating its American clients.

The VC10 was an entirely new design and bore no relation to the V.C.7 other than having the same Conway engines. It had a generous wing equipped with full span Fowler flaps for good take-off and climb performance, and its engines were at the rear, giving an efficient clean wing and reduced cabin noise. Technological breakthroughs included structural parts milled from solid blocks rather than being assembled from pieces of profiled sheet metal. The entire airframe was to be carefully coated against corrosion. Planned flight deck technology was extremely advanced, with a quadruplicated automatic flight control system (a "super autopilot") envisaged to enable fully automatic zero-visibility landings. Capacity was up to 135 passengers in a two-class configuration. Vickers designer Sir George Edwards is said to have stated that this was the sole route he could have taken unless he was to reinvent the 707. Despite very serious misgivings on operating cost, BOAC was pressured by the government to order 25 aircraft.

Vickers calculated that it would need to sell 80 VC10s at about £1.75 million each to break even. With BOAC taking only 25, another 55 remained to be sold. Vickers offered a smaller version (the VC11) to BEA for longer routes like those to Athens and Beirut, but this was rejected in favour of the Hawker Siddeley Trident. (In retrospect, such a low break-even figure was unrealistic, especially with the expensive research and development involved in the design. Conventional logic at the time dictated that no fewer than 300 aircraft would have had to be sold to cover all the research, development, testing, certification and construction costs

In 1960, the RAF issued Specification 239 for a strategic transport, placed by the Air Ministry with Vickers in 1961 as an order for five VC10s. The military version (Type 1106) was a combination of the Standard combi airframe with the developed wing and Super VC10 engines. It also had a detachable in-flight refuelling nose probe and an auxiliary power unit in the tail cone. The order was increased by an additional six in 1963, plus the three that BOAC had cancelled in 1964. The first RAF machine (known to the service as the VC-10 C Mk. 1, often abbreviated to VC-10 C1), was delivered for testing on 26 November 1965, with deliveries to No. 10 Squadron beginning in December 1966 and ending in August 1968. They were serial numbers XR806 to XR810 and XV101 to XV109.

Aircraft XR809 was leased leased to Rolls-Royce for flight testing of the RB211 turbofan between 1969 and 1975. On return to the RAF it was found that the airframe had become distorted. It considered uneconomical to repair and was instead used for for SAS training, before being scrapped.

In 1978 the RAF contracted British Aerospace to convert five ex-BOAC (via Gulf Air) Standard VC10s and four ex-East African Airways Super VC10s as air-to-air refuelling tankers. These were known in service as the VC-10 K2 (serials ZA140 to ZA144) and VC-10 K3 (ZA147 to ZA150) respectively. During conversion, extra fuel tanks were installed in what was previously the passenger cabin. These increased the theoretical maximum fuel load to 77 tonnes (K2) and 82 tonnes (K3); the fin fuel tank of the Super VC10 making the difference. In practice the fuel load would be capped by the maximum take-off weight before the tanks are completely full. Both variants had refuelling pods mounted under the wings and a centreline refuelling point, known as a HDU, was installed in the rear freight bay. An in-flight refuelling probe was fitted on the nose, allowing fuel to be taken from the VC10, Victor or TriStar tankers. The K2s have since been retired and scrapped, the last aircraft leaving service in 2000.

In 1981, 14 ex-British Airways Super VC10s were purchased, and given serials ZD230 to ZD243. These were placed in storage and some were used for spare parts. In the early 1990s, five of the aircraft were revived and converted to VC-10 K4 tankers. The K4 has identical refuelling equipment to the K2 and K3, but does not have any extra fuel tanks in the fuselage. It's fuel capacity remains at 70 tonnes, the same as a Super VC10. Around the same time, the 13 surviving C1s were also equipped with wing refuelling pods and re-designated as VC-10 C1K dual-rôle tanker/transports. The centreline HDU is not fitted to this variant and thus it is only a 2-point tanker. Again, no extra tanks were provided and the fuel load remains at 70 tonnes. The in-flight refuelling probe was a feature of the original RAF aircraft, but it was removed for a period during the 1970s and 1980s due to lack of use. The probe was refitted sometime before the tanker conversions took place.

Another on-time BOAC Standard VC10 was acquired as an instructional airframe/spare parts in 1981 (serial ZD493), having previously been leased to the Government of Qatar. A former BUA/British Caledonian aircraft G-ATDJ was acquired by the MoD in 1974 and served with the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Bedford as XX914. After retirement the fuselage was retained at RAF Brize Norton as an instructional aid for the Air Movements School.

The VC-10 is affectionately known in RAF service as the "Vickers FunBus" (a pun on the Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus).

Artist's impression of a VC-10 departing from Ascension Island

Aircraft XR806 was damaged beyond economic repair in a ground de-fuelling accident at RAF Brize Norton in 1997, and several other C1K and K4 aircraft have also been scrapped. The surviving airworthy VC-10 C1Ks, K3s and K4s serve as tanker/transports with No. 101 Squadron at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire and No. 1312 Flight at RAF Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands, making the RAF the VC10's final operator. The VC10 and Lockheed Tristar tanker/transports are due to be replaced in RAF service by the Airbus A330 MRTT under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft Project.

10 Squadron - In 1966, the squadron became the first to receive the new VC10, reverting to an air transport squadron at RAF Fairford in the July of that year. The unit moved to RAF Brize Norton in 1967, where it remained until disbanded in 2005. The most visible role No. 10 squadron's VC10s have played is that of VIP transport and aero medical evacuations. In the VIP role the C1s have flown the British Royal Family, government ministers and Prime Ministers around the world. In recent times it has been announced that the VC10 VIP role has been phased out, VIP transport now carried out by chartered British Airways 767s and the RAF BAe 146 fleet. However Prime Minister Tony Blair had reverted to the VC10 for more sensitive flights, notably during his diplomacy mission to Pakistan and the Middle East after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA.
101 Squadron - The RAF bought second-hand civil Vickers VC-10 aircraft for conversion to AAR aircraft. No 101 Squadron was chosen to operate the aircraft and was reformed at RAF Brize Norton on 1 May 1984. Notable recent deployments of 101 Squadron include the Gulf War, Operations Northern & Southern Watch, Operation Allied Force (Kosovo), Operation Desert Fox, Afghanistan, and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. The VC-10 aircraft will be retired from RAF service in 2015 when the Airbus A330 tanker (bought under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft program) enters service.

General characteristics

Crew: 4 + 3 flight attendants
Capacity: 151 passengers
Length: 158 ft 8 in (48.36 m)
Wingspan: 146 ft 2 in (44.55 m)
Height: 39 ft 6 in (12.04 m)
Wing area: 2,851 ft² (264.9 m²)
Empty weight: 139,505 lb (63,278 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 334,878 lb (151,900 kg)
Powerplant: 4× Rolls-Royce Conway Mk. 301 , 22,500 lbf (100.1 kN) each
Maximum speed: 580 mph (933 km/h)
Range: 5,850 miles (9,412 km)
Service ceiling 43,000 ft (13,105 m)
Wing loading: 110 lb/ft² (534 kg/m²)
Thrust/weight: 0.27