In the aftermath of the Second World War, the advent of jet engines and nuclear weapons dictated the need for bomber aircraft that could fly at high altitude and speed to act as a deterrent against enemy attack and, if necessary, mount a nuclear strike. In January 1947, the Air Ministry issued Specification B35/46 for a high performance jet bomber; Handley-Page and Avro submitted designs for what would later become the Victor and Vulcan respectively and contracts were place with both companies. Vickers’ submission was initially rejected as being inferior to the other two but fierce lobbying by chief designer, George Edwards, managed to sell what was then known as the Type 660 on the basis of it being ready much earlier than its competitors.
The first of two Type 660 prototypes ordered took to the air on 18th May 1951 with Mutt Summers (the first man to fly the Spitfire) at the controls. An initial order for 25 bombers had already been made and the first production machine flew in December 1953. By now known as the Valiant, the aircraft entered RAF service with No 138 Squadron in February 1955.
The Valiant B1 had a crew of five, was powered by four Avon engines and could carry a single 10,000 lb nuclear bomb or 21 x 1,000 conventional bombs in its internal bomb bay. Aircraft capable of a supplementary PR and/or tanker role were also developed. A total of 107 variants were built before production ceased in August 1957. At its peak, the Valiant equipped an Operational Conversion Unit and ten RAF squadrons. It achieved several claims to fame. A 49 Squadron aircraft was the first to deliver a British atom bomb when it performed a test drop in Australia on 11th October 1956 and the first to deliver a British hydrogen bomb on 15th May 1957. The Valiant saw operational service during the Suez Campaign of 1956 when it operated from Malta against Egyptian airfields.
The loss of Gary Powers’ U2 to a Soviet SA-2 in 1960 caused the V Force (by this time the Victor and Vulcan were also in service) to train for low-level attack. This heralded the Valiant’s demise for, on 6th August 1964, an OCU Valiant experienced failure of a rear spar resulting in severe airframe damage. Inspection of the entire fleet revealed wing spars suffering from various levels of fatigue and a repair programme was devised. However, in January 1965 the government decided that the expense could not be justified and the aircraft was grounded permanently.
A sole surviving Valiant can be seen at the RAF Museum, Cosford, and three cockpits are on display at other UK museums. The Valiant was a frequent visitor to RAF Tangmere during the late 1950s/early1960s.