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Aircraft of the Month

VICKERS VARSITY

The Varsity, or ‘Flying Pig’ as it became affectionately known, was a twin piston-engined aircraft procured for crew training as a replacement for the Wellington T10. Founded on the successful Valetta design, it was fitted with a nose wheel undercarriage and under-slung bomb-aiming station. The prototype Varsity T1 made its maiden flight on 17th July 1949 and entered RAF service in October 1951 with No 201 Squadron, Advanced Flying Training School at Swinderby, Lincolnshire.

The outstanding quality of the Varsity was its ability to provide excellent training for pilots, signallers, navigators and bomb-aimers simultaneously. The flight deck in the forward fuselage accommodated a student pilot and instructor side by side with student signaller and instructor behind, student bomb-aimer and instructor in the under-slung nacelle and space aft of the main spar afforded a station for two student navigators and their instructor. Training armament comprised 600 lb practice bombs carried in an external pannier.

Some RAF Varsities were operated in other roles – No 115 Squadron, Signals Command, was tasked with the calibration of navigation and approach aids and several machines were used as communications aircraft. It was employed as a trainer by the Royal Jordanian Air Force and the Royal Swedish Air Force used a single aircraft in the electronic intelligence role.

The Varsity was finally withdrawn from RAF service in 1976 by which time a total of 163 had been built. One machine, WL679, continued to fly in Royal Aircraft Establishment livery until July 1992, at which point it was retired to the RAF Museum and is now on display at Cosford. Five other examples survive at various aircraft museums in England.

RAF Tangmere’s association with the aircraft extended from 1958 to 1960, a period during which No 115 Squadron operated from the station alongside 245 Squadron, a Signals Command unit operating the Canberra.

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