|First flight||30 November 1917|
|Primary user||Royal Air Force|
The Vickers Vimy was a British heavy bomber aircraft developed and manufactured by Vickers Limited. Developed during the latter stages of the First World War to equip the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the Vimy was designed by Reginald Kirshaw "Rex" Pierson, Vickers' chief designer.
Only a handful of aircraft had entered service by the time the Armistice of 11 November 1918 came into effect, so the type was not used in active combat operations during the war, but the Vimy became the core of the RAF's heavy bomber force throughout the 1920s. The Vimy achieved success as both a military and civil aircraft, the latter using the Vimy Commercial variant. A dedicated transport derivative of the Vimy, the Vickers Vernon, became the first troop transport aircraft operated by the RAF.
During the interwar period the Vimy set several records for long-distance flights, the most celebrated and significant of these being the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, performed by John Alcock and Arthur Brown in June 1919. Other record-breaking flights were made from the United Kingdom to destinations such as South Africa and Australia. The Vimy continued to be operated until the 1930s in both military and civil capacities.
Throughout the First World War both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers made increasingly sophisticated use of new technologies in their attempts to break through the effective stalemate of trench warfare. One key advance made during the conflict was in the use of fixed-wing aircraft, which were at that time rapidly advancing in capability and ability, for combat purposes. On 23 July 1917, in response to a bombing raid performed by German bombers on London, the Air Board, having determined that existing projects were not ambitious enough, decided to cancel all orders for experimental heavy bombers then underway. A week later, following protests from the Controller of the Technical Department, the Air Board placed an order for 100 Handley Page O/100 bombers, which was accompanied by orders for prototype heavy bombers being placed with both Handley Page and Vickers Limited. On 16 August 1917 Vickers was issued with a contract for three prototype aircraft and Rex Pierson, chief designer of Vickers' aviation division, started designing of a large twin-engine biplane bomber, to be powered by either a pair of RAF 4d or 200 hp (150 kW) Hispano Suiza engines. Pierson discussed the proposed aircraft with Major J. C. Buchanan of the Air Board to establish the rough configuration of the aircraft, which was expected to meet the requirement for a night bomber which could attack targets within the German Empire.
The Vickers F.B.27 Vimy is an equal-span twin-engine four-bay biplane, with balanced ailerons on both upper and lower wings. The engine nacelles were positioned mid-gap and contained the fuel tanks. It has a biplane empennage with elevators on both upper and lower surfaces and twin rudders. The main undercarriage consists of two pairs of wheels, each pair carried on a pair of tubular steel V-struts. There is a tail-skid and an additional skid mounted below the nose of the fuselage to prevent nose-overs.
The aircraft was designed to accommodate a three-man crew and a payload of 12 bombs. In addition to the pilot's cockpit, which was positioned just ahead of the wings, there were two positions for gunners, one behind the wings and the other in the nose, each with a pair of Scarff ring-mounted Lewis guns; the rear cockpit mounting was commonly not fitted during the interwar period. Provision for a maximum of four spare drums of ammunition were present in the nose position, while up to six drums could be carried in the rear position.
The majority of the Vimy's payload of 250 lb bombs were stowed vertically inside the fuselage between the spars of the lower centre section; a typical load consisted of 12 bombs. In some variants further bombs could be stowed externally for a total of 18 bombs, if the particular engine used provided enough power. For anti-surface warfare in the maritime environment, the Vimy could also be armed with a pair of torpedoes. To improve bombing accuracy, the Vimy was equipped with the High Altitude Drift Mk.1a bombsight. Standard equipment also included two Michelin-built Mk.1 flare carriers.
The Vimy was powered by a range of different engines. Owing to engine supply difficulties, the prototype Vimys were tested with a number of different engine types, including Sunbeam Maoris, Salmson 9Zm water-cooled radials, and Fiat A.12bis engines, before production orders were placed for aircraft powered by the 230 hp (170 kW) BHP Puma, 400 hp (300 kW) Fiat, 400 hp (300 kW) Liberty L-12 and the 360 hp (270 kW) Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engines, with a total of 776 ordered before the end of the First World War. Of these, only aircraft powered by the Eagle engine, known as the Vimy IV, were delivered to the RAF. Due to the number of engine types used there are multiple conflicting official reports on the production numbers of each sub-variant of the Vimy.
Design and production of the prototypes was extremely rapid; the detailed design phase of what had become internally designated as the Vickers F.B.27 and the manufacture of the three prototypes was completed within four months.
By the time the first prototype had been completed the RAF 4D was not sufficiently developed, so it was fitted with the alternative Hispano Suiza engine. On 30 November 1917 the first prototype, flown by Captain Gordon Bell, made its maiden flight from Royal Flying Corps Station Joyce Green, Kent. In January 1918 the first prototype was dispatched to RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, for the official trials of the type. Reportedly, the F.B.27 quickly made a positive impression: it was able to take off with a greater payload than the Handley Page O/400 despite having about half the effective engine power. Unfortunately, the engines proved to be unreliable during these trials, leading to the aircraft's return to Joyce Green on 12 April 1918.
The first prototype was extensively modified, receiving new Salmson water-cooled aero-engines in place of the Hispano Suizas; other changes included the adoption of an alternative exhaust stack configuration, a 3-degree dihedral on the mainplanes, and a modified tail unit. Following these modifications, the prototype was used for several years, surviving the war and being allocated a civil registration. In August 1919 the prototype was flown from Brooklands to Amsterdam, the Netherlands as part of Vicker's exhibit at the Eerste Luchtverkeer Tentoonstelling Amsterdam.
During early 1918 the second prototype was completed. Unlike the first, it had plain elevators and ailerons which had an inverse taper; the tops of the wings and tailplanes also differed. The defensive armament was increased, giving the rear gunner two separate guns; these changes would be standardised on production aircraft. The second prototype was powered by a pair of Sunbeam Maori engines, which were found to have an unreliable cooling system during initial testing at Joyce Green. On 26 April 1918 the aircraft was dispatched to RAF Martlesham Heath for official tests; however, testing was interrupted by its loss in a crash following an engine failure.
During the first half of the 1918 the third prototype was also completed. It was powered by a pair of 400 hp (300 kW) Fiat A.12 engines, and had a redesigned nose section and nacelles which were similar to production aircraft. On 15 August 1918 the third prototype was sent to RAF Martlesham Heath for performance tests; testing was delayed by the need to replace a cracked propeller. On 11 September 1918 it was lost when its payload of bombs detonated owing to a hard landing, the result of a pilot-induced stall.
It was decided to construct a fourth prototype to test the Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engine. On 11 October 1918 this was flown from Joyce Green to Martlesham Heath to conduct official trials. Aside from being powered by the Eagle engine, it was identical to the earlier prototypes except for having a greatly increased fuel capacity and reshaped and enlarged rudders. By the time the fourth prototype commenced flying trials, mass production of the Vimy had already begun.
Since the performance of the first prototype was satisfactory it was decided to start production before the evaluation of either of the other prototypes. On 26 March 1918 the first production contract, for 150 aircraft, was issued; these were built at Vickers' works in Crayford in the Bexley. Production of the type by additional manufacturers was envisaged early on; in May 1918 follow-up contracts were issued to Clayton & Shuttleworth, Morgan & Co, and the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), in addition to a separate production line at Vickers' Weybridge complex. At one point over 1,000 aircraft had been ordered under wartime contracts. The type had received the official name of Vimy, after the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
By the end of 1918 a total of 13 aircraft had been completed by Vickers; 7 at Crayford and 6 at Weybridge. Production continued after the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, which led to Vickers ultimately completing 112 aircraft under wartime contracts. The majority, if not all, of Vimys ordered from Morgan & Co were completed, while Westland Aircraft manufactured 25 of the 75 units that they were contracted for. The numbers produced by the RAE are obscured by changes in serial number allocation and the apparent adoption of a piecemeal approach to manufacturing, which came into effect shortly after the end of the war; in February 1920, the RAE completed their final Vimy.
Production aircraft used several different types of engines, leading to various mark numbers being applied to the Vimy to distinguish between the emerging subtypes. The use of different engines was often because of availability; relatively few engines from Rolls-Royce Limited were used in the Vimy during 1918 owing to low output levels from that manufacturer, while other manufacturers also struggled to keep up with engine demand that year. At one point, there was considerable enthusiasm for powering the Vimy with American Liberty L-12 engines, because of their plentiful supply at the time; while specified for production aircraft all orders for the Liberty-equipped Vimy were terminated in January 1919 and no examples were ever completed. The BHP Puma was another engine that had been intended for use on the Vimy, but the Puma was cancelled without any aircraft being fitted with the engine.
Use of the Vimy extended beyond its original use as a bomber. A model with greater internal space was developed, known as the Vimy Commercial within the civil market. The Vimy Commercial saw service with the RAF; known as the Vickers Vernon, it became the first dedicated troop transport to be operated by the service. The Vimy was also used as an air ambulance for transporting wounded troops to medical facilities, while some examples were configured to perform record-breaking long-distance flights. From 1923 to 1925 limited production batches of the Vimy were manufactured by Vickers. Additionally, between 1923 and 1931, at least 43 early production aircraft were reconditioned in order to extend their service lives; at least one Vimy was reconditioned four times.
By October 1918 only three aircraft had been delivered to the Royal Air Force (RAF), one of which had been deployed to France for use by the Independent Air Force. It had been envisioned that the Vimy would be able to conduct long-range bombing missions into Germany, having the ability to reach Berlin from bases in France; however, the Armistice of 11 November 1918 had brought an end to the conflict before the Vimy could be used on any offensive operations. Following the end of the conflict, the RAF rapidly contracted in size, which slowed the introduction of the Vimy. The Vimy only reached full service status in July 1919 when it entered service with 58 Squadron in Egypt, replacing the older Handley Page 0/400.
On 12 June 1918, according to aviation publication Flight International, the Air Board were to initially deploy the first production Vimy units as maritime patrol aircraft, equipped for anti-submarine warfare, and once this requirement had been satisfied, subsequent aircraft would be allocated to performing nighttime bombing missions from bases in France. This had been due to a recently introduced policy under which the number of land-based aircraft allocated to anti-submarine patrols was to be vastly expanded, from 66 landplanes in November 1917 to a projected force of 726 landplanes, in which the newly available Vimy would be a key aircraft due to its long-range capabilities. During August 1918, the application of floats to the Vimy was studied, but it is not known if any aircraft were ever so fitted.
Throughout the 1920s, the Vimy formed the main heavy bomber force of the RAF; for some years, it was the only twin-engine bomber to be stationed at bases in Britain. On 1 April 1924, No. 9 Squadron and No. 58 Squadron, equipped with the Vimy, stood up, tripling the home-based heavy bomber force. On 1 July 1923, a newly formed Night Flying Flight, based at RAF Biggin Hill, equipped with the Vimy, was formed; during the general strike of 1926, this unit performed aerial deliveries of the British Gazette newspaper throughout the country. Between 1921 and 1926, the type formed the backbone of the airmail service between Cairo and Baghdad. The Vimy served as a front line bomber in the Middle East and in the United Kingdom from 1919 until 1925, by which point it had been replaced by the newer Vickers Virginia.
Despite the emergence of the Virginia, which numerous Vimy squadrons were soon re-equipped with, the Vimy continued to equip a Special Reserve bomber squadron, 502 Squadron, stationed at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland until 1929. The Vimy continued to be used in secondary roles, such as its use as a training aircraft; many were re-engined with Bristol Jupiter or Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar radial engines. The final Vimys, used as target aircraft for searchlight crews, remained in use until 1938.
The Vimy was used in many pioneering flights.
The Vimy Commercial was a civilian version with a larger-diameter fuselage (largely of spruce plywood), which was developed at and first flew from the Joyce Green airfield in Kent on 13 April 1919. Initially, it bore the interim civil registration K-107, later being re-registered as G-EAAV.
A Chinese order for 100 is particularly noteworthy; forty of the forty-three built were delivered to China, but most remained in their crates unused; only seven were put into civilian use.
During the war these bombers were initially highly successful due to the low-level bombing tactics used, with the air force chief-of-staff of the Zhili clique, General Zhao Buli () personally flying many of the missions. However, on 17 September, returning from a successful bombing mission outside Shanhai Pass, General Zhao's aircraft was hit by ground fire from the Fengtian clique in the region of Nine Gates (Jiumenkou, ) and had to make a forced landing. Although General Zhao made a successful escape back to his base, the bombers subsequently flew at much higher altitude to avoid ground fire, which greatly reduced their bombing accuracy and effectiveness.
After numerous battles between Chinese warlords, all of the aircraft fell into the hands of the Fengtian clique, forming its First Heavy Bomber Group. These were in the process of being phased out at the time of the Mukden Incident and therefore were subsequently captured by the Japanese, who soon disposed of them.
Apart from a replica transatlantic Vimy cockpit section built by Vickers for the London Science Museum in the early 1920s, three full-size replicas have also been built. The first was a taxiable replica commissioned by British Lion Films from Shawcraft Models Ltd of Iver Heath, Bucks; the planned film about Alcock & Brown's transatlantic flight was never made, but the model was completed and paid for. Its fate remains a mystery although it appeared on static display at the Battle of Britain air display at RAF Biggin Hill in 1955 and may have been subsequently stored dismantled in East London until at least the late 1980s. The engine nacelles appear in the mine scene from the film 'Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.', so it may not have been in good condition by then.
In 1969 an airworthy Vimy replica (registered G-AWAU) was built by the Vintage Aircraft Flying Association at Brooklands; this was first flown by D. G. 'Dizzy' Addicott and Peter Hoar but was badly damaged by fire that summer and was displayed until February 2014 at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London). It is currently stored dismantled at the RAF Museum storage facility in Stafford.
A second flyable Vimy replica, NX71MY, was built in 1994 by an Australian-American team led by Lang Kidby and Peter McMillan, and this aircraft successfully recreated the three great pioneering Vimy flights: England to Australia flown by Lang Kidby and Peter McMillan (in 1994), England to South Africa flown by Mark Rebholz and John LaNoue (1999) and in 2005, Alcock and Brown's 1919 Atlantic crossing was recreated, flown by Steve Fossett and Mark Rebholz. The aircraft was donated to Brooklands Museum in 2006 and was kept airworthy in order to commemorate the 90th anniversaries of the Transatlantic and Australian flights until retired in late 2009. Its final flight was made by John Dodd, Clive Edwards and Peter McMillan from Dunsfold to Brooklands on 15 November 2009 and four days later, in just 18 hours, the aircraft was dismantled, transported the short distance to the Museum and reassembled inside the main hangar by a dedicated volunteer team. Two days later a special Brooklands Vimy Exhibition was officially opened by Peter McMillan, and this unique aircraft is now on public display there.
Data from Profile Publications No. 005: Vickers F.B.27 Vimy
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