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The Vickers VC10 is a graceful giant

Posted in Aviation, Transport, Travel on Friday, 29 March 2013

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This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.

Vickers VC10, picture, image, illustration

The Vickers VC10 by Wilf Hardy

Dropping through the lashing rainstorm, the VC10 heads towards the runway as though rolling down invisible rails. In the cockpit the instrument panels, lit for maximum night vision, cast a glow on the two pilots, captain and first officer, who are monitoring the controls.

The pilots’ hands are on their knees while the control column and rudder bars, trim wheels and throttles are adjusted by an “automatic” pilot. The VC10 is flying herself gently down for landing: the human pilots are ready to take over if necessary – a chance in a million.

The VC10 is still flying herself as she settles gracefully over the approach lights and sweeps towards the striped runway threshold. She whistles over it and her nose comes up for the touchdown as the captain takes over, gently nudging the rudder bar to compensate for wind drift.

Her wheels brush the wet tarmac of the runway. She is already rolling fast as the pilot flicks a lever and the wing airbrakes snap open to kill the last of the lift and plant her firmly on the runway. Now he pulls the throttles right back to put the mighty Rolls-Royce Conway engines into reverse thrust.

The engines’ tailpipes are automatically sealed and more than 80,000 lb. of thrust is available to slow the aircraft, deflected slightly forward through special vents above and beneath the engines. The airliner turns off the runway, taxi-lights blazing, and rolls towards the parking apron. A routine flight is completed.

The Vickers VC10 is serving with B.O.A.C., British United Airways, Ghana Airways, and will soon be flying with Royal Air Force Transport Command. It was taken into the air for the first time on June 29, 1962, in the hands of a British Aircraft Corporation test crew headed by G. R. “Jock” Bryce, the company’s chief test pilot. The first VC10, registered G-ARTA, left the ground in just under half the length of the Weybridge factory runway and, accompanied by a Jet Provost chase plane, flew to the B.A.C. Wisley test airfield. She was soon joined by more of her sisters, each taking a definite section of the complex and exhaustive test programme needed to clear the aircraft for its Certificate of Airworthiness to carry passengers in airline service.

When “Jock” Bryce took G-ARTA into the air he had already “flown” the VC10 many times – in the ingenious ground test-rig at Weybridge, designed to perfect the powered flying control system. The VC10’s ailerons, elevators, rudder and flaps are all split into sections, each operated by separate electrical and hydraulic circuits so that one or two sections can fail and still leave the aircraft perfectly controllable! A display set shows the pilot the position of every section at any moment in flight.

In the past a prototype aircraft could be built to test the designer’s calculations and the design altered for production if necessary. But today the tremendous cost, the production resources to be committed, and the strict contract schedules to be met do not allow such a haphazard procedure.

The Weybridge factory contained a multitude of test rigs besides the still-active production line. A complete wing was used to test the fuel pumping and tank systems, a whole fuselage tested the pressurization and air-conditioning. The main and nose landing gear was heavily weighted, wheels set spinning and brought crashing down on to a steel bed to punish them in hundreds of “landings.”

A complete test airframe was caged in scaffolding and laced with hydraulic jacks to twist and torture it far beyond actual flying loads.

The final phase of testing is airline “route-proving” in which the aircraft is flown in and out of every airfield it must be able to use. The VC10’s clean wing with high-lift devices and its mighty Rolls-Royce engines enabled it to pass this test with ease, as it had been designed to do.

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