The Vickers Vimy

A German bombing raid on London in June 1917 resulting in a death toll of 162 people convinced the British Air Board of the need for a heavy bomber. Handley Page and Vickers were invited to submit proposals and the Vickers project F.B. 27 won the contract with the Vickers Vimy design. Following early prototypes with underpowered engines, the 4th aircraft was fitted with Rolls Royce Eagle Mk VIII powerplants which became the standard Vimy powerplant. Extensive plans for wartime roles for the Vimy became irrelevant when the Armistice was declared in November 1918. At this time, only 3 production aircraft had been built. However, some 300 aircraft were ordered and full-scale production began in 1919. By 1924, the supremacy of the Vimy was challenged by the larger Vickers Virginia and the Vimy’s RAF career came to an end in 1929.

The Vimy is probably best known for its record-breaking flight across the Atlantic in June 1919. In response to the Daily Mail’s offer of £10,000 to the first person or persons to fly the Atlantic, Vickers found a willing crew in Jack Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown. The aircraft was modified with extra fuel tanks for the 20 hour flight and to take advantage of the prevailing westerly winds, the flight was planned from Newfoundland. Stories of their demanding and dangerous flight and their inauspicious landing in an Irish bog are legendary. The Vimy was also the aircraft of choice for a similar record flight from London to Melbourne by an all-Australian crew which took 136 flying hours and a journey of 11,000 miles in 30 days. The aircraft (G-EAOU) for this flight to Australia is preserved to this day in a climate-controlled museum at Adelaide airport. Other Vimy’s can be seen at the Brooklands Museum and the London Science Museum. The Brooklands example is a replica and has flown extensively in more recent years to include flights across the Atlantic, to Australia and South Africa in memory of these flights back in 1919.

Following the war, the reputation of the Vimy aircraft and increased availability of the Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines encouraged Vickers to develop a civilian version for the emergent airline industry and the Vimy-Commercial was born. In “Dark Treaty” the characters believe that the reputation of the aircraft will make for powerful marketing material and there is reference to a Chinese order for 100 Vimy -Commercials. This order did exist although only 40 were delivered. There is little information about the eventual fate of the aeroplanes – another story perhaps?

The Vimy-Commercial was not a great success primarily as it was superceded by the larger Vickers Virginia but one particular aircraft (City of London) operated by Instone Air Line became a popular and familiar sight at Croydon Airport with its scheduled flights to Paris, Brussels and Cologne. Only two other Vimy-Commercials appeared on the UK civil register so the fictional operation by Ferris International Airlines in “Dark Treaty” is another, almost plausible, example of the author’s poetic licence.

The Vimy-Commercial retained the proven Rolls Royce, water cooled Eagle Mk VIII engines of some 360 hp. The tailplane and wing designs of the bomber were retained but the fuselage was a new design. The elliptical sectioned structure featured circular triplex windows on each side of the cabin and an impressive 6ft 2 inch headroom for 15 passengers. The cabin was often luxuriously appointed with pictures, curtains, basket or leather upholstered chairs and instruments on the forward bulkhead. Some vital statistics of the Vimy-Commercial are as follows:

Wing Span:  68 feet
Length:  43 feet
Max TO Weight. 11,120 lbs
Cruise Speed:  95 mph
Range: 400 miles


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