The Vickers Vimy was a British heavy bomber aircraft of the First World War and post-First World War era. It achieved success as both a military and civil aircraft, setting several notable records in long-distance flights in the interwar period, the most celebrated of which was the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by Alcock and Brown in June 1919.
Design and development
Reginald Kirshaw "Rex" Pierson, chief designer of Vickers Limited (Aviation Department) in Leighton Buzzard, designed a twin-engine biplane bomber, the Vickers F.B.27 to meet a requirement for a night bomber capable of attacking targets in Germany, a contract being placed for three prototypes on 14 August1917. Design and production of the prototypes was extremely rapid, with the first flying on 30 November]] 1917, powered by two 200 hp (150 kW) Hispano Suiza engines. It was named after the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
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.
By October 1918, only three aircraft had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, one of which had been deployed to France for use by the Independent Air Force. The war ended, however, before it could be used on operations. The Vimy only reached full service status in July 1919 when it entered service with 58 Squadron in Egypt. The aircraft formed the main heavy bomber force of the RAF for much of the 1920s. The Vimy served as a front line bomber in the Middle East and in the United Kingdom from 1919 until 1925, when it was replaced by the Vickers Virginia, but continued to equip a Special Reserve bomber squadron, 502 Squadron at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland until 1929. The Vimy continued in use as a training aircraft, many being 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.
Long distance flights
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, although a failure to pay interest from April 1922 probably led to the order not being completed. Forty of the 43 built were delivered to China but most remained in their crates unused, with only seven of these being put into civilian use.
Fifty-five military transport versions of the Vimy Commercial were built for the RAF as the Vickers Vernon.
Role in the Second Zhili-Fengtian War
During the Second Zhili-Fengtian War, these bomber versions of the Vimy Commercial initially were highly successful due to the low level bombing tactics used, with the air force chief-of-staff of the Zhili clique, General Zhao Buli (趙步壢) personally flying many of the missions. However, on 17 September, returning from a successful bombing mission outside Shanhai Pass, General Zhao's converted Vickers Vimy bomber was hit by the ground fire of the Fengtian clique in the region of Nine Gates (Jiumenkou, 九門口) and had to make a forced landing. Although General Zhao was able to make 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 Vickers Vimy eventually fell into the hands of the Fengtian clique, forming its First Heavy Bomber Group. These bombers 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.
In 1969, a Vimy replica was built by the Vintage Aircraft Flying Association at Brooklands (this aircraft is now displayed at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London). A second flyable Vimy replica 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 (2000) 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 is maintained in flyable condition.
Published - July 2009
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