Royal Air Force VC10, in the tanker role, carries out the air-to-air refuelling of a two RAF Tornado F3s
Tri-Service

VC10: The RAF's Record Breaking 'Airliner'

The VC10 served the Royal Air Force for 47 years, carrying passengers, freight and fuel across the globe.For tens of thousands of people,...

Royal Air Force VC10, in the tanker role, carries out the air-to-air refuelling of a two RAF Tornado F3s

The VC10 served the Royal Air Force for 47 years, carrying passengers, freight and fuel across the globe.

For tens of thousands of people, either serving in or connected to the British military, it more often than not provided them with their first experience of flying - albeit sitting backwards (the safest way for passengers to actually fly in event of a crash).

Originally designed by British manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs as a commercial jet, it lasted just 15 years flying routes for the likes of BOAC and Ghana Airways.

 

Royal Air Force VC10 aircraft from 101 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton
Royal Air Force VC10 aircraft from 101 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton

 

Somewhat surprising given the fact that the aircraft still holds the record for the fastest subsonic trans-Atlantic crossing, flying from New York's JFK to Glasgow's Prestwick in 5 hours and 1 minute.  

A tale recounted by the pilot Gwyn Mullett in his autobiography: "When I checked in with operations at JFK the flight time shown on the plan was about five and a quarter hours which was pretty quick so I asked what the record was for the route and they said that it was held by a 707 at five hours and eight minutes."

"My tail was up and so I put a little bit of extra fuel on the told the people we were out to beat that time.Little did I know that they informed the control tower and so just after take-off we were told to ignore any speed restraints"

"Super VC-10 G-ASGC hurtled across the North Atlantic at a speed that was just below the maximum the aircraft allowed. The Flight Engineer was in his element and spent the night fine-tuning the engines."

"The Chief Steward came onto the flight deck and announced that the dinner service was complete and that the passengers were now all bedded down for the night. "I am sorry to spoil your rest break but we will be landing in just over two hours" I said.

"What are we flying? A bloody Concorde or something! I will have to wake them up for a full English breakfast in one hour," he replied."Scrub the breakfast and give them champagne for landing" was my reply."

For the RAF however it proved an incredible workhorse, initially flying regular long-haul routes between the likes of the UK and the Far East. At their peak in the early 1970s the aircraft were transporting 10,000 serving personnel, their families and VIPs, including The Queen, every month.

More: The Fastest Aircraft In History 

By the late 1970s however experiments had begun in converting the increasing numbers of redundant commercial passenger VC10s into air-to-air refuelling tankers.

Proving a huge success it was a role that lasted until September 2013 and saw the plane operate in a number of conflicts, including the Falklands War and the First and Second Gulf Wars, servicing a plethora of RAF and NATO aircraft types.

Hercules C130K and VC10 from 1312 Flight
Hercules C130K and VC10 from 1312 Flight

The VC10's safety record did not remain unblemished, however for all the hours flown just two crashes claimed lives. The RAF's only loss of a VC10 occurred at Brize Norton in 1997, when during defuelling a stationary aircraft tipped up on its tail leaving the airframe damaged beyond repair.

In the same year the MoD began looking for a replacement multi-role tanker transport aircraft, although it wasn't until 16 years later that the first RAF Voyager entered operational service.

More: RAF's VIP Voyager Enters Service 

In 2013 the skies above RAF Brize Norton, the VC10's home for 47 years, roared for the last time with the distinctive sound of four Rolls-Royce Conway engines. The last aircraft taxi-ing to a final standstill at Bruntingthorpe, a former RAF airbase turned private aerodrome and aviation museum.

Perhaps the final word on the VC10's incredible service history should go to the Captain of that final flight, Flight Lieutenant Paul Smith who said: "I was 24 years old as a fresh faced Flying Officer when I first walked up the steps of a VC10 and I'll be 52 in February so you can guess what it means to me, a bit of a bereavement."

"But she deserves a rest, she's served us very well.”

WATCH: Vulcan - The End Of An Era