XL231 a brief history

This aircraft was built by Handley Page Ltd at Radlett in Hertfordshire as part of Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent known as ‘The V Force’. It was built in 1961 and maid her maiden flight of 1 hour and 20 minutes on the 28th December 1961. After 6 test flights, some at the hands of Test Pilot Pete Baker, she was granted her air-worthiness certificate and was delivered to RAF Wittering on the 1st February 1962.

XL231 was the first Victor B2 to be taken on strength with the newly re-formed No 139 (Jamaica) Sqn at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire. No 139 Sqn shared the Station with No 100 Sqn which was also a Victor B2 Squadron and this became known as ’The Wittering Wing’.

XL231 arriving at RAF Wittering 1st February 1962

Initially the aircraft of both squadrons were painted in a Nuclear flash proof white paint scheme and were operated at high altitude and high Mach numbers, the crews wore partial pressure suits for this role and the aircraft were capable of carrying up to 35 1,000lb iron bombs or the free-fall ’Blue Danube’ Nuclear bomb.

In 1963 the AVRO ’Blue Steel’ stand-off Nuclear warhead missile became operational for both the Avro Vulcan and Victor bombers and both Wittering squadrons were converted to Blue Steel. The aircraft were flown back to Handley Page and fitted with a special cradle mechanism in the bomb bay and shaped bomb doors that contoured to the missile as it was carried semi-externally. The missile had to be adapted with a folding lower fin in order for the Victor to carry it.

1964 saw a change in tactics for the V Force as it became apparent that Soviet surface to air (SAM) missiles were becoming extremely capable of shooting down high altitude aircraft and the entire V Force were brought down to operate at very low levels. The aircraft were also repainted in a grey/green camouflage scheme on the upper surfaces and the crews no longer needed to wear pressure suits.

XL231 with 'Blue Steel' missle 1967 RAF Wittering

The low-level role of the V Force continued until 1968 for the Victor, the third V bomber the Vickers Valiant could not take the low level buffet conditions and was withdrawn in 1965 from operations due to severe metal fatigue problems associated with the role.

The Vulcan and Victors also suffered from the low level role and the Victor was withdrawn from operations in 1968 due to fatigue problems with the wing mounting points known as ’club feet’. The Nuclear Deterrent was passed to the Royal Navy’s Polaris submarines and the Victor bomber squadrons were disbanded. Blue Steel was withdrawn in 1970 and the Vulcan fleet reverted to conventional bomb delivery systems.
XL231 RAF Luqa, Malta. Late 1960's

The Wittering Victors were flown back to Handley Page pending converting to Air to Air Refuelling Tankers and were prepared for storage. Financial problems meant Handley Page filed for Bankruptcy in 1970 and the company folded soon afterwards. The Tanker contract was awarded to Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Woodford and the B2 Victors were ferry flighted from Radlett to Woodford by test crews on a low level undercarriage down basis only. Some of the test aircrews and engineering staff were transferred to HSA.

XL231 was selected as the prototype K2 Tanker aircraft and began trials in 1972 at Woodford and the AAEE at RAF Boscombe down, it was not modified up to the full K2 specification for the trials until later in the programme when another fully converted aircraft became available. XL231 was then put through the full conversion process which not only permanently changed the aircraft’s role it also meant the airframe was ’zero fatigued’ to as new.

Trials continued until 1977 when XL231 was taken back on strength with the RAF and it joined No57 Sqn at RAF Marham in Norfolk in time to be put on static display at RAF Finningley for Her Majesty The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Review.

Support for the RAF’s Worldwide operations meant that the Victor fleet was constantly in demand, the entire Air to Air Refuelling support came from the Marham Victor K2 Tanker Wing from 1975 onwards due to the retirement of the Victor K1 and K1A aircraft. Operations in the South Atlantic in 1982 -1985 heavily tasked the Victors and heavy fuel loads caused the dreaded ‘fatigue’ to start building up once again. The Nimrod MR2 and Hercules aircraft were incapable of in-flight refuelling until 1982 and XL231 was once again chosen as the trials aircraft in proving the fitment of equipment to both types, again at Woodford and RAF Boscombe Down hurriedly for the South Atlantic Campaign.

1986 saw No57 Squadron disband due to airframe fatigue and the remaining aircraft were transferred to No55 Squadron and operations around the globe continued normally until December 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. 55 Sqn were deployed to Bahrain the same month in support of allied aircraft and continued until February when ’Operation Granby’(Desert Storm) ceased. It was during this conflict XL231 became ’Lusty Lindy’ in honour of its Crewchief’s wife and received the iconic nose art from Cpl Andy Price, other Victors were similarly adorned. XL231 completed 16 missions and night vision trials. No55 Sqn was tasked with 299 sorties during Desert Storm and 299 sorties were carried out.

XL231's fuel card from the Gulf

Operations in the Gulf continued until September 1993 when 55 Sqn returned to the UK to take part in the NATO exercise ‘Elder Joust’. No 55 Sqn was disbanded on October the 15th 1993 due to the remaining Victor’s fatigue life expiring. XL231 made her last official RAF flight as part of the Victor disbandment flypast at RAF Marham on 15th October.
Victor Disbandment Marham 1993 © Steve Cockayne

XL231 made her last flight on 25th November 1993 to former RAF Elvington, near York,for display at The Yorkshire Air Museum. To date she is maintained to serviceable and taxiable condition by a team of dedicated volunteers.
XL231 arriving at RAF Elvington 25th November 1993


2 comments:

  1. XL231 was the first aircraft we saw in VSF with a mural on. We had been home for the weekend and we came back to work on Monday to find "lusty lindy". The name was not lost on our CO at the time, who was a female engineering officer with the first name Linda........ Her face went quite red when she first saw it! But she did say that she approved of and admired it.

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  2. That has decided my colour scheme for the model Victor I got for Christmas, thanks
    It will be the 1968 camo version using the blue steel model from my Vulcan.

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