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  • Writer's pictureroy blewett

Vickers VC-10

VC-10 K.3 ZA148 at Newquay. A US civil registration has been assigned to allow parts to be reclaimed for use by Kepler Aerospace (Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre via Facebook)

The VC-10 was developed to meet a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) requirement for an airliner with ‘hot and high’ performance for use on the so-called medium range Empire air routes to Africa and the Far East. The formal specification was issued in March 1957, two years after the British Government had cancelled the Vickers 1000, a projected long-range jet-powered airliner. Vickers incorporated much of the work done on the 1000 into the VC-10, allowing the project to move forward reasonably quickly. BOAC signed a contract for 35 aircraft on 14 January 1958. Further studies by BOAC suggested the VC-10 would be uneconomical to operate on transatlantic routes, and this led to development of a stretched version offering increased payload and better seat-mile costs. However, BOAC’s indecision over committing to the type and the British Government's indifference to the project undermined the VC-10’s commercial appeal resulting in poor sales.

In 1961, the Royal Air Force was persuaded to take some of the over-production to meet its requirement for a strategic passenger transport, beginning a long association with the type that ended with replacement by Airbus A330s in 2013. In September 2020, Texas-based Kepler Aerospace announced plans to acquire and operate a VC-10 tanker commercially in support of the United States military. Despite purchase of a number of additional airframes for parts (and a pair of VC-10 simulators), the entire project seems a long shot, especially considering that Kepler has no experience of tanker operations and is not in possession of a contract. The parts aircraft have recently been broken up, a fate likely hastened by a change of use at Bruntingthorpe and the new site owner’s need to clear more space for vehicle storage. This has seen survivor numbers drop into single digits.

For further reading on the VC-10, the website is highly recommended.

First flight: 29 Jun 62 (c/n 803, G-ARTA)

Production: 54, at Weybridge, UK

First delivery: 22 Apr 64 to BOAC (c/n 811, G-ARVI)

Last delivery: 28 Feb 70 to East African Airways (c/n 885, 5H-MOG)

Variants: VC-10 - medium-to-long range airliner powered by 4 rear-mounted Rolls-Royce RCo.42 Conway by-pass jets, with seating for up to 135 passengers (18 built);

VC-10 C.1 - military transport version powered by RCo.43s, featuring side-cargo door and accommodation for up to 150 passengers in rearward-facing seats (14 built, first flight 26 Nov 65);

Super VC-10 - stretched version with seating for up to 163, powered by RCo.43s (22 built, first flight 7 May 64).

Conversions: VC-10 C.1K - 13 C.1s modified for secondary air-to-air refueling role;

VC-10 K.2 - 5 ex-commercial VC-10s modified for air-refueling;

VC-10 K.3 - 4 ex-commercial Super VC-10s modified for air-to-air refueling;

VC-10 K.4 - 5 ex-British Airways VC-10s modified for air-to-air-refueling under Air Staff Requirement 415, as a result of lessons identified in the 1992 Gulf War.

Vickers VC-10 survivors
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