Cold War, Modern Day

That Time When a Victor Bomber Accidentally Took Off

In 2009 a famous incident occurred at the Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, United Kingdom, involving a Cold War Handley Page Victor bomber.

The Victor was a strategic bomber that first entered service with the RAF in 1957, as part of the ‘V bomber’ nuclear strike force. The V bombers were the Victor, Vickers Valiant, and the Avro Vulcan.

The Victor was retired from the nuclear strike force in 1968, with many of them being converted into aerial refuelling tankers. It was retired completely in 1993.

Victor Bomber Teasin’ Tina

Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome is home to Victor XM715, which is kept in taxiable condition. This is where an aircraft that is no longer registered to fly is maintained to a level where it can replicate a take off sequence.

This gives spectators the opportunity to see an aircraft in motion, without it having to fly.

The bomber is no longer a registered airworthy aircraft and has been sat on its landing gear since the 1990s.

On an ordinary day in 2009, the Victor – ironically named ‘Teasin’ Tina’ – was commanded by 70 year-old ex-RAF pilot Bob Prothero. Bob flew Victors during his RAF career, with his last flight in the aircraft in 1980.

Although his pilots license had long expired, a license isn’t required for a fast taxi display.

The display was a simple one; replicate a take off sequence, accelerate up to 115 mph, then throttle down and come to a stop at the end of the runway.

After reaching between 90-100 mph, Bob gave his co-pilot the order to throttle down.

Victor bomber Teasin' Tina
Teasin’ Tina at Bruntingthorpe Airfield, safely on the ground. Image by Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0

Terrifyingly, the co-pilot, with a hand on the throttle, had frozen in this situation of high stress. Bob demanded the co-pilot to throttle down, but he was still unresponsive.

Thundering down the runway and realising his co-pilot had frozen on the spot, Bob knew he must throttle the rapidly accelerating aircraft down himself. This required taking his left hand off the control column, which was controlling the bomber.

As he did so, the 80 ton aircraft leapt almost 100 feet into the air, achieving flight. A strong cross wind then blew the aircraft off the runway and over the adjacent grass. Spectators looked on in shock and confusion.

Bob, fearing the aircraft would stall, was surprised to feel the long retired Victor was comfortably reacting to his control inputs and seemingly happy to be back in the air.

He had a split second to decide if he had enough runway to land, or if he needed to attempt a fly around to use the whole runway.

Still having half the runway left, Bob decided to plant the aircraft back down on the ground. The aircraft touched down on the grass, but Bob quickly steered the aircraft back onto the tarmac. It safely came to a stop before the end of the runway without a scratch.

The ‘co-pilot’ was a young mechanic that maintained the Victor, and had no flying experience whatsoever. This is still legal when performing a taxi run.

The aircraft was most likely very underweight, as it would have had no payload and just enough fuel for the taxi run. Without this weight, the four powerful Rolls-Royce Conway engines easily got the Victor airborne.

Bob Prothero’s experience and instinct had managed to stop this situation from becoming much, much worse.

The Civil Aviation Authority investigated the incident, but concluded the co-pilot had frozen, causing Bob to momentarily lose control of the aircraft. No legal actions were taken.

You can listen to Bob’s experience here.

While he states it was “the most terrifying nine seconds of my life”, Bob enjoys being able to say he is the last pilot of a Victor bomber.

How Many Victor Bombers Survive?

Currently, only two Victor bombers survive. XL231 and XM715 are available at Elvington and Bruntingthorpe, respectively. There is no plan to make them fly again from the aerodrome and museum. You can visit the Elvington Museum and the Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome to see two of the surviving Victor bombers.

Another Article From Us: When a Victor Bomber Accidentally Took Off

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