Opening the Vickers Valiant [COSFORD]

The Vickers Valiant was the first of three V-class bombers. These aircraft were primarily designed to carry and launch Britain’s nuclear deterrent during the 1950s and 1960s. The Valiant currently housed in the Cold War Hanger at Cosford, is particularly important as it was the aircraft that carried out the first test of a British made thermonuclear weapon nicknamed ‘Yellow Sun’.

On the 10th Anniversary of the opening of the Cold War Hanger February 2017, the Museum publicised that the Valliant’s interior would be opened to the public for the first time since its move, into the hanger. The event proved to be very popular, with queues circling the aircraft twice round with people wanting a peek inside. At the next open cockpits event, there was similar scenes round the Valiant. This was no coincidence, and it gave the Engineering Volunteers at Cosford an idea.

The volunteers went to the Museum with a plan to make the Valliant’s interior open to the public, but on a permanent basis. For this they would need to remove the crew door and put in its place a protective plastic sheet. The project would turn out to be entirely volunteer led and delivered, and would only cost c£125 in materials to complete – this is how they did it.

The first action was to remove both the wind deflectors hanging on the side of the aircraft (which made it easier for the crew to bail from the aircraft) and then remove the crew door on the port side of the aircraft.

Now the volunteers had to design a perspex plastic sheet that would be able to fit inside the hole left behind by the crew door to ensure people could see through into the cabin.

This would prove to be no easy task as the hole was oblong shaped therefore trying to cut out a correctly measured outline out of the hole that would also meet the curve aircraft proved to be a very difficult task even for the best mathematician. Cutting through the material would also prove to be challenging, luckily enough however one of the volunteers had a clever German tool called a Fein Cutter that was sharp and powerful enough to cut through the perspex without shattering it.

The crew door was held in place via a succession of bolts which firmly secure the door into place once the handle was locked. To keep the plastic in place, the bolts would be raised out of the lock and secured with a nylon rod. The bolts were then covered with a protective mesh which would stop the plastic sheet from getting damaged. It was then possible to view into the Valiant from outside.

However, it was at this point the volunteers realised that there wasn’t enough natural light in the aircraft to see anything inside clearly.

So, began the process of installing lights into the cabin, which was done by feeding through a wire into the bottom of the aircraft where there was a small singular hole, which had been installed when the Valiant was outside to prevent the aircraft from flooding. The wire powered four LED lights which were set up in and around the cockpit, in areas to ensure maximum light coverage possible and to allow the visitors as much visibility into the cockpit as possible.

When this work was completed the Valiant became more than just a spectacle because of its size and beauty, visitors could now see it for the ‘man operated war machine that it once was’ as described by one of our volunteers who worked on the aircraft.

Being able see into cockpit allows visitors to empathise with the crew who flew in incredibly cramped conditions hours at a time. The modifications have also enable our volunteer tour guides to doubled the amount of information they are able to share and point out when discussing the Valiant as part of their tours; they now have a complete line of sight into its interior, allowing for a better experience for all those who come to see it.

When asked what it’s like to work on such an important aircraft to British aviation history a volunteer told me ‘It’s an absolute privilege to work with [the Valiant], making it more insightful to view, and enabling the public to see what the crew went through flying so many hours on uncomfortable sorties.’