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Special RAF Tasks and Equipment

During its 47 year career with the RAF, the VC10 was used for its main task, carrying people and cargo, and later on of course air-to-air refuelling, but also acquired some specialised tasks with associated equipment. I have tried to provide a brief overview of some interesting aspects on this page.

VIP Transport

The first additional task that the VC10 took on was transporting VIPs. The most visible occasions were when HM The Queen would travel on a VC10 of course, but during the many years a variety of people were carried for many different purposes. The first issue when a VIP flight was laid on would be to select two aircraft (one standby) and prepare them for the flight. This involved a cleaning session, inside and out, but also an extensive inspection and replacement of any rotable component that was beyond 50% of its safe life. The idea was to minimise the risk of any unscheduled delay due to technical issues. Apart from a good clean, the outside of the airframe was also hand-polished to a nice sheen. The primary airframe would be fitted out on the inside while the standby airframe's cabin would remain empty until needed.

After the necessary steps, both aircraft were airtested and if no snags were found, they were then available to carry out the flight(s). Several examples of VIP flights can be found in the timelines on the pages for XV105, XV107 and other RAF VC10s.

A Base Squadron VC10 team having prepared an aircraft for a Royal Flight. XV107 is the backdrop in this case.
Photo via K. White

Two 10 Squadron VC10s are ready for a VIP flight, having been prepared by the Base Squadron VC10 team. The second aircraft is the standby.
Photo K. White

Not all the C1s were the same. For a VIP flight you would want the use of some special equipment and as far as I can tell, not all the C1s were fitted with the same mountings and connections. One such modification was the one done at Wyton in the early 80s. This left the modified VC10s with secure communication capabilities and the visual confirmation of the modification was the towel-rail like SRIM antenna on top of the fuselage.

The SRIM mod antenna is visible on this photo of XV107, above the overwing escape hatches.
Photo collection J. Hieminga

Next to the communication gear, several C1s also incorporated fittings and connections to enable fitment of role equipment to counter infra red missile attacks. There were two options:

  • One system was called 'Yukon Jack' but I suspect, based on several photos, that this system was built by Northrop and they called it MIRTS for Modular Infra Red Transmitting Sets. They offered several variations on a theme, which was designed into various US military types, and the MIRTS option was the after-market version that could be added to existing fighter, transport or helicopter types.
  • The other system was the AN/ALQ-204 'Matador' system from Loral, about which I have not found a lot of information but both systems countered infra red missiles by transmitting a high energy infra red pulse or beam to confuse the missile's sensors. The main difference between Yukon Jack and Matador was that the second system was better at confusing missiles that came in at an angle to the VC10s flightpath. Yukon Jack was limited to emitting energy along the flightpath. For an example of a Matador pod, see this Alamy press photo (I'm not able to copy the photo to this page for copyright and monetary reasons).

Both systems featured two pods, mounted below the engine pods, that contained the transmitters. Related equipment was installed within the fuselage, in the rear cargo hold which led to a restriction on baggage carried in this hold. The transmitters could be mounted or removed depending on need. The mounting points and internal connections remained on the aircraft. It wasn't until I started comparing photos that I noticed that these mounting points were on XV105, XV106 and XV108, but not on XR808. I don't have a complete list but the evidence suggests that XV102 and XV104 to XV108 were fitted with the necessary comms gear and mounting points.

The system needed some time to warm up, but also, the crew needed to be careful when to select 'on' as it was powerful enough to damage other aircraft or singe the fence at the runway end. All four of the VC10's generators needed to be online and stable due to the system's power demands, and the fiercest heat, at the 'take off' setting, could only be sustained for five minutes maximum, before the Matador system would revert to its 'cruise' setting. It was usually switched off at a suitable altitude once the VC10 had passed the limit of the expected SAM system's envelope and the threat of a missile attack was considered to be gone. It took a bit of cooperation between pilots and flight engineers to manage everything, and of course flights with Yukon Jack or Matador fitted were never standard flights anyway. One captain remembers a day when time pressure scuppered the plans:

"On 27 June 1985 I took Maggie to Milan Malpensa on Ascot 1107 and she was engaged for 3 days in an EU conference trying to sort out the UK’s contributions to the ‘Green Pound’. It was lovely weather at Heathrow when we left in the afternoon. XV105 was the aircraft that had the kit fitted.

Mrs T was late arriving and Heathrow was busy. We taxied out at Mach 1 and were told to line up immediately from a runway intersection and Go, thereby jumping the queue of other aircraft waiting to take-off. Power applied and off we went. It was only at about 4,000 ft that the Eng said “Uh..... Uh...... Guess what? - We forgot to switch on the fan.” We didn’t bother to turn it on after that as we were soon at FL80. Thank heavens there were no terrorists around that afternoon."

In May 1986 XV102 was used for a test installation and performance studies in association with the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.
Photo collection J. Hieminga / Crown Copyright

The subject matter were these Modular Infra Red Transmitting Sets (MIRTS) from Northrop (one on each side).
Photo collection J. Hieminga / Crown Copyright

The bullet shaped plate aft of the cargo door is where the pods can be mounted (compare this to the previous photo).
Photo J. Hieminga

Once you know what to look for you can spot the mounting points, such as on this photo of XV105, but there are also C1s without these mounting points.
Photo M. Gregory

The inside of the aircraft was obviously also modified and featured a VIP fit that included more legroom and roomier seats. This fit may have varied between flights, as not every VIP passenger had the same needs. For Royal flights, the RAF would fit 'Modification no. 21' which was the full interior at VVIP level. Apparently this included pure wool gold coloured carpets throughout. BOAC had a similar kit that could be used to transform an airliner into a VIP-worthy mode of transport. Most if not all of BOAC's VIP fittings were later used to modify G-ARVF when it was sold to the UAE government.

Some impressions of the VIP fit that transformed the inside of a C1 into a more luxurious place to travel.
Photo via K. White

Some impressions of the VIP fit that transformed the inside of a C1 into a more luxurious place to travel.
Photo via K. White

Some impressions of the VIP fit that transformed the inside of a C1 into a more luxurious place to travel.
Photo via K. White

Vickers created this mock up inside a BOAC VC10 cabin to show some of the VIP options.
Photo copyright BAE Systems / Brooklands Museum archives

The VC10 Sniffer Role

Around the time of the UK's first nuclear bomb tests, Operation Grapple in March 1957, Canberras had been modified to act as sniffers, so that they could take samples of the bomb's mushroom cloud. The evolution of the Cold War meant that a capability to collect high altitude air samples for detection of nuclear material continued to be useful. The Vulcan B.2MRR version as operated by no.27 squadron, originally modified for Maritime Reconnaisance, was the next type to be tasked with this and could carry two sampling pods below its delta wing. Between 1973 and 1982 these Vulcans, re-designated as SR2s, carried out the sampling task.

After no.27 squadron stood down, the next type to be sent out to collect air samples was the VC10. At least two of the K3s were modified so that they could be sent out on this air monitoring role. Officially the role is called Meteorological and Atmospheric Research but the main job is collecting dust samples and monitoring and recording of airborne radiation. When needed, the K3 tanker is modified so that it carries two sampling pods on its wing stations instead of the refuelling pods, and a smaller instrument underneath the nose of the aircraft. Inside, an operator's station is provided on the left side of the cabin, on the rear face of the toilet cubicle.

Two photos of ZA147 in its atmospheric sampling role sometime in the late 80s.
Photo collection J. Hieminga via D. Hedge

Two photos of ZA147 in its atmospheric sampling role, this photo was taken around 1988.
Photo collection J. Hieminga via S. Kyle

The provisions for the operators station in the cabin of ZA150, the normally rear-facing seats would have been turned around as part of the modification.
Photo J. Hieminga

Looking aft at the nose of ZA150, showing the blanking plate for mounting a sampling instrument.
Photo J. Hieminga

From information released to the press we know that ZA150 was sent to Kadena Air Base, Japan, in October 2006. In May 2009 a K3 was again sent to Japan to collect information on North Korea's next nuclear test. The photos below were taken by Mark Graham in November 2009 and show ZA150 taxiing out in its air sampling role. The purpose of these flights is to gain information on the composition and yield of the weapon used, but information about the distribution of any fallout is also useful and this ties in to the meteorological aspect of the role.

ZA150 taxiing out at RAF Brize Norton.
Photo M. Graham

The K3 has been modified for the air sampling role.
Photo M. Graham

One tell-tale sign is the instrument mounted below the nose.
Photo M. Graham

The other giveaway is that these are not the regular refuelling pods, but special sampling pods that, due to their shape, need a pylon adapter to fit the existing pylons.
Photo M. Graham


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