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C/n 801/2 - Test Specimen
C/n 803 - G-ARTA
C/n 804 - G-ARVA - 5N-ABD
C/n 805 - G-ARVB
C/n 806 - G-ARVC - ZA144
C/n 807 - G-ARVE
C/n 808 - G-ARVF
C/n 809 - G-ARVG - ZA141
C/n 810 - G-ARVH
C/n 811 - G-ARVI - ZA142
C/n 812 - G-ARVJ - ZD493
C/n 813 - G-ARVK - ZA143
C/n 814 - G-ARVL - ZA140
C/n 815 - G-ARVM
C/n 819 - G-ASIW - 7Q-YKH
C/n 820 - G-ASIX - A4O-AB
C/n 823 - 9G-ABO
C/n 824 - 9G-ABP
C/n 825 - G-ATDJ - XX914
C/n 826 - XR806
C/n 827 - XR807
C/n 828 - XR808
C/n 829 - XR809
C/n 830 - XR810
C/n 831 - XV101
C/n 832 - XV102
C/n 833 - XV103
C/n 834 - XV104
C/n 835 - XV105
C/n 836 - XV106
C/n 837 - XV107
C/n 838 - XV108
C/n 839 - XV109
C/n 851 - G-ASGA - ZD230
C/n 852 - G-ASGB - ZD231
C/n 853 - G-ASGC
C/n 857 - G-ASGG - ZD235
C/n 862 - G-ASGL - ZD240
C/n 863 - G-ASGM - ZD241
C/n 866 - G-ASGP - ZD242
C/n 881 - 5X-UVA
C/n 882 - 5H-MMT - ZA147
C/n 883 - 5Y-ADA - ZA148
C/n 884 - 5X-UVJ - ZA149
C/n 885 - 5H-MOG - ZA150

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C/n 829 - XR809 / G-AXLR

G-AXLR in flight showing the RB211 test engine

Photo D. Slaybaugh

Construction number 829 was built for the Royal Air Force as the fifth example of a type 1106 VC10. These type 1106s could be described as 'hot-rods', as they combine the Super wing and the more powerful RCo.43 engines with the original length 'Standard' fuselage and therefore they did not trade performance for capacity as the Super VC10 did. XR809 flew for three years with RAF 10 squadron, named 'Hugh Malcolm VC', but for some unexplained reason the RAF felt able to lease the aircraft to Rolls-Royce as a flying test bed for the RB211 turbofan engine.

At that time no aircraft was available that could accommodate the large girth of the RB211 beneath the wing and still have some ground clearance left. The mounting on the side of the fuselage of the VC10 did provide this clearance, and with the clean wing and relatively high fuselage mounting the RB211 was in clean air and therefore the test results would be universally acceptable. To be able to attach the RB211, the engine beam was strengthened to accommodate the higher weight and aerodynamic effects of the larger frontal area. Also, as the RB211 was designed for a pylon mounting, some other modifications were needed to adapt to the side-mounted VC10 pylon. All went well and the first flight of the three-engined VC10 took place on 6th May 1970. On take-off, the two starboard Conways were marginally more powerful than the one RB211.

File0014.jpg (39658 bytes)

G-AXLR with RB211 at Hucknall, Nottinghamshire

Reregistered as G-AXLR, the aircraft commenced on an extensive flight test programme. Initially it flew from Hucknall, but from May 1972 on the aircraft was moved to Filton from which many more flights were made. One hair-raising flight was the test bed's 44th flight on 7th august 1972. This was the first flight with a new pressure switch to prevent deployment of the thrust reverser on the RB211. With an expected flight time of five hours the aircraft took off laden with fuel. An initial warning light for the thrust reverser was investigated, but the crew decided to continue the flight as they didn't want to dump fuel this early in the flight. After an initial performance test run at 250 knots at 20,000 feet, the aircraft was being prepared for a second run at 300 knots when the cold stream reverser of the RB211 slid back into the reverse position, sealing off the bypass duct. The effect of this was a reverse idle which produced an initial slight lurch on the aircraft. Shortly afterwards, a more violent lurch occurred, followed by aircraft buffet. There was adverse yaw and roll, and the throttles were closed, initiating a descent before recovering to wings level. Full power was set on the Conways but level flight could not be maintained. The aircraft continued to descend at 2,500 feet per minute as the RB211 was windmilling with the reverser extended.

File0013.jpg (68310 bytes)

The RB211 test engine mounted on G-AXLR

Fuel jettison was initiated as the equation was quite clear to all on board - the aircraft would hit the ground in approximately twelve minutes unless the weight could be brought down to a value that the Conways could cope with. As the VC10 was aimed at the Bristol Channel, the crew was running through their sea survival kit and ditching drills. As the weight came down, the rate of descent improved, until, at 3000 feet, the aircraft weight was low enough to enable level flight on the thrust available. Fuel dumping was stopped at the coastline and the crew briefed for the approach and landing procedure for this new configuration. A go-around would not be possible with the drag of the RB211 and the available power on the Conways. A safe landing was carried out after a careful, wide circuit. After this, modifications were carried out to the pressure switch as it turned out that it was measuring the wrong pressure.

On 26th September 1975 the aircraft was delivered to RAF Kemble. Initially the aircraft would return to RAF service but it was found that the airframe was distorted, and repairs were deemed too costly. In the end the airframe was used for SAS training purposes and was left to decay at the site, eventually being scrapped.

When later on Rolls-Royce needed to flight test the RB211-535CF and RB211-535E variants the Boeing 'house' 747 had to be hired for two 30 hour demonstrations at a total cost that just fell short of $10 million.

As all the original RAF VC10s were named after VC holders and the intention was that G-AXLR would return to RAF service, the scroll honouring Hugh Malcolm VC stayed on the airframe during its time with Rolls Royce. A photo below shows that the section carrying this scroll was cut from the aircraft during its time at Kemble, sometime between 1977 and 1982. This bit of fuselage is in the RAF Museum's storage. In 2011, when the names from other VC10s which were taken out of service were transferred to previously unnamed 101 Squadron VC10s, the question of what to do with Hugh Malcolm VC came up. It was decided that this name would be added to XR808 and so after 35 years the memory of this courageous VC holder once again flew on a VC10.


More Info

Surviving Bits and Pieces

G-AXLR Test Flying is test pilot Dennis Witham's own account of the thrust reverser incident.


Timeline

Date  
28 July 1966 First flight.
31 August 1966 Delivery to RAF 10 Squadron as XR809.
November 1968 Named 'Hugh Malcolm VC'.
17 April 1969 To Rolls-Royce, the airframe had flown 3484.30 hrs and accumulated 1809 landings in RAF service at this point.
30 July 1969 Registered as G-AXLR to Rolls-Royce limited.
6 March 1970 First flight as test-bed with RB211 mounted. Crewed by Cliff Rogers, Dennis Witham and Flight Test Engineers John Butcher, Sam Painting and Dave Wilkinson. As there were no snags, a second one-hour flight was made on the same day.
September 1970 Displayed at Farnborough Air Show
23 May 1971 Change of ownership registered.
May 1972 Moved to Filton
20 July 1972 Registration G-AXLR taken up again, for Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited.
7 August 1972 Reverser unlocked during test flight.
26 September 1975 Moved to RAF Kemble for storage. Total hours flown: 3789 hrs. Number of landings: 1940. Listed in RAF documents as 'At 5 MU Kemble'.
April 1976 Marked as 'removed from service' in RAF documents.
1 June 1976 De-registered as 'to military register'.
1 February 1978 Struck off charge, marked 'for Army purposes'.
  Scrapped at RAF Kemble.

More Images

File0012.jpg (32739 bytes)
Collection J. Hieminga
File0012.jpg (32739 bytes)
Photo Rolls Royce (1971) Bristol Engine Division
File0012.jpg (32739 bytes) File0015.jpg (52654 bytes)

1. Seen here at an unknown location, XR809 as a 10 Squadron VC10 sometime before November 1968 as the airframe has not been named yet.
2. During its service with Rolls Royce, the VC10 did carry the 'Hugh Malcolm VC' scroll as seen here during ground tests.
3. Ex-XR809, now G-AXLR, landing at RR Hucknall, Derby, after the first air test with the RB211 engine on the port side.
4. G-AXLR airborne during tests with the RB211.

File0016.jpg (80521 bytes) File0017.jpg (80855 bytes) File0018.jpg (81152 bytes)

1 - 4. Several views of G-AXLR undergoing servicing with the RB211 mounted.

All images above provided by K. White except where noted


Photo UPI Telephoto

Photo copyright Rolls-Royce

Photo Lockheed Aircraft Corporation / Infoplan Ltd.
File0012.jpg (32739 bytes)
Collection J. Hieminga

1. A press release from 1969 announcing the RB211 flight tests with the VC10. The photo is retouched to show what the aircraft will look like. Interesting is the statement that tests will be carried out at Lockheed's flight and test establishment! The full text is:

FOR RELEASE APRIL 23, 1969
NXP/1629227-4/23/69-HUCKNALL, ENGLAND: This retouched photograph shows how a VC10 aircraft will be used by Rolls-Royce for flight testing the RB.211 three-shaft turbofan here at Lockheed's flight and test establishment. This advanced technology engine will power the Lockheed TriStar jetliner which, after a series of severe tests on the VC10, is expected to have its maiden flight in late 1970.

2. A second press release, this one from Rolls-Royce, with a photo showing G-AXLR in flight. It looks similar to the photo below (no.2) which may have been taken on the same occasion. The full text that accompanies the photo is:

RB.211 FLIGHT TESTING

Handling of the RB.211 three-shaft turbofan in the VC10 flying test bed aircraft is bearing out the predictions made about the engine's power management system. Lockheed TriStar pilots will be able to select the correct thrust for any condition of flight with the maximum efficiency and minimum workload, benefitting both flight safety and engine life.

September, 1970

3. Test flying the modified VC10 was the responsibility of Rolls-Royce pilot Cliff Rogers, who was accompanied on at least one occasion by a Lockheed colleague, as this press photo shows:

A personal as well as technical interface between test pilots in the Lockheed L-1011 and Rolls-Royce RB.211 flight test programmes. Beside the VC10 used by Rolls-Royce to flight test the RB.211 engine for the L-1011 are Mr. H.C. Rogers, (left), chief test pilot of Rolls-Royce, and Mr. Henry B. (Hank) Dees, project test pilot of the L-1011. The pilots flew the aircraft together. On the left of the aircraft is a single RB.211, three of which will power the Lockheed airbus. On the other side are two Rolls-Royce Conway engines, four of which normally power the VC10.

5th October 1970

4. Ground tests on the RB211 with an unidentified group of engineers in attendance.


Photo Rolls-Royce

Photo copyright BAE SYSTEMS via P. Frei

Photo Rolls-Royce via T. Postma Collection
File0012.jpg (32739 bytes)
Collection J. Hieminga

1. Another view of the three-engined configuration on G-AXLR.
2. A BAe publicity photo showing G-AXLR in flight. The pod below the right wing root contained heating elements that dissipated the electrical energy generated by the RB211's generator to the air. This was done as the generator needed to be loaded for testing, but the energy wasn't needed by the aircraft systems.
3. Promotional photo showing G-AXLR landing on a wintery day.
4. A colour print from what is most likely the same occasion.

File0012.jpg (32739 bytes)
Collection J. Hieminga

The Michael Harries Collection The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust

The Michael Harries Collection The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust

The Michael Harries Collection The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust

1. A great inflight photo taken during a wintery test flight. The coloured tip of the fin bullet appears to have been retouched, perhaps it distracted from the overall white theme of this photo.
2-4. In 1970 G-AXLR showed the three-engined layout to visitors at the Farnborough Airshow.


Photo via P. Frei

Photo via R. Lee

Photo G. Hall

1. G-AXLR seen at RAF Kemble in 1976, shortly after its retirement.
2. XR809 at Kemble, probably taken during dismantling as the jacks are still standing next to the airframe.
3. And this is how she ended up: lying derelict at Kemble in 1977.
4. Another shot of the derelict airframe, the tail on the left is an ex-Dan-Air Comet.

 

Photo via P. Frei

From Flight International, 7 May 1970, via A. Townshend

From Flight International, 7 May 1970, via A. Townshend

From Flight International, 7 May 1970, via A. Townshend

1. This photo shows, amongst other details, that the name and squadron crest just aft of the flightdeck have been removed for the RAF Museum.
2. A cutaway drawing from Flight International showing the RB211 installation on the VC10.
3. Detail drawing showing the steel beam that was needed to fit the RB211 on the VC10 using the same engine pickups as would be needed on the Tristar installation.
4. Schematic of the instruments fitted to G-AXLR for its role as engine testbed.

 

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