Vickers
Virginia

A long-lived and largely unsung heavy bomber that also gave rise to the Victoria and Valentia military transport aircraft.
Vickers Virginia I J6856 as first flown Brooklands The prototype Vickers Virginia I J6856 at Brooklands prior to its first flight.
 
The Vickers Virginia was first flown in 1922 and after progressive development, it remained in RAF front-line service until 1938.
 
The Virginia was designed by RJ 'Rex' Pierson and was a conventional twin-engine biplane of wooden structure with folding wings. The first prototype (J6856) was powered by two 468 hp Napier Lion IAZ engines and was flown for the first time at Brooklands, Weybridge on 22nd November 1922. A second prototype (J6857) was also flown there in July 1923.
 
As initially flown, the prototypes featured wings with no sweep or stagger. The top wing had no dihedral but the lower wings had dihedral outboard of the engines. During its first flight the prototype had a significant control problem. The rudders proved largely ineffective and they were duly increased in chord, with the unwanted side effect of extremely heavy control loads.
 
Flight performance was also very disappointing, possibly due to the drag of the engine installation with frontal radiators and large flat-sided nacelles - the quoted maximum speed being only 97 mph.
 
The internal bomb load was nine 112 lb bombs and as initially flown, there was no provision for defensive armament. Consequently, Vickers were asked to provide gunners’ cockpits and they modified the first prototype (J6856) in June 1923. Gun positions were installed fore and aft on each upper wing, in 'chordwise' nacelles known as ‘fighting tops’. A gunnery position was also provided in the extreme nose.
 
Vickers Virginia I J6856 with fighting tops The Vickers Virginia I J6856 in 1923 with 'fighting tops'; Vickers Viget in foreground.
 
The second prototype adopted a revised engine installation, with its Lion II engines raised above the wing in a circular nacelle supported by struts. Cooling was provided by a pair of semi-circular radiators below the wing leading edge and between the undercarriage legs. This became the standard installation for the later production machines.
 
The nose of the second aircraft was also lengthened to allow the nose-gunner to lie prone as a bomb-aimer as required. A hinge was introduced in the rear fuselage to enable the tailplane incidence to be adjusted in flight.
 
A further iteration of the ‘fighting tops’ scheme saw J6856 modified to have a gunner's position on the trailing edge of each upper wing, with a ‘crawl-way’ with handrails to allow the gunners to ascend or descend via a circular aperture in the wing centre-section.
 
Vickers Virginia J6856 converted to MkVII Vickers Virginia J6856 converted to MkVII with trailing edge 'fighting tops'.
 
Limited production began with six Virginia Mk IIIs (J6992-3 and J7129-32) with the first two being used for Service trials at Bircham Newton from the spring of 1924. Although the flight performance was disappointing, the aircraft were sturdy and reliable, and it was decided that further production for operational service was justified.
 
Vickers Virginia III J7131 later Mk VI IX and X The fifth Virginia III J7131 undergoing Service Trials at Bircham Newton in 1924.
 
Next to fly were a pair of interim Virginia Mk IVs which had the provision for the external carriage of two 230 lb bombs in addition to the internal bomb load. These aircraft were also equipped for night flying.
 
The first Mk IV had been flown with a third central rudder and this was adopted as standard for the Virginia Mk V.
 
22 aircraft of this type were ordered, serving with 58 Sqn and 9 Sqn, RAF.
 
The next production model was the Mark VI, 25 of which were built. On these aircraft, the dihedral geometry was changed with both upper and lower wings having 2.5 degrees dihedral, which simplified the wing folding operation. The Virginia Mk VI served with 7, 9 and 58 Sqn, so that all three were now flying the same mark of the type.
 
Vickers Virginia VI J7438 built as Mk V Vickers Virginia VI J7438; this aircraft was originally built as a Virginia Mk V.
 
With increased service use, it soon became apparent that the Virginia’s control characteristics with its heavy rudder and aileron loads and inadequate longitudinal stability made it physically demanding, and tiring to fly, particularly in turbulent conditions.  These challenges were addressed by the Virginia Mk VII which introduced six degrees of sweepback on the outer wing panels, a longer rear fuselage and the use of Frise ailerons to reduce the lateral control loads.
 
Vickers Virginia VII from V J7427 Vickers Virginia VII J7427; this aircraft was originally built as a Virginia Mk V.from V J7427
 
Possibly spurred on by the poor handling of the early marks, the Virginia became the subject of autopilot research at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. By the time that the final version (Mk X) was in service, a reliable and effective three-channel autopilot was available.
 
The Mark VIII was a one-off experimental reconfiguration of the original prototype (J6586) to be powered by two 650 hp Condor III engines. It was also fitted with a dihedral tailplane although no further development was undertaken thereafter. A number of other engines were test flown in various Virginia aircraft, including the Jupiter, Pegasus and Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar engines.
 
The Virginia Mk IX saw the introduction of a rear defensive gun position in the very tail of the aircraft.
 
The prototype for the Mk IX (J7131) had been originally built as a Mk III and then it was converted to a Mk VII before finally becoming the first Mk IX. The tailplanes were increased in span and area whilst the rudders were set further apart. Additionally, the nose was increased in length by some three feet to balance out the weight of the rear-mounted gun position.
 
Vickers Virginia J6856 converted to Mk IX The Virginia prototype J6856 after conversion to a Virginia IX; it ended its career as a Mk X.
 
The last major development of the Virginia was a change to all-metal construction, resulting in the final Mk X. Fifty new-build aircraft were ordered and all of the surviving earlier marks (a total of 53 aircraft) were converted / remanufactured to the Virginia Mk X standard.
 
These aircraft re-equipped the existing Virginia squadrons by 1931 with early aircraft being powered by the Lion VB whilst later aircraft received 580 hp Lion XI engines.
 
Vickers Virginia X of 58 Sqn An airborne view of a Virginia Mk X of 58 Squadron, RAF.
 
Some of the last of the type to remain in service were used by the Parachute Testing Unit at RAF Henlow although a number of Virginia aircraft remained in use on non-operational tasks as late as 1941.
 
Vickers Virginia X parachute training Parachute training from a Virginia X at RAF Henlow.
 

Variants & Numbers

 

Type 57 Virginia I
Initial prototype J6856 with two 468 hp Napier Lion IAZ engines; used for development and progressively reconfigured. One only. Later re-engined (as Type 96) with two 650 hp two 650 hp Rolls-Royce Condor piston engines, which further evolved into the sole Virginia VIII . One prototype only eventually converted to Virginia Mk X configuration.
Type 76 Virginia II
Second prototype J6857, two Napier Lion engines, lengthened nose. One prototype only, subsequently converted to Mk VII and then Mk X.
Type 79 Virginia III
First limited production model, powered by two 468 hp Napier Lion II piston engines. Six built
Type 99 Virginia IV
Two aircraft J7274, J7275. Fitted with additional external bomb racks and night flying equipment,
Type 100 Virginia V
Similar to the Virginia IV, but with an additional central rudder. 22 built.
Type 108 Virginia VI
Modified with equal 2.5 degree dihedral on upper and lower wings, allowing improved wing folding. 25 built
Type 112 Virginia VII
Became the main production version, with modified nose, lengthened rear fuselage and sweepback on outer wing panels. Two 500 hp Napier Lion V engines. 11 built and 38 conversions from earlier marks.
Type 115 Virginia VIII
Original prototype J6856 re-engined with 650 hp Condor III engines and with lengthened fuselage. No production.
Type 128 Virginia IX
Fitted with tail gunner position, automatic slats and wheel brakes 8 built and 27 conversions from earlier marks.
Type 139 Virginia X
All-metal structure. Two 580 hp Napier Lion VB engines. 50 built new, with 53 conversions from earlier marks.
Total Built
126 aircraft made up of 2 prototypes, 6 Mk III, 2 Mk IV, 22 Mk V, 25 Mk VI, 11 Mk VII, 8 Mk IX and 50 Mk X.

 

Specification (Virginia Mk X)

 

Powerplant
Two 580 hp Napier Lion VB
Span
87 ft 8 in
Maximum Weight
17,600 lb
Capacity and armament
Four crew (pilot, navigator and two gunners); one Lewis gun in nose, twin Lewis guns in tail, total bomb load of up to 3,000 lb
Maximum Speed
108 mph at 5,000 ft
Range
985 miles at 100 mph and 5,000 ft
 

Survivors

No examples of the Vickers Virginia survive.

Other information