The Vickers VC10 airliner was designed in the late 1950s and its first flight was on 29 June 1962. The aircraft was designed for long haul and transatlantic flights and was capable of hot and high operations on the African routes. It held several speed records on the transatlantic routes only beaten by Concorde. The final commercial flight of a VC10 was on 30 March 1981, by British Airways. It ended this part of its story, but its military career with the Royal Air Force was only just beginning.
The RAF had first started operating VC10s in 1966 with No.10 Squadron in the transport and VIP role operating worldwide. The VC10 had the honour on many occasions to transport Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family, as well as government ministers and military chiefs, though its main task was troop carrying as well as disaster relief flight and medical evacuation.
In 1977 the RAF acquired recently retired British Airways and East African aircraft to meet its future inflight refuelling requirements. Four ex-East African Super VC10s were converted to K.3 tankers, equipped with fuselage fuel tanks mounted in the former passenger compartment, and could carry up to 78 tonnes of fuel. The K.3 was a three-point tanker, with fuel being dispensed from two wing-mounted Hose Drum Units (HDU) or from a single fuselage-mounted HDU. The wing HDUs could transfer fuel at up to 1,000kgs per minute and were used to refuel fast jets. The fuselage HDU could transfer fuel at up to 2,000kgs per minute and was usually used to refuel larger aircraft, although it could also be used by fast jets.. The aircraft was also fitted with a nose-mounted inflight refuelling probe. These aircraft all entered service with No.101 Squadron, based like No.10 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
In 1991 VC10s were commited to United Nations forces in the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Storm. Afterwards, and with the withdrawal of the Handley Page Victor tanker a further five former passenger VC10s were converted, and designated the K.4. Compared with the K.2 and K.3 fuselage fuel tanks were not installed. Visually, the K.4 differed from the K.3 in lacking the cargo door in the front part of the fuselage.
Since the late 1990s VC10s took part in a number of conflicts in many parts of the world, supporting air strikes against Serbia, in the Second Iraq War (Operation Telic), and against the Gaddafi regime in Libya. In 2013 the RAF retired its VC10s from service, replacing them with the Airbus A330 MRTT Voyager. The final flight of a VC10 was on 25 September 2013, as several were sent to aviation museums across the United Kingdom for preservation: a fitting retirement for a true RAF veteran.
Decals included for VC10 K.4 s/n ZD241 coded ‘N’ of No.101 Squadron on retirement to Bruntingthorpe for preservation.