On June 15th, 1919 a modified Vickers Vimy Bomber landed at Clifden in Ireland. It was the end of a historic flight by Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown; successfully completing the first non-stop aerial crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Sixteen hours and twenty seven minutes earlier, on June 14, the two men had taken off from Lester’s Field, near St. Johns, in Newfoundland. For this daring exploit the pair received a prize of £10,000 from the Daily Mail and, two days later on the 21 June, were knighted at Buckingham Palace by King George V.
The trip had not been un-eventful. At a time when cockpit instrumentation was minimal, the aviators had endured snowstorms, poor visibility, freezing temperatures in an open cockpit, and uncertainty regards where they were and where they were heading.
On several occasions during the flight Lieutenant Brown risked his life walking out over the wing to chip ice away from the engine and wings.
The landing at Clifden was not without incident. On the approach Alcock had trouble identifying an appropriate place to land but after a while spotted a field that looked like it was suitable. However the field was a muddy bog and the services of a local blacksmith were required to fix the broken Vickers Vimy. The Vimy is now preserved in the Science Museum in London.
The historic flight by Alcock and Brown was perhaps the biggest achievement in a Vickers Vimy but not the only one, there were other major firsts achieved using the Vimy.
Britain to Australia
In March 1919 the Australian government offered a prize of £10,000 for the first flight by Australians from Britain to Australia. The flight had to be made in no less than 720 hours in a British aircraft. In November 1919 Vickers entered a Vimy for the competition piloted by Captain Ross Smith of No 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and navigated by his brother Lieutenant Keith Smith. The flight began at 08:00 hrs. on 12th November 1919 from Hounslow and finished at 16:10 hrs. on 10th December, covering just over 11,000 miles in less than 136 hours.
Cairo to Cape Town
South African Government sponsored a flight from Cairo to Cape Town, the Daily Mail providing a cash prize of £10,000 for the first to complete the challenge. The contest was taken up by Lt. Col. Pierre van Rynevald and Major C.J. Quintin Brand in a Vickers Vimy named Silver Queen. Take off was from Heliopolis on 10th February 1920 but the Silver Queen was wrecked the next day during an emergency landing at Korosko. The RAF provided another Vimy at Cairo, which was named Silver Queen II. Rynevald and Brand took off once more from Heliopolis on 22nd February1920 but, on 22nd February, the Silver Queen II was wrecked during take-off from Bulawayo. Rynevald and Brand continued on in a DH9 completing their journey on 20th March.
The Vickers Vimy
The Prototype of the Vickers F.B.27 Vimy made it first flight on 30th November 1917 piloted by Captain Gordon Bell. The Vimy was designed for a crew of three and carried twelve bombs, stowed vertically in the fuselage. Defence against fighters was provided by one Lewis machine gun ahead of the cockpit and another behind the wings.
Full scale production of the Vimy had begun by October but very few had entered service by the end of the First World War. In addition to the role of heavy bomber, it had been envisaged that the Vimy would be used as a long range torpedo plane and in anti-submarine role. Vickers and other companies, including Westland and the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, continued production of the Vimy after the Armistice had been signed to a total of 112, the number ordered under the wartime contract. These aircraft were powered by a variety of engines including Rolls Royce Eagle’s, Fiat A12’s, and Liberty engines.
The internal bomb stowage arrangement was later replaced by 2,476lb of bombs on external racks.
The Vickers Vimy began to be withdrawn from frontline RAF service from 1924 onwards, the last serving until 1929. Many of these saw service in the Middle East patrolling over Egypt and Iraq.
Service continued with support units until the early 1930’s. As well as being used as a training aircraft it also saw use for training parachute troops, being fitted with a ladder on the port side of the fuselage and a small platform on the port wing.
The Vimy Commercial variant, developed after the war, had a deep fuselage that accommodated ten passengers. An air ambulance version was developed from the Vimy Commercial for service use. A troop carrier, known as the Vernon, was also developed from the Vimy Commercial.