Last remaining Handley Page Victor aircraft of its kind to be displayed at IWM Duxford

XH648 in the Conservation Hall at IWM Duxford, where it was last in 2016 before work began on the aircraft in Hangar 5.

XH648 in the Conservation Hall at IWM Duxford, where it was last in 2016 before work began on the aircraft in Conservation In Action (Hangar 5). - Credit: IWM

The only remaining Handley Page Victor aircraft of its kind in the world is to be reassembled and displayed at IWM Duxford following a five-year restoration project.

The nose of the Handley Page Victor XH648 while conservation works are ongoing at IWM Duxford.

The nose of the Handley Page Victor XH648 while conservation works are ongoing at IWM Duxford. - Credit: IWM

Imperial War Museums today (Monday, April 11) announced the upcoming display of the Handley Page Victor XH648.

This historic jet-powered strategic bomber has undergone a meticulous five-year restoration project and, on April 20, will move into IWM Duxford’s Conservation Hall in AirSpace for its final six weeks of conversation works.

The Handley Page Victor XH648 arrives in IWM Duxford’s Conservation in Action hangar.

The Handley Page Victor XH648 arrives in IWM Duxford’s Conservation in Action hangar in November 2016. - Credit: IWM

During this period, the public can see this conservation in action, including the reattachment of the wings to return the Victor to its full 110-foot wingspan.

Following these works, the Victor will remain on permanent display from May 27, 2022, in time for May half-term.

Handley Page Victor XH648 is towed across IWM Duxford’s airfield for work to start in the hangar in 2016.

Handley Page Victor XH648 is towed across IWM Duxford’s airfield for work to start in the hangar. Photographed November 2, 2016. - Credit: IWM

Carl Warner, head of narrative and curatorial at IWM Duxford, said: “Close to 50 years after this one-of-a-kind Handley Page Victor arrived at Duxford, we’re thrilled that the hard work of our conservation team and generous donations from the public means we can display this historical and technological object and give people a greater understanding of its place in aviation history.

"As the only surviving Victor B1A in the world, this is an iconic aircraft with a design that was seen as incredibly futuristic when it was first developed in the 1950s.

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"It was even intended to have a fully detachable cockpit for use as an escape pod!

"Today it stands as a symbol of innovation and tells an important part of the story of the Cold War conflict.”

Inside the cockpit of XH648

Inside the cockpit of XH648 - Credit: IWM

Acquired by IWM Duxford in June 1976 on its retirement from service, the redisplay of the Victor draws to a close an in-depth five-year restoration and conservation project – one of the largest ever undertaken by the Cambridgeshire museum. 

The project has been supported by a fundraising campaign that has raised over £25,000 in donations from individuals.

A view from the bomb bay on the underside of the Handley Page Victor XH648 as conservation work is started.

A view from the bomb bay on the underside of the Handley Page Victor XH648 as conservation work is started. - Credit: IWM

The process has seen the bomb bay doors treated for corrosion, paint stripped from the aft fuselage, and some parts removed altogether with new parts fabricated.

This has been made possible thanks to the hard work of specialist conservators, machinists and conservation volunteers, some of whom will be giving talks and tours to visitors describing how their team went about conserving the jet and the importance of preserving it for future generations.

Conservation staff work on XH648’s magnesium skin, with the paint having been stripped from the aircraft.

Conservation staff work on XH648’s magnesium skin, with the paint having been stripped from the aircraft. - Credit: IWM

XH648’s first flight was on November 27, 1959 and was then flown as part of the Far East Air Force during the confrontation with Indonesia in 1962-63 with 15 Squadron based at RAF Cottesmore.

Handley Page Victors B.1s of 15 Squadron, including XH648, lined up on the airfield at RAF Cottesmore in the early 1960s.

Handley Page Victors B.1s of 15 Squadron, including XH648, lined up on the airfield at RAF Cottesmore in the early 1960s. - Credit: IWM HU 81577

On return from Indonesia, it was converted by Handley Page in 1965 into a two-point tanker and spent 10 years with No.55 Squadron at RAF Marham.

It was retired to Duxford just over ten years later.

The crew of a Handley Page Victor B.1a stand with their aircraft in the mid-1960s.

The crew of a Handley Page Victor B.1a stand with their aircraft in the mid-1960s. - Credit: © IWM HU 81580

The Victor is being repainted in its markings from its service with 55 Squadron during these years.

Former Squadron leader, Garden West, flew over 1,800 hours on the Victor, including many on XH648, and was part of the Victor force involved in the Indonesian confrontation.

He said: “Most servicemen believe that the vehicles they operated are extraordinarily special and deserve to be in a museum, but few of us are lucky enough to return to see them on display.

"It’s an honour to see one of the Victor Mk 1s I served in restored to its finest fettle.

"Its unique and unmistakable presence immediately brings back vivid memories of operations in bygone days, and I hope lots of people will visit and learn about its place in aviation history.”

The wings are removed from XH648 in the Conservation Hall, before the Victor is transported to the hangar in 2016.

The wings are removed from XH648 in the Conservation Hall, before the Victor is transported to the hangar in 2016. - Credit: IWM

Following the Victor’s move, IWM Duxford’s Conservation In Action hangar (Hangar 5) will close to the public to enable restoration and structural works to take place on the hangar.

It will reopen later this year and feature new items and displays showcasing further work of IWM’s team of conservators and volunteers at Europe’s largest air museum.

A member of IWM’s conservation team works on a leading edge of the Victor

A member of IWM’s conservation team works on a leading edge of the Victor - Credit: IWM

An IWM specialist machinist making replica parts for the Victor as part of the conservation process.

An IWM specialist machinist making replica parts for the Victor as part of the conservation process. - Credit: IWM

The nose of the Handley Page Victor XH648 while conservation works are ongoing at IWM Duxford.

The nose of the Handley Page Victor XH648 while conservation works are ongoing at IWM Duxford. - Credit: IWM