Airborne Awesomosity, Idiotic or Inspired?, Military-Grade Awesome, The Style of Technology

The Backup V-Bomber

Britain’s iconic V-bomber triplets – the Victor, Valiant, and Vulcan – were a potent symbol of the Cold War obsession with deterrence, as well as the drive to innovate in the face of potential nuclear annihilation. Two of the three, the Vulcan and Victor, served for several decades and thrilled onlookers everywhere with their sci-fi silhouettes and smoke-belching turbojet power. But unknown to most, the glamorous triplets had an ugly older sister known as the “backup V-bomber”.

This gimp in the attic came to be not long after World War II, when Britain’s Air Ministry recognized the need for bombers that would fly high and fast, without onboard defences, to deliver the kind of destruction that only a few years prior had required a thousand bombers in one massive raid. The performance requirements for the new bomber they envisaged were steep, and not everyone was confident Britain’s manufacturers could deliver. In order to hedge their bets, the Ministry issued another request for a more conservative design.

The contract for two examples of a ‘lesser’ jet bomber was handed to Belfast’s Short Brothers. Shorts set about designing a jet bomber that contained little in the way of leading-edge technology. What they came up with was essentially a WWII-type airframe powered by four turbojet engines. The most unusual feature of the aircraft was the configuration of the engines, which were stacked one on top of the other in a single nacelle on each wing. Shorts named the aircraft the Sperrin, after a range of mountains in their native Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately for Shorts, the Air Ministry cancelled the order in 1950, before an example had even flown. Development was allowed to continue, though, and the first flight took place in August, 1951. For a few years the Sperrin was used for various research projects, including work on bomb designs and engine development, until 1958. Sadly, both airframes were soon scrapped and the type lives on only in the minds of the world’s aircraft anoraks.

  • Deartháir

    Okay, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I saw that and thought, "How am I completely unaware of this plane?" But then I'm not THAT much of an aviation dork, so I can't be too surprised, even if I've usually at least HEARD of the craft in question…

  • Number_Six


    /I have wasted my life

    • dmilligan

      There, there, young man. It could be worse. Just think; you could be one of those poor fools who obsess over automobiles. There's no helping them.

      • McQueen

        Could be ever worse and have av obsession over cars , planes , and locomotives .