The Victor bomber has long been retired from service, but one is kept in Bluntingthorpe aerodrome in running condition by a group of enthusiasts. A couple of times a year they fire it up and it does fast taxi runs up and down the runway. It is not considered flight worthy and as such is not cleared to fly by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). However in May this year....
Bob Prothero, a retired RAF group captain from Portsmouth, was on the flight deck, with an engineer as co-pilot. As the aircraft gathered speed, Mr Prothero instructed the co-pilot to slow the aircraft, but instead he increased the throttle — and then froze.
The 75-tonne V-bomber rapidly reached take-off speed and began to climb. As it lumbered into the air, reaching 150ft, it veered to the left — heading towards a housing estate.
Mr Prothero, who last flew a Victor in the 1980s and whose flying licence had long since expired, was faced with a split-second decision: “I was petrified. Everything was pure instinct,” he said.
“I was shouting at the co-pilot to pull the throttle back. I saw the nose rise into the air. I thought, ‘Oh God here we go, how are we going to get out of this one?’.”
Mr Prothero could try to land the aircraft immediately — but risked missing the runway and crashing. Or he could fly the heavy aircraft around before landing. “I had to make a snap decision. I pointed the nose down and noticed we were well and truly airborne, but because of the crosswind we were not over the runway. Thankfully, I managed to pitch the aircraft back towards the runway and away from any spectators.”
Mr Prothero landed the aircraft — named Teasin’ Tina — without a scratch. He described the event as the “most terrifying nine seconds of my life”.
“My only concern was getting the plane down as quickly and safely as possible,” he said.
A video on YouTube shows the Victor leaping up, lurching left, then touching down in a cloud of dust.
One onlooker is heard asking, “Should it be doing that?” while others are heard shrieking in disbelief.
The aircraft is designed to use a drag parachute as a brake, but Mr Prothero had no time to deploy it.
He said: “Although I touched down on the grass I still managed to keep it under control. All that was left to do was get out and kiss the ground.
“Nobody could really believe what had happened. There were people slapping me on the back and congratulating me on not crashing the thing and ruining the day.”
Yesterday the Civil Aviation Authority, which held an inquiry into the incident at the Cold War Jets day at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in May, said that it would take no action. Its report said: “The problem arose as a result of the engineer ‘freezing’ at a time of high stress.”
David Walton, the managing director of the aerodrome, said: “It was a brilliant piece of airmanship from Bob. If the aircraft had stalled, the day could have ended in tragedy.”
The British-built Handley Page Victor was part of the nation’s V-Bomber nuclear deterrent during the Cold War and also served in the Falklands and the Gulf War.
Bruntingthorpe-based Teasin’ Tina, along with Lusty Lindy, are the only two Victor bombers that remain in working condition.