The Victor Dustup

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There are times in aviation when we should celebrate the stunning skill of our brethren pilotsóSully-on-Hudson is a good example. In other cases, we are correct to draw attention to instances involving bad judgment and or lack of skill and sometimes, we oughta just sweep everything under the rug. The Victor bomber "accidental takeoff" appearing elsewhere on the homepage is one of those. (Unfortunately, when it hit YouTube, the rug got pulled.)

The comments I've seen on this are predictably polar. "This one went wrong," sniffed one YouTuber. "There was no intention to fly and we don't need no retarded American twat making out it was anything other than an accident." Said another, "As a pilot of heavy jet aircraft, the takeoff was deliberate. He had to take positive action to rotate the aircraft. He could have just aborted the takeoff by pulling back on the throttles and applying brakes...much less effort."

My own view of it was that it was unintentional. I'd like to believe that no rational person would deliberately attempt to fly an airplane not known to be airworthy and suitable only for what might best be called dynamic static display. I think the pilot deserves all but unlimited benefit of doubt. Where things get a little weird for me is granting hero status to the pilot who (a) kept the thing from turning into a flaming ball and (b) diverted it from the crowd. As far as the crowd goes, it was probably never in danger. The crew had the good sense to never have the airplane pointed in a dangerous direction.

But the flaming ball part relates to the entire notion of pilot in command. The for-public-consumption version is that the co-pilot stoked the throttles and thus caused the airborne interlude. But I think pilots of all ilks understand that the guy in the left seat is in charge and responsible for what happens on his watch. If the co-pilot needed a backhand, it should have been administered well before rotation speed. If he wasn't known to be qualified to handle the throttles, he shouldn't have been allowed to. This is another way of saying that this incident wasn't a bolt-from-the-blue accident but an emergency of the crew's own making. (Nothing new or original about such things, I hasten to add.)

My sense of the regulatory environment in the UK and Europe is that it's rather more intrusive than here in the U.S. So I'm not quite sure what the CAA will do with this, if anything. The British Aviation Heritage maintains the Victor to a state where it can start-up and do taxi bys and that's a good thing. It sure beats having airplanes stuck corroding away in static displays. I hope they're able to continue with that tradition, but it's also fair to say they'll want toóand will be asked to--take steps to avoid this happening again. Like maybe staying 30 knots under Vr. And at this juncture, it doesn't matter if the takeoff was intentional or not.

Meanwhile, for anyone involved in these sorts of things at airshows, the positive takeaway is to think through procedures before an accident of your own making takes a star turn on YouTube. Like it or not, everyone has a camera these days and once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's not going back in. The best we can hope for is to make something useful out of the mess.

Comments (25)

Not fly an unairworthy airplane? I knew of a certain Cessna 172 involved in an accident with a broken horizontal stab (broken spar in it, made the airplane look like a V-tail), bent prop, and possible internal wing damage. I noticed the airplane was gone one day and asked the airport manager what happened to the plane. He said the maintenance facility just slapped on a prop and flew it out of there! I've heard the Feds found out about it after the flight - not sure what happened to the pilot though. These guys were supposedly one of the most reputable shops in the area! As for the Victor incident, it sure looked like the pilot was putting in up elevator. Not to mention why would you have the flaps down on a high-speed taxi! Perhaps he just wanted to bring the nose off and went a little too far. Anyhow, it was a stupid stunt (even if the "official story" is true), but very cool to watch, glad no one was hurt, and I'd have loved to have been there. I bet our FAA and NTSB would have been all over the incident though if it happened in the US.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 10, 2009 8:04 PM    Report this comment

Looking at a cockpit shot on, it looks like the PIC doesn't have throttles. If they are operated by an engineer, this would explain the delay in control if someone were to apply full throttle.

Posted by: Jonathan Gray | September 10, 2009 11:27 PM    Report this comment

Why doesnt someone grab their balls and fly this thing around? What a tease to have it in working condition and never fly.

I think it would be quite a crowd pleaser at 500 MPH and full throttle just off the deck.

And while im pissing in the wind...why cant we see aircraft break the sound barrier at air shows? Thats one of the most impressive displays of awesomeness ever and you cant see it at an airshow??!!

Posted by: Brad Vaught | September 11, 2009 8:01 AM    Report this comment

wow. Not sure how to respond to that.

As for the Handley, stupidity like that is what typically leads to overarching and outlandish regulations and restrictions. Like we need more of those. As they said in boot camp, "Thanks, Recruit Prothero..."

Posted by: james esper | September 11, 2009 2:20 PM    Report this comment

Brad, I don't think the thing was in flyable condition. The amount of labor required to keep an aircraft like that in flight-worthy condition would be immensely more than what is required to do ground runs (not to mention insurance and flight crew requirements.) I also doubt he had enough fuel on board to even fly the traffic pattern.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 13, 2009 4:46 PM    Report this comment

Sort of Reminds me of a certain 'Spruce Goose'...??
"Maybe we'll just get the nose up a bit Number 1...That should please the crowd et al."
OOOPS! Not 'THAT' much!! Ah Well, it was a 'nice' idea..?? And. all's well that ends well...

Posted by: Ron Griffin | September 14, 2009 3:14 AM    Report this comment

As in all wars the new weapons are quickly used up so that leaves only the antiquated weapons available. Here is a clear example of a bygone bomber aircraft being dusted off and tested to be sent to Afghan to bomb the freedom fighters. As it is probably classified no one will hear the real story. Am I correct to say that this incident happened on a military airbase in the UK if so then nothing will happen?

CAA (just as I believe the FAA) have no jurisdiction over military aircraft. The Nimrod incident clearly demonstrated that. What is considered airworthy for military is different to civilian requirements. Most military aircraft are highly dangerous machines bent on killing people and causing mass destruction whereas civilian aircraft are designed to move masses of people safely from one place to another.

This reminds me of the story that goes like this. A passenger carrying a bomb is on a scheduled flight and the pilot finds out about it and confronts the bomber snatching the bag with the bomb away. Another passenger grabs the said bag from the captain and returns it to the bomber only to discover his mistake when the aircraft is no longer flying. Why did it remind me because we donít know the real story and are making dangerous assumptions?

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 14, 2009 4:11 AM    Report this comment

No, not a military airbase. A privately held airfield with an attached cold war aircraft museum.The Victor is part of that display. So it is essentially a military aircraft in civilian hands.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 14, 2009 5:15 AM    Report this comment

After reading all the comments Iím disheartened at the amount of opinionated gibberish being put forth by so-called aviation ďexpertsĒ Ė including the commentators. First off, the Victor in question was not a bomber; it was an aerial refueler, although its original mission was as a bomber. During demo runs performed by the Victor and Vulcan, takeoff power is deliberately applied to give the air show audience a full appreciation of what it took to get one of these wonderful aircraft airborne. I think we in the US could take a lesson from the Brits and get some old B-52s that are moldering away fired up and perform high speed taxis. Lastly, of all the ďknow-it-allsĒ who have posted comments, how many have actually witnessed one of these high speed demo runs? No question that the incident was unfortunate but Iím sure valuable lessons will be learned from it. For instance, it appeared as if the braking chute was not applied. Why not? If it was inoperable then a good first step would be to get it working. Itís my sincere hope that this incident will not put a damper on these very popular demo runs and letís get some going in the US..!!

Posted by: graham white | September 14, 2009 6:57 AM    Report this comment

Thank you Paul Iíve found it now couldnít find it before. Bruntingthorpe, South of Leicester, in Southern UK.

My only other comment is this all happened in May itís now September and why such an issue in a country that is so strictly regulated.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 14, 2009 9:15 AM    Report this comment

Why such an issue? The vid just hit YouTube last week, or at least was sent to us just last week. Our point in running it was to show an interesting video--it is that--and maybe gain some benefit from the errors in judgment and execution that obviously occurred. Far as I'm concerned, it's fair game for that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 14, 2009 9:20 AM    Report this comment

I seem to remember that this video was shown in May at the time it happened on BBC news. I didnít take much notice of it as it didnít have any drama to it. As a member of the LAA we have a lot of problems with the authorities (either CAA or EASA) both trying to outdo the other in creating unnecessary regulations and we most certainly donít need additional hype from one of the colonies to cause more pain.

What I would like to add on a lighter tone is that the pilot 70 year old Group Captain Bob Prothero, who had last flown the plane 29 years ago, told the BBC that although he was "petrified" there was no time to think during the nine seconds it was airborne. At least he had one takeoff and landing on type which is no longer valid as it was more than ninety days ago.

Finally the following appeared ďAn investigation into the incident in May at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire, decided that no one could be blamed.Ē EASA and CAA do not lightly make that statement I can assure you.

Iím not picking on you Paul as your job is to report on such information and you are doing a sterling effort thank you.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 14, 2009 9:56 AM    Report this comment

Several comments here are simply "wild". There is no reason to do high-speed taxo-bys w/B-52's. Why? Because there are operational B-52's still around, AND...non-operational B-52's are demolished according to SALT treaties, and left out on the desert so old-enemy's satellites can confirm the destruction.
Next.... an accidental takeoff...easily occurs, even with low power settings when an aircraft is: 1- very light, such as for a taxi-demo only and, 2- MISTRIMMED...with excessive nose-up trim. This happens because the aircraft is LIGHTER than ever imagined for actual if the trim is set for take-off..even if no takeoff is planned...the aircraft becomes airborne unexpectedly. I've witnessed it many times as a CFI, Simulator I.P., and factory demo-pilot.
Hi-speed taxi-demos should be re-evaluated as pertains to safety with nearby-observers. No one should be anywhere near them, in my opinion, therefore there is little reason to perform them. A static-position engine run-up would have demonstrated the power of the machine, without risking the momentum and danger of the speed (or risk brake-failure, tire blow-out, etc etc.)

Posted by: George Horn | September 14, 2009 12:50 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Paul for reminding us that we - as pilot in command, do have responsibility and it is easy to become over excited and have crew induced emergencies. It is a good thing, if this incident reminds all of us, that it's possible for all of us to err. The point is to understand how and why, and perhaps avoid an incident or accident. We can't learn all our lessons by trying them out ourselves.

Posted by: Kathleen O'Brien | September 14, 2009 6:21 PM    Report this comment

Maybe that old boy fancied trying out his wings one last time. Or perhaps the machine really did just rotate on its own account for a rearward C.G. and sufficient power. ...Either way Mr. Prothero was ultimately in charge of the aircaft and so I consider it rude of him to blame his co-pilot in public without an exact determination of that fact by an independant body.

Posted by: peter hirst | September 14, 2009 7:57 PM    Report this comment

What we have here is a failure to communicate, so we have what happen last night...the devil made em do it and she was pleading just one more time and as to be airworthy, well she was before...

Posted by: Chuck West | September 16, 2009 12:58 PM    Report this comment

It appeared to be in intentional lift-off. The cross wind and left bank upon leaving the runway compounded the problem. I assume that the pilot intended to simply break the wheels off the pavement for a few seconds and then put it back on. It didn't work out that way. This could have gone really bad.

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | September 17, 2009 4:35 AM    Report this comment

I disagree with Paul, he has obviously never sat inside a Victor K2, I would like him to explain how the guy in the left hand seat could steer the a/c, hold the control column against a strong right to left crosswind and be anywhere near the throttles. If anybody cares to go onto Airliners. net and search for a photo of the flight deck, they will see the throttles are not to hand on the centre pedestal and as previously stated, if you have one hand on the steering tiller at bottom right of the LH pilots panel and the other on the column for the crosswind taxi run, you are pretty reliant on the other guy to chop the throttles on command. From the above comments very few people on here understand the layout of the aircraft, including the OP of this thread.
As for other comments re that it should not be done, it has been done for years safely at Bruntingthorpe with a mixture of ex military aircraft that the British goverment decided we no longer needed and offered no assistance in preserving some excellent British aircraft.

Posted by: John Beech | September 17, 2009 9:44 AM    Report this comment

It's still unclear to me whether the pilot had access to the throttles or not. Doesn't really matter, though. It's a question of accepting the responsibility of command. Some years ago, I was on an aircraft carrier that got rear-ended by a following cruiser when the cruiser skipper was below deck. The cruiser captain lost his job as a result for, ultimately, he was responsible. You either accept the mantle of command or you don't.

I guess I'm old school. I don't think a commander should blame a sub-ordinates in public, whether in combat or a taxi-by joyride. That's the disconnect for me. I don't see heroic action here, I see someone preventing a disaster whose circumstances he shoudn't have allowed to align in the first place.

No harm, no foul here. I'm just taking a pass on the hero worship.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 17, 2009 10:20 AM    Report this comment

I agree with where you are coming from with regards to command, but in this instance, pilot requests full power at start of run, at a predetermined point calls for throttles off, nothing happens, he calls again, nothing happens, finally he screams for throttles back... too late, you are airborne. An empty a/c accelerates rapidly, the other guy just froze at the wrong time. Fortunately he did pull them back at about 50 feet and the a/c was put down somewhat shakily on the grass and was able to stop before the end of the airfield boundary. It could have been two engineers in the flight deck istead of an ex Victor pilot and a.n.other, that would have had far more interesting results.

Posted by: John Beech | September 17, 2009 12:23 PM    Report this comment

John aviators are bound to be interested in talking about this incident because it looks like a right buggers muddle. ...So if you want to defend the captain so heartily I think you also need to be able to warrant that he complied with the time honoured military techique (SOP) for inniating what was always effectively going to be a take-off with a planned abort scenario. ...This fast taxiing stuff is bull.... if you are going to start out with anything like take-off thrust.

Posted by: peter hirst | September 17, 2009 5:44 PM    Report this comment

Peter, like Paul, you do not know the Victor K2, you can have any SOP you like, but if the guy on the throttles does not react when he should, then a problem arises. The captain cannot pull the throttles back at that instant. It takes time, which can be too late. As far as full thrust is concerned, this is what the punters come to see and is how the museum makes its money. The other a/c they use, ie the Lightening and the Buccanear, the pilot/engineer has control of the throttles. Maybe they will have to rethink with the Victor because of the cockpit layout. This has been done here for years with no problems before so its bull not to do it. It helps to keep the Vulcan in the air. and hopefully another will follow, but not in the way that this happened.
I am not defending the captain, he could not reach the throttles, they are not on the centre consul. If I could paste a picture of the flightdeck, I would, then maybe you would understand better.

Posted by: John Beech | September 18, 2009 2:23 AM    Report this comment

John I have seen the cockpit photo's on Airliners.Net and also a couple of Youtube videos. Having timed a normal take-off and made a comparison with the incident it appears the incident aircraft was aireborne several seconds faster. Which leads me to believe the explanation that the take-off occurred accidentaly. However, there remains the issue of whether or not the correct technique was employed for initiating what most aircrew would consider to be a take-off with a planned abort. Whilst I don't know my suspicion is that when the aircraft was operated by two trained crew the captain most likely maintained control of power levers in his left hand from brake release and nosewheel steering in his right hand until a nominated speed at which the rudder is effective when he would be able to take the flight controls with his right hand. In the case of a strong crosswind being present the captain would be able to detail his copilot to apply in to wind aileron for him during the initial phase. By this means the captain would be able to cut the power in an emergency before V1. ...There is no doubt that the cockpit is in an unusual and intriguing configuration for a large multi-crew aircraft. It surely harks back to days long gone by.

Posted by: peter hirst | September 18, 2009 4:08 PM    Report this comment

Received an email from yourselves stating an update to the thread I was interested in. I do not consider a spam email as an update and request it is removed please.

Posted by: John Beech | June 17, 2010 7:37 AM    Report this comment

@ John Beech: Thanks for taking a second to click the "report abuse" link and let us know about the spam comment. There are usually three of us on duty watching those reports, and if we're anywhere near a computer when they come through, we'll swing by and delete the comment as soon as we see the e-mail ó unless we're leaving it alive to keep an eye on the offender or all away from the computer on the same day (as happens sometime). As you guys spot them, please take a moment to click the link and let us know, so we can get to them as fast as possible. Thanks!

Scott Simmons


Posted by: Scott Simmons | November 28, 2010 1:38 PM    Report this comment

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