Statement from January 1997

after arson attack      

Vickers Valetta

FRIDAY 24 JANUARY 1997 : As many of you will have seen on the local news the museum suffered another attack by arsonists; this time they set fire to Vickers Valetta C2 VX577 the previous evening. This aircraft arrived at Sunderland Airport in the 1960s, and joined the museums collection in 1979. She was one of only three Valettas in the world; the remaining two are at the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, and at the RAF Museum at Cosford. The TV pictures showed VX577 in a very forlorn state with much of the fuselage burnt, this being due to it being of a magnesium alloy construction which burns even more when water is poured on it when alight. The Chairman admits there is nothing NEAM can do for her, and really is good only for scrap. Even then she is only of nominal value.

If anyone wants a piece of Sunderland Airport's history, NEAM are willing to sell pieces of the Valetta for a donation to funds. This event, however, does not change any of the museum's plans for the future.

Valetta, after arson attack

Photo courtesy of Tony Oliver

The Times, Saturday, 25 January 1997

Museum vandals destroy 50 years of flying history      

Museum vandals destroy 50 years of flying history

Paul Wilkinson

A VINTAGE aircraft that took two years to restore has been destroyed in an arson attack by vandals. The Vickers Valetta, one of only three in the world, was set alight on its stand outside the North East Aircraft Museum in Sunderland.

Dave Charles, the museum chairman, said yesterday that he had wept as he watched firemen damping down the ruined aircraft. "I had to walk away because I started to cry. I realise it is just a big piece of metal, but it represents this country's heritage and a lot of work by a dedicated group of volunteers, all of whom are heartbroken about what has happened."

Mr Charles, 34, added: "There are only two other Valettas in the world now. It was so rare that it would be impossible to put a price on it. I have been involved with the museum for 16 years and each year I travel up to 7,000 miles on business connected with it. But after this I have to wonder about the long-term future of what we are trying to achieve."

The Valetta was based on the wartime Wellington bomber, designed by Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb. It incorporated the Wellington's fuselage and engines and the first one of its type entered service with the RAF 50 years ago as a replacement for the Dakota. Used as a transport plane, it could carry 16 VIPs, 36 parachutists or light vehicles such as Land Rovers. It was known affectionately as the Flying Pig because of its tubby appearance.

The vandalised Valetta first flew on January 9, 1950, and saw service with the RAF between 1951 and 1968, when it made way for the Hercules, variants of which are still in use today. It spent much of its life as VIP transport and, coincidentally, a lot of its flying was from the British air base in the Maltese capital, Valletta, after which the aircraft was named in honour of the wartime siege of the island. It also spent time in Germany and Gibraltar.

The plane, fitted with two Bristol Siddeley Hercules engines, is 65ft long and has a wingspan of 89ft. Scores were built during the 1950s, but most were sold for scrap when they were decommissioned. The two other survivors are in the Royal Aircraft Museum at Wolverhampton and the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum.

The wrecked aircraft was bought in 1969 by the Sunderland Flying Club, which kept it for ten years before handing it over to the museum. It was the largest aircraft in the collection until the museum obtained a Vulcan bomber in 1983.

Enthusiasts who had restored the plane in time for last year's Sunderland Airshow were devastated at its destruction. Craig Blundred, the museum publicity officer, said: "We are disgusted that something like this should happen. The aircraft can never be replaced. Our members and enthusiasts around the country will be sickened that heritage like this has been destroyed. This year was going to be the Valetta's fiftieth anniversary and we were planning a special celebration for it.

"It had to stay outside because there was no room to keep it inside the museum. In a sense it was vulnerable, but there is little that can be done to stop such determined and stupid vandalism."

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: "The plane has been a target of vandal attacks in the past but this time it was completely burnt out. Our officers are investigating. This was a senseless crime that destroyed an irreplaceable part of our nation's heritage."

A spokesman for the RAF said: "It is disgraceful that someone should choose to destroy an historic aircraft in this way. We hope the police are successful in bringing those responsible to justice."

Mr Charles said: "In one moment of mindless vandalism they have wiped out two years of strenuous effort and 50 years of history. It sickens me to think about it. The plane is impossible to replace and was far too badly damaged to save. We are all feeling a great sense of sadness and loss at the moment."

It is the second time in five months that the museum, next to the Nissan car plant, has been attacked by arsonists. In September the old Sunderland airport control tower was also destroyed by fire.

Valetta, after arson attack

Photo courtesy of Tony Oliver

Daily Telegraph : 25/January/1997

Vandals destroy rare 'flying pig' aircaft      

Vandals destroy rare 'flying pig' aircaft

ONE of only three remaining Vickers Valetta aeroplanes in the world has been destroyed in an arson attack at a museum.

Enthusiasts had spent two years restoring the 50-year-old aircraft, affectionately known as one of the "flying pigs" because of their bulky fuselage. It was set on fire by vandals as it stood on its blocks outside the North-East Aircraft Museum in Washington, Tyne and Wear.

The Valetta, which was equipped to carry 36 paratroopers, was based in Malta with the RAF between 1951 and 1968. It replaced the Dakotas in 1947 before being superseded by Hercules transporters in 1968. Most of the fleet was scrapped, but one was rescued in 1969 by the Sunderland Flying Club which handed it to the museum 10 years later.

Dave Charles, 34, chairman of the museum, said: "It was so rare that it would be impossible to value. In one moment of mindless vandalism they have wiped out two years of strenuous effort and 50 years of history. It sickens me."

This year marks the Valetta's 50th anniversary and the museum was planning a special celebration. The surviving aircraft are in the Royal Aircraft Museum, Wolverhampton, and the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum.



I came across your website purely by accident and was appalled to find that Valetta VX 577 had been destroyed by brain-dead vandals. I was a G.D. Navigator with Transport Command and Flew 577 on several occasions. There is a bit of history attached to this aircraft of which you may not be aware.

In 1958, there was again trouble in the Middle East ( or perhaps it has never stopped). The Valetta story as I remember it (you must allow that the recollection of nearly a half century may be a little fuzzy) King Hussein of Jordan had received information that an assassination attempt was to be made against him and his family and to secure the continuance of the monarchy arranged for his mother, Queen Zein and his son heir-apparent, who I believe is the present King  were transported from Jordan to Cyprus and then to the UK.

I was the navigator for the flight to Cyprus on September 1st, 1958 and my logbook shows Valetta VX577. The flight was made across Syria without air traffic clearance and was shepherded by fighter jets from a US carrier that was stationed off the Lebanese coast.  I remember the Queen and a small boy being loaded along with a large number of suitcases and just prior to take-off, King Hussein came into the cockpit, thanked us and shook our hands.

It is such a sad end for this aircraft


Frank Jekyll

Vickers Valetta