Saturday, 6 September 2008

Amazing Avro Vulcan Stories

The Avro Vulcan is an amazing aircraft. The world's largest tailless delta wing jet bomber. The thinking person's B2. Designed and developed in the late forties and fifties, it carried the UK's nuclear deterrent until the RN's Polaris subs took over in 1969, became a low level bomber and maritime reconnaissance aircraft in the seventies, dropped its first bombs in anger after record breaking non-stop flights from Ascension Island to Port Stanley during the Falklands Conflict in 1982 just as it was meant to be retiring, then stooged around for a couple more years as a stop-gap air-refueller until final retirement. Such was the public's affection for this amazing aircraft that the RAF kept one flying for airshow appearances until 1992. It appeared doomed to be a museum piece until the magnificent efforts of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust and Sir Jack Hayward put XH558 back into the air in 2007.

But amazingly:

1 Vulcan pilots and co-pilots were trained to fly the aircraft to their targets on instruments with blinds pulled down on the small cabin windows to protect their eyesight from nuclear flash. In case the flash zapped their eyes, aircrew were provided with pirate eyepatches to protect one eye. If needed, the patch was swapped to the damaged eye and the sortie continued. In addition, it was assumed that the Vulcans' stations would be wiped out by Soviet attack (to counter which rapid take offs from dispersed bases were frequently practiced) and so target radius was extended because nuclear missions would be one way. But the best evidence of the crews' courage and dedication was the willingness of the backseat navigators to fly without ejection seats, having to rely on the pilots letting them bail out before they banged out. At low level this arrangement placed a huge ethical dilemma on the pilots. But the Treasury was happy with the cost-cutting design.

2 To provide Vulcans with a stand-off attack capability before Blue Steel and Skybolt missiles were available it was suggested that Folland Gnat fighters armed with tactical nuclear bombs were fitted, one underneath each wing on the Skybolt pylons and a third recessed in the converted bombay. The Gnats would not have been used as McDonnell Goblin-like parasite fighters but their pilots would have had similar chances of returning home.

3 To enable Vulcans to withstand a Soviet attack on their bases and runways, a project was sketched to fit ten rocket engines into the bombbay to allow aircraft mounted on vertical launch platforms to zoom up and away like missiles with delta wings. Conventional Vulcan take-offs appeared to be nearly vertical to spectators anyway so it's a pity this idea was never tested out and filmed (but without a crew). The noise would have been amazing.

If you have other stories about Vulcans or the other V-Bombers please let me know.


sally in norfolk said...

During my time associated with the RAF I saw the Vulcan fly many times and it was one of my favourite to watch....

haddock said...

I attended a teachers training course with a Vulcan navigator, he was less than impressed with the escape provision. I used to live a few miles north of Scampton, it was reassuring at night to hear these planes climbing out for their patrols during the cold war.
It was a bit noisy under the flight path at the end of the runway when they were practising their mass take off.
The ex-nav reckoned that modern avionics would have saved 15tons of wiring and associated bits.
HX558 was at Bournemouth last week but I didn't get around to going to see it.

Anonymous said...

The Vulcan was a real pleasure to work on and be associated with. I was at RAF Waddington for quite a few years, and it was indeed a unique experience working on these distinctive aircraft as a tradesman.

It was hard work, with long hours, but I believe we all felt that we were doing a worthwhile task. The Cold War was real to us, and we took our part in it seriously. Thank goodness it was never necessary to unleash the hellish devastation that our aircraft were capable of.

I guess that speaks for itself, we deterred, they took notice.

Dan Elliott, Australia.

Gallimaufry said...

Thank you Dan for helping to keep the peace.