AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XH558) [@ RAF Waddington]
The second of the RAF’s trio of “V Bombers”. Conceived by Avro's chief designer by Roy Chadwick, designer of the Lancaster, Lincoln and Shackleton, to the same 1947 specification that led to the earlier production of the Vickers Valiant and Handley Page Victor [Chadwick was killed in an air accident later that year]. It was the first bomber in the world to employ the delta wing plan-form and to help gain data for the radical new design several 'mini-Vulcans' were built, these were the Avro Type 707s. Avro Type 698, Vulcan prototype (VX770), powered by 4 Rolls Royce Avon R.A.3s engines flew for the first time on 30th August 1952 but was not officially named the Vulcan until 1953. While recognisably a Vulcan, the wings were a pure delta form; no kinked leading edges and there were several other differences in shape. Piloted by Avro's Chief Test Pilot Wing Commander Roly Falk, and watched only by Avro employees and a small band of press, VX770 was flown single handed and to aid Falk some of the more important electrical switches were placed on the co-pilot's side console where he would reach over and adjust them. The second prototype, (VX777), now powered by the intended Olympus Mk 100 engine flew for the first time on 3rd September 1953. VX777 featured a 16 in (0.41 m) longer fuselage to increase fuel capacity and to accommodate a longer nose leg, a ventral blister for visual bomb aiming and an improved crew compartment.
The first production B.1 (XA889) flew on 4th February 1955 and the second caused a sensation at the Farnborough Air Show by rolling, including a full roll (try that in a B52!) during its demonstration. XA899 was principally used for engine development, flight testing each upgraded version of the Olympus as it was produced. The first Vulcan B.1s, powered by 4 Bristol Siddeley Olympus 101 turbojets [photograph - right], were delivered to 230 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Waddington on 20th July 1956; it had been found that the outer sections of the delta wing could suffer from buffeting, so a kinked leading edge was now in place. 83 Squadron was the first Vulcan squadron to go operational on 11th July 1957. The Olympus engine was first run in 1950 reaching 10,000 lbf (44 kN) thrust and was flying in an English Electric Canberra test-bed by 1953. Entering full production in 1955, the Olympus continued to be developed by Bristol Siddeley and from 1966 Rolls Royce. The B.1 was successively fitted with Olympus Mk 101, 102 and 104 engines and eventually equipped a total of six RAF squadrons. After retirement from squadron service, several B.1s were used for engine manufacturers flight trails. The Vulcan was ideal for this role because of its high performance and good ground clearance. A pod containing the test engine was fitted over the bomb bay area and fuel lines etc plumbed in. The BAC TSR.2, Concorde and Tornado programmes all benefited from these tests. XA899, which was delivered to the RAF on 28th February 1957 as a B1, made world history on 22nd December 1959 when it became the first four-engine aircraft to make a fully automatic landing. This historic aircraft was scrapped in 1973.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XH558) [@ RAF Waddington]
XH558 was delivered to 230 Operational Conversion Unit (230 OCU), RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, on the 1st July 1960 and hence became the first B.2 to be delivered in to RAF service. Almost immediately XH588 was moved with 230 OCU to RAF Finningley, Yorkshire. In 1968 XH558 returned to Lincolnshire and was one of nine B.2s to be converted B(MRR).2 standard in 1973. In the Maritime Radar Reconnaissance role XH558 flew with 27 Squadron until early 1982. Subsequently converted to B(K).2 standard for air-to-air refuelling XH558 served with 50 Squadron, RAF Waddington, until early 1984. Returned to standard B.2 configuration in 1985 XH558 became the last Vulcan in RAF service. From 1986 XH558 served with the RAF's Vulcan Display Flight until its final season in 1992. Upon the Vulcan’s final retirement the RAF chose to retain two Vulcans purely for air display purposes. The original aircraft of the Vulcan Display Flight was XL426 (which is now in the care of the Vulcan Restoration Trust), however it was decided that XH558 should be given the honour of being the display aircraft as XH558 had the greatest number of flying hours left before needing a major overhaul. As the display Vulcan was representative of all Vulcan squadrons it was painted with the insignia of 1 Group (a black panther's head). This symbol was used when the Vulcan was taking part in military bombing exercises and prevented "squabbling" between the different RAF squadrons. Struck off Charge on the 23rd March 1993 XH588 was delivered by air to RAF Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire, and kept in a serviceable condition and would undertake fast taxi runs along Bruntingthorpe's main runway. Registered as G-VLCN on the 6th February 1995 XH588 finally returned to the air on the 18th October 2007 for a 34 minutes flight. On the 9th June 2008 XH558 flew the final test flight and was granted by the Civil Aviation Authority on the 3rd July at 16:05 a Permit to Fly. By 17:05 XH588 was taking off for RAF Waddington to fly an air show routine in front of CAA examiners who then issued the Display Authorisation for the RAF Waddington air show in the first week of July. In 2011 XH558 was moved to Doncaster’s Robin Hood airport which was formerly RAF Finningley (decommissioned in 1996).
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM594) [@ Newark Air Museum]
was the penultimate Vulcan built as a B.2 Blue Steel. Delivered to the RAF on 9th
July 1963, XM594 flew for the last time when it arrived at Newark
from RAF Waddington on the 7th February 1983. Delivered
to 27 Squadron in 1963, XM594 was pooled into the Scampton Blue Steel Wing and
remained there after being retrofitted to the free-fall role in 1970.
Transferred to the Waddington Wing in 1972, XM594 was allocated to 101 Squadron
in 1975 and 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron in 1977. Until a few years ago XM594 was electrically live and regularly
powered up but, unfortunately, Health & Safety guidelines put paid to this
when the museum's staff expanded to the point of coming under the auspices of
Health & Safety.
XM594 was the penultimate Vulcan built as a B.2 Blue Steel. Delivered to the RAF on 9th July 1963, XM594 flew for the last time when it arrived at Newark from RAF Waddington on the 7th February 1983. Delivered to 27 Squadron in 1963, XM594 was pooled into the Scampton Blue Steel Wing and remained there after being retrofitted to the free-fall role in 1970. Transferred to the Waddington Wing in 1972, XM594 was allocated to 101 Squadron in 1975 and 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron in 1977. Until a few years ago XM594 was electrically live and regularly powered up but, unfortunately, Health & Safety guidelines put paid to this when the museum's staff expanded to the point of coming under the auspices of Health & Safety.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM598) [@ RAF Cosford]
Changes to the air defences of the Soviet Union meant that the B.1 force was becoming less and less of a viable option for attacking deep into Soviet territory. This resulted in the production of the B.1 being terminated with the 45th aircraft (the last B.1 was delivered on 30th April 1959), the remaining Vulcan's on order being completed to B.2 standard with flight refuelling equipment, electronic warfare (ECM) suite in a new larger tail-cone and a new wing design. The wing was optimised to take advantage of the substantial increases in engine thrust that were expected from newer versions of the Olympus engine. Of markedly thinner section, the new Phase 2C wing featured much increased span and area and introduced a kinked trailing edge for the first time. The separate outboard ailerons and inboard elevators of the original wing were replaced by four-section elevons on each side. VX777 had begun flight testing the new wing on 31st August 1957. With its 111 ft (34m) wingspan and 105 ft (32m) the prototype B.2 (XH533) flew for the first time on 19th August 1958 and the variant entered service with 230 OCU on the 1st July 1960 when XH558 entered service. The B.2 went operational with 83 Squadron in October 1960. Bristol Siddeley Olympus 201 [photograph - left] engines were added giving a top speed of Mach 0.92 and a ceiling 65000 feet. However, this required a pressure jerkin and for practical use the aircraft was limited to somewhere between 50 and 55,000 feet to give survivability after decompression in emergency. Tactical radius without refuelling was 2300 miles, max weight 204000 lbs and it carried a crew of 2 pilots, a navigator, a radar operator and an Air Electronics Operator. A Ground Engineer, known in those days as a Crew Chief, could be carried on the rather poor seating below the pilot’s feet. [photograph right - XM598]
XM598 entered service with the RAF on 3rd September 1963, serving with 12 and 44 (Rhodesia) Squadrons and was adapted for use in the Falklands, although it never ended up seeing service in the conflict. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, XM598 was not needed on six of the seven Black Buck missions since the primary aircraft was able to carry out the raid alone. It was the primary aircraft for the first Black Buck mission, unfortunately once airborne, it went unserviceable and XM607 took over the operation. XM598 was later fitted with the Shrike missile but again it was not used operationally, the honours going to XM597 this time. It was chosen because it had originally been built to carry the Skybolt stand-off bomb and it proved very easy to adapt to carry anti-radar missiles and an Electronic Counter Measures pod. The mountings for these are still fitted under the wings.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XL318) [@ RAF Hendon]
In the early 1960's seven B.2 aircraft were converted from having Olympus 201 engines to 301s. They were XL384 through to XL390. Although it may appear to be a simple task, it was in fact a lengthy and costly conversion which grounded these aircraft for several months at a time. Modifications to the LP compressor (which included adding an extra LP stage) and the LP turbine, it was possible to increase the thrust from the 17,000 lbf (76 kN) of the Olympus 201 to 20,000 lbf (89 kN). Due to the increased air mass, the Vulcan's air intakes had to be widened and, because of the extra compressor stage, the engines were larger and would not fit into the engine bays without extensive modifications. By 1963 Olympus 301 engines were being fitted to new production B.2s, XH557 being the first, but no more engine retrofits for earlier B.2s were attempted. Between October 1960 and March 1963 all the surviving B.1s were upgraded to B.1A standard. This included the fitting of Olympus 104 engines and the incorporation of an ECM suite in a new enlarged tail-cone. The same tail-cone that was used on production B.2 aircraft. The last Vulcan B.1As were all withdrawn from service by 1968 and the three remaining squadrons re-equipped with the B.2. The B.2 was delivered to the RAF on the 14th January 1965.
XL318 was delivered to 617 Squadron on the 1st September 1961 and twenty years latter on it flew the Squadron’s last Vulcan sortie on the 11th December 1981. XL318 did not take part in the Falklands conflict since in early 1982 it was dismantled at RAF Scampton and transported in sections by road and reassembled at RAF Hendon, some months before the Falklands war.
XH481, a B1A and delivered to 101 Squadron on 30th April 1958, was chosen because of its reliability to complete the first 11,500 mile non-stop flight to Australia. On the 20th June 1961 and crewed by a team from 617 Squadron XH481 set off from RAF Scampton for the 20 hours, 3 minutes, 17 seconds journey. Refuelling three times in flight the journey was completed with an average speed of 573 mph.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XJ824) [@ RAF Duxford]
The B.1 had been designed to deliver a free-fall nuclear bomb (initially Blue Danube and later Yellow Sun) from high altitude, but advances in air defence technology were expected to make this approach far too hazardous. So the B.2 was designed to be the launch platform for a new generation of 'stand off' nuclear weapons. The first of these was the Avro designed Blue Steel [photograph - left], a rocket-powered supersonic cruise missile with a nuclear warhead, which could be launched 100 miles from the target. Only 57 Blue Steels were produced and the B.2 equipped to carry it was designated B.2A. The first such aircraft was delivered to 617 Squadron in September 1961 and were fully operational by February 1963.
A much travelled Vulcan! XJ824 entered service on 15th May 1961 as a free-fall B.2 with 27 Squadron at RAF Scampton when it reformed. It was transferred to 9 Squadron at RAF Coningsby as 27 Squadron received its Vulcan B.2 Blue Steels in February 1963. In December 1963, XJ824 was transferred to 230 OCU at RAF Finningley. Subsequent units were Cottesmore Wing - July 1966, Waddington Wing - October 1966, Cottesmore Wing - June 1966 which moved to Akrotiri in February 1969, returning to the UK (Scampton) with 35 Squadron in January 1975. Later users were 230 OCU - February 1977, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron - October 1979, and 101 Squadron - July 1981.The in-flight refuelling probe, robbed for the 'Black Buck' campaign, has since been restored. Flown to RAF Duxford in March 1982 XJ824 is normally protected from the elements; the big changes to Hangar 1 resulted in a temporary move outside.
The remaining Vulcan B.2s were scheduled to receive Skybolt (a US-designed missile with a range of up to 1000 miles), but this programme was cancelled by the USA in December 1962, leaving the RAF without a Blue Steel replacement. In 1963 the British Government opted for the Polaris nuclear missile submarines system instead and as a result the B.2 was converted to carry the British WE177B parachute retarded nuclear weapon system instead. In 1968 the Royal Navy's Polaris missile equipped submarines took over the role of Britain's Nuclear Deterrent. In 1969 the Blue Steel missile was withdrawn from service and having relinquished the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) role the RAF’s Vulcan force was assigned to NATO and CENTO in the free-fall bombing role. The run-down of the nuclear deterrent force freed up Vulcan's for other duties.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM575) [@ East Midlands Aeropark]
Nine B.2s were reassigned to the long range maritime radar reconnaissance role, replacing the Victor B(SR).2. Designated B(MRR).2 these aircraft were modified with the addition of LORAN C navigation equipment and the removal of the terrain following radar thimble in the nose. 27 Squadron used the aircraft between 1st November 1973 and 31st March 1982. In the mid-1970s, the tips of the fins acquired fore and aft antennae for an ARI 18228 radar warning receiver.
XM575 was delivered to the RAF on the 21st May 1959 and was allocated to 617 Squadron in May 1963, which then became part of the Scampton Wing. XM575 was the second Vulcan B.2 Blue Steel aircraft to be fitted with the upgraded Olympus 301 engines. The aircraft was converted to free-fall mode in the autumn of 1969 and returned back to squadron. During 1970 XM575 was stationed at RAF Waddington before returning to 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton. In March 1974 XM575 returned to RAF Waddington and allocated to 101 Squadron in May 1975 and then to 50 Squadron. In June 1978 XM575 was moved for the last time and allocated to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron. On the 28th October 1982 XM575 was involved in the Falklands Victory fly-past over London. XM575 flew for the last time 28th January 1983 when it was delivered to the museum.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM607) [@ RAF Waddington]
Due for final retirement in 1982 the Falkland's War was an operational swan song for the Vulcan. By the end of March 1982 the Royal Air Force Vulcan B.2 fleet had been reduced to three squadrons, 101, 44 and 50 Squadrons, all based at RAF Waddington. In May 1982 five B.2s were earmarked for possible offensive operations. These aircraft were fitted with a Westinghouse AN/ALQ-101 jamming pod under the starboard wing, an Inertial Navigation System and refurbished flight refuelling probes. Operating via Wideawake airfield on Ascension Island in the Atlantic (operation 'Black Buck') two of the five carried out attacks on the Falkland Islands in support of the British operations to recapture them from Argentina. Operation 'Black Buck' involved the use of 11 supporting Victor tankers aircraft from 55 and 57 Squadrons and 2 Vulcan B.2s, XM607 and XM597. Six in-flight refuellings were needed for the 15-hour 7860-mile return journey from Ascension Island (five transfers of fuel for the outward journey were required and took place at intervals of 840, 1150, 1900, 2750 and 3000 miles from Ascension). The flight time from Ascension Island to Port Stanley by Vulcan was over eight hours, 3886 miles each way and it was then the longest range bombing attack in history. XM607 was involved in Black Buck 1 on 1st May 1982, Black Buck 2 on 3rd May 1982 and Black Buck 7 on 12th June 1982, its mission was to drop bombs on Port Stanley Airfield, while XM597 was deployed in the suppression of enemy air defences in Black Buck 5 on 31st May 1982 and Black Buck 6 on 3rd June 1982.
The Black Buck veteran, XM607, is the gate guardian at RAF Waddington and was delivered to the RAF on 31st December 1963. XM607 flew 3 (of 7) 'Black Buck' missions on the 1st May, 3rd May and 12th June 1982, hence the 3 bomb motifs on the side of the fuselage. Just before midnight on 30th April, two crews from 101 Squadron climbed into two 22 year-old bombers, XM598 and XM607, to set out on what was then the longest bombing mission ever attempted. On the first mission, sitting in the bomb bay of each of the two Vulcans were 21-1,000 lb bombs, over nine tons of high explosive, which, combined with the full fuel load, meant that both aircraft were over 2½ tons over their maximum weights. Because Ascension Island is relatively hot, the overloaded aircraft would have to run their four 20,000lb thrust Bristol Siddeley Olympus 301 engines at 103% power to get off the ground. However XM598, the primary aircraft, of 50 Squadron developed pressurisation problems and was forced to return to Ascension Island leaving XM607 to complete the mission alone. Just before one of the other missions it was noticed that the aircraft did not have sufficient life left on two of its engines for the round trip from RAF Waddington to Stanley and back. It was towed into a hangar, complete with full fuel tanks and bombs, where a team of twenty five replaced both engines. The aircraft was towed back out and ground runs carried out, including tweaking the new engines up to 106%. This was done in 6 hours (which was made up by the crew on their way south)!
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM597) [@ RAF East Fortune]
Black Buck 5 was the first successful anti-radar mission by a Vulcan bomber equipped with AGM-45A Shrike missiles. On their flight home from Black Buck 6, XM597's refuelling probe broke leaving the aircraft with insufficient fuel to get back to Ascension Island. The only option was divert to Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, this was accomplished with very little fuel to spare. The Vulcan was impounded by the Brazilian authorities, but after repairs it was flown back to Wideawake airfield on 10th June and then on to RAF Waddington on 13th June. Black Buck 3 called off as headwinds would have made the mission extremely difficult in terms of fatigue for the Vulcan bomber's crew. Another factor was the very large quantities of fuel that would have been needed, as well as the additional flight hours that would have accrued to the already overextended Victor tankers. Five hours into the Black Buck Four mission and a hose-and-drogue refuelling unit failure on one of the essential Victor support aircraft meant that the mission was aborted. This mission was to have been the first AGM-45A Shrike equipped anti-radar mission. XM597 was able to carry an additional 16,000 lbs of fuel in bomb bay tanks thus reducing the number of Victor tankers required to support the raid, as well as allowing the Vulcan extended loiter time over the target.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM597) [@ RAF East Fortune]
XM597 is the only other Black Buck veteran and flew two missions, hence the two missile markings on the side of the fuselage. XM597 entered service with 12 Squadron on the 27th of August 1963 and then served with 35, 50, 9, 101 and 35 Squadrons. Deployed in the Falklands in the suppression of enemy air defences role, XM597 set the record in Black Buck 5 for the longest mission in the history of air warfare, a record that remained until a B-52 broke it during the Gulf war in 1991, after a total flight time of precisely 16 hours. XM597 again made the headlines in Black Buck 6 when, due to a fractured in-flight refuelling probe, it was diverted to Rio de Janeiro. On the final rendezvous with a Victor tanker XM597's refuelling probe snapped off and the crew were forced to divert. There were no pre-arranged or recognised diversions and the crew's brief was to ditch the aircraft should the final refuelling fail. Reluctant to ditch XM597 in the South Atlantic the crew elected to climb to 43,000 ft for best range/endurance performance and headed west towards South America and Brazil. Before entering Brazilian airspace the un-used Shrikes had to be jettisoned to prevent any potential embarrassment to the British and Brazilian authorities. After de-pressurizing at 43,000 ft and jettisoning secret documents and film through the crew entrance door, XM597 descended to around 20,000 ft whilst evading a pair of Brazilian F-5 fighter aircraft which had been scrambled to intercept it. With insufficient fuel for a procedural instrument approach into Rio's Galeao International Airport, XM597 was flown to the overhead where it commenced a spiral descent and visual approach. The aircraft was landed with only a few hundred pounds of fuel remaining in the tanks. After seven days internment, the crew was under 'open arrest' (but well treated) on the military side of the airport, the aircraft and crew were released to prevent further embarrassment to Brazil and Britain. After returning from Ascension Island, XM597 was allocated to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron in July 1982 and 50 Squadron in December 1982 to be converted to a B(K).2. XM597 was acquired by the Scottish Museum of Flight when 50 Squadron disbanded on 31st March 1984 and it flew into East Fortune in April 1984.
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XL360) [@ Midland Air Museum]
The South Atlantic conflict caused only a short delay in the retirement of the bomber force. Its replacement, the Panavia Tornado GR.1, started to enter RAF squadron service in January 1982. The run-down of the Vulcan force began with the closure of 230 OCU in August 1981, 101 Squadron disbanded on 4th August 1982 and 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron disbanded on 31st December 1982, leaving only 50 Squadron to operate the B(K).2. The total Vulcan production was 45 B.1s, 89 B.2s and two prototypes.
XL360 was delivered to 617 Squadron (The Dam Busters) on the 1st of March 1962 and was subsequently pooled into the Scampton Wing. One of the last Vulcans with Blue Steel fit, XL360 was converted to free-fall in 1971 and returned to RAF Scampton where it served briefly with 617 Squadron before being allocated to 230 OCU. XL360 was transferred back to 617 Squadron in 1977 and allocated to 35 Squadron in 1978 and 101 and 44 (Rhodesia) Squadrons in 1982. Retired in 1983 when it was flown into the Midland Air Museum. Click here to inside XL360
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM612) [@ City of Norwich Aviation Museum]
However, the acute shortage of tanker aircraft which arose from the Falklands campaign led to six Vulcans of 50 Squadron being converted to the air-refuelling tanker role. Initially designated as B(K).2, these aircraft had the ECM suite removed and a Mk 17B hose-drum unit fitted below the tail. The bomb bay was filled with three huge auxiliary fuel tanks. 50 Squadron at RAF Marham operated these aircraft between 21st June 1982 and 31st March 1984 and so became the last RAF squadron to operate the Vulcan.
XM612 entered RAF service with 9 Squadron based at RAF Cottesmore on 2nd March 1964 which then merged into the Coningsby Wing which moved to Cottesmore in November 1964. In March 1968 it spent one month at the A&AEE at Boscombe Down and resumed RAF service with the Waddington Wing, first with 101 Squadron in May 1975 and then 44 Squadron (Rhodesia) in July 1981. During the Falkland Islands War, XM612 was one of the aircraft sent to Ascension Island to fly ‘Black Buck’ missions. Although it didn’t actually see combat it was converted to the air-refuelling role. After the war, XM612 returned to 44 Squadron to see out its remaining service life. On 30th January 1983, XM612 flew into Norwich Airport to retire after 19 years of service. The runway was just long enough to land XM612 but in fact would have been too short for a takeoff. Although undergoing one major repaint while at the museum with a number of corroded areas being repaired and sealed against future damage and the cockpit undergoing a full restoration, after the RAF removed a number of the rear crew's instruments, the last few years haven't been kind to XM612 and corrosion is once again rearing its ugly head. XM612 can have some of its electrical system powered up and three of the four engines are suspected to be in good enough condition to be run. Click here to inside XM612
AVRO VULCAN B.2 (XM612) [@ City of Norwich Aviation Museum]
A number of unusual proposals were made during the Vulcan's life, none of which came to anything. These include an airliner version (the Avro Atlantic), a fighter-support Vulcan which would have carried three Gnats semi-recessed in the fuselage and wings and even a vertical take-off Vulcan (complete with ten lift engines in the bomb bay). Even the least ambitious proposal, the 'Phase 6' Vulcan, which would have had larger wings and tail and an extended fuselage housing a second crew (for very long missions) along with provision for extra bombs in pods on the wings. It was intended for the Phase 6 Vulcan, including many modified B.2s, to carry the American Skybolt nuclear missile. With the cancellation Skybolt the hard points on the modified B.2s were not needed, however the attachment points were put to good use in the Falklands enabling the carriage of ECM pods and Shrike missiles.