Avro Vulcan

The Avro Vulcan is a delta wing subsonic jet bomber that was operated by the Royal Air Force from 1953 until 1984. The Avro Vulcan ruled the skies for more than two decades as a major component of the Free World's Cold War nuclear forces. This delta-wing jet was one of the most graceful and beautiful flying machines ever committed to the grim reality of nuclear deterrence.

The Vulcan was Avro’s futuristic and adventurous response to a 1946 Air Ministry operational requirement calling for a bomber capable of carrying a 10000-lb atomic bomb to a target 1,725 miles away. The unconventional wing design was chosen because it combined good load carrying capabilities and high subsonic speed at altitude.

The prototype, VX770, flew in August 1952 piloted by Wing Commander Roly Falk and made its first public appearance at the Farnborough Air Show. After a redesign of the wing and the addition of more powerful engines the production Vulcan B.1 entered RAF service in February 1957 and became operational with No.83 Squadron at Waddington in July of the same year.

It was soon apparent however that, with improved Soviet air defences, the high flying B.1 would be extremely vulnerable. To ensure that the RAF crews would have a better chance of reaching their intended target an improved model, the Vulcan B.2 was introduced with more powerful engines, an ECM suite and in-flight refuelling capability. The existing B.1 fleet (and a few B.2s) were further improved to allow for a longer range and the ability to carry two nuclear weapons (rather than one) which significantly increased the threat to the Soviet Union.

Even with the B.2, crew survivability in an attack on the USSR was still a major concern. A stand-off nuclear missile, Blue Steel, was developed specifically for Vulcan use which could be launched from 100 miles way from the target. Also the decision was made to change to Low-Level penetration tactics being adopted. A solution that required the modification of the Vulcan to B.2A standard with even more powerful Olympus engines; a terrain following radar in the nose, and warning radar atop the fin.

The Vulcan’s role changed again when the Royal Navy’s Polaris submarines took over the responsibility for Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and they were switched over to tactical low level penetration role with conventional weaponry. It was as such that the Vulcan would go to war in 1982 when it was used against Argentine positions on the Falklands islands in what was, at that time, the longest range bombing raid ever attempted in history. These ‘Black Buck’ missions had to be made in total secrecy from Ascension Island, a small British dependency in the Atlantic almost 4,000 miles from the Falklands.

The Vulcan also excelled as a conventional bomber, tanker and reconnaissance platform.

Ultimately Avro would build 144 Vulcans in total, a small number considering the impact that the design had on the Aerospace industry. They would serve with the RAF until finally superseded by Panavia Tornadoes in 1984.

One example, XH558 was recently restored for use in display flights and commemoration of the jets' role in the Falklands Conflict.

Image: By Hobilar-Vulcan at Newark Air Museum, Notts.

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