Battle of Britain Air Show 1963.
(photo, Keith Mckenzie)
The world’s first delta-winged bomber to reach operational service, the Avro Vulcan was one of the cornerstones of Britain’s nuclear deterrent during the height of the Cold War. In later years it was adapted for conventional bombing and saw active service in the Falklands War. It’s final career was as an airshow star, a role in which it excelled – and may do so again.
The origins of the Vulcan lie in an Air Staff Requirement formulated a year after the end of World War 2. OR 229 called for a high-altitude, high-speed, strategic bomber capable of delivering a single 10,000 lb (4536 kg) nuclear weapon to a target 1725 miles (2780 km) distant. No British atomic bomb existed at the time, and so both the aircraft and weapon would need to be developed in parallel. After some discussions with industry, detailed specification B.35/46 was formally issued in early 1947. Innovative aerodynamic and structural design were required to meet the exacting requirements of this specification and the clear favourite to emerge from the contest was the Avro Type 698, later known as the Vulcan. As an insurance, the runner-up design, the Handley Page HP.80 was also selected for further development (becoming the Victor).
Although unusual in appearance, the Avro design was of conventional design structurally. The delta wing plan-form allowed the engines, undercarriage, fuel and bomb load to be enclosed in a low drag shape which gave good high altitude and high speed performance. The four engines were located in pairs and fed by ‘letterbox’ inlets in the wing root leading edge. The short fuselage, merging into the wing root, was a relatively late addition which gave extra space for internal equipment and the pressurised crew compartment. A single large vertical fin provided directional stability.
An order for two prototype Type 698s was signed in June 1948. A short while later, an additional order was placed with Avro for the development of the Type 707 series of research aircraft. The Avro 707 was intended to investigate the low and high speed characteristics of delta wings, for application to the 698 design. In the event, development ran almost parallel to the Type 698 and only a small amount of useful data was obtained.
The first Type 698 prototype (VX770) took to the air for its maiden flight on 30 August 1952. Development of the intended Bristol Olympus engines was running behind schedule at the time, and so the first aircraft was fitted with four 6,500 lb (2,948 kg) thrust Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.3s. A year later the Avons were replaced by 7,500 lb (3,402 kg) thrust Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire A.S.Sa.6s. The Olympus Mk 100 engine of 9,750 lb (4,423 kg) thrust was first installed on the second prototype (VX777), which was initially flown on 3 September 1953. VX777 featured a 16 in (0.41 m) longer fuselage to increase fuel capacity and accomodate a longer nose leg, a ventral blister for visual bomb aiming and an improved crew compartment. In the meantime, the first production Vulcan B. Mk 1 order had been placed, and the first of these aircraft (XA889) flew on 4 February 1955. XA899 was principally used for engine development, flight testing each upgraded version of the Olympus as it was produced. The B. Mk 1 was successively fitted with Olympus Mk 101, 102 and 104 engines.
Avro test pilot Roly Falk caused a sensation at the 1955 Farnborough Air Show by slow-rolling the second production aircraft during its display. Thus giving a clear demonstration of the control and stability of the still strange-looking aircraft. Flight testing showed that the application of g at high altitude at high Mach numbers could result in aerodynamic buffeting (high frequency vibration), which posed a fatigue problem in the outer wings. This was remedied by reducing the sweep angle on the central portion of the wing, giving a kinked leading edge instead of the previously unbroken 52º sweep. This Phase 2 wing was first flight tested on the second prototype in October 1955 and progressively retrofitted to early production aircraft.
On 31 May 1956, No.230 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) was formed to train Vulcan crews for Bomber Command. The first crews went on to form No.83 Squadron which received its first aircraft on 11 July 1957. A total of six squadrons were eventually equipped with the B. Mk 1.
In 1956 design work began on a Mk 2 version of the Vulcan. The new variant featured a redesigned wing which was optimised to take advantage of the substantial increases in engine thrust that were expected from new 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. The second prototype (VX777) began flight testing of the new wing on 31 August 1957. Other changes for the B. Mk 2 included enlarged air intakes and ducting to match the more powerful engines, shortened landing gear, the addition of a gas turbine APU and a new AC electrical system installed. A flight refuelling probe was also added in the nose, an autopilot fitted and an ECM suite installed in the tail cone.
The production line switched over to the Vulcan B. Mk 2 version on the 46th and subsequent aircraft. The first production B. Mk 2 (XH533) flew on 19 August 1958 with Olympus Mk 200 engines, and the first delivery to 230 OCU occurred on 1 July 1960. A substantial improvement in operational altitude and the ability to pull higher g levels was soon demonstrated. From 1960, Olympus Mk 201 engines of 17,000 lb (7,711 kg) thrust were introduced. By 1963, Olympus Mk 301 engines of 20,000 lb (9,072 kg) thrust were being fitted (from aircraft XH557), but no engine retrofit for earlier B. Mk 2s was attempted.
While the Vulcan B. Mk 1 had been designed to deliver a free-fall nuclear bomb (initially Blue Danube and later Yellow Sun) from high altitude, advances in air defence technology were expected to make this approach far too hazardous. Accordingly, the B. Mk 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, 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 Vulcans equipped to carry it were designated B. Mk 2A. The first such aircraft was delivered in September 1961, and full operational capability was achieved in February 1963. The remaining Vulcan B. Mk 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 and facing the eventual demise of its nuclear deterrent role. In 1963 the British Governement opted to procure Polaris nuclear missile submarines instead. In the interim, the British WE177B parachute retarded nuclear weapon was adopted for use on Vulcan B. Mk 2s.
From 1959, many B. Mk 1s were equipped with in-flight refuelling capability. Between October 1960 and March 1963 all the surviving B. Mk 1s received an equipment upgrade which included Olympus Mk 104 engines and the incorporation of an Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) suite in a new enlarged tailcone featuring a prominent radome. The modified aircraft were designated B. Mk 1A. The same tailcone was also used on production B. Mk 2 aircraft.
During 1963 the mission capability of the B. Mk 1A was extended to include low-level ‘under the radar’ mission profiles. The B. Mk 2 followed suit in early 1964. A special terrain following radar was fitted in a nose ‘pimple’ to the latter variant in 1966.
In 1968 the Royal Navy’s Polaris missile equipped submarines took over the role of Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent. The Blue Steel missile was subsequently withdrawn from service and the Vulcan B. Mk 2 switched to the tactical bombing role with conventional and nuclear weapons. The last Vulcan B. Mk 1As were all withdrawn from service by 1968 and the three remaining squadrons re-equipped with the B. Mk 2.
After retirement from squadron service, several B. Mk 1s were used for engine manufacturers flight trails. The Vulcan being ideal for this duty 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 TSR 2, Concorde and Tornado programmes all benefitted from this type of testing.
The run-down of the nuclear deterrent force freed up Vulcans for other duties. Nine aircraft were assigned to the long range maritime radar reconnaissance role, replacing the Victor B/SR. 2. Designated B. Mk 2(MRR) these aircraft were modified with the addition of LORAN C navigation equipment and the removal of the terrain following radar thimble in the nose. No.27 Squadron used the aircraft between 1 November 1973 and 31 March 1982. In the mid-1970s, the tips of Vulcan fins acquired fore and aft antennae for an ARI 18228 radar warning receiver.
By 1982 the Vulcan had been in service for far longer than had been originally envisaged. 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 No.230 OCU in August 1981 and continued with all the Scampton-based units having disbanded by March 1982. Waddington-based units were expected to continue flying the Vulcan for a couple more years but this plan was soon abandoned for economic reasons.
Following the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands in early 1982, five Vulcan B. Mk 2s were earmarked for possible offensive operations. These aircraft were fitted with a Westinghouse AN/ALQ-101 jamming pod under the starboard wing, and an Inertial Navigation System and refurbished flight refuelling probes. Operating from Ascension Island in the South Atlantic – the nearest available base – the Vulcans launched a series of high-profile attacks on the occupying forces on the islands, under the codename Black Buck. Refuelled by Victor tankers, the first raid, Black Buck 1, took place on the night of 30 April/1 May 1982, when XM607 released 21 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs on the runway at Port Stanley Airport. The result was only a partial success and further bombing sorties were flown. Three other missions were also flown, using AGM-45A Shrike anti-radar missiles to target Argentinian radars. Argentina recognised the potential threat to mainland targets posed by the Vulcan’s ultra long-distance strikes and redeployed its fighter forces away from the south to defend more strategically important parts of the country.
The South Atlantic conflict caused only a short delay in the retirement of the bomber force, the last B. Mk 2 unit disbanding on 31 December 1982. However, the acute shortage of tanker aircraft which arose from the Falklands campaign led to six Vulcans being converted to the air-refuelling tanker role. Designated Vulcan K. Mk 2 – initially B. Mk 2(K) – these aircraft had the ECM suite removed and a Mk 17B hose-drum unit fitted below the tail in a crude box fairing. The bomb bay was filled with three auxiliary fuel tanks. No.50 Squadron operated these aircraft between 21 June 1982 and 31 March 1984. Thus becoming last RAF squadron to operate the Vulcan.
Upon its final retirement, the RAF chose to retain two Vulcans purely for air display purposes. In December 1986, the Vulcan Display Flight was reduced to one aircraft as a cost-cutting measure. Further funding cuts finally forced the last airworthy Vulcan (XH558) into retirement in late 1992. The aircraft was sold to C. Walton Ltd and delivered by air to Bruntingthorpe on 23 March 1993. Subsequently, the aircraft was kept in a serviceable condition for fast taxi runs along the huge runway at Bruntingthorpe. In 1999 agreement was reached between the CAA and the manufacturer (now British Aerospace) as to the civil certification requirements needed to allow the aircraft to fly again. A dedicated organisation, The Vulcan Operating Company, was established to manage the required work and raise funds to pay for it. On 22 June 2004 the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to provide £2.734m towards restoring XH558 to flying condition. The funding commitment requires a financial contribution from other sources and donations are still actively sought. As of mid 2004, work is progressing well and a return to flight is forecast for 2006.
| XA913 at Rolls
Royce Filton, with underslung RB.199 pre production engine.
|B. Mk 1A XA913 on a slow pass, RAF Leuchars, seen in 1966.|
|(both photos, Keith McKenzie)|
Requirement Specification: B.35/46
Manufacturers Designation: Avro Type 698
|first prototype||One aircraft with Avon engines. Later successively fitted with Sapphire, Olympus 102, Olympus 104 and Conway engines.|
|second prototype||One aircraft, much closer to production standard. Olympus 100 engines intially. Later flight tested Olympus 101/102/104 engines and new wing for B. Mk 2.|
|Vulcan B. Mk 1||Initial production version. Olympus 101/102/104 engines.|
|Vulcan B. Mk 1A||Conversion of B. Mk 1 with ECM equipment in enlarged tailcone.|
|Vulcan B. Mk 2||Improved production version with larger, thinner, wing and uprated Olympus 201 or 301 engines. Later fitted with Terrain Following Radar in nose pimple and ARI.18228 passive radar warning system on top of fin.|
|Vulcan B. Mk 2A||B. Mk 2 converted to carry Blue Steel missile. Olympus 301 engines. Reverted back to B. Mk 2 standard when Blue Steel withdrawn.|
|Vulcan B. Mk 2BS||Alternative designation for B. Mk 2A.|
|Vulcan B. Mk 2(MRR)||9 conversions of B. Mk 2 for Maritime Radar Reconnaissance role.|
|Vulcan K. Mk 2||6 conversions of B. Mk 2 for air-refuelling tanker role, with single hose-drum unit under rear fuselage.|
|Stage 6 Vulcan||Projected version of B. Mk 2 designed to carry six Skybolt missiles. Olympus 23 engines and new bigger wing.|
|Avro Type 700 Atlantic||Projected airliner version using Vulcan wing and longer wider fuselage to carry passengers.|
|B.2 of 230 OCU on final approach
at Finningley in 1968
|XH563, with Palouste bleed-air starter unit
plugged in, on a cold foggy October morning
at Scampton in 1968
|(both photos, Keith McKenzie)|
|7 January 1947||Requirement Specification B.35/46 formally issued|
|March 1947||Type 698 first sketched out as a pure delta flying wing|
|27 November 1947||Avro’s design tender to B.35/46 accepted|
|June 1948||Specification B.35/46 re-issued with amendments|
|June 1948||Two prototypes ordered|
|September 1948||Detailed design completed|
|July 1952||First B. Mk 1 production order|
|30 August 1952||First prototype maiden flight|
|October 1952||Type 698 officially named Vulcan by the Air Council|
|3 September 1953||Second prototype maiden flight|
|4 February 1955||First production B.1 maiden flight|
|5 October 1955||Flight testing of second prototype with Phase 2 kinked wing commences|
|20 July 1956||First B.1 delivery to RAF Bomber Command (230 OCU)|
|11 July 1957||First B.1 delivery to operational Squadron (83 Sqn)|
|31 August 1957||Second prototype flies with Mk.2 wing fitted|
|19 August 1958||First production B.2 maiden flight|
|30 April 1959||Last B. Mk 1 delivered|
|1 July 1960||First B.2 delivery to RAF Bomber Command (230 OCU)|
|October 1960||First B.2 delivery to operational Squadron (83 Sqn)|
|Oct 1960 – Mar 1963||B.1 to B.1A upgrade programme|
|February 1963||First operational Blue Steel equipped squadron (617 Sqn)|
|December 1962||Development of Skybolt missile abandoned|
|late 1963||Blue Steel trial launches at Woomera|
|1964||Vulcans switched to low-level attack profiles|
|14 January 1965||Last B.2 delivered|
|1966-Jan 1968||B.1As retired from squadron service|
|1969||Blue Steel missile withdrawn from RAF service – Vulcans tasked with conventional bombing|
|1 November 1973||First B.2(MRR) conversion delivered to RAF|
|9 June 1981||Phased retirement of B.2s starts|
|30 April/1 May 1982||Operation ‘Black Buck 1’ flown in Falklands War|
|1982||Rapid conversion of 6 a/c to K.2 air refuelling tankers|
|31 December 1982||Last B.2 squadron disbanded|
|31 March 1982||B.2(MRR) withdrawn from service|
|31 March 1984||K.2 withdrawn from service|
|23 March 1993||Last RAF Vulcan flight. Delivery of XH558 to Bruntingthorpe.|
|September 1999||Launch of campaign to return a Vulcan to the air|
|22 June 2004||Heritage Lottery Fund awards £2.7m for restoration of Vulcan XH558 to flying condition|
|2006||Planned first flight of restored Vulcan XH558|
|UK – Royal Air Force||(B.1: 6 sqns + OCU; B.2: 11 sqns + OCU)|
|UK – RAE Farnborough||(A few on loan for test duties)|
|Bristol Siddeley/Rolls-Royce||(At least 2 B. Mk 1s loaned for engine test bed use)|
|The Vulcan Operating Company||(One B. Mk 2 restored to flying condition)|
|Avro Vulcan B.Mk.1|
|Role: Long range strategic medium bomber|
|Dimensions: Length 97 ft 1 in (29.59 m); Height 26 ft 6 in (7.95 m); Wing Span 99 ft 0 in (30.18 m); Wing Area 3554.0 sq ft (330.18 sq m)|
|Engine(s): Four Bristol Olympus 101 turbojets of 11,000 lb (4990 kg) st, or Olympus 102 of 12,000 lb (5443 kg) st or Olympus 104 of 13,000 lb (6078 kg) st.|
|Weights: Empty (including crew) 83,573 lb (37,144 kgs); Maximum Take-off 170,000 lb (77,111 kg)|
|Performance: Maximum level speed Mach 0.95 (625 mph, 1006 kph) at 39,375 ft (12,000 m); Cruising speed Mach 0.92 (607 mph, 977 kph) at 50,000 ft (15,241 m); Service ceiling 55,000 ft (16,765 m); Range 3000 mls (4,830 km).|
|Armament: No defensive guns. Conventional or free-fall nuclear bomb-load carried internally. Maximum bomb-load 21,000 lb (9,526 kg).|
|Avro Vulcan B.Mk.2|
|Role: Long range strategic medium bomber|
|Dimensions: Length 99 ft 11 in (30.45 m) initially, 100 ft 1 in (30.50 m) over nose ‘pimple’, 105 ft 6 in (32.15 m) with refuelling probe; Height 27 ft 2in (8.28 m); Wing Span 111 ft 0 in (33.83 m); Wing Area 3964.0 sq ft (368.27 sq m)|
|Engine(s): Four Bristol Siddeley Olympus 201 turbojets each rated at 17,000 lb (7711 kg) st, or Olympus 301 turbojets each rated at 20,000 lb (9072 kg) st.|
|Weights: Empty Equipped ? lb (? kg); Normal Take-off 179,898 lb (81,600 kg); Maximum Take-off 200,180 lb (90,800 kg)|
|Performance: Maximum level speed Mach 0.75 (528 mph, 850 kph) at sea level, Mach 0.96 (645 mph, 1038 kph) at 39,375 ft (12,000 m); Maximum Cruising speed Mach 0.95 (627 mph, 1009 kph) at 55,100 ft (16,800 m); Service ceiling 64,960 ft (19,800 m); Combat radius on internal fuel 1,710-2300 mls (2750-3700 km); Ferry range 4,750 mls (7,650 km), lo-lo mission 3,450 miles (5550 km) without refuelling, 5,750 miles (9256 km) with one in-flight refuelling.|
|Armament: No defensive guns. Conventional (21 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs) or nuclear bomb-load in internal bomb bay or provision for one Blue Steel ‘stand off’ bomb in semi-recessed installation. Many aircraft also included underwing attachment points for the Skybolt missile, which could be later used for the cariage of Shrike missiles and ECM pods.|
Head of Design Team: Roy Chadwick (Stu Davies from August 1947)
Chief Aerodynamicist: Eric Priestly (later Roy Ewans)
Project Designer: J.G. Willis (later G.A. Whitehead)
Design Office: A.V. Roe & Co Ltd, Chadderton, Manchester.
A.V. Roe & Co Ltd (From 1963 Hawker Siddeley Aviation Ltd)
(Woodford Airfield, Manchester, UK)
|Version||Quantity||Assembly Location||Time Period|
|Vulcan prototypes||2||Woodford||Sept 1948-Sept 1953|
|Vulcan B. Mk 1||45||Woodford||1954-Mar 1959|
|Vulcan B. Mk 2||89||Woodford||1958-Dec 1964|
Total Produced: 136 a/c (All variants)
See ‘The Vulcan Story’ listed below.
‘The Vulcan Story’
by Tim Laming
Published by Arms & Armour Press, 1993 ISBN: 1 8540 9148 4
* Extremely detailed authoritative history of all aspects of the Vulcan.
‘The Vulcan Story 1947-2002’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Tim Laming
Published by Cassell Military, 11 April 2002 ISBN: 0 304 358 45 2
* Comprehensive reference. Updated version of above title?
‘Avro Vulcan – Postwar Military Aircraft: 4’
by Andrew Brookes
Published by Ian Allan Ltd, 1996 ISBN: 0 7110 1548 1
* Concise comprehensive history.
‘The ‘FOBS KID’ Syndrome – Vulcan Bombers In Action’
by Crew Chief Barry Goodwin
Published by ?, 2001 ISBN: ?
* Memories of a RAF crew chief who looked after Vulcans on the ground. (Reportedly, certain incidents attributed to the author actually occurred to fellow squadron members.)
by Tim Laming
Published by Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1996 ISBN: ?
* Covers all three V-bombers and Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent.
‘The Vulcan B.Mk 2 From A Different Angle’
by Craig Bulman
Published by Carnegie Publishing, 2001 ISBN: 1 858218 99 3
* History of the Vulcan bomber.
‘V-Bombers: Valiant, Vulcan and Victor’
by Barry Jones
Published by Crowood Press, 2001 ISBN: ?
* Development and operation of all three V-bombers.
‘Vulcan: Last Of The V-Bombers’
by Duncan Cubitt & Ken Ellis
Published by Osprey Publications Ltd, 1993 ISBN: 1 855322 92 7
* Collection of colour photos of Vulcans. Mostly the B.2 version and many of XH558 in action.
‘Avro Vulcan B.2 – Aeroguide 6’
by R Chesneau & R Rimell
Published by Linewrights Ltd, 1985 ISBN: 0 946958 05 X
* Modellers reference guide with markings and close-up photos of the B.2 version.
‘Royal Air Force Avro Vulcan: Warbird Tech 26’
by Kev Darling
Published by Speciality Press, 1999 ISBN: 1 58007 023 X
* Development history with reprints from Vulcan technical manuals.
‘Avro Vulcan: Warpaint No.30’
by Kev Darling
Published by Hall Park Publications, 2001 ISBN: ?
* Concise history with markings details and scale drawings.
‘Avro Aircraft Since 1908’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by A J Jackson
Published by Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1990 ISBN: 0 85177 834 8
* Detailed company history with a chapter on the Vulcan.
‘Wings Of Fame Volume 3’
Published by Aerospace Publishing, 1996 ISBN: 1 874023 70 0 (pb)/1 874023 76 X (hb)
* Includes well written 62-page feature on the Vulcan.
To be added.
Aviation Picture Hangar – Avro Vulcan
* Collection of colour photos of preserved Vulcans and some b+w in-service photos
Vulcans in Camera
* Superb collection of Vulcan in-service pics, mostly from the 1970s
The Mighty Vulcan – Tribute To A lady
* Collection of Vulcan photos – mostly XH558, including some cockpit details
Avro Vulcan – The Delta Lady
* Vulcan history, news & decent photo gallery
The Avro Vulcan Pages
* Lots of Vulcan info but last updated April 1999
Thunder & Lightnings Vulcan page
* Vulcan history, complete survivors list and a lot of nice photos
Vulcan Restoration Trust
* Website dedicated to XL426 at Southend
The Vulcan Operating Company
* The group restoring XH558 to flying condition. News, webcam, fund raising etc
Vulcan 558 Club
* Official supporters site for XH558 at Bruntingthorpe
Avro Vulcan Walk Around
* Detailed close-up photos of the Duxford and Newark Vulcans
RAF Waddington – Avro Vulcan
* Vulcan background, operations at Waddington, nice photos
* Website dedicated to Vulcans XA903 and XH537 experimental testbeds with history, pics, Vulcan merchandise
Avro Vulcan XL319
* Site dedicated to the Vulcan at the North East Aircraft Museum
Mike’s Vulcan Pages
* Collection of photos of preserved Vulcans, very nice XH558 pics
Flight Simulator Models:
To be added.
To be added.
See the Aeroguide and Warpaint titles listed above.
‘Vulcan – A Farewell To Arms’ [Order this video from Amazon UK]
DD Video, 1993, Catalogue Number: DD580
* Profile of the Vulcan and record of its final appearance at Cranfield on 20 September 1992.
‘Vulcan Squadron – Delta 8-3 – A story of a Vulcan Aircraft and its crew’ [Order this video from Amazon UK]
Catalogue Number: BF126
* Follows a Vulcan crew through training and active service in the late 1950s.
‘Avro Vulcan’ [Order this video from Amazon UK]
Catalogue Number: CHV2145
* Profile of the Vulcan bomber.