Vulcan Bomber

Here’s a press report you might be interested in:


A full size replica Avro Vulcan bomber is currently being readied for its maiden flight at an airport in Minnesota. Externally identical to the British delta-winged nuclear bomber of the nineteen-sixties, the white painted replica has recently completed a series of high speed taxi runs at Avra Valley, near Minneapolis. Avra Valley is the home of several vintage jet fighters now preserved in flying condition.

Built by the Avra Valley Replica Organisation (AVRO), and constructed from glass fiber, kevlar and aluminium materials familiar to kitplane builders, the replica weighs less than one third of the original.

The project is funded by Lithuanian born millionaire Loof Lirpa, owner of Lirpa Communications and self-confessed Vulcan fanatic, to the tune of some $850,000. Lirpa says “I first saw the Vulcan perform at a display during a business trip to England. I was absolutely knocked out by its looks and performance.” Having failed to buy the last flying example, when it was grounded by the Royal Air Force in 1992 and put up for sale, he resolved to build and fly his own.

Progress has been good, Lirpa says. “Taxi trials have gone well, with only a couple of minor problems. Now we just need to fly her”. The Vulcan is expected to take to the air on April 1st. After thorough flight testing, it is hoped the aircraft will be ready in time for a debut appearance at the massive airshow at Oshkosh in the summer.

A number of design tweaks are planned before the aircraft is seen by the public. “The main problem is getting the right feel and sound for the
display,” explains Lirpa. The distinctive ‘charging bull elephant’ roar during take-off, for which the Vulcan is famous, will be achieved by acoustic tuning of the engine air intake ducting. “At the moment it sounds more like a household vacuum cleaner” Lirpa admits. The engine exhausts are also too clean – measured amounts of industrial die will be automatically injected into the exhaust pipes to reproduce an authentic smoky trail. The replica is actually powered by four General Electric J85 engines, purchased as military surplus, and last used in Navy Northrop F-5 fighters.

The spectacular highlight of the display routine will be the mid-air launch of a replica Blue Steel nuclear missile from the aircraft’s bomb-bay. A initial batch of six of these replica missiles is currently being assembled by AVRO.

As for future plans, Lirpa refused to comment on reports that AVRO employees have been seen measuring and photographing the huge six-engined Convair B-36 bomber on display at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

John Hayles

The Super Stirling

In the early part of 1941, inside the corridors of power of Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command, there was a growing concern regarding the Halifax and Lancaster bomber force in contrast to the Sterling platform. The perceived disadvantages of the Sterling had many in the Command clamoring for an upgrade to the existing aircraft. This lead to the RAF to send a formal request for an enhanced Sterling, in the form of Specification B.8/41. The result of this was the project called “Super Stirling” which was based on the new Centaurus CE3Sm radial engine.

The new blue print for the Short Super Stirling, tagged project S36, began with the introduction of the Centaurus CE3Sm radial engine early in the summer of 1941. With the power plant in hand, it was time for the engineering team at Short Brothers (from 1943 forward, the company was named Short Brothers and Harland) to start developing the S36 concept. The first thing they did was redesign the whole wing structure. The baseline Stirling fuselage was extended for the installation of a larger central bomb bay intended to carry the huge and still in the developmental stages 8,000lb free fall bomb. This alone represented a major upgrade over the original Stirling bomber. In addition, six more wing-based cells were installed. Each cell could carry up to 1,000lb of ordinance.

In the autumn of 1941, the RAF’s Controller of Research and Development (CDR) Department issued a paper covering, among other things, the expected operational characteristics of the S36 design. The CRD viewed the new bomber as a “typical night bomber having high useful load at a comparatively slow, economical cruising speed (214mph at 15,000′) just six miles per hour faster than the Stirling”. Despite the uninspired report, the CDR still recommended that the project go to full production mode.

The first, true outline of the project now known as the Stirling III, which was revealed to the RAF’s top brass in July 15th 1941, offered an insight into the Short engineers’ vision. The “III” design had a powerful defensive armament system. Two .5 inch machine guns were placed in the nose of the aircraft, four additional ones in both mid upper and tail turrets. Another machine gun, a .303 inch caliber, was installed under the fuselage in an under turret mechanism. Maximum takeoff weight for the new bomber was estimated at 103,100lb. Top operational speed was 311 mph at a 20,000 service ceiling. Maximum operational ceiling was determined to be 29,300′. In August a further revision of the S36’s profile was made. But the outlines of it were the same, a similar airframe to the original bomber with an increase bomb load and extended longer fuselage. The S36 was conceived to be able to carry a powerful 23,500lb total bomb load, compare to the original Stirling’s 14,000lb capacity, for 2,300 miles.

On the 19th of November 1941, the Air Ministry issued Specification Order B.8/41 to cover the program costs and allocation of resources. Nevertheless, questions were raised regarding the new aircraft’s feasibility. The Controller General Office was skeptical of the Stirling III production success. In a report made public in the fall of 1941-42, the CRD issued some reservations about the development of the S36 as it compared with the Halifax and Lancaster platforms. Or even the much anticipated Avro Super Bomber design, still years away from presentation. Still, the CDR endorsed the project with an order of two sample aircraft on 9th of January 1942. The CRD assigned serials JR540 and JR543 to the two units. One, without a certain operational requirement, the other ready to fly once completed.

It was estimated that the first unit would take to the air in the autumn of 1943. Shorts were also encouraged to prepare a production blue print for an Initial Production Order of twenty aircraft with a possible extension of 130 units. On May 11th, the Commander in Chief of the RAF’s Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris wrote that “the B.8/41 was expected to eradicate the weakness of the present Stirling force and with much bigger span wings should be a better aircraft. But the new potential given does not justify the change over, the switch will cost at least 126 Stirlings at Rochester plus a ratio of two B.8/41s for three Stirlings. The best course is to concentrate on the Hercules VI Stirling which will go a long way to improve the really weak feature, its operational ceiling at weak mixture. The Hercules VI should push this up to 19,000′ from 16,000′ which is superior to the B.8/41”. Coming from Harris, these words were gospel to the Air Ministry.

A fortnight later, Short brothers were told to cease all work on the S36 project. The Ministry estimated that by the time the S36 achieved operational status, and taking into the equation the expected increases in additional weight that usually goes into a new aircraft, the new profile of the bomb load would be insufficient to justify the losses of standard production Stirling. The decision stunned Shorts who, for a while, entertained the idea of privately continuing with the program. But on August 5th they decided to abandon the whole program. The valuable data gained during the program’s life was used on another air platform concept; the Vickers Long Range High Altitude Super Bomber.

– Raul Colon

Air Power: The men, machines, and ideas that revolutionized war; from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Books 2004
International Air Power Review, AIR Time Publishing, Volume 22, 2007

The Next Generation Bomber:
A Brief Look at the B-2’s Program Early Life

In the middle of President Ronald Reagan’s massive military buildup of the 1980s, there wew a few very interesting concepts being discussed. One of the most exotic was the hypersonic aircraft. In the mid 1980s, the new Republican Administration began exploring the option of developing such a fantastic air platform. Reagan and his team of scientific advisers was pushing hard the idea of an airplane capable of achieving speeds of Mach 12. The President himself promoted the idea in a televised news conference. They way he described the concept, the new aircraft, a renewed symbol of America’s technological prowess, would have taken off from a regular designed runway, climb above the stratosphere, much like any ICBM does, then it would proceed to move into sub-orbit, before commencing its gradual descend like a any conventional airliner. The administration even got a name for this highly futuristic plane, “The Orient Express”. The name was in reference to the aircraft’s expected ability to reach Tokyo in just two hours. The whole concept was doomed to failure from the very beginning. The dynamics to make such an aircraft fly at that speed were not available at that time. Lockheed’s vaunted SR-71 Blackbird, for example, was able to flight at “only” at Mach 3.2 and that was achieved only after expending enormous amounts of effort and funds. At Mach 12, the Express’ surface would have come apart from heat friction interaction no matter what the skin composition would have been. A titanium airframe, which was the strongest material known at the time, could receive up to 2,500 degrees of heat, after which it would began to tear up. In the SR-71, the pilot wore a special space suit that protected him from the excruciating heat. If the cabin’s air conditioner system failed, he would most likely die from extreme heat exposure. Incredible, ridiculous, not even feasible, were some of the words used by many at Lockheed’s secret Skunk Works facility in California to describe the whole idea. But the dream of building such radical aircraft did not die then. In fact, the idea still passes around in Congress. The “Express” would had been a join effort between NASA and the Pentagon. But long before any funds were made available for the feasibility study, the Administration began to realize that the Orient Express, instead of being one sole unit, was in reality two separate platforms, a rocket and an aircraft, joined together mush like NASA’s space shuttle and that the science to make it a reality was not there yet. What was available was the technology to make America’s next generation bomber.

In the spring of 1978, a group of engineers, lead by the charismatic Ben Rich, head of Lockheed’s secret Skunk Works complex; made a pitch at the Pentagon for a new heavy bomber aircraft. Boosting Lockheed’s recently developed F-117 stealth fighter as its introduction card, Rich forceful promoted his idea for America’s next generation bomber. The meeting was presided over by Gene Fubini, director of the Defense Science Board and Under Secretary for Defense and one of the early proponents of stealth technology, William Perry. Both Perry and Fubini were distraught over the current state of Rockwell’s B-1 program. The B-1 was conceived as a replacement for the AF B-52 plane, but massive cost overruns and poor testing put Rockwell’s bomber program in serious peril. Nevertheless, the Pentagon and Strategic Air Command (SAC) were in dire need of a replacement for their vaunted, but aging, B-52 bomber. The poor results showed by the B-1 prompted SAC to look at another option. There were discussions inside the Air Force of upgrading General Dynamics’ F-111 swing wing tactical fighter/bomber. The idea had the partial endorsement of SAC’s top commander, AF General Richard Ellis who favored quantity over size. He believed that a more numerous fleet of bombers would have cost less than a somewhat smaller fleet of much larger planes. “Airplanes by the pound”, as the motto went on those days. It was not a perfect solution, but, AF generals were afraid of being stuck behind an aging fleet of B-52s and a new, problem-prone force of B-1s. This gave Rich and his team the opening they craved for, “if you guys are eager for a small bomber fleet, look no further than our basic design for the stealth fighter. All we got to do is make it larger and we have an airplane that could carry the payload of the F-111, but with a radar cross section at least ten orders of the magnitude better”. Those words resonated on both Perry and Fubini who were well informed of the F-117’s technological prowess. Perry, who had just signed a feasibility study for the possible development of a naval stealth vessel, was more receptive to the idea than the sometimes more rigid Fubini. Nevertheless, Perry was not ready to grant one company the sole monopoly on stealth.

But the Air Force had to deal with the problematic B-1 project before it could mount another huge and costly bomber program. Canceling such a vast program as the B-1, was and still is a potential political mess. The cancellation of the B-1, which was designed to penetrate a heavily saturated Soviet air defense system and proceed to deliver its nuclear payload flying near or on the deck; was bound to cost millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. But there was a powerful argument to be made for canceling the whole program: survivability. A year before, the AF had conducted an study looking into the B-1’s chances of surviving a deep penetration mission against heavily defended Soviet airspace, what the study revealed shocked most of the AF’s top brass. Sixty percent of the attacking B-1 force would be shot down before it could reach its operational target. That loss rate was unacceptable. Rich and his team argued that in an study performed that same year by an independent defense think tank, a bomber utilizing the latest in stealth technology would acquire a survivability ratio of almost eighty percent. A dramatic improvement. A few days after the Washington meeting, Rich received a call on Lockheed’s secure line. It was Major General William Campbell, head of Future Planning for SAC who said “(General) Ellis would be very receptive to a stealth bomber. I want to send out to the Skunk Works a couple of our most senior bomber pilots to sit down with you and your people and work up for Ellis’ approval the requirements for a deep penetration stealth attack bomber” The seeds of the “Spirits” were laid, although not in the direction Rich would want it.

Rich and his team, which now consisted of several SAC bomber pilots and colonels, worked diligently for almost three months developing the outlines of their program. “Peggy”, as the Skunks Works’ early stealth bomber research program was referred to (Peggy was the name of General Ellis’ wife), called for a medium sized bomber capable of having an operational range of 3600 nautical miles unrefuelled with a 10000 pound payload capacity. The proposal was quickly approved and Lockheed received a two year, fully funded, grant for research experimentation. Lockheed appeared to had been well on its way to acquiring the military’s biggest one program contract since the Manhattan Project. They had good reason to believe so. William Perry was convinced that only a stealth platform could give the United States the ability to penetrate and suppress any installation deep inside the USSR. It would take the Soviets decades to achieve the necessary technological breakthroughs to counter the US stealth technology, Perry thought. But the US presidential election changed it all. On November 1980, Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in a landslide victory. The problem Rich and Lockheed now faced was the expected resignations of most the current mid to top level civilian managerial pool at the Defense Department. It also meant that Perry, a lifelong Democrat and one of stealth’s most passionate supporters, would step down from his powerful post. Perry was the true force behind the stealth revolution. Pushing forward stealth programs even at the expenses of other, more conventional ones. Stealth and its early development was, and still is, his legacy.

Lockheed’s closest competitor for the new bomber was the Northrop Corporation. In the early 1970s, Northrop had lost a close competition with Lockheed to develop the US’s first stealth platform and were primed for a rematch. Behind Northrop’s effort was the brilliant, albeit unconventional, John Cashen who wanted nothing less than to “beat” Rich and his team for the new AF contract. In the 1970s, the US air and space industry was basically a monopoly of just four big companies and a vast network of subcontractors. The most powerful company at the time was McDonnell-Douglas which build thousand of F-15 fighters for the AF, plus the newest Navy fighter bomber, the F-18. McDonnell was followed by the massive General Dynamics Corporation which made everything from the F-16, to tanks, missile systems and even submarines. Lockheed was third with a solid experience of developing cargo and spy planes as well as the mainstay of the US ICBM force at the time, the Polaris Ballistic Missile. Northrop and Rockwell, which developed the B-1, followed.

Northrop was Lockheed’s main competition for the bomber program. There were several factors that pointed to Lockheed winning the coveted contract. First, Northrop had not developed the type of advanced research facility that Lockheed had with its Skunk Works. Second, the company have expended valuable resources developing the F-20 light weight fighter. After a cost overrun of more than $ 100 million, the F-20 fighter, which was a non-provocative air platform, meaning the the plane was advanced enough to be sold to Americas’ Allies but it was vulnerable (designed as) to the most sophisticated US anti aircraft measures. The idea behind the non-provocative concept was that US aerospace companies could sell off the shelf technologies to US Allies without compromising America’s ability to respond if they turn hostile. Northrop began to court the government of Taiwan which was desperately trying to upgrade their air defense assets. But strong Chinese opposition to the sale managed to kill the entire program, placing the company in a compromising financial position. This was perhaps the most important thing going for Northrop in the bidding process. If the company could not land the new bomber contract, it would join Rockwell, which was already struggling with the cancellation of the B-1; on the fringe of the US aerospace industry. Meanwhile, Lockheed’s team began planning for the expected order. They moved ahead with plans to enlarge their secret facility at Burbank and even had a tentative agreement with Rockwell to utilize their huge facility at Palmdale, plus, many of Rockwell’s skilled workers would be participating on the final assembly. At the other side, Northrop entered into a limited partnership with Boeing. The stage was set.

Everything seemed to be on track for Lockheed’s entrant to win out, everything, that is, except politics. After William Perry left DOD, the whole stealth bomber program was relocated from the Pentagon to Wright Field AF Base. Wright was under the command of General Al Slay, head of the AF System Command. As with Perry, Slay was a true believer in stealth, but, unlike Perry, the influential General wanted big, heavy bombers instead of the medium size type Lockheed had been pitching. Immediately, Slay authorized funds from one of the AF’s black accounts. The new bomber’s fund was assigned the name of Aurora by Colonel Buz Carpenter, a young and upcoming officer. Somehow the name of the fund was leaked to the press, prompting one of the world’s most enduring myths. Thus the competition began at earnest. Both conglomerates centered their efforts around Jack Northrop’s 1930s flying wing design. Both engineering team succeed in making the flying wing concept more feasible than was the case almost forty years early, the wing’s boomerang plan-form afforded the lowest radar return echo, plus it gave the platform an unusually favorable lift to drag ratio paving the way for reduced fuel consumption and a longer operational range. As each company began to develop a three quarter scale mock up, it was increasingly obvious which direction each one would take. Lockheed’s design was more along the lines of a medium-sized platform, while Northrop’s was more of a true heavy-bomber type. Here is where another significant factor was staked against Lockheed’s entry. Because the company’s design was relative small, the wing needed to be fitted with a small tail structure in order to add stability to the bombing platform. Northrop’s concept on the other hard was large enough to be able to operate with just its own surface control systems. This small difference gave Northrop’s design a better lift/drag ratio compared with Lockheed’s entry.

On May 1st 1981, the designs of both, Northrop and Lockheed were pitted against one another in an AF radar detection range. Data relating to the test is still classified, but rumor has it that Lockheed’s design beat Northrop’s entry on nearly all frequency tests, nevertheless, the following October, Ben Rich received a formal notification from the AF awarding the advance heavy bomber contract to Northrop on technical merit. Rich did not take the news well. Neither did his superior, Lockheed’s CEO Roy Anderson. Both men went to visit the newly appointed AF Secretary, Verne Orr, to protest the matter. A visibly angry Orr told both men that “not only was Northrop better than you, they were much better than you”, prompting Anderson to say “Well Mr. Secretary, time will tell”. It was later revealed to Anderson that the selection of Northrop’s design was attributed to size. A much bigger aircraft with a larger payload capacity provided a better bargain for the AF. Although the Northrop’s design registered a “bigger” radar signature than its counterpart, it would require fewer attack sorties because it carry a larger payload. Less sorties counterbalanced the real stealth advantages enjoyed by Lockheed’s design.

– Raul Colon

More information:
Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas that Revolutionized War, From Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Group 2004
Concept Aircraft: Prototypes, X-Planes, and Experimental Aircraft, Editor Jim Winchester, Thunder Bay Press 2005
The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare, Editor Chris Bishop, Amber Books 2001
Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide, Gunter Endres and Mike Gething, HarperCollins, 2002

Latest Russian Air Force Bomber

The end of the Cold War and the new financial realities within the Russian Federation in the early 1990s, accelerated the decommissioning, and eventual termination of large portions of the former Soviet Union’s Strategic Bomber Force on-going development programs. In addition to these cutbacks, new aircraft development programs have been dramatically cutback and the aircraft industry itself no longer reflects the one that dominated Soviet society from the late 1940s onward. Nevertheless, studies into future bomber developments have continued, although relatively little information has so far, been made available to the general public regarding Russia’s newest bomber designs. The following is a partial view of some of the work that the Soviet Union undertook since the early 1980s. But, as with all related aircraft design information, it’s difficult to verify if any of these programs are still active today. In the early 1990s, the Mikoyan Bureau commenced a research study into a hypersonic, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, which may also have being given the designation of bomber. The Mikoyan 301, as the type was designated, could had flown at speeds of over Mach 3.5 utilizing special hybrid power plant that would operate in flight as a ram jet engine. To cope with the built up of heat friction, the 301 was designed to be built completely out of an new stainless steel alloy. The aircraft’s concept design was able to take-off with a maximum weight of 176,367lb. A variable geometry wing was to be employed in the design. By the end of the 1990s and the beginning of a new century, work on this spectacular design probably would had been shelved or at best, moving on a much slower pace than original conceived by Soviet, and then Russian authorities.

The next generation Russian bomber could very well have been the incredible Sukhoi T-60S. Few, if any, detail have surfaced of this design. What it is known is that the T-60S was conceived as a supersonic, stealth heavy bomber. Re-heat wouldn’t have been fitted to the aircraft, as the plane was supposedly able to supersonically cruise at high altitude on dry power, and its weapon system platform would have included cruise missiles, second generation precision guided conventional munitions and free-fall nuclear weapons. Some have speculated that this aircraft in fact entered full scale development in early 1990, but the subsequence collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, prevented any additional work on the project. In the summer of 1998 it was widely reported that the project was still ongoing as a possible replacement for the Tu-16 and Tu-22M bombers.

From the early 1980s onward, the Tupolev Design Bureau began to look for a potential successor to its successful Tu-160 bomber platform. The end result of these studies produced a pair of hypersonic aircraft projects. The first, designated Aircraft 260, was, from 1983 forward, intended to fly at Mach 4 at an operational ceiling of 83,000 ft and was to have an un-refuelled range of 6,215 miles. This aircraft was proposed to be powered by four Soloviev D80 jet engines mounted in a side-by-side configuration beneath a double delta wing configuration. The aircraft would have had a relatively flat main fuselage. There was to be no tail-plane on this new bomber, just a single tall fin. Its fully-loaded take off weight was around 396,825lb. A preliminary design project was completed by the fall of 1985. The next hypersonic plane design to surface in relation with Tupolev’s future design program was Aircraft 360. It had a similar layout to the 260 project, but was bigger and supposedly capable of speeds in excess of Mach 6 with an un-refuelled range of 9,323 miles. It could carry a massive bomb load of 22,046lb. Aerodynamics studies suggested that with a constant cruise speed of Mach 6, the aircraft would lose about three thousand miles in operational range. To obtain this incredible speed, the installed engines would need to utilize cryogenic fuel cells and, as a result, six hydrogen-powered units were intended to be fitted; all of them “variable cycle” types that could operated in both a turbojet and ramjet environment. There were to be two crewmen and the aircraft bomb load was to be carried in two wing root bomb bays. The design development program also envisioned the flight testing of a scale model plane weighting around 176,367lb, but the project was terminated in the fall of 1992 after some fuselage and fuel system parts had already been manufactured. Again, the program termination was in great part due to the strained financial situation in Russia

It’s also believed that Tupolev’s designers began work on a subsonic flying wing bomber concept as early as the mid 1980s, designated Aircraft 202, and with research still ongoing during the late 1990s, it was hoped by the design team that a version of this aircraft might actually reach hardware development status in the early 2000s. The aircraft was given a temporary designation of B-90, which stood for Bomber of the 1990s and the project was visualized as an intercontinental strike heavy bomber aircraft replacement for the aging Tu-95M Bear bomber fleet. But as with many of these exceptional designs, financing was a major problem and the project was cancelled in the early 2000s.

– Raul Colon


1. Aircraft of OKB Tupolev, Vladimir Rigmant, Moscow Russavia 2001
2. Soviet X-Planes, Yefim Gordon & Bill Gunston, Midland Publishing 2000
3. Russian Aviation and Air Power in the Twentieth Century, Edit Robin Higman, John T. Greenwood & Von Hardesty, Frank Cass 1998