The Vulcan started life as the Avro 698. Originally Roy Chadwick, the designer of the Lancaster,
was heavily involved in the project before his untimely death in 1947.
(I have received this communication from Roy Chadwick's daughter, Margaret Dove :
Just a note to thank you for your page on the Vulcan.
I did just want to say, that my father, Roy Chadwick, designed the Avro Vulcan.
I have a letter from the Avro Secretary to my mother in 1952, at the behest of Sir Roy Dobson and Sir
William Farren, to say that Roy Chadwick initiated the Delta Type machine, at Avro, and that "MUCH OF DELTA DEVELOPMENT TO DATE IS DUE TO HIM." The Avro Tender for the Vulcan (of which I have a copy) went in to the Air Ministry in May 1947, under my
father, four months before his sad death on the test flight (due to an overnight servicing error). In the late 1960s my sister was told, by the then Managing Director at BAe that Roy Chadwick's designs were being used WORLDWIDE. I would be so pleased if you could amend your mention of my father.)
The Vulcan was a 'new-technology' aircraft (along with the Victor).
It was essentially a bomber which was designed to evade interception by fighter aircraft by flying fast and high.
Part and parcel of this was that the aircraft had no defensive armament, which thereby reduced weight and allowed an aerodynamic profile and helped to increase speed and height.
This was a new idea for the British aircraft industry which, during the war, had been producing the Lancaster and Halifax which were designed to carry very heavy bomb loads at the expense of altitude and speed (the Mosquito being an exception to this rule).
An older technology aircraft, the Valiant, was also built
as a stopgap, and in case the other
two designs failed to come up to scratch. However both the Vulcan and Victor were successes and for
a time these three aircraft constituted the V-Bomber force
of the RAF, although the Valiant was withdrawn in 1965.
Initially there was intense competition with the Victor of Handley Page
and indeed there was doubt as to whether both the Vulcan and Victor
would pass into RAF service, even when
, in June 1952, simultaneous orders were placed for 25 production models of both the Vulcan and Victor.
Both the original Vulcan B1 and B2 entered RAF service with
83 squadron. The B2 had an increased wing area, an
aerodynamically-improved wing and more powerful Olympus engines.
In addition, it possessed increased ECM (Electronic Counter-Measures)
equipment contained in a bulge behind the tail. Most of them were
capable of carrying a Blue Steel stand-off nuclear missile
and the first squadron actually to be equipped with Blue Steel was 617.
On May 1 1960, Gary Powers was shot down in his U2 spyplane, above 20.000 meters, by a missile
- height was becoming less of an advantage. The Vulcans switched to a low-level role and in 1964
an appropriate upper camoflauge of green-grey was adopted (previous Vulcans had been all white to deflect nuclear flash).
V-bomber numbers also peaked in 1964 when there were 159 - 70 Vulcans, 50 Valiants and 39 Victors.
It had been planned to fit Skybolt air-launched ballistic missiles but this program
was cancelled by the Americans and in 1962 it was planned to replace Skybolt with Polaris. The nuclear role was eventually taken over on 30/6/69 by the Navy's Polaris
submarines. A planned uprated version of the Vulcan, with 6 crew, never materialized.
They were eventually replaced by the Tornado in the early eighties, not before some Vulcans had seen military action, for the first time in the aircraft's history, in the Falklands.
The decision had been made to start the disbanding of the 8 Vulcan squadrons starting from 11/12/81,
to be completed by the end of June 1982. But on 2/4/82 Argentina invaded the Falklands (Malvinas).
The Falklands only three squadrons were left and, in fact, only 5 aircraft were suitable.
The crews had to re-learn re-fuelling techniques, skills which had been lost during its low-level role. Five missions were flown :-
April 30. - 16 hour flight by XM607 serviced by 10 Victor tankers (some Victors were required to refuel other Victors). More fuel was used than expected because the Vulcan had to fly lower than maximum i.e. at the height of the Victor tankers.
The Vulcan only had enough fuel to get in and out in a straight line. It dropped 21 bombs at an angle to Port Stanley runway, one of which hit the target (as was the intention).
May 3. - XM607 again struck against Port Stanley runway, but this time missed.
May 29. - XM597 carried 2 Shrike anti-radar missiles but both missed their target.
June 1. - XM597 carried 4 Shrikes one of which disabled a radar station and killed three of its operating crew. On its return leg, its fefuelling probe broke and it was diverted to Rio de Janeiro (where it was interned for the rest of the war).
June 12. - General bombing raid by XM607 by which time British troops had landed.
Six Vulcans were converted to tankers (as a stopgap until the VC10 tankers were to enter service) and these were operated by 50 squadron, alongside 4 bombers, until 31. March 1984. By end of 1984, all Vulcans had been retired except
a couple retained for flying purposes. Of these, XL426 was withdrawn in 1986 and XH558 was withdrawn in 1993. Both are now in private possession and hopes of them flying again still exist.
No Vulcans were exported although in 1981 Argentina had enquired about the possibility of acquiring
ex-RAF aircraft to replace its Canberras.
It was a contemporary of the American B-52.
XL319 - on the Museum's original site
XL319 making its final landing at Sunderland Airport