The Avro 698 Vulcan is a jet-powered delta wing strategic bomber, which first flew on 30th August 1952 at Woodford. The design was considered the most technically advanced of the submissions in response to Specification B.35/46 although it was thought by some as the riskiest option.
A number of scale aircraft such as the Avro 707 and 710 were designed and produced to test and refine the delta wing design principles and handling characteristics although the latter aircraft failed to come to fruition due to numerous delays.
Avro Test Pilot Wing Commander Roland ‘Roly’ John Falk, dressed in his distinct pin-striped suit, finally took the gloss white Type 698 prototype (VX770) into the air on 30th August 1952, albeit single crewed for safety reasons.
Powered by four Rolls-Royce RA.3 Avon engines, with a temporary fuel tank fitted into the bomb bay and only fitted with the first-pilot’s ejection seat, Falk took the aircraft through a number of unconventional manoeuvres before opening the throttle to such a point that it shattered a number of factory windows.
A matter of weeks later the yet unnamed aircraft appeared at the SBAC Farnborough Air Show although a number of options were being considered. These included the ‘Ottawa’ (in honour of the contribution made by Avro Canada).
However, the UK press were full of their own suggestions including the Albion, Avenger, Apollo or Assegai. Eventually, pressure from the Chief of the Air Staff to reflect the V-Bomber classification, the Air Council announced the aircraft as the Avro Vulcan.
The second prototype (VX777) flew in September 1953 and was more representative of the production aircraft having been lengthened to accommodate a longer nose undercarriage leg, a visual bomb-aiming blister under the cabin and fitted with Bristol Olympus 100 engines. At Falk’s suggestion, a fighter-style control stick replaced the control wheel.
During trials in July 1954, VX777 was substantially damaged in a heavy landing at Farnborough although it was repaired and then fitted with Olympus 101 engines before resuming trials in October 1955.
Handling problems as the aircraft approached the speed of sound at high altitude resulted in a tendency to enter an uncontrollable dive which proved unacceptable to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down. The solution included the ‘Phase 2 wing’, featuring a kinked and drooped leading edge and vortex generators on the upper surface, first tested on the Avro 707A.
The Vulcan B.1 was first delivered to the RAF in 1956 whilst deliveries of the improved Vulcan B.2 started in 1960. A number of foreign governments expressed an interest in the aircraft although none ever came to fruition. The later B.2 featured more powerful engines, a larger wing, an improved electrical system and Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM), many of which were modified to accept the Blue Steel missile.
As a part of the RAF’s V-Force, the aircraft was the key part of the UK’s airborne nuclear deterrent during much of the Cold War. Although typically armed with nuclear weapons, the Vulcan’s ability to also carry conventional weapons was used to full effect on Operation Black Buck during the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina in 1982 – This was to be the only mission ‘flown in anger’ by an Avro Vulcan.
Carrying no defensive weaponry, the Vulcan relied upon high-speed high-altitude flight to evade interception and whilst electronic countermeasures were employed by the B.1 (designated B.1A) and B.2 from circa 1960, the Vulcan was always vulnerable to air attack.
All 134 production aircraft (45 B.1 design / 89 B.2 design) were built at Avro’s Woodfood Factory in Cheshire between 1948 and 1965 although one aircraft remained on the ground as a static test frame.
A change to low-level tactics was made in the mid-1960’s and by the mid-1970’s nine Vulcans were adapted for Maritime Radar-Reconnaissance operations, re-designated as B.2 (MRR). In the final years of service six Vulcans were designated K.2 and converted to tanker configuration for aerial refueling before reaching final retirement in 1984.
At one point a Vulcan B.3 was proposed as a long-endurance missile carrier with up to 12 hours duration but it was never built.
- Crew: 5 (pilot, co-pilot, AEO, Navigator Radar, Navigator Plotter)
- Length: 97 ft 1 in (29.59 m)
- Wingspan: 99 ft 5 in (30.3 m)
- Height: 26 ft 6 in (8.0 m)
- Wing area: 3,554 ft² (330.2 m²)
- Empty weight: 83,573 lb (including crew) (37,144 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 170,000 lb (77,111 kg)
- Powerplant: 4 × Bristol Olympus 101, or 102 or 104 turbojet, 11,000 lbf (49 kN) each
- Maximum speed: Mach 0.96 (645 mph ( 1038.03km/h)) at altitude
- Cruise speed: Mach 0.86 (567 miles per hour (912 km/h)) at 45,000 feet (14,000 m)
- Range: 2,607 mi (4,171 km)
- Service ceiling: 55,000 ft (17,000 m)
- Thrust/weight: 0.31
- 21 × 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of conventional bombs
- 1 x Blue Danube nuclear gravity bomb
- 1 x Violet Club 400 kt nuclear gravity bomb
- 1 x U.S. Mark 5 nuclear gravity bomb supplied under Project E
- 1 x Yellow Sun Mk.1 400 kt nuclear gravity bomb
- 1 x Yellow Sun Mk 2 1.1 Mt thermonuclear gravity bomb
- 1 x Red Beard nuclear gravity bomb
- 1 x WE.177B parachute-retarded nuclear gravity bomb