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Avro Vulcan Frequently Asked Questions 

Who invented the Vulcan?

Who built the Vulcan?

How much did a Vulcan cost?

Why was the Vulcan needed?

When did a Vulcan first fly?

How many crew were needed?

 Did the Vulcan have ejector seats?

Where were the Vulcans based?

What are the dimensions of the Vulcan?

What weapons did the Vulcan carry?

How many variants were produced?

 Was the Vulcan used to test Concorde's engines?

Why were some Vulcans painted white?

Was the Vulcan ever used against an enemy?

When did the Vulcans leave the RAF?

What happened to them then?

How many are left now?

Will a Vulcan ever fly again?

Vulcan Bibliography

 Glossary of Vulcan Terms


 

Who invented the Vulcan?

 

The original idea to use a delta wing came from Dr. A. Lippisch, a German designer who was famous for the creation of the Messerschmitt Me163. His ideas were taken to America after WWII. However the actual design for the Vulcan was produced by Mr. Roy Chadwick, the chief designer at A.V. Roe.

 

Who built the Vulcan?

 

The Vulcan was produced by the A.V. Roe company which was based at Chadderton near Manchester. The assembly hall (where the different components were fitted together) was located at Woodford, near Stockport.

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How much did a Vulcan cost?

 

Each Vulcan originally cost over one million pounds. At current prices this would equate to nearer sixty million pounds per aircraft. However, Vulcans are decidedly cheaper these days! XM612 was purchased by the City of Norwich Aviation Museum, in airworthy condition, for the sum of five thousand pounds in January 1983. You thought your car suffered depreciation!!

 

Why was the Vulcan needed?

 

After the American bombing of Japan with atomic bombs, it was clear that if Britain was to remain a dominant force, she too needed an atomic capability. Piston engined aircraft were not suitable for this role as they were easy pickings for enemy jet interceptors. Thus, a purpose built four-jet aircraft was required.

Bomber Command required an aircraft which was capable of delivering a nuclear device weighing 10,000lb, over a range of 1,500 nautical miles. It had to be able to fly at altitudes between 30,000 and 50,000 feet, and travel at 500 knots (Mach .83).

Three companies sent in designs for this aircraft, namely Vickers, Handley Page and A.V. Roe. To minimise disruption caused by unforeseen problems Bomber Command approved all three designs and so the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan were born...

 

When did a Vulcan first fly?

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The flight was from the Avro factory at Woodford, Cheshire. It occurred on the 31st of August 1952. The aircraft was flown by test-pilot Roly Falk. He displayed the Vulcan a week later at the Farnborough Air show.

 

How many crew were needed?

 

Being a complex aircraft the Vulcan required five members of crew. These were : Captain, Co-Pilot, Navigator Plotter, Navigator Radar and Air Electronics Officer. Each had an important role to perform when the Vulcan was flying.

Click here to find out more about their roles.

 

Did Vulcans have ejector seats?

Vulcan captain and co-pilot had ejector seats, but in an emergency the other three crewmen had to bail out through the entrance hatch.

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Where were the Vulcan Squadrons based?

 

So as to minimise the amount of damage caused to Vulcan squadrons if an enemy attacked without warning, the aircraft were not kept in one central location. In fact they were spread out across the country. Ten airfields were designated V-bomber bases. A further twenty-six airfields were used as dispersal areas.

 

V-Bomber Bases


Coningsby
 

Cottesmore

Finningley


Gaydon
 

Honnington


Marham
 

Scampton


Waddington
 

Wittering


Wyton
 

 

V-Bomber Dispersal Airfields

Aldergrove

Bedford

Boscombe Down

Brawdy

Burtonwood

Cranwell

Elvington

Filton

Kemble

Kinloss

Leconfield

Leeming

Leuchars

Llanbedr

Lossiemouth

Lyneham

Macrihanish

Manston

Middleton
St. George

Pershore

Prestwick

St. Mawgan

Shawbury

Tarrant Rushton

Valley

Yeovilton

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What are the dimensions of the Vulcan?

The basic dimensions are as follows :

Vulcan B1 Technical Specifications


Wingspan : 99 ft 0 in
Length : 97ft 1 in
Height : 26ft 6in
Wing Area : 3554 sq ft
 

 

Vulcan B2 Technical Specifications


Wingspan : 111 ft 0 in
Length : 99ft 11 in
Height : 27ft 1in
Wing Area : 3964 sq ft
 

To find out more about the technical specifications  of the Vulcan click here.   

 

What weapons did the Vulcan carry?

 

The first type of Vulcan (B1) was fitted with Britain's original atomic bomb. This was called Blue Danube. This weapon was later changed to the more powerful thermonuclear bomb code named Yellow Sun. From 1962, the B2 squadrons at RAF Scampton, were armed with Blue Steel, a stand-off nuclear missile which was designed to be fired from a range of up to 100 miles from its target. 

 

Yellow Sun (On display at RAF Museum Hendon)

Blue Steel was an excellent stand-off weapon in that, once it was realised, it needed no signals from outside. Thus, it was  impossible for it to be jammed or diverted by enemy counter-measures.

Blue Steel had a number of problems. Its fuel was dangerous to handle, and its complex, delicate electronics were susceptible to environmental conditions. 

Blue Steel on transporter (On display at RAF Museum Hendon)

It was to be replaced by the Skybolt missile. When Skybolt was cancelled the RAF took delivery of the WE177 free-fall nuclear bomb.

After the withdrawal of the WE177 from service in 1998, the Royal Air Force was no longer equipped with a nuclear arsenal.

WE177  (On display at RAF Museum Cosford)

All Vulcans were also capable of carrying conventional bomb loads. The bomb bay was so large that up to twenty-one 1,000lb conventional iron bombs could be dropped by each Vulcan in a single mission.



1000lb Bombs & Bomb cradle

During the Falklands conflict, Vulcans were equipped with conventional bombs and Shrike anti-radar missiles. These missiles locked onto Argentine radar installations and destroyed them before they could pin point the location of the advancing Vulcan.

The Vulcan did not carry any defensive weapons. This was because it was thought that no missiles or enemy aircraft would be able to detect the Vulcan during high level bombing missions. However as technology improved the Vulcan fleet were fitted with many electronic counter measures (ECM) devices to prevent an enemy attacking them.

 

How many variants were produced? 

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Not including the two prototypes, the first production Vulcans were called B1's. These aircraft had almost straight leading edges to their wings and were powered by Olympus 101, 102 and 104 engines. The first B1 flew in 1955.

These were replaced with the B1A variant in 1959. A pod was fitted to the rear fuselage (behind the tail fin). This pod contained ECM equipment. Many B1's were converted to B1A specification.

In the latter months of 1958 the first B2 took to the skies. The B2 incorporated many design changes over the B1, and was a far superior aircraft. The most striking difference between the two aircraft was the delta wing. This had been redesigned, and had a "kink" put into it . Ninety other engineering changes were also made, including nose wheel lengthening and new, more powerful, 200 volt generators being fitted to the aircraft.

With the arrival of the Blue Steel stand-off missile came another variant of the Vulcan design. This was to be called B2A. These were first flown in the early to mid 1960's. Modifications included, adding a crank in the bomb bay, and removal of the bomb bay doors. Other electrical and mechanical changes were also sanctioned. After decommissioning of the Blue Steel weapon (1969-70), the B2A Vulcans were returned to B2 specification.

A radar reconnaissance variant was converted in 1973. This modification involved removing the terrain following radar (TFR) from the nose cone and replacing it with Loran navigation equipment. Various other sensors and photographic accessories were also added. These Vulcans were designated B2 MRR's (Maritime Radar Reconnaissance).

Shortly before the end of the Vulcans time in the RAF half a dozen of them were converted into tanker aircraft. These were called B2K's or K2's. The changes included, replacing the rear ECM equipment with hose/drum units, and fitting extra fuel tanks into the bomb bay. This fuel could then be used by the Vulcan itself or transferred to other aircraft.Top of Page

A refueller unit similar to those used on the K2
 (On display at RAF Museum Hendon)

 

Was the Vulcan used to test Concorde's engines?

Copyright English Life Publications Ltd.A few Vulcans were used by Rolls Royce as test-beds for the Concorde, TSR-2 and Tornado engine development programmes. Concorde uses the Olympus 593 engine, a development of the Vulcan's Bristol Siddeley (Rolls Royce) Olympus engine. 
The TSR-2 project was scrapped
.

 

Why were some Vulcans painted white?

 

The Vulcan was originally designed to deploy a nuclear bomb onto the enemy whilst flying at a high altitude. The white paint work was introduced to help reduce the possibility that enemy forces would be able to see the aircraft as she flew towards her target. Also the white paintwork, known as anti-flash white,  was supposed to minimise the effects of a nuclear blast on the aircraft and its crew. Whether this would have actually been effective is open to debate, as the Vulcan would have been a long distance away from the detonation of its nuclear payload. After the "Polaris" nuclear deterrent was introduced, the Vulcan's role shifted from high level bomber to low level work. It was at this stage the paint work was altered to a camouflage pattern.

 

Was the Vulcan ever used against an enemy?

 

Yes, shortly before the Vulcan was due to retire from active service, the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentine forces. The RAF used Vulcan bombers to bomb the runway at Port Stanley. At the time the mission was the longest bombing sortie in the history of aviation warfare.

To find out more about this mission click here.   

 

When did the Vulcans leave the RAF?

 

The last operational Vulcan squadron was 50 sqdn based at Waddington. They disbanded on the 31st of March 1984. The aircraft they used were sold to museums or sent to the fire dump.

 

What happened to them then?

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Sadly most of them were sold as scrap and broken up. However sixteen intact Vulcan aircraft remain in the UK. They are scattered around the country and are owned by museums and restoration groups. Apart from these, five Vulcans can be found in other parts of the World.

Click here for a map of the locations of the remaining Vulcans in the UK.  

 

How many are left now?

 

The total number of intact Vulcans (or Vulcan prototypes) is 21. Unfortunately at the present moment, none of these aircraft are airworthy. However a small handful are still able to carry out taxi runs.

 

Will a Vulcan ever fly again?

 

Yes! Until the later part of 2007 it seemed unlikely that a Vulcan would ever fly again. However, thnaks to the hard-work and dedication of Dr Robert Plemming and the Bruntingthopre enginering team, one cvulcan, XH558 will be returning to the display arena in 2008.

 

This event has been the dream of thousands of people, both RAF personnel and laymen alike, to watch a Vulcan take to skies again., to silhoutte the amazing delta shape of it's wing and to produce that awe inspiring Olympus roar when all 4 engines are spooled up to full power.

 

I urge you, if you get the chance, to observe XH558 in action.
I can guarentee you, this is onw display aircraft you will never forget.

 

 

 

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