AVRO Vulcan

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AVRO Vulcan
Vulcan XJ824 at the IWM,Duxford
Rolelongrange bomber
First Flight31 August 1952
Entered ServiceSeptember 1956
Number built136
Type 698
Lengthmft in
Wingspanmft in
Heightmft in
Wing areaft²
Maximum takeoff weightkglb
Enginesfour Rolls-Royce Olympus 100 turbojet engines
ThrustkN (each)lbf (each)
Maximum speedkm/hmph
Operational rangekmmiles
Service ceilingmft
Rate of climbm/minft/min



Soon after the end of World War II it was obvious that the UK needed a jet propelled long range bomber. Three companies decided to start the design of a bomber under Air Ministry specification B.35/46. These were A.V.Roe (AVRO), Handley Page and Vickers. Specification B.35/46 required a bomber with a 5,500 km (3,000 nm) range, 15,000 m (50,000 ft) operational ceiling and 930 km/h (500 knots) top speed. The design should be able to deliver at least 4.550 kg (10,000 lbs) of bomb load into Soviet territory. AVRO’s top designer Roy Chadwick started the process in 1947, with a design that was called Type 698, later becoming known as the Vulcan. Together with the Victor and the Valiant, the Vulcan formed the British V bomber force. The V bombers materialized the British nuclear threat during the Cold War. Although the initial Type 698 was almost a flying wing design significant changes were soon adopted. The wingtip rudders were omitted as was the staggered mounting of the engines in the wings. The design was changed into a slightly more conventional model with central rudder and wing root parallel mounted power plants. As AVRO had hardly any experience in delta wing aircraft the company decided to build a scaled down model, called AVRO 707, in 1948. Although the first AVRO 707 prototype crashed on 30 September 1948, the test flights provided massive data for the Type 698 project. On 31 August 1952 the prototype AVRO 698 VX770 made its first flight. It was powered by Avon RA.3 engines as the proposed Bristol Olympus engines were not available yet. These were later changed for Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire ASSa.6 engines until, finally, four RCo.7 Conway engines were installed. A second prototype, VX777, joined VX770 on 3 September 1953 in test flying the AVRO Type 698. It was not until 1953 that the name Vulcan was adopted. Unlike the first prototype, VX777 was powered by Bristol Olympus 100 engines, from the first moment on. Unfortunately prototype VX770 was destroyed on 14 September 1958 at Syerston when the rear end of the fuselage disintegrated in mid air.


Vulcan B1

The Vulcan B1 was the first production model of the new AVRO bomber, the first of which, XA897, was delivered to the RAF in September 1956. This aircraft immediately went on a promotional journey to New Zealand. Unfortunately, on 1 October, at the end of the trip, XA897 crashed short of the runway at Heathrow, killing 3 of its crew. Strangely enough the Vulcan only had room for ejection seats for the pilot and co-pilot, the so-called rear seaters had to bail out, in case of an emergency. This configuration led to severe criticism, but was never changed. It was not before 1957 that the RAF received its second Vulcan, soon to be followed by more. The RAF serials of the B1 model ranged from XA889 to XA913 (25 aircraft) The Vulcan B1A models ranged from XH475 to XH483, XH497 to XH506 and XH532 (20 aircraft) Both the B1 and B1A were powered by subsequent versions of Olympus engines (100/101/102/104). Main difference between the B1 and the B1A was the enlarged tail cone of the latter, which housed an ECM system. Early example B1s were delivered in silver finish, later changed to “anti-flash” white.

Vulcan B2

Had the wing leading edge of the prototypes and B1/B1A version wings been straight, these were modified in the B2 version to have a kink further outward to the wingtip. This modification provided better flying characteristics than the initial design. In the B2 the four elevators and four ailerons present in the B1 were replaced by elevons which had a double function. The B2 had a thinner wing with an increased wingspan of 111 feet (compared to the 99 feet wingspan of the.1) The B2 version carried terrain following radar in the nose and a passive radar warning receiver in the tail fin. It also carried an Airborne Auxiliary Power Unit and emergency Ram Turbine generator. The first Vulcan B2 was flight tested in 1957, and the production aircraft were delivered from 1960, powered by Olympus 201 or 301 engines.. In total 89 Vulcans B2 were produced for the RAF. The B2 aircraft were delivered in “anti-flash” white painting, but this was changed for the more familiar grey and green camouflage colours from the late 1970s.

Vulcan B2A

The earlier models of the Vulcan had already been part of the British nuclear deterrence force, and carried free falling bombs with sweet names as “Blue Danube”, “Green Grass”, “Violet Club”, “Red Snow” or “Red Beard” From 1962 26 Vulcans, and all the Victors, were equipped to carry the AVRO Blue Steel weapon. This was a rocket powered stand-off bomb with nuclear head. The Blue Steel weapon was to have been replaced by the US built Skybolt Air Launched Ballistic Missile. For this purpose most Vulcan were equipped with underwing pylons to carry two Skybolts. But the Skybolt project was cancelled by US president John F. Kennedy in 1962. The Blue Steel weapon remained in use until 1970 when the nuclear deterrence function was taken over by the British Polaris carrying submarines. From that moment on the Vulcan had become a conventional bomber, able to carry up to twenty-one 1000 lbs (454 kg) bombs. Its conventional role was demonstrated during the Falkland War.

Multi role Vulcans

Nine Vulcans in total were modified as Maritime Radar Reconnaissance aircraft, known as the B2(MRR). The first of these was delivered to Scampton on 1 November 1973. The MRR version lacked the Terrain Following Radar of the standard B2 and was finished in gloss paint with light grey underside, in contrast to the original model. Five of the converted B2(MRR) aircraft, one of which was XH558, were capable of Aerial Air Sampling. For this purpose an additional pylon had been constructed next to the Skybolt hard point. A converted former Sea Vixen droptank was used as an airsampling device. The MRR version aircraft were all powered by Olympus 201 engines. After the retirement of the last B2(MRR) on 31 March 1982, six of them were converted to the Aerial Refuelling Role as Vulcan K2. RAF no 50 squadron used these aircraft as a stop-gap solution from 1982 to 1984, until all the Tristar tankers were operational. One Vulcan was used as a flying testbed for the new Olympus 320 engine for the TSR-2 design, and later for the Olympus 593 intended for the Concorde.



Operational history

Vulcans in the Falkland War

As is generally known, Argentinean forces invaded the British Falkland Islands in 1982. They considered these to be part of their country, for them the islands were called “Islas Malvinas” The British government, led by mrs. Thatcher, the “Iron Lady”, decided to demonstrate their military power even so far from the “Homeland”. The Royal Air Force came up with the plan to select five Vulcan aircraft and modify them for very long-range conventional bombing. Within three weeks the aircraft were ready: their bomb bays were modified, their inflight refuelling system retrofitted, additional pylons for an ECM pod and AGM-45 Shrike anti-radar missiles were designed, tested and fitted. The bombers electronics systems were updated. The missions against the Falklands were called “Black Buck” operations. They spanned some 6,300 kilometers (3,380 nautical miles) form Ascension Islands to Stanley. Of course this was very much beyond the operational range of the Vulcan. To cover this distance numerous Victor tankers were used to deliver just one Vulcan over the target. During three bombing missions only one direct hit on Stanley’s runway was scored. The three Shrike anti-radar missions flown led only to the destruction of a small anti-aircraft radar. The “Black Buck” missions were more a logistic achievement than an actual military success. Each mission took some 1.1 million gallons of fuel!

Last of the many

Today only one Vulcan remains airworthy, XH558, which is owned and operated by the Vulcan Operating Company (TVOC). Vulcan XH558 was built as a B2 bomber and delivered to the RAF in June 1960. In 1974 the aircraft was converted to B2(MRR) status and was one of the Vulcans capable of taking air samples. In 1982 XH558 was, again, converted, this time into a K2 tanker version. After 1984 it was returned to B2 status, and, as such was the last flying Vulcan in RAF service with the Vulcan Display Flight. XH558 was struck of charge in March 1993. After sale at an RAF auction the bomber was flown to Bruntingthorpe for restoration. On 6 February 1995 it was registered to C. Walton Ltd as G-VLCN. From the beginning on many people were sceptic about the chances that this project could be successful. Not in the least because of the known strict rules imposed by the CAA, the British Civil Aviation Authority. Many people thought it would be impossible to comply with the legal standards for an aircraft of the so-called “complex” category. But a nucleus of enthusiasts kept the faith in the outcome of this tremendous job. Supporters for the restoration of the Vulcan joined in the XH558 Club, which later changed its name into the Vulcan To The Sky Club (VTTS club). They have supplied volunteers and raised the funds to initiate the restoration of XH558. For this purpose they tried to attract sponsors, attended airshows and sold all kind of Vulcan memorabilia. After the breakdown of fellow Vulcan XM603 at Woodford, its cockpit was mounted on a trailer and used for promotion at various airshows. The actual restoration and the future flying operations of XH558 were and are in the hands of the Vulcan Operating Company (TVOC). In 2004 the project received an enormous boost thanks to a ₤ 2.738.000 donation by the Heritage Lottery Fund. And on 3 March 2005 XH558 changed hands from private ownership by the C. Walton Ltd. to a charitable trust, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust. This move enabled the attraction of more public funding. The purchase of the project was also financially supported by individuals who sponsored minor or major parts of XH558. Sponsoring the refuelling probe would cost you, for instance, £ 5000. The sale of the aircraft turned out highly successful as from this moment professional mechanics could be hired. A team from Marshall Aerospace of Cambridge, supported by British Aerospace joined the volunteer team. This gave a true acceleration of the restoration project. But in August 2006 the project almost found an untimely end when it ran out of finances. The costs of restoration and certification had almost doubled the calculated amount. Within one month an additional ₤ 1.2 million had to be found… A high profile publicity campaign was undertaken by the VTTS club and the VTTS friends.. They raised ₤ 860.000 within the month, but a donation of ₤ 500.000 by philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward finally made the difference. Volunteers and hired mechanics now worked in shifts around the clock to finish the job. On 17 August 2007 the first engine testing of the new zero-hour Olympus engines was performed. This continued until on 22 August when all four engines were tested at full power, and they ran flawlessly. After all the systems had been tested and tested again, the culmination came on 18 October. On that day the long awaited day had come for the Vulcan Operating Company (TVOC). At 12.27 hrs local time their AVRO Vulcan XH558 (G-VLCN) took off from Bruntingthorpe for its first flight since fourteen years. On the flight it was flown by Al McDicken, David Thomas, and Barry Masefield. Its return to the air was the culmination of a project that was started years ago thanks to the vision of one man, David Walton. He had acquired XH558 from the RAF during an auction with the final goal of getting it into the air again. With a gigantic amount of spare parts, four of which are additional Olympus engines, XH558 is destined to fly for the coming ten to fourteen years. But there are dark clouds at the horizon: After a record breaking first flight in its present restored form, in October 2007, vital funding and sponsorship has eluded the project team. The aircraft currently sits in a Leicestershire hangar, fully flight-ready, unable to appear at UK airshows this year due to an URGENT cash shortage. If, by the end of March this year, £150,000 cannot be found to jump this final hurdle, the whole 9 year project will close along with the extensive education programme built around this incredible machine.


  • XH537 Vulcan B2A - Cockpit section only at Bournemouth Aviation Museum, U.K., since March 2003
  • XH558 Vulcan B2 - (Registered G-VLCN) restored to fly at Bruntingthorpe, U.K.
  • XJ823 Vulcan B2A On display at Carlisle Airport, U.K.
  • XJ824 Vulcan B2A - On display at the Imperial War Museum Duxford Aerodrome, U.K.
  • XL318 Vulcan B2 - On display at the RAF Museum, Hendon, U.K.
  • XL319 Vulcan B2 - On display at the North East Aircraft Museum, Usworth, U.K.
  • XL360 Vulcan B2 - On display at the Midland Air Museum Coventry, U.K.
  • XL361 Vulcan B2 - On display at CFB Goose Bay, Canada.
  • XL426 Vulcan B2 - (Registered G-VJET) preserved in taxiable condition at Southend Airport, U.K.
  • XL445 Vulcan K2 - Cockpit section only, at Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, Flixton, U.K.
  • XM573 Vulcan B2 - On display at Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska, USA
  • XM575 Vulcan B2A - On display at the East Midlands Airport Aeropark, U.K.
  • XM594 Vulcan B2 - On display at the Newark Air Museum, Newark-on-Trent, U.K.
  • XM597 Vulcan B2 - On display at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Scotland.
  • XM598 Vulcan B2 - On display at the RAF Museum, Cosford, U.K.
  • XM603 Vulcan B2 – Cockpit section only, preserved for promotional purposes, TVOC, Bruntingthorpe,U.K.
  • XM605 Vulcan B2 - On display at Castle AFB, California, United States.
  • XM606 Vulcan B2 - On display at Barksdale AFB, United States.
  • XM607 Vulcan B2 - On display at RAF Waddington, U.K.
  • XM612 Vulcan B2 - On display at City of Norwich Aviation Museum,Norwich, U.K.
  • XM655 Vulcan B2 - (Registered G-VULC) preserved in taxiable condition at Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield, U.K.


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