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Vulcan B.2 in wrap around camouflage

Avro Vulcan

The 'Tin Triangle', is one of the most amazing and distinctive sights in British skies. First flown 30 August 1952, the Vulcan impressed straight away.

The origin of the Vulcan and the other V bombers is linked with early British atomic weapon programme and nuclear deterrent policies. Britain's atom bomb programme began with Air Staff Operational Requirement OR.1001 issued in August 1946. This anticipated a government decision in January 1947 to authorise research and development work on atomic weapons, the US Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (McMahon Act) having prohibited exporting atomic knowledge, even to countries that had collaborated on the Manhattan Project. OR.1001 envisaged a weapon not to exceed 24 ft 2 in (7.37 m) in length, 5 ft (1.5 m) in diameter and 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) in weight. The weapon had to be suitable for release from 20,000 ft (6,100 m) to 50,000 ft (15,000 m).[

In January 1947, the Ministry of Supply distributed Specification B.35/46 to UK aviation companies to satisfy Air Staff Operational Requirement OR.229 for "a medium range bomber landplane capable of carrying one 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) bomb to a target 1,500 nautical miles (1,700 mi; 2,800 km) from a base which may be anywhere in the world." A cruising speed of 500 knots (580 mph; 930 km/h) at heights between 35,000 ft (11,000 m) and 50,000 ft (15,000 m) was specified. The maximum weight when fully loaded ought not to exceed 100,000 lb (45,000 kg). In addition to a "Special" (i.e. atomic) bomb, t

A Vulcan B.2

he aircraft was to be capable of alternatively carrying a conventional bomb load of 20,000 lb (9,100 kg). The similar OR.230 required a "long range bomber" with a 2,000 nautical miles (2,300 mi; 3,700 km) radius of action with a maximum weight of 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) when fully loaded; this requirement was considered too difficult.

Proposals and Cancelled Projects

Avro had began work on developing successors to the Vulcan; such as the Avro 721, a smaller and more advanced bomber specifically for low level flying, building on Avro's extensive experience with delta wings.[53] The Avro 730, a Mach 2.5 supersonic high altitude reconnaissance/bomber aircraft was a major project that may have replaced the V-bombers, but met with cancellation in 1957.[54]

In 1960, the Air Staff approached Avro with a request into a study for a Patrol Missile Carrier armed with up to six Skybolt missiles capable of a mission length of 12 hours. Avro's submission in May 1960 was the Phase 6 Vulcan, which if built would have been the Vulcan B.3. The aircraft was fitted with an enlarged wing of 121 ft (37 m) span with increased fuel capacity; additional fuel tanks in a dorsal spine; a new main undercarriage to carry an all-up-weight of 339,000 lb (154,000 kg); and reheated Olympus 301s of 30,000 lbf (130 kN) thrust. An amended proposal of October 1960 inserted a 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m) plug into the forward fuselage with capacity for six crew members including a relief pilot, all facing forwards on ejection seats, and aft-fan versions of the Olympus 301.[55]

A airliner derivative of the Vulcan, to be known as the Avro Atlantic, was proposed and discussions were held with BOAC and Armstrong-Siddeley in the early 1950s about payload requirements.[56] It would have retained the delta wings and buried engines of the Vulcan, and was projected to accommodate between 80 to 130 passengers; the Atlantic was to be capable of flying the London-New York route in five and a half hours.[57]


Piloted by Wing Commander Roly Falk, VX770 first flew on 30th August 1952 and, watched only by Avro employees and a small band of press, he showed just why he had fought for a fighter- style joystick instead of the traditional yoke. The first flight did not go entirely to plan - two objects were seen to detach from the aircraft and float to the ground. These turned out to be the triangular undercarriage doors attached to the rear of the main gear legs, and the aircraft flew without them for a short time afterwards. In 1953 the Type 698 was officially named the Vulcan, and surely there can not have been a more fitting appellation given to any aircraft? Several spectacular Farnborough appearances followed, including a full roll at the 1955 show (try that in a B-52!). Falk had actually rolled the Vulcan on returning to Avro's Woodford base after a previous Farnborough appearance - that time he did it so low and so noisily that he smashed all the skylight windows in the assembly building!

The prototype had first flown with Avon engines, as the Rolls-Royce BE.10s (later named Olympus) being developed were not yet ready; it was soon fitted with Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphires instead but only with the fitment of the Olympus was the aircraft's true potential realised. By August 1953, the second prototype, also fitted with the Olympus, was in the air also. Unfortunately, at higher speeds, the wing was suffering from buffeting during manouevres, and the problem was serious enough to require a partial re-design. The production B.1 gained a kinked and dropped leading edge, and a lengthened nose to accomodate extra fuel and simplify the nose gear leg retraction system. Delivery of production B.1s began in 1956 and the first squadron (83 Squadron) formed in May 1957 - but by this time the RAF already had a wary eye on the ever-increasing sophistication of the Soviet Union's defences.

Vulcan B.1

General characteristics

  • 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: 3554 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



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