The Avro Vulcan in RAF Service
The Type 968 was Avro's response to the UK Government's 1947 call for proposals for a high speed high altitude jet bomber to carry the British nuclear arsenal. It was one of three proposals chosen, and after trials with single seat scaled-down test aircraft designated Avro 707s, the first full-sized prototype (VX770) took off for the first time from Woodford on August 30th, 1952, and was demonstrated to the crowds at Farnborough two days later. The Air Ministry decided that their new bombers would constitute the "V-force", taking their naming cue from the Vickers Valiant, and by October 1952 the Type 968 had become the Avro Vulcan.
Vulcan - The Early Years
Forty five production aircraft of the initial design, Vulcan B1s, had been delivered by mid 1959, each powered by 4 Bristol Olympus 104 engines of 13,500 pounds static thrust. These were followed between 1959 and 1965 by 89 Vulcan B2s, which had a larger, thinner wing, a number of uprated systems, and were initially powered by Bristol Olympus 201 engines of 17,000 pounds static thrust.
The aircraft was originally designed to carry Britain's first independent nuclear weapon, Blue Danube, and that determined the size of the bomb-bay. Blue Danube was a pure fission weapon of 500KT, would have filled the Vulcan's bomb-bay and weighed in over 10,000 lbs!
Blue Danube Atomic Bomb
The first British fusion weapon, Violet Club, whose exterior appearance was much like the Blue Danube, was never carried by the Vulcan, due to several problems. See The Aviation Trivia Blogspot for details.
In 1959, Blue Danube was replaced by Yellow Sun Mk1, a boosted fission weapon with a yield of about 500KT
Yellow Sun Mk2, a pure fusion weapon with a yield of 1MT was introduced in 1961 and was withdrawn in 1970.
Yellow Sun Mk1 Nuclear Bomb
Originally designed as an all-weather high-altitude transonic bomber with a service ceiling in excess 60,000ft, following the shooting down of Gary Powers in a U2 aircraft in May 1960, it became obvious that with the rapid advances in the USSR's surface-to-air missile systems, height alone would no longer provide protection.
This lead to a major modification program to the Vulcan B2s including massive strengthening measures, a camouflage paint scheme, and eventually Terrain Following Radar (TFR) to give a low level capability.
In 1963, 617 Sqn ("The Dam Busters") aircraft based at Scampton were equipped with the Blue Steel missile. This was a highly accurate stand-off bomb with a 1.2MT yield from its Red Snow thermonuclear warhead and a range of 150 miles. Its inertial navigation system could deliver the weapon to within 300ft. of the target. However, as it used the very dangerous High Test Peroxide (HTP) for its Armstrong Siddeley Stentor rocket engine, ground handling was hazardous and the missile took at least 30 minutes to prepare for flight immediately before take-off. Consequently it was never a 'rapid reaction' weapons system. Proposals by Avro to overcome these deficiencies using either a ram jet or an Armstrong Siddeley Viper jet engine were turned down by the U.K. Government in favour of the American Skybolt missile (see below).
Flying test-bed Mk.B1 XA903 with Blue Steel Missile
The Bristol Olympus 301 engines, which each produce 20,000lbs of static thrust were fitted to the later Vulcans that were intended to carrry the Skybolt thermonuclear stategic missiles.
The larger engines were required to overcome the drag and weight of the Skybolt missiles which were to be carried as external stores with one under each wing.
However, on the same day that the first successful launch of a Skybolt took place in 1962, the USA cancelled the project, and the U.K. Government opted for the Polaris submarine missile system transferring the role of prime nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy.
Once the Royal Navy was operating Polaris, the V-Force adopted the role of low-level tactical nuclear response, equipped from 1966 with the WE-177B (and from 1969 the WE-177C) tactical thermonuclear weapon with a yield of 400KT.(Type B) or 200KT (Type C). These weapons weighed only 950 lbs. and were 133in. long with a diameter of 16.5in.
In its conventional role the Vulcan can carry up to 21, 1000lb high-explosive bombs.
Vulcan B2 XM599 drops 21, 1000lb. Bombs
A full history of the Vulcan Bomber can be found at:
Thunder & Lightnings - Avro Vulcan - History
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