Monday, 9 March 2009
Against all the odds it looks as if we might have the chance to see the mighty Vulcan fly again this summer. As of this afternoon and in the nick of time, a million pounds has been pledged to keep the aircraft flying this year. Over 90% of this has been promised by private individuals. In an economic 'perfect storm' which has made it almost impossible to attract commercial sponsors, this is the second time the public has come to the rescue. In 1993 the Vulcan seemed to have flown for the last time until, last year, XH558 took to the air again after donations helped to fund a refit.
I've blethered about this aeroplane before. It was designed by Roy Chadwick, designer of the Lancaster bomber, who began work on it in 1946. The first prototype flew in 1952, and 112 were built altogether. They were a mainstay of Britain's nuclear deterrent throughout the Cold War, although they were never used in anger until, already scheduled for retirement, they were hastily converted for conventional ordnance and used to bomb Port Stanley airfield in the Falklands War.
The three components of Britain's nuclear 'V' Force, The Avro Vulcan, the Vickers Valiant and the Handley Page Victor, sound like echoes of a past era, and it is hard to believe that the Victor, which first flew as a bomber in 1951, was still in use in the Gulf War. If, like Concorde - which emerged from the same era - the Vulcan does not look its age, the Victor looks like something out of Rupert and the Space Ship.
Carrying twenty-one 1,000 lb bombs per aircraft, the round trip of 8,000 miles in the Falklands' 'Black Buck' missions was the longest in history. To get a single Vulcan to the target and back required no less than twelve Victor tankers and a Nimrod, in a mind-numbingly complex pyramid of refuelling rendezvous, in which tankers refuelled tankers, that refuelled tankers that refuelled tankers. The Victor tanker which flew furthest itself required eight support aircraft.
It may seem profligate to spend money on this aircraft in the current recession, but once on the airshow circuit it could become self sustaining, and the cost of keeping it in the air compares favourably with Sir Fred Goodwin's annual pension. As an inspiration for young engineers the Vulcan is worth every penny. If you want to sign the petition seeking to persuade the Government to contribute something to keeping this aircraft flying, follow this link. To find out more about the last flying Vulcan and its display schedule, look here.
Amongst useless but jolly facts I learnt while writing this, are:
In 1956, when a pilot got its nose down too far, a type 1 Victor accidentally broke the sound barrier.
The Vulcan wowed the crowds in a display (which included a barrel roll) at the 1952 Farnborough Airshow, just 72 hours after its maiden flight.
The prototype Victor had to be transported by road to Boscombe Down for its test flight. Bulldozers were used to create alternative routes where the road was too narrow, and the aircraft sections were hidden under wooden framing and tarpaulins printed with 'Geleypandhy, Southampton' to make them look like a boat hull in transit. 'Geleypandhy' was meant to be an anagram of 'Handley Page', but the signwriter ballsed it up (I love it that, while we tried to hide the prototype from Soviet spies, we couldn't resist painting a darn great clue on the box).