Monday, 9 March 2009

Avro Vulcan

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).


  1. Petition duly signed. Planes just make me feel like a little kid again - full of wonder and admiration, getting a crick in my neck from staring up at them, straining to hear the last wide echo of an engine as it fades away above me in thousands of feet of sky. Spitfires still make me go cold - the sight and the sound. An engine of tarry chocolate perfection.

  2. Steve - Not for the first time, I think we may be related.

  3. An interesting subject. I wasn't aware of the Geleypandhy anagram though.

    That fact should make for an intelligent pub quiz question in my local.

    Great post.

  4. totally off topic: i've tagged you on my site, hope ya'll will play! xoxo

  5. Fascinating. My husband prefers the Victor to the Vulcan because of the shape, but we have a soft pot for each of them.

    He works for Rolls Royce and on our first 'date' he took me to the Derby Industrial museum and showed me all the aeroengines, naming them well in advance of nearing the signs. I was suitably impressed.

    Having had the Spitfire flyover in Derby a couple of times, the sound is just visceral. It makes me want to burst listening to them.

  6. I have done my duty and signed up. I am all in favour of saving a bit of history. I used to love lying in the back garden when I was a kid watching the planes fly over from the air show at Rochester airport.

  7. Brother T:
    How COULD you know how much we love these vintage warbirds?!

    You are a fascinating blogger and fellow! Aloha-

  8. Yep, I love those old planes too, and especially the engines. I wonder who'd have won WWII if the Merlin hadn't been designed so well.

  9. Brother T, did you father ever have a milk round in Leamington Spa in the 1960's...? ;-)

  10. Jimmy - Are you a pub quizzer? I've come up against them in a scratch team once or twice, and their knowledge is awesome.

    Savannah - I'm on my way.

    Madame - Sound first date. And I agree about the sound of the Merlin engine, in Hurricanes too. They fly along the Downs here quite often in summer, and you can recognise them a mile off.

    Completely - We too lay on our backs in the SS's twin's garden on Blue Bell Hill, watching the air race. In the last years it became pretty hairy, and they stopped it.

    Cloudia - Hawaii has as good a reason as Kent to accord warplanes special respect, but they do touch some chord in us, don't they?

    Gadjo - I'm sure you're right. It was to the battle of Britain what the Martini Henry was to Rorke's Drift.

    Steve - He did pick up a fireplace in Coventry once...

  11. The anagram thing is the sort of detail that tickles me

  12. I'm going to read this post of yours out to Mr FF when he returns from his bike ride. He has plane-love; as for me, it went over my head, I'm sorry to say (but I didn't want to not post a comment)

    oops, a double negative.

  13. I liked the anagram as well, and the cock up!

    Can't beat a bit of plane blogging?

    I'll get me coat.

  14. Lulu - I liked that. Don't suppose that sort of fun would be allowed now.

    Fancy - Can't have planes going over your head. Anyway, you mustn't feel a duty to comment - I often don' fact I spent a perfectly happy 18 months with no commenmts at all.
    (Good use of double-negative, incidentally.'I wanted to post' doesn't carry the same meaning at all).

    Jules - Absolutely.

  15. My father was a small-engine (Cessna, Piper) pilot and a cropduster at one point. I was raised with my head craned back while my dad pointed out airplanes.
    Nice post.

  16. Well, my mum was hot stuff when she was younger...

  17. Your detailed post was wasted on me as I have spent most of my time looking at the photos and thinking 'ooooo nice'. I like looking at planes but that is about as far as my interest goes.

  18. Pearl - How cool was your Dad! Did he take you up ever, I wonder?

    Steve - That's what he said.

    DJ - Looking at aeroplanes and thinking 'ooooo nice' is what I do too (the rest is bull and Wikipedia).

  19. Brother, I take part every week in my local pubs quiz night as part of a 6 man team.

    I am also a quizzer for the official Celtic FC supprters club in Glasgow.

    Anything that taxes the brain interests me.

  20. is it a bird? Is it a plane?
    heck, we're stilla rguing with the 'mericans over who was first to fly!!

  21. I have no interest in planes but loved the comparison with the Rupert picture - very clever - such a pity they didn't go for banana yellow as well.

    I am also intrigued by the way we secretly transport stuff around even now. I was reading a report the other day about how some waste is moved around the UK and it was rather amusing if a little scary. I shall have to work on an appropriate anagram for them to use.