The world’s first delta-winged bomber, the Avro Vulcan was an aerial titan, capable of delivering a 4,536kg nuclear bomb to any hostile target within a huge radius
Born in the aftermath of WWII – where despite years of conventional warfare, the war was won in the east with the dropping of two atomic bombs – the Avro Vulcan was designed to be Britain’s first line of atomic offence in future conflicts. A new era of modern warfare was emerging from the flames and dust that had consumed Europe, Africa, Russia, Japan and others. No longer would wars be fought and won by armies – they were to be prevented through the power of splitting the atom.
The Vulcan was conceptualized as a high-altitude, high-speed, strategic bomber, capable of delivering a single 4,536kg (10,000lb) nuclear weapon to any target within a distance of 2,776km (1,725 mi). To achieve this demanding brief, the aircraft needed to feature an innovative aerodynamic structure, as conventional aircraft of the day were unsuitable. Further, as the nuclear weapon itself had yet to be invented, the aircraft would have to be developed in partnership with it, adjusting its plans accordingly.
Upon completion of the Vulcan prototype, it featured a revolutionary delta wing planform – a triangular wing layout – that granted phenomenal lift and airframe manoeuvrability. The planform also allowed the jet to fly at high subsonic and transonic speeds with ease a nd granted it a high angle of attack and stall angle. These features also meant it was stable when cruising at low speeds –something normal wings on high-speed aircraft were unable to do safely. In addition, its sleek aerodynamic profile – despite its large size – gave the Vulcan a small radar cross-section, providing a decent level of stealth.
Four colossal Bristol Olympus axial-flow turbojet engines, each capable of delivering 4,990kg (9,000lb) of thrust, powered the Vulcan. The engines were paired and buried in the delta wings close to the fuselage, and were fed with air through two large letterbox-style inlets in the wing root leading edge. The positioning of the engines and short fuselage allowed a larger space to be reserved for internal equipment and payload. At full power, the Vulcan could hit a top speed of 1,122km/h (697mph), just shy of Mach 1, and could cruise at 912km/h (567mph/Mach 0.86).
Partnering the Vulcan’s revolutionary design was a comprehensive suite of avionics and electronic systems. Navigation and bombing was handled by an H2S radar with nose-mounted scanner, the first ever airborne, ground-scanning radar system. This allowed the Vulcan’s crew to identify and engage targets in night or poor-weather conditions. In addition, a Red Steer tail-warning radar allowed the jet’s Air Electronics Operator to quickly spot enemy fighter aircraft and launch chaff and flares accordingly to negate missile attacks. In the second edition of the aircraft, the Vulcan was also outfitted with an AC electrical system, flight refuelling probe, autopilot system and electronic counter measure (ECM) suite.
Both the Vulcan’s design and advanced technology worked together in order to aid its ability to deliver munitions to enemy targets. Across its life span, the Vulcan was armed with a variety of nuclear and conventional weapons, ranging from standard free-fall bombs, through nuclear bombs and onto standoff nuclear missiles. Luckily, despite its huge arsenal, the Vulcan was never actually called upon to go nuclear – if it had been, who knows what shape the world would be in today. Instead it only saw one combat operation (Operation Black Buck| in the Falklands War, dropping conventional bombs on Port Stanley Airport, Falkland Islands.
Despite lack of actual combat missions, the Avro Vulcan is nevertheless seen as a remarkable engineering achievement in its own right. It is considered by military historians to be a piece of technology central to nuclear deterrence throughout the 20th Century.
Facts about Avro Vulcan
Five – The Vulcan required two pilots, two navigators and an air electronics operator (AEO). Despite the large crew, only the pilots were provided with ejection seats.
Tour – Upon completion of the first Vulcan, the RAF sent it on a world tour. Unfortunately, on 1 October of the same year, upon attempting to land back at Heathrow, it crashed.
Combat – The only fully fledged combat missions involving the Vulcan took place during the Falklands War. A trio attacked Argentinean airfields and radar installations.
Anonymous – There is only one Vulcan still operational. In February 2010, it was to be decommissioned due to lack of funding. Luckily, though, an anonymous benefactor granted 458,000 GBP .