Avro Vulcan (GB)
Strategic Bomber
aka Type 698
Production 1955-1965
Combat Experience (With RAF)

Falklands War

Number of passengers 5 (Pilot, Co-Pilot, AEO, Navigator Radar, Navigator Plotter)
Length 97ft 1in (29.59 metres)
Wingspan 99ft 5in (30.3 metres)
Height 26ft 6in (8.0 metres)
Empty Weight 37,144 kg (Vulcan B.1)
Loaded Weight N/A
Max Takeoff Weight 77,111 kg (Vulcan B.1)
Engine 4x Bristol Olympus (Vulcan B.1, B.1A
4x Bristol Siddeley Olympus (Vulcan B.2, B.2A, B.2MRR)
Power/Thrust 11,000 lbf each (Bristol Olympus 101, 102, 104)

2,252 nmi (2,607 mi, 4,171 km) (Vulcan B.1)

Service Ceiling 50,000 ft (15,240 m)
Rate of Climb N/A
Armament Carried (Vulcan B.1)

Bombs: Up to 9500kg in conventional bombs or one free-fall nuclear weapon

Comparable Aircraft

Boeing B-47 Stratojet

Handley Page Victor

Tupolev Tu-16

Vickers Valiant

Xian H-6


Roy Chadwick

Stu Davies (After Chadwick's death)

The second of the famed RAF V-Bombers of the Cold War, the Avro Vulcan was the last of the famous three to be relieved of duty, finally leaving the RAF in 1984. Interestingly, it only ever saw combat service in 1982 during the Falklands War, where it acted as a conventional bomber as opposed to its original design of carrying nuclear weapons. [1]


With WWII over, the need for a new British medium sized bomber quickly became apparent. The Air Ministry soon issued Specification B.35/46, requesting a 'four engine swept-wing jet heavy bomber with a cruising speed of 500 kt and a ceiling of at least 55,000 ft' [2]. This soon sparked fierce competition between a number of major British aircraft manufacturers; including Armstrong Whitworth, Avro, Bristol, De Havilland, English Electric, Handley Page and Vickers, with all companies aiming for the lucrative contract in a time when the number of military aircraft being produced was falling rapidly, as aicraft became more adaptable and more expensive to build.

In the end, three designs were chosen to fit the role; from Handley Page, Vickers and Avro. Further work soon began at Avro to develop 'Type 698' into a production aircraft, led by Roy Chadwick. Right from the off it became clear that this new aircraft needed to be able to carry nuclear weapons, and so the original design catered for this with an extreme tail and wing design aimed at maximising carrying capacity. The lack of a tail section in a literal sense meant that the design was technically a flying wing. [2] The new delta wing design chosen for the Type 698 was thought to help reduce problems at transonic speeds, problems which had already caused the death of Geoffrey de Havilland Jr [4] in 1946. The new design also featured engines staggered along the wing, as well as two bomb bays; one in each wing.

As work progressed, the Air Ministry commented and asked Avro to make their design a little more conventional, and so the staggered engines and twin bomb bays were removed and replaced with a single, larger bomb bay and four paired engines installed instead. To test the groundbreaking new delta wing, Avro created the Avro 707 prototype [3], designed primarily to see how the design would perform at low speeds. Despite the crash of the first prototype in 1949, development continued, and the first full-scale Type 698 flew on 30th August 1952 despite the death of Chadwick in an unrelated aircrash in 1947. [4] This prototype was fitted with Rolls-Royce Avon engines producing 6,500 lbf each, mainly because the Bristol Olympus engines wanted were not yet ready, and the Avon would be replaced by Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines before the Olympus was available. The plane was not designated Vulcan until 1953, after the Vickers Valiant had been named. [5]

The first aircraft featured a straight delta wing, before a curved 'kink' was added later for the second prototype and production models, which, although technically meaning the aircraft no longer had a true delta wing, provided better flying characteristics. The second prototype finally received the Olympus 101 engines it wished for, and these provided 10,000 lbf each, giving a significant boost in power. [4]

Vulcans were soon rolling off the production line, with twenty five ordered by the RAF, to be designated Vulcan B.1s. In 1957 the Vulcan squadron became operational (a delay in years caused by another fatal accident). The engines used were slowly uprated until they reached Olympus 104 series, providing 13,500 lbf of thrust. In all, 45 B.1s were built, none of which surviving today.

It was soon noticed that the aircraft had a relatively low radar cross section, although the reason was then unknown. Nowadays, we know that this is because of its stealthy shape (apart from the tail). Despite having a crew of five, only the pilot and co-pilot of the Vulcan were provided with ejection seats, which saw much criticism as often if the aircraft crashed, the pilot and co-pilot were able to eject, but the remainder of the crew died because they were unable to escape in time [4]. The three without ejection seats were supposed to exit through the crew entrance door towards the front of the plane, with their parachutes opening automatically by static line. In response to deaths caused by the lack of ejection systems, the RAF trained heavily for the eventuality on the ground, and on more than one occasion the manoeuver was performed successfully with all members surviving.


A typical Vulcan cockpit, displaying the fighter-style yoke and crampt quarters

Because the Vulcan used powered controls and had a relatively small area for the crew, a fighter-style yoke was adopted over a control column, and this aided ejection in an emergency. Power was provided by generators on each engine, and backup was from a series of batteries in case of failures, however, these were removed on later models and replaced due to their relatively low capacity.

Because the pilot and co-pilot were unable to see behind them from the cockpit and therefore study any suspected malfunctioning rudders of ailerons, a panel was installed in the cockpit, allowing them to check the position of all of these control surfaces and therefore identify any problems. Lessons learned and improvements installed on the B.1 eventually lead to the creation of the B.2.

Operational History in the RAFEdit

Vulcans saw relatively limited use in combat service. Despite B.1s being sent as an intimidation force during the Malayan Insurgency, they never saw action. [5] Furthermore, the Vulcans were used to showcase the UKs ability to attack the Soviet Union, by performing constant flights to and from the area. The only true combat use of Vulcan's was during the Falklands War in 1982, just two years before retirement, when a number of Vulcans were used to destroy Argentinian ground forces, although the actual damage caused by the Vulcans was minimal, and they mainly acted as an intimidation force, as they had previously done. After the Falklands War the future of the Vulcan was bleak, with its role as a bomber becoming ever more obselete. Used as a stopgap between the retirement of the Handley Page Victor aerial refuelling aircraft (ironically converted at the end of their life as Vulcan's were to be) and the upcoming VC10s, a number of Vulcans were converted to form crude aerial refuelling planes, and these lasted until 1984, when all remaining Vulcans were removed from service. [6]

Flight CharacteristicsEdit

The Vulcans fighter style yoke, powered surfaces and large engines deceived many pilots of the aircraft's size. The Vulcan is also noted for its exceptional flight characteristics.


There were relatively few versions of the Vulcan produced, although these versions were constantly updated:


  • The two prototype aircraft produced were changed radically as the design of the Vulcan evolved. The two prototype versions differed from production aircraft in a number of ways, with smaller noses (less sophisticated radar used) and the lack of the ability to refuel in air (due to no probe being fitted). The nose undercarriage leg was also longer on the prototypes.

Production Versions for RAF:

  • Vulcan B.1 - The B.1 was the first Vulcan built, featuring the early straight edge wing and four underwing airbrakes along with a wide undercarriage track. It was initially finished in silver, but this was then changed to anti-flash white . 45 aircraft were built.
  • Vulcan B.1A - These were B.1s fitted with Electronic Countermeasures in a larger tail cone.
  • Vulcan B.2 - Fitted with later Olympus 201 or 301 engines, the B.2 also featured a larger, thinner wing and terrain following radar in the nosecone. It was updated with a passive radar warning system fitted on the rear to give the tail fin a square top from the mid 1970s. It also featured the replacement for the backup power batteries, the Ram turbine generator as well as an Airborne Auxiliary Power Unit. The B.2 was originally finished in anti-flash white, although this was soon updated to an all over camouflage from the late 1970s.
  • Vulcan B.2A - Also designated B.2BS, the B.2A featured Olympus 301 engines to carry the Blue Steel nuclear weapon. These were later converted back to B.2s after the withdrawl of Blue Steel weapons.
  • Vulcan B.2 (MRR) - Nine B.2 Vulcans were converted to Maritime Radar Reconnaissance, and these were given special high gloss paint to protect them against the effects of sea spray. They did not feature the terrain following radar, but were given a LORAN navigation aid. Five of these were modifed again to fit the Air Sampling role, taking over from the Victor SR2. They kept the high gloss paint, but were given a grey underside when the B.2 was given a matte all over camouflage.
  • Vulcan K.2 - These were converted from 1982, and used as aerial refuelling aircraft until the launch of the VC10. They featured a Mark 17 hose drum below the tail cone, and they could be fitted with bomb bay drum tanks for refuelling of for their own use.



Vulcan XH558 from Vulcan To The Sky Trust taking off from Farnborough in 2008

Today, the only flying Vulcan is XH558 (registered G-VLCN), restored by the Vulcan To The Sky Trust [6], and first flying in 2007. Fifteen B.2s and Three B.2As remain on display in museums in England, Scotland, the United States and Canada. The last remaining B.1 was used as an instructional aircraft until 1966. Corrosion became apparent and the plane was scrapped in 1986.