Archive for V Force

The Mighty Vulcan – Fond Memories

Posted in Britain, England, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, UK, Uncategorized, USA with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 06/03/2011 by floroy1942

I was extremely happy to read that the last surviving Vulcan bomber has once again received its certificate of air worthiness. As the only survivor of the RAF cold war bomber fleet of Vulcan, Victor and Valiant bombers, it is without doubt a truly magnificent sight when seen flying over the green fields of England that it protected so well.

Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent – Victor, Valiant, Vulcan

The fact that it can fly at all is due solely to a group of Vulcan enthusiasts who, with donated money, spent their free time working on the aircraft to get it airworthy. A truely Valiant (excuse the pun) achievement. My compliments Gentlemen!

There follows a video showing the history of the Valiant and Victor Bombers:

There is little doubt that despite the deterrent of the American Strategic Air Command, our V Force was a potent weapon manned by dedicated airmen who gave the Russians pause for thought. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed during this time of  world crisis, and eventually the world was no longer living in fear of the Russian menace.

This was all due to the far-seeing Mikhail Gorbachev who alone could see the perils of continuing the nuclear stand-off. The people of the world owe this man a great debt.

During my time with the Royal Air Force I had the pleasure of working with both Victor and Vulcan bombers, and as an armourer was responsible for loading the nuclear weapons.

Blue Steel Stand-Off Missile

At the time this was the Blue Steel stand-off bomb that would have devastated any city it was dropped on. Loading these weapons was a long and complicated business, as first we had to fuel the missile with its liquid propellant before actually loading it into the bomb bay.

It was dangerous work, but thanks to the professionalism of all involved, no accidents ever happened. When loading the propellant we had to wear what would be described today as chemical suites to ensure we never came in direct contact with the fuel.

On the Victor aircraft, the missile was only half embedded in the bomb bay and half of it hung below, it was that big. Great care had to be taken when loading this aircraft because it was so low to the ground and there was little clearance between the weapon and the fuselage. The Vulcan on the other hand was very high off the ground and caused no problems.

The greatest part about working with these fine aircraft was to watch a squadron scramble. Within a matter of minutes the whole squadron would be airborne and heading for their targets. Considering Britain had but a four-minute warning of approaching Russian missiles this was of the utmost importance, for nobody wanted our number one deterrent to be caught on the ground.

Scramble!

To see these great aircraft thundering down the runway only seconds apart was a sight to captivate any audience. The most spectacular was always the Vulcan due to its ability to enter an almost vertical climb immediately after leaving the ground. This aircraft was overpowered and had limiters on the throttles to prevent over-stressing the airframe, but excess power made it capable of almost impossible maneuvers with such a huge aircraft.

The standard takeoff pattern was for the first aircraft to stay low and straight ahead after leaving the ground while the second and third would peel off left and right. But the fourth was the most spectacular, for it would enter an almost vertical climb once the wheels left the ground. This takeoff pattern was to minimise the effects of air turbulence on following aircraft, while allowing all to get off the ground in the shortest possible time. It’ s an understatement to say it was spectacular!

The flight characteristics of the Avro Vulcan were akin to those of a fighter as can be amply seen in the following video where the test pilot, Roly Folk rolls the aircraft immediately after takeoff at the Farnborough Air Show in 1955:

During my two years with the Victors we had at one time been operating from a dispersal base that also had Vulcan’s, and one would assume some of the Victor crews had decided to emulate the takeoffs of their Vulcan brethren. The Victor of course did not have the sheer raw power of the Vulcan and this became obvious as the ground crew watched the takeoffs.

Victor Conventional Bomb Load

The first two got off OK but the third pilot had been a little too ambitious, for as he pulled back on the stick and dropped his right wing for the sharp turn to starboard, the wingtip touched the ground, and as we found later, left a scour mark in the grass alongside the runway running for several metres. Thankfully he managed to correct it and got away safely.

After the exercise sortie, the aircraft came back to the base and the airfield became a scene of frantic activity as the ground crew got the aircraft ready for their next flight. Due to the constant tension between east and west all aircraft had to be ready for an immediate scramble should ‘the balloon go up’.

A rather amusing set of incidents occurred during ‘Exercise Skyshield’ in the 60’s which was to test the North American radar defences (NORAD).  Two flights were made by RAF Vulcans and American B52’s against the supposed impregnable radar shield and the result was all B52’s were intercepted while only one Vulcan was detected and intercepted by an F111. This was no doubt due to the sophisticated electronics counter measures (ECM) developed by British scientists and fitted to the Vulcan.

The New Threat

In their role as strategic bomber the V Force excelled, but unfortunately with the advances in anti-aircraft missiles, and their new ability to reach high flying aircraft, a different approach was necessary. For this reason, the V Force became the new generation of ultra low-level bombers. The white skin paint disappeared to be replaced with camouflage paint on the top surfaces.

It was of course necessary for the crews to practice their new low-level role, and this was done amid the peaks and valleys of Scotland. What a magnificent sight it must have been to see a Victor or Vulcan skimming through the valleys at 100 ft!

I remember when one of our Victors took a couple of reporters up to witness their death-defying skills during a low-level flight. When the aircraft returned they were as white as sheets and had just about filled their sick bags. One was heard to mutter “These men are stark raving lunatics” as he stumbled off in search of a stiff drink.

The Victor – Now Just A Tanker

I have many fond memories of my time with Britain’s V Force and was extremely sad when I heard they were to be scrapped. The Victor lingered on as a tanker aircraft and did valuable work , and of course the one surviving Vulcan was among those that dropped bombs on Stanley airfield during the Falklands conflict.

I guess we all have our time, and that of the V bombers is past and condemned to history, but as with the Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancaster of WW2, it’s fitting that at least one of the old war horses survives.

Roy.

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