ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

16 September 2003

AIRCREW ASSOCIATION
BRIEFED ON VULCAN TRUST

At their September meeting in the clubhouse at Fairoaks Airport, Woking Branch members of the Aircrew Association were pleased to welcome back into the fold Mervyn Young, who was a member years ago, "but left because I felt that they were all too old for me!" Mervyn claimed to be the only Spitfire pilot to have flown through an oak tree at 450 mph and got away with it (avoiding his own cannon shells bouncing off a military target)! Mervyn has renewed contact with the Branch as a result of attending the ceremony in Belgium on September 5th to honour a wartime Spitfire Pilot, who was lost on operations in Belgium in 1943, when he was flying as Mervynís No. 2 wing man. (A report of the ceremony is on the news page for 5 September.)

Richard Clarkson
Richard Clarkson
The speaker at this meeting was Richard Clarkson, Secretary of the Vulcan Restoration Trust, which is dedicated to maintaining Vulcan XL426 at Southend Airport in full working condition. Vulcans were designed by A V Roe, built at Chadderton and assembled at Woodford airfield near Manchester. They were built in response to a specification issued in 1946 to meet a requirement to replace the wartime 4-engined propeller driven bombers with a force of jet engined bombers capable of delivering the UK Nuclear Deterrent, and of competing with jet fighters and missiles then coming into service with the Russians. This specification called for a range in excess of 3,000 miles and a ceiling of 55,000 ft. After experimentation with a 1/3rd size delta winged test aircraft, known as the Avro 707, the first flight of a Vulcan took place in August 1952, and deliveries to No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit commenced in 1957. The crew of 2 pilots, 2 Navigators and an Air Electronics Officer sat together in a 2-tiered cockpit section, isolated from the rest of the aircraft. The fuel load was pumped between 14 fuel tanks to adjust the Centre of Gravity in flight.

XL426 blasts along the Southend runway
Picture: Vulcan Preservation Trust
XL426 at Southend
Together with the Vickers Valiant and the Handley Page Victor, the main role of the Vulcan was to maintain the credibility of the UKís nuclear deterrent, using from the early 1960s the Blue Steel missile which could be launched 125 miles from the target, subsequently flying itself up to 75,000 ft before diving onto its target at Mach 3 - virtually unstoppable. Because of the need to ensure the RAF could respond to any Russian missile or bomber attack, a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) system was developed, capable of launching a fully armed V-force at very short notice on the authority of the Prime Minister, or of the Head of Bomber Command if the PM couldnít be immediately located. The Vulcan force could be held at varying readiness states, dependant on the level of international tension, although one of the greatest fears was that of an unforeseen "bolt from the blue" attack, which could catch the V-force and the rest of the country unawares.

After Gary Powers was shot down in his U2 from a height of over 60,000 ft, the role of the V-force changed to low level "beneath the radar" delivery tactics, which involved a major retraining programme, and replacement of the former white nuclear flash resistant paint with green and grey camouflage colours. The sturdy Delta wing construction of the Vulcan proved to be very suitable for this role, but could give a very uncomfortable ride to the Vulcanís crew.

XL426 at Southend
Picture: Vulcan Preservation Trust
XL426 at Southend
When in the Spring of 1982 the Argentine attacked the Falkland Islands, the Vulcan force was tasked with bombing the Port Stanley runway from Ascension Islands, by dropping 21 1000 lb. bombs. This called for a round trip of 8,000 miles, using 14 Victor tankers to refuel the Vulcan and each other; but the raid succeeded in holing the runway (which was probably rapidly repaired) and also perhaps giving the Argentineans food for thought about the safety of their homeland!

There is still another Vulcan at Bruntingthorpe which enthusiasts are also hoping to return to the sky, but despite enormous help from the Air Worthiness and other authorities, the major hurdle to be overcome is the enormous amount of cash which such a venture requires.

Chairman Eric Smith voiced the thanks of the members for a very professional and instructive talk.

Back to top of page