On the weekend of 27th-28th June 2015 the last airworthy Vulcan in the world completed the historic Salute To The V-Force Tour’. Avro Vulcan XH558 flew over all of the complete V-bomber airframes which are located across the UK. The aim of the tour was to ‘pay tribute to the aircraft and personnel of the V-Force who helped to keep the peace during the dangerous years of the Cold War’ and to ‘honour the past’. The tour was especially poignant because 2015 will be Vulcan XH558’s last season of flight.
On the 27th June I went to take some photographs of the planned flypast over Woodford Aerodrome and Vulcan XM603. The Avro Vulcan was designed by Roy Chadwick and built at Woodford Aerodrome which made this particular flypast extra special. I therefore positioned myself so that I could get Vulcan XH558, Vulcan XM603, and the airfield all in the same shot.
Interestingly, Vulcan XM603 is the only remaining aircraft of this type which is painted in the anti-radiation white finish. It will be the showpiece of the new Avro Heritage Museum which is due to open later in the summer of 2015.
Woodford Aerodrome, the birthplace of so many iconic aircraft (including the Avro Lancaster, Avro Vulcan and Hawker Siddeley Nimrod) is sadly in the process of being demolished. All of this combined to make a very emotional farewell as XH558 waggled its wings as a wave of goodbye on its final pass.
A brief history of the Vulcan
In 1947 Air Staff Requirement B.35/46 was issued with the aim of producing a state-of-the-art multi-engined bomber that would replace the Avro Lincoln. The resulting aircraft would continue to give Great Britain a voice in international affairs but it would also stretch the British aircraft industry’s design teams to the limit. The requirements specified seemed ludicrously advanced for the time and included the capability of carrying a 10,000lb nuclear weapon to a target up to 1,725 miles away. The aircraft must also be able to maintain a cruise speed of 575mph while operating in the altitude range of 35,000-50,000ft.
Avro was one of six companies who submitted a design with Roy Chadwick (designer of the Avro Lancaster) laying down the initial design for the Vulcan. Avro’s design was deemed the best and the company was awarded with a contract to produce its design. The Avro Vulcan first flew in 1952, just over 11 years since the first flight of the Avro Lancaster. In 1957 the aircraft went into service with the RAF and became an integral part of Britain’s V-Force. In total, 136 aircraft were produced between 1956-1965 and these included the new type B2 Vulcan, which featured a ‘kink’ in the leading edge of the wing to extend airframe life.
The Cold War was a frightening time in history with the potential of complete annihilation hanging over humanity. It would be easy to cast the Vulcan as an evil weapon of destruction but this is an overly simplistic view. The presence of the Vulcan fleet as a nuclear deterrent actually helped to maintain the peace. A measure of its success in this role is that it was never used for this purpose.
During the Vulcan’s operational history the aircraft was also used for maritime reconnaissance and also as aerial refueling tankers. It was only during the last few months of its operational life that the Vulcan was used in combat. During the Falklands War, the Vulcan acted as a conventional bomber for the RAF. It was the only aircraft capable of carrying out missions covering such enormous distances. To successfully fly from Ascension Island to the Falklands, the Vulcan was accompanied and refueled by Victor Tankers. As such, the Vulcan completed a series of missions known as Black Buck and these included the bombing of Port Stanley airfield.
The last Vulcans were retired in 1984 but aircraft XH558 continued to be used by the RAF for display purposes. It flew its last air show for the RAF in 1992 and completed its last flight for the RAF in 1993. The Vulcan returned to the skies in 2007 through the work of the Vulcan To The Sky Trust. Sadly 2015 will be the last time a Vulcan will take to the skies because XH558 is due to retire. At 55 years of age, and after 8 flying seasons under the Vulcan To The Sky Trust, the aircraft has reached the end of its life. It is a poignant point that these numbers make up its registration, Avro Vulcan XH558.
Please click here to see the rest of my photos from the flypast.