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The year was 1979, and I was being shown around a fleet of U S Marine Corps KC-130F tankers (some with corrosion problems) at NAS Glenview outside of Chicago. I had just spotted in the distance, at the end of a line of visiting aircraft, the distinctive shape of an RAF Avro Vulcan. The fin markings told me it was from No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, RAF (Motto: Fulmina regis iustra – ‘The King’s thunderbolts are righteous’) an historic unit, the first to equip with the Vulcan’s illustrious predecessor, the Lancaster, during World War Two.

I enquired of my guide (a USN CPO) as to the whereabouts of the crew, and found out that they had landed off exercise the previous night (there were six crew, a spare engineer being carried) and scattered into Chicago, when a screech of brakes indicated the arrival of a Lieutenant Commander, USN (by his accent, he was a Texan). “What’s the danged Piper Cub on the end there, boy?” was demanded of me. “Well, sir, it’s an Avro Type 693 Vulcan B.2 strategic bomber, capable of high subsonic speed at a ceiling in excess of 60,000 ft; extremely manoeuverable, cleared down to a ‘war height’ of  300 ft agl, able to carry free-fall or stand-off nuclear weapons, or 21,000 lbs of ‘iron’ bombs, and full ECM and ECCM suites”. Suitably impressed, he said “Gawd, boy! You just phasin’ em in?” “No sir, actually, we’re just starting to phase them out.” (RAF 1 USN 0).

The prototype Vulcan first flew on 3rd August, 1952, and was preceded by 5 Avro Type 707 delta-winged scale research aircraft (one crashed). The B.1 had aerodynamic faults, which were sorted in the enlarged B.2 (first flight 31st August, 1957, 89 built) which had four of the much more powerful Rolls-Royce Olympus turbojet (eventually, the Olympus 301 of 20,000 lb st). Because Warsaw Pact air defences were considerably strengthened in the 1960s, the Vulcan fleet ceased to be planned to undertake high-level sorties with British built free-fall nuclear fission weapons, such as Blue Danube and the Yellow Sun Mk. 1. The Vulcans were tasked with lo-hi-lo profile missions, featuring the impressive Blue Steel stand-off rocket-powered weapon, armed with the 1.1 Megaton Red Snow thermonuclear warhead (you can see a Blue Steel -which is all white – in the photograph); the inertial navigation system of the Blue Steel was so accurate, that the navigators of the Vulcan and the Handley Page Victor bombers which carried it, used the bomb to update their position! The Vulcan’s main bombing radar was nothing less than the venerable H2S (as used on Lancasters), admittedly in the Mk. 9 form!

Towards the end of their service life Vulcans performed the longest bombing missions recorded - prior to the Gulf War, that is - (Operation Black Buck, flown in part by 44 Squadron personnel), during the 1982 Falklands War, dropping sticks of 1,000 lb bombs across Port Stanley’s main runway during the Argentine occupation and using AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missiles to strike at Argentinian radar.

Despite several high-profile crashes (one at London’s Heathrow Airport), and the fact that only the two pilots had ejection seats (the other three crew had little chance of parachuting to safety), the Vulcan was a much-loved aircraft. I can remember standing on the roof of a hangar annexe at RAF Finningley in 1993, as XH558 made a farewell display on her way from RAF Waddington to what we thought was retirement at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire. I remember the air seeming to shake under the thunderous roar from her Olympus engines as she made her famous spiral climb-out at the end of the display. Little did we know that it wasn’t the end of the story; XH558, courtesy of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, still flies.

XM 594 is shown on the wartime dispersal pan at Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire, with a rare Blue Steel under her port wing. She was flown into this ex-RAF base, in February 1983, onto a VERY short runway, in between snow squalls. The wartime Nissen hut to the right is beautifully preserved, too!

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Vulcan Howl (11+ / 0-)

    does not sound like any other airplane.  It is an unholy wail that can set off car alarms at considerable distance.

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 04:07:32 PM PST

  •  Turning kerosine into noise and fun since 1952 (8+ / 0-)

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 04:12:42 PM PST

  •  There's townhouses and McMansions... (5+ / 0-)

    ...where that Vulcan was sitting, now. NAS Glenview is gone, but not forgotten.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 04:31:09 PM PST

    •  I remember NAS Glenview (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, shortfinals

      I landed a T-38 there back around 1987.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 04:02:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I saw a Vulcan at Offut AFB (5+ / 0-)

    probably about 30 years ago. I see it has turned up with the rest of the collection from there, including a B-36, in Ashland at the Strategic Air and Space Museum.

    I don't see any of the nuclear weapon casings that used to be at the museum at Offutt, though.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:20:14 PM PST

  •  Another plane I have only witnessed (3+ / 0-)

    in action through the graces of YouTube, the Vulcan.

    I have heard B-1s, though. In one case, 4 of them passed over Idaho Falls at a pretty high altitude (10,000 feet or more, visible but not distinctly). At one point they went into afterburner and were very loud and stayed that way until out of sight. I'd say subjectively they were about as loud as a 737 with JT8's on them taking off as heard from an airline terminal.

    I have read on the web from people who have heard both Vulcans and B-1s taking off at airshows that the Vulcan is subjectively louder due to its higher frequency content. The afterburner noise from the B-1 should contain a lot of low frequency rumble and that is how it is described. Shakes you rather than penetrates your skull, so to speak.

    Great story about "phasing them in?". What other marvelous machinery has come onto the stage and then exited in our lifetimes? Concord, Saturn V, Space Shuttle, and on and on. Forward into the past!

    But then again, I always dreamed of what has come to be called "FPV".

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:52:44 PM PST

    •  The BAD news is, that I have been associated ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby, Otteray Scribe

      ...two of the four technologies you mentioned. Arggggh! Does that mean?

      Yes...shortfinals IS a dinosaur!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 06:12:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Electronics for Radio Control Models (4+ / 0-)

      have taken a real Quantum leap in the last few years.

      The biggest change has been the ability to equip models
      with on-board Telemetry and live Video.

      Some folks are now building Home-made versions of
      Self-Flying, Programmable Drones.

      The Limiting factor used to be Engineering.
      Now the Limiting factor is the Size of your Bank Account.

      The Folks doing FPV got started making Videos of
      High-End Real Estate and doing land Surveys for Farmers.

      Flying a Model to make those videos Costs about 5
      Percent of renting and using a Full size aircraft.

      On Giving Advice: Smart People Don't Need It and Stupid People Don't Listen

      by Brian76239 on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 06:30:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I found one on youtube I was able to track (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        to its landing place via Google Earth. The last frame showing at the end of the video showed the gps coordinates of the plane as the pilot had left the navigation annotations on the screen. After a bit of cursor work on Google Earth (the pay version lets you enter coordinates directly, but I don't have that), I found the driveway, tree, and house that the plane had recorded landing at. Turned out to be about 50 miles south of Tijuana.

        There are plenty of other videos from Mexico labelled as such, but that one was not.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 11:37:41 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Was also the aircraft featured in "Thunderball" (5+ / 0-)
    •  True! The theft of nuclear weapons was always... (5+ / 0-)

      ...uppermost in the minds of RAF planners! There is a certain area I would not go to, today, on Robin Hood International (the former RAF Finningley, where I was stationed) because it comprises the former special weapons storage area!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 06:07:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I spent 20 years looking after nuclear (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shortfinals, subtropolis

        material at Argonne National Lab-West, near Idaho Falls.

        One project I helped out on involved spending 10 days verifying the contents of some packages to be shipped from Lawrence Livermore National Lab to Argonne-West. While there, we indulged in the inevitable anecdote swapping. Their winner was the time a nuclear test device spent a day or three "lost". It had been in its crate on a loading dock in a very secure area all the time but was not recognized for a while.

        Runner-up was the time they had another device all ready to be shipped to the test site (underground testing only by then) when the final test ban went into effect. They had to invent procedures for disassembling the thing. Seems they assembled major portions of it using super glue and had never had to disassemble one. The nature of those items precludes attacking them with hammer, chisel, or acetone for that matter, I suppose.

        Not able to verify either of those, of course.

        The punch line of the whole story is that of the 20 kg or so of plutonium sent to Argonne, only a few grams of one chunk of it was used. The rest of it is probably still there these 24 years later, most likely well on its way to becoming a pile of oxide inside the containers.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 10:42:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Acetone would only help spread those pesky ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          billmosby, subtropolis

          ...little radionuclides around! With an unhealthy half-life ranging between 24,000 to 80 MILLION years (Pu-238 to Pu-244), I think you can say that the plutonium will stay hot far longer than we would wish!

          'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

          by shortfinals on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:16:38 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Pu-238 is 80 years, though. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            shortfinals, subtropolis

            That's why it makes so much heat (1/2 watt per gram).

            These days one of the facilities I used to work in at ANL-W assembles RTGs for space probes. The newly-arrived Mars Curiosity rover is powered by their last bit of work. Since nobody seems to be making Pu-238 anymore, so I hear, there may not be too many more of those made.

            The narrator of the video in the link is Dr. Steve Johnson, who arrived near the end of my career there. He is really more at home on a Harley, but I see he actually donned a jacket for this. Still sticking to his "no tie" fashion, though.

            I was involved in the receipt verification of some early heat sources. They are shipped in standard drums which include a whole lot of incidental insulation. They come out hot enough to make thick insulated gloves start billowing smoke in a couple of seconds on the way from the drum to the balance for weighing. They could have used tongs, but that wouldn't have been so spectacular, lol.

            Moderation in most things.

            by billmosby on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:35:26 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Tongs, gentlemen, tongs! (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              billmosby, subtropolis

              Tsk, tsk! Always with the spectacular....sigh

              I know that the decay of Pu-238 makes for an amazingly efficient energy souce, with a predictabilty that allows for precision design of spacecraft and other machines, but, I am always dubious about manufacturing more of a particular radioisotope.

              sigh I suppose that I should be satisfied with a controlled, relatively slow release of energy, rather than the catastrophic, near-instaneous release of infinitely MORE of the same!

              'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

              by shortfinals on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:49:23 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  That's one of the nice (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                shortfinals, subtropolis

                things about that isotope- its not fissile, as with other even-mass isotopes. Another nice thing is its lack of high-energy gamma rays. One thing I usually did for a verification measurement was to collect a gamma ray spectrum and look for a characteristic energy gamma ray. Pu-238 has one somewhere around 300 kilo electron volts if I remember correctly, but I had to do a 5 minute measurement to begin to see it poking its head above the background of x rays. Pu-238 RTGs don't require much shielding to protect the electronics on a spacecraft. You wouldn't want to have one a few feet away from you for a long time, though.

                It would be cheaper to use one of the two long life fission products to power RTGs, except for their radiation output which would require tons of shielding instead of the kg of material you see surrounding the Pu-238 sources for other reasons which also provide enough shielding as a byproduct.

                That's why they go to all the trouble to make Pu-238. The process starts with Np-237 and a reactor. But where do you get Np-237? By extracting it from spent nuclear fuel.

                It's worth noting that you could make a fission weapon with Np-237, and a really big one at that because its fission cross section is small enough that you could put tens of kg of it into a weapon without having to worry about criticality.

                But they don't bother with that because thermonukes can be bigger. We did have a megaton-yield U-235 weapon in the inventory until thermonukes were perfected, but it required special handling and internal neutron absorbers precisely because it was so near criticality.

                Well, sorry about the length of this. It's a whole other area of my life that comes spilling out once it gets started, lol.

                Moderation in most things.

                by billmosby on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:12:58 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Yes! PLEASE don't get me started on.. (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  billmosby, subtropolis

                  ...industrial chemistry, dyeing and colour chemistry, textile technology, VLS silicon wafer production, production of HSLA steels for the automotive industry via electric arc furnaces, precision roller chain production, gaseous heat treatment of steel components, raw materials testing, electrostatic flocking to produce industrial surface coverings, production of dicellulose and tricellulose acetate, or almost anything to do with .....

                  The Industrial Revoloution




                  or we will be here all night!



                  'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

                  by shortfinals on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 10:53:02 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Please do spill out (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  billmosby, shortfinals

                  I'd love to read more. I'm fascinated by little-known places like the National Reactor Testing Station (later, merged with Argonne-West, Idaho National Laboratory) and Santa Susana Field Laboratory. (Were you ever there?) If it ever strikes your fancy to write a few diaries about the things you were involved with you can be sure to have at least one reader. (I suspect many more.)

                  All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

                  by subtropolis on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:05:45 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I have read about Santa Susana... (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    I wonder if I could write a diary about things I have done. Whenever I get a memory jog, stuff comes out that I don't even remember knowing until I start writing about it.

                    When I think back on my time at NRTS/INEL/INEEL/INL and Argonne-West ( I started at the former in 1977, and at the latter in 1986, and retired from there just before it was subsumed into INL), it seems like a monolithic block of what I was doing in the last couple of years there. But when I get a specific memory line going, I realize that my time there (28 years all told) was actually composed of individual days and weeks working on innumerable different things. And that was just one phase of my life

                    I, like all of us, did so many, many things over the years that I wonder how I would remember them all and organize them, or even just decide to write a diary about one thing in particular.

                    Maybe I could just look at all my (11,000 +) comments and extract the reminiscences. I am afraid that at 64 I may not actually have the time left.

                    Thanks for your kind words, though. I'll certainly give it some thought.

                    Moderation in most things.

                    by billmosby on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 11:56:47 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

  •  Had to add another stunning fpv video (3+ / 0-)

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 06:05:07 PM PST

  •  A Vulcan squadron det was tdy with us for a month (4+ / 0-)

    The Vulcans are surprisingly nimble in the air and can manage turns that seem to be impossible for an aircraft that size.  And yes, the aircraft are really loud, and their crews could seemingly drink all night and fly all day.  They were a rowdy bunch that liberated a lot of souvenirs from our base when they left, and I imagine they had a lot of mementos hanging about their squadron ready rooms, if our experience is any indicator.  We forgave them though (eventually).  We called them the "batboys" because their squadron badge was a bat (the mammal, not the cricket).

  •  Vulcan manoeverability.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, subtropolis, Simplify

    ....was very impressive. The Royal Australian Air Force wanted the Vulcan at one stage (would have been interesting over Vietnam!)

    However, it is thought that US politicians were not TOO happy at the thought of a nuclear-capable bomber in Australian hands - unless it was an AMERICAN one of course (see F-111)

  •  We had one of these (3+ / 0-)

    in our museum at Barksdale.

    I talked the caretaker into letting me crawl inside it once.

    Very cool. Made a B-52 seem roomy in comparison.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 07:31:29 PM PST

  •  Thanks SF (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, shortfinals

    Really didn't know much about this bird outside of Thunderball.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 08:12:05 PM PST

  •  I had to 'safe' the ejection seats on XM575.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, subtropolis, Simplify a tech. from Martin-Baker turned up one day and we climbed inside. All you do is unscrew the flanged disk which is the primary charge....turn it through 180 degrees, and re-assemble. This ensures that even if the blind, or one of the other ejection triggers is pulled, the striker pin cannot, physically, REACH the primary, so no further action occurs! Took the guy 10 minutes, start to finish.

    In a real ejection, the 'teardrop' blister is jettisoned first, then the seats fire. Only the two pilots get out (see the horrific Heathrow crash. Theoretically, you lowerthe undercarriage, fisrt and the three g.i.b. climb onto the nose gear and drop off. In practical terms, they have ZERO chance.

    I saw a scheme that Martin Baker had worked out in conjunction with Avro's the ensured EVERYONE'S survival. The sequence was as follows.

    1. Initiation of ejection

    2. 'Teardrop' jettisoned

    3.  Three backseaters (on rearward-facing seats) are ejected from a 'central point'. Their seats move sequentially to the front and centre of their compartment along a short track, (different angle for each seat) and fire, one after the other. The time interval between seats is something like 1.5 seconds!

    4. The two pilots seats fire

    It was estimated that the WHOLE ejection sequence (including 'teardrop') would take around 10 seconds.

    The REALLY bad news was that the Ministry refused to pay the approximately 1 million Sterling per bomber to undertake the modification.

    (Insert expletive of your choice, here, if you were a member of Strike Command).

  •  What's the "bridge" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    across the underside of the starboard engines?

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 11:00:22 PM PST

  •  Stealth Precursor (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As I understand it, the British V-bombers and the Vulcan in particular exhibited particularly good stealthy characteristics despite not being built with that concept in mind.  Obviously, the buried engines in the wing roots helped but the planes seem to have serendipitiously possessed designs lending stealthy advantages.  Clearly, the materials advances necessary for true stealth design lay in the future, but the British engineers who crafted these planes did prove quite farsighted.

    "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

    by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:15:05 AM PST

    •  Indeed so, the Vulcan's fairly flat underside.. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby, PrahaPartizan

      ...with buried engines, did exhibit some stealthy characteristics. Also they were cleared regularly down to 300 ft agl, and I have seen them flown - at speed - MUCH lower!

      OK, it put them within AK-47 range, but the average WARPAC infantryman was going to be in shock, I think.

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:38:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Saw one in flight at Toronto years ago (0+ / 0-)

    It was out over the lakefront for an airshow. It was amazing the way that large plane could maneuver. They also had a Harrier fly in, zoom to a stop in front of the crowd, turn to face the crowd at full hover, then 'bow', turn, and zoom off.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 06:09:08 AM PST

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