V Bombers – Vulcan, Victor & Valiant – The Last British Bombers

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It took just 11 years to go from the
first flight of the Lancaster bomber in 1941 to the first flight of the VX770,
the prototype of Vulcan bomber in 1952 yet the difference between them could
hardly be greater. The Vulcan along with the victor and valiant were a new
generation of planes known as the V bombers planes for a new era and a newly
nuclear-armed Britain. In 1945 Britain emerged victorious from a Second World
War financially bankrupt but rich with engineering genius the nation that had
fought off the Luftwaffe crack being enigma code and created radar was flush
with a new generation of world-beating engineers and scientists who went to
work for the great british aero corporations like Hawker Siddeley
Westland and vickers-armstrong war was over but another race was beginning as
the Soviets in the Americans jostle to find a new balance of power. The price of
a seat of a big boys table soon became clear an independent nuclear deterrent
in 1947 just five years after the first Lancaster went into service the British
government issued a specification for a new bomber one which could have a range of up to 3,700 kilometres 2,300 miles cruise at 930
kilometers an hour 580 miles an hour and at between 35 and 55,000 feet and also
carry a 5 ton nuclear bomb. Because they flew so high and fast they will be out
of a range of anti-aircraft weapons and enemy fighters so they had no active
defenses like the previous generation of bombers. By 1952 Britain had tested its
first atomic bomb in operation hurricane detonating a 25 kiloton device off of
Western Australia but just as the British were celebrating joining the
nuclear Club three weeks later the Americans tested their first hydrogen
bomb IVY Mike some four hundred times more
powerful. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered that Britain should
have his own H-bomb by 1957 and the V bombers would be the delivery system
with the first H-bomb test being air dropped by a Valiant bomber. Back in 1947 the government put a tender out to three companies Avro Handley page and
vickers-armstrong it was a demanding specification the old designs of the
propeller driven aircraft were not up to the job but the knowledge of high speed designs were equally lacking. At Avro based in
Manchester, the company which had built a highly successful Lancaster bomber, a
young engineer called Bob Lindley turned to German swept-wing research that he’d
seen on a trip to Germany just after the Second World War.
At first Linley’s design was dismissed but upon further investigation it was
found that the DeltaWing had significant advantages. By enclosing the engine in
the wing structure an aircraft could have a reduced drag and high stability
without too much weight. Lindley would later go to America to work on the
Gemini program and the space shuttle but his sketch became for reality before the all British Avro and was named by their technical director Roy Chadwick after a
Roman god of fire “Vulcan”. The delta wing design pioneered by the Vulcan
would also go on to be used in Concorde and a space shuttle.
But the Vulcan wasn’t the only futuristic bomber being designed by the
British at the time the UK government also awarded a contract to Handley page
who built the Second World War Halifax bomber their proposed aircraft named
Victor also used an advanced wing design described as a crescent and like the
Vulcan had its engines mounted in the wing. It was also the most
technologically advanced electronic plane in the world at the time. But the
government had learnt from the war that it was better to spread the risk when
dealing with new technology so the third contract went of vickers-armstrong.
Selected as the insurance option, their design was considerably less advanced
than the Vulcan or Victor but promised to come in under budget and on time.
sure enough Vickers delivered ahead of schedule and in May 1951 the valiant was
the first of a three to make it into the skies putting pressure on Avro Handley
page to deliver. Production models of a valiant were
delivered in early 1955 with the first Vulcan following the next year and the
victor by the end of 1957. When the prototype Vulcan and victors appeared at
air shows in the early 1950s they were keen to show off their capabilities
performing barrel rolls a maneuver previously unthinkable and unbecoming of a bomber aircraft but the V bombers were unlike anything the world had seen
before, they were rewriting the book on the jet age the V bombers not only
impressed the public also friend and foe alike.
The Vulcans delta wing gave it a high altitude performance that allowed it to
turn tighter than the swept wing fighters of the day like the lightning
and the Mig-15. it also made other bombers like the new b-52 look
positively sloth like in comparison. The V bombers were invited to the US for
bombing competitions planes would fly for hours at night to a simulated target
usually a city like Tucson, Salt Lake City or Los Angeles. There they would drop simulated nuclear bombs not real devices but by using electronics they could
calculate the accuracy of a drop. The V bombers consistently achieved within 500 meters
accuracy whilst the b-52s had quite a lot larger errors. As the V bombers began
arriving at RAF bases around the UK the new squadrons went into immediate high
alert as the Fylingdales radar scanned the skies for ballistic missiles the
procedure was for 200 V bombers to be in the air within 4 minutes, before the
Soviet missiles landed. QRA or quick reaction alert crews trained around the
clock for three levels of readiness 15 minutes, 5 minutes and just 2 minutes.
Under this highest two-minute alert the bombers would sit at the end of a runway
fueled and would be engines running. In total 136 Avro Vulcan ‘s 86 Handley page
Victor a 107 Vickers valiance were built. All were originally painted in
anti-flash white to reflect some of the radiation from a nuclear blast
although the v-bombers never carried out the nuclear strike mission they were
designed, for the Valiant has the distinction of being the only one of a
three to drop a live nuclear device as they were part of Britain’s nuclear test
program. But around this time the destiny of a V bombers would also change. In 1957 a defense white paper announced that ballistic missiles would be Britain’s
new nuclear delivery system. Advances in surface-to-air missiles
meant that the V bombers were suddenly vulnerable there was no longer a safe
high-altitude. Instead the best option will be to climb to a high level flight
over Western Europe descending to fly just above ground level through the
eastern bloc and then climbing again before reaching their targets. The
Bombers were repainted with a camouflage on the upper aside to fit the new mission profile. However the V bombers were not designed to fly fast at low altitudes, the denser
air and increased turbulence caused fatigue cracks on the vickers valiant which were
so bad that they had to be formally retired in 1965. The Victors
also suffered from fatigue problems although not as bad as the valiant they
were also withdrawn from nuclear service By 1968. As missiles replaced bombers in
the late 1960s some of the surplus Victors were converted into
reconnaissance planes and refueling tankers leaving just the Vulcan in the
prime bomber role. By 1982 the first and last time that the Vulcan bombers would
see active service they were about to be retired with much of our equipment
looking almost as dated as the Lancaster’s they replaced him in 1950s.
Much of their navigational equipment would have easily been recognizable by
world war 2 bomber pilots. Their last mission was to bomb the Port Stanley
airfield in the Falklands this would entail the longest ever bombing run at
the time flying 7,800 miles with 12,600
kilometres from a sanction island in
the Atlantic to the Falklands in the South Atlantic over open ocean in
operation black buck. Three Vulcans were chosen with a more powerful
Bristol Olympus 301 engines and supported by 11 victor tankers flying in
relays. The distance was so far that the forward victor tankers had to be refueled
in midair themselves. The single attacking Vulcan used 50,000 gallons of
fuel and needed refueling five times during the missions. Seven black buck missions
were planned but only five were carried out. Even though the missions had been a
success for the Vulcans their time was up. The last ones being retired from active
service in 1984 the plane that had been a technological tour de force in the
1960s and that made the b-52 look old-fashioned itself had become
out-of-date and unlike the modular construction of a b-52 it couldn’t be
updated in the same way. One was kept as a display plane XH558 and continued with the RAF until 1993. In 1997 it was bought by a private
company and restored and toured the country attending air shows, in fact this
piece of footage I shot and my local Clapton airshow but in 2015 it ceased
flying due to it being increasingly difficult to find the skilled service
personnel and the withdrawal of support by the original manufacturers. However
it is still able to accelerate on the runway at its doncaster sheffield
airport base. The Handley page Victor was for one which lasted the longest with
the final converted tankers being retired in 1993. The V bombers were built
to shock and amaze the world to do the unthinkable and they did it right up
until their final mission. So thanks for watching and I just like to say that
this episode shirt was the Tabla Paisley by madcap England and is
available from atomretro.com with worldwide shipping from here in the UK
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30 Responses

  1. Railgap Esoterica

    September 5, 2019 1:50 am

    restoring a Navigation and Bombing System (insanely complex) as used in the V series: http://www.tatjavanvark.nl/tvve/dduck0.html – she seems to be a genius

    Reply
  2. Phillip Mulligan

    September 9, 2019 10:59 pm

    When I first heard of a Valkyrie bomber as a kid, I thought it was a new super sonic British bombers and 4th V bomber. I did not know that the Valkyrie was the XB-70 bomber project by North American Industries in the US until a few years later.

    Reply
  3. John Buick

    September 10, 2019 8:24 pm

    The Vulcan may have been a tiny bit faster than the B-52 and it could fly a little higher but the B-52 has a combat radius almost double the Vulcan's range and the 52 can carry more than 3 times the weapons load.

    Reply
  4. Edigy

    September 11, 2019 3:21 pm

    Can somebody tell me how, in the 60's, they sank a Vulcan for a James Bond Movie, Thunderball?
    Was it a prop? Was it obsolete?

    Reply
  5. Alan Geisdorf

    September 12, 2019 5:59 am

    as a young lad, living in Cheltenham ,England. I watched both these aircraft fly in my area. for the time period they looked very majestic in flight. seeing this video brings back many memories that have had no reason to return to me. seeing these aircraft again flooded me with many happy memories, a few sad, but mostly happy.

    Reply
  6. GazubaGames

    September 15, 2019 10:34 am

    I saw that last vulcan when I was up the mourne mountains. Flew in so low it felt like you could just reach out and touch it. Awe inspiring sight, especially when you didn't know it was coming.

    Reply
  7. Knut Der Große

    September 15, 2019 6:12 pm

    Sorry,
    But the Poles cracked the enigma code. Then gave it to the British after the fall of Poland.
    The British owe Poland very, very much. If for not for this ….
    The betrayal of the Polish government in exile at the end of the war.

    Reply
  8. Walter Johnson

    September 22, 2019 9:00 pm

    The Valiant went into production as the first V bomber in 1955. The Valiant entered service in February 1955, the Vulcan in May 1956 and the Victor in November 1957. At 6:00, you mentioned that British radar was scanning for Soviet missiles. However, during the years in which the V-bombers were introduced, the USSR had no operational ICBMs; their strategic forces consisted entirely of manned bombers, such as the Myasishchev M-4 Molot (NATO reporting name "Bison"), the Tupolev Tu-16 (NATO reporting name: "Badger"), and the Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO reporting name: "Bear").

    Reply
  9. Zen Zen

    September 28, 2019 11:06 am

    The last all British bomber was in fact the Blackburn Buccaneer. The Vulcan's last flight as a bomber was in 1982 as part of the Black Buck missions in the Falklands war where as the Buccaneer was used in the 1991 Gulf war and was only withdrawn from operational service in 1994. Long after the Vulcan has been withdrawn from the bomber role

    Reply
  10. 10 9

    September 30, 2019 7:05 pm

    I watched Vulcan XH558 with Martin Withers at the controls, do a high speed beat up of runway 05L at Manchester EGCC. I was sat in the cockpit of a 737 at the time. XH558 was expected but made an early arrival, she must have past down the runway centreline at around 250+knots. She then went on to nearby Woodford aerodrome and did some high speed passes. This was in 2015 shortly before she retired for good. It was an awesome sight, one which I will never forget!

    Reply
  11. Carl Ryan

    October 2, 2019 4:09 am

    The V Bombers were all beautiful and graceful aircraft that were very advanced for 50's technology.

    Reply
  12. Томас Андерсон

    October 4, 2019 11:37 am

    Britain is like /r/ATBGE incarnate – they have stupid, stupid ideas, and give them all brilliant implementations.

    Reply
  13. Johnny Bravo

    October 4, 2019 3:51 pm

    Britain today is a giant warehouse ..we do not make or produce anything anymore..and Canary wharf london is full of wanking banksters…long gone is our world leading and proud manufacturing base….Britain has become a sweat shop for millions of East europeans working for slave wages living in multi occupational slum housing…..

    Reply
  14. Grumzz

    October 12, 2019 2:31 am

    the bomber that dropped bombs falklands
    https://www.google.com/maps/@53.17563,-0.512841,3a,15y,213.49h,90.86t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sVwwhzNVfETZUHllozw-ZZQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Reply

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