X-Files: AVRO 698 VULCAN

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In today’s Sydney Flyer article we are delighted to welcome back author Anthony Coleiro and the most recent instalment of his X-Files series. This is Anthony’s 134th article under the ‘X-Files’ banner for the club magazine. What a record!

Do you consider yourself an aviation enthusiast? Do you consider yourself a wordsmith? Have you been on an amazing adventure lately? Been to a fantastic airshow? Flew a new plane? Passed a test or a significant endorsement? Have you had a close call and want to share with the world what you’ve learned? Are you planning a fly-away? Or perhaps wanting to share some aviation history or fascinating facts?  If so, we want to hear from you!

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For those that have followed my articles over the years would know that the premise of the X-Files series is that I only write about aircraft that never went into production. You will find aircraft that never left the drawing board, were one offs, built to test an aerodynamic theory or the aircraft was a successful design but due to circumstances, events conspired against it and production was still born.

The astute amongst you will then wonder why I am including an aircraft that was a successful design and did go into production. I must admit, I did argue with myself over this aircraft’s inclusion but the final design of this ground breaking bomber was such a departure from its radical initial concept that I had to include it, well the initial on paper thought bubble version of this aircraft anyway.

During WW II Avro built bombers like the Manchester, Lancaster, Lincoln and Shackleton, these were successful conventional looking piston engine aircraft so to then go to a delta wing jet bomber in one go was one huge leap.

In December 1946, an operational requirement for an updated bomber was issued and Avro was invited to tender. Companies had a little over a year to present their concepts. The company had suffered some disruption during this time and to compound this, the company’s chief designer Roy Chadwick was off work with a serious illness leaving the initial design work to Bob Lindley.

The performance requirement for this new bomber was on a completely new level compared to what had been required to defeat Nazi Germany just the year previously.

Preliminary design studies showed that the aircraft should have a delta wing and be tailless. Bob was inspired by studies of delta wings that had been made in Germany by Alexander Lippisch who had been working on a delta winged fighter for the Luftwaffe.

Original concept Vulcan

The original design was very futuristic in appearance; it would not have been out of place on the set of the Thunderbirds. It had boundary layer suction, a movable cockpit so that the pilot could maintain good visibility with angles of incidence as high as 30°, combined elevator and airbrakes and variable area jet pipe nozzles.

By the time that the concept drawings were being released, Roy had recovered from his illness. When he had gone on leave, the projected aircraft was not much more than a jet-powered Lincoln but in his absence, it had morphed into something that would have been at home in the space age Buck Rogers comic strip. To say that Roy Chadwick was displeased would probably be an understatement and he made is displeasure well known. Bob took this to heart as he loved this project and took the admonishment hard and spent that weekend sulking.

Over the weekend, after he calmed down from the shock of what was presented to him, Roy decided that the design did have some good points and come Monday he relayed this to Bob and threw himself into the project to make the design a practical aircraft.

As the plans developed, many changes were made. Bob’s design had five Rolls-Royce Avons or Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines grouped together in one nacelle. For simplicity, it was decided that the prototype be a twin-engined aircraft but they needed to be at least 20,000 lbs of thrust each and engine manufacturers were contacted to see what they could come up with. The replies received ranged from pessimism that an engine with that much thrust could not be developed to supreme optimism (author’s note: the GE 80E engine as installed on an Airbus A330 can develop 72,000 lbs of thrust. Supreme optimism just takes time).

Apart from being fit for purpose to deliver lethal cargo, consideration had to be given as to how to house the operating crew. Bob Lindley’s design had the crew compartment inside the wing with the two pilots under their own individual fighter style canopies. While this might have suited the original specification, it did not with the revised one where a jettisonable crew compartment was called for. Crew buried in the wing of an aircraft could have a difficult time in getting out of a stricken aircraft.

While work was being carried out on this military aircraft, at the same time, studies were also being made to see if the design could be commercially practical as a transatlantic airliner as headwinds did not seem to bother the delta wing wing planform too much.

Sadly, Roy Chadwick was killed in the crash of the Avro Tudor 2 prototype on 23 August 1947 and in 1949, Bob Lindley left England to work for Avro Canada and then later for NASA as director of engineering on the Space Shuttle programme. Work continued on the project with others championing the cause to a successful conclusion with an aircraft radically different to what had been originally proposed. Bob’s radical concept at the time of a delta winged bomber did come to fruition with this aircraft but its final shape being a hybrid of old and new.

The Vulcan entered squadron service as a nuclear capable strategic bomber but this role was revised with the advent of the ICBM and in time, it was adapted for long-range low level attack role for which they were successfully used against the Argentinians during the Falklands war.

Avro Vulcan production aircraft

The Vulcan’s initially intended role as a nuclear bomber was highlighted in the James Bond movie Thunder Ball where a stolen Vulcan with its lethal cargo was ditched so that the bombs could be stolen.  It was only right that such a charismatic looking aircraft should be a movie star.  The Vulcan has now been relegated to history and to museums as the type has now been retired from service use.




Aeroplane Monthly

March 2008

IPC Media Ltd


The Illustrated Ency. of Aircraft

Orbis Publication


Anthony Coleiro

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