Avro Vulcan: More Powerful Than B-52?

During the period from 1956 to 1965, about 136 Avro Vulcans were built and commissioned for the RAF.

At the height of the Cold War, the military powers developed various types of military aircraft to gain an advantage over the other. In the field of strategic heavy bombers, for the West, two of the biggest and most formidable bombers were the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and the British Avro Vulcan. Both of these remarkable aircraft actually flew in the same year, yet the B-52 is still in frontline service while the last Royal Air Force flight of a Vulcan was in 1993, as a display aircraft.

Vulcan has been operating as a nuclear deterrent since the 1950s. It was a delta-wing, strategic bomber, designed to fly at high altitude and the aircraft first took flight on August 30th 1952. The Vulcan B.1 was first delivered to the RAF in 1956; deliveries of the improved Vulcan B.2 started in 1960. The B.2 featured more powerful engines, a larger wing, an improved electrical system, and electronic countermeasures, and many were modified to accept the Blue Steel missile. Power for the Vulcan came from four Bristol Olympus engines that could power the aircraft to a top speed of 646 mph.

During the period from 1956 to 1965, about 136 Avro Vulcans were built and commissioned for the RAF. Like other bombers, the Avro Vulcan was also developed with many different variants such as Vulcan B.1, B.2 and K.2 of which the most popular was the Vulcan B.2. The Avro Vulcan had a crew of 5 and had a maximum takeoff weight of more than 167,000 lb in the B.1 version, and up to 204,000 lb in the B.2 version.

The most impressive thing about the Vulcans was its delta wing configuration. The wings were fashionably contoured to extend outwardly from the fuselage, giving the aircraft its smooth overall appearance and housed the four engines, fuel and main landing gears. Intakes for the engines were intelligently mounted at each wingroot and the entire component ran the length of the delta wing. The bomb bay was centrally held in the fuselage and could be fitted with additional fuel for increased range. The empennage featured a single large dorsal fin extending from about the midway portion of the fuselage.

The Vulcan can carry up to 21,000 lbs of weapons stored in the internal bomb bay. Weapons can include conventional or – more importantly – nuclear weaponry. Conventional bombing was 21 x 1,000lb bombs. Nuclear munitions varied as they were constantly being developed or improved upon but included the Blue Steel Mk 1 stand-off missile.

The aircraft’ss only combat service came in the 1982 Falklands War, with the Black Buck missions seeing them inflict damage on Port Stanley runway, stopping the Argentine Air Force from operating from the Falklands and protecting the British forces. The air raid at the time, from Ascension Island, was at the time the longest bombing raid in history with Black Buck 1 encompassing nearly 6,600 nautical miles. The Vulcan at the time had switched from a nuclear bombing role to a conventional bomber role, and was the only one of the three V-bombers that was able to fly at low level without stressing the airframe. The final Vulcans were retired in the 1980s, serving as air tankers.

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Compared to the US B-52, like the Vulcan, this aircraft was built to carry a nuclear payload and this is a role that the aircraft can still fulfil. The Vulcan did have a quicker top speed, 646 mph compared to 509 mph for the B-52 and its agility and lift thanks to its delta wing were unrivalled. It was almost as agile as RAF fighters of the time. Its lack of upgrades over the years meant it was replaced by aircraft like the Panavia Tornado, although the B-52 shows that a large strategic bomber clearly has a place in a national air arm.

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