Saturday, September 01, 2012

Avro Vulcan

click photo to enlarge
It shouldn't seem odd to me that some military aircraft achieve the affection of the public, and yet it does. After all, other manufactured objects, from cars and calculators to chairs and chessmen, win particular admiration. Moreover, military aircraft are an outstandingly good example of form resulting from function, and many objects that receive the public's acclamation display this very feature. But, what is inescapable about all of the beautiful design, engineering and construction necessary to make a military aircraft is that it serves to enable the efficient delivery of death and destruction.

In the UK the Supermarine Spitfire is undoubtedly the most admired military aircraft. Even if its important role in the Battle of Britain and WW2 generally were not so widely known and so frequently eulogised, it would still be esteemed for the elegant curves and lines of its shape. Examples of other British military aircraft that provoke a high level of affection in these islands are the Avro Lancaster bomber, the de Havilland Mosquito and the BAe Harrier. Why these three? The Lancaster was Britain's main heavy bomber of the second world war, an unusual design for the time, and an important contributor to victory. The  Mosquito has something of the grace of the Spitfire in a twin-engined design, and the Harrier was the first, successful V/STOL aircraft and consequently unique. And then there's the Avro Vulcan.

The brief for the Vulcan's designers was an aircraft to to drop bombs on Britain's enemies. More specifically, a heavy load of conventional, free-fall, high explosive bombs, free-fall nuclear bombs, or later, the "Blue Steel", multi-megaton, stand-off nuclear missile. In pursuit of that end they came up with a large, delta winged bomber with four powerful jet engines, a simple and elegant design that has had lasting aesthetic appeal for many. The aircraft was in RAF service from 1956 to 1984. It was flown as a high level strategic bomber initially, later had a low level role and in its final years some were converted for maritime reconnaissance, and others as in-flight refuelling tankers. Its swan-song came in 1982 when it was the offensive spear-head of Operation Black Buck, the extreme range missions to attack the occupying forces on the Falkland Islands during the conflict between the UK and Argentina, an undertaking that only served to increase the fascination with the aircraft.

In some respects the Avro Vulcan is like a penguin or a vulture: on the ground it doesn't show itself off to best advantage, but in its element it looks entirely different. I remember seeing Vulcans high overhead as a child, vapour trails streaming out behind a small white triangle as they patrolled the skies. When it came to photographing this example - No. XM594 at Newark Air Museum - it proved quite tricky since none of the qualities for which it is highly regarded can be seen. A video, such as this one of the last flying example, shows it to much better effect.

photographs and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On