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#TheXH558Story - Part 5

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

Vulcan Test Beds

Continiuing our serialisation of the Vulcan story that will lead to the delivery of the first B Mk.2 Vulcan XH558.  

Vulcan Test beds …..


Aside from regular duties, several Vulcan airframes were put to use in test and development roles.

XA894 spent all its life as a test aircraft, and was delivered to Filton in 1960, where the Olympus 22R (intended to power the TSR2) was fitted into the bomb-bay. An engine explosion during ground running in December 1962 unfortunately destroyed the aircraft.

Probably one of the most famous Vulcans after XH558 (and XM607, but more on that later) was the B1, XA903.

This aircraft never entered operational service, but played a significant role in aeronautic development from the 1950s through to the ‘70s. Completed in 1957, the 15th airframe built by Avro at Woodford, it was initially used for trials of the Blue Steel missile (and was the only B1 ever to carry it). It then became an engine test-bed at Filton for the Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 engine that was to power Concorde. The engine was installed as one half of a Concorde nacelle, attached underneath the bomb-bay space. The bomb bay space was used for additional fuel tanks to supply the 593 engine, and for a water tank that was used as part of the engine tests. A water spray grid was fitted in front of the nacelle for de-icing trials. This contained over a hundred nozzles spraying water into the engine at varying flow rates to test the operation of intake de-icing system.

The vast array of sensors fitted to the 593 required an external wiring loom to be fitted down the port side of the aircraft, and the rear cabin was unique to XA903 - a large instrument panel that contained over 100 instruments and indicators was installed on the starboard side of the rear desk. The final 593 flight test took place in July 1971 and in August aircraft went to Marshall’s of Cambridge for conversion to carry the RB199 destined for the Panavia Tornado. The forebody of the engine nacelle had been designed to provide two 27mm Mauser cannon positions together with ammunition stowage for 150 shells. XA903 thus became the only cannon-armed Vulcan with several gun firing trials carried out on the butts at Boscombe Down, and over the Irish Sea.

During these trials XA903 began to show her age. The last RAF B1 had been withdrawn in 1968 and spares were in short supply, sometimes resulting in gate guardians being ‘robbed’ for parts. In 1977 the aircraft became the only in-service Vulcan to be totally re-wired, an impressive feat as the wiring was ‘built in’ and not designed to be replaced.

In August 1978, the RB199 trials were completed and XA903 was allocated to Farnborough for ground training. The aircraft was scrapped in 1984, with the nose section preserved in private ownership.

Selected extracts in this article are from the range of Vulcan to the Sky publications that can be found in our bookstore. CLICK HERE TO VISIT. 

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