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#TheXH558Story - Part 6

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

Enter the B2s to the production line

Vulcan B. Mk1s coming off the Woodford production line probably in early 1956 just as plans were being completed for the B. Mk 2. Note the smaller tail-cone of XA896 on the right.

In 1955 Avro’s new Chief Designer, Roy Ewans and his team had been working on redesigning the Mk.1 airframe to increase the lift and manoeuvrability at the heights the Vulcan would be capable of with the increasingly powerful variants of the Olympus engine.

The Phase 2 wing was increased in span from 99ft to 111ft, and wing area from 3,446sq ft to 3,965sq ft, which in conjunction with the new Olympus 200 would not only boost performance at altitude, but also increase range and operational ceiling.

The MoS approved the Phase 2C design and in March 1956 issued the contract to convert VX777 into the prototype B2, placing a production order for the B2 in June. Production of the B1 was halted with XH532, and the remaining 25 B1s on contract would be completed to B2 standard. VX777 was fitted with Olympus 102 engines of 12,000lb thrust and the Phase 2C wing, which replaced the elevators and ailerons of the Mk.1 with full-span elevons, and first flew in the new configuration on 31 August 1957 as it entered aerodynamic trials.

This later picture of the same assembly hall clearly shows B.2s in production, with the far larger tail-cone and brake parachute housing clearly seen at the bottom of the image.

The B2 design featured other significant modifications, including a less bulky 200-volt AC electrical system, Lucas Auxiliary Airborne Power Plant (AAPP), enlarged air intakes and strengthened undercarriage with a shorter nose leg. The first aircraft to fly with these refinements was the preproduction XH533 on 19 August 1958, and it later demonstrated the effectiveness of the new wing by climbing to 61,500ft.

With the development programme well underway Avro received an instruction to fit new ECM equipment, including the Red Steer tail warning radar, involving a redesign of the entire rear fuselage below the fin to accommodate it. The B2’s new tailcone increased the overall length by nearly 3 feet, and a flat aerial plate was installed between the starboard jet pipes.

XH534 underwent Controller Aircraft clearance trials at Boscombe Down, and the B2 received clearance in May 1960, the first into service being XH558, which was delivered to 230 OCU on 1 July.

The first known aerial image of XH558 as Tony Blackman puts her through her paces on the delivery flight to RAF Waddington. This image was a publcity shot for Avro and Rolls-Royce. Below the port-wing air intakes you can see the Ram Air Turbine (RAT) deployed for testing.
 XH558 was actually the 12th production B.2 aircraft on the production schedule, but due to varous factors, she became the first one to be air tested and signed-off to be delivered into RAF service. As the last one to leave the RAF in 1993, she holds the distinction of being 'the first and last' B.2. 
There were still 34 B1s in RAF service and it had been decided to fit the best of these with the ECM kit used in the B2 - no simple task as the DC electrics on the B1 couldn’t be completely modified to AC and an engine-driven alternator had to be installed. Work was mainly carried out by Armstrong Whitworth, who completed the conversion of 29 aircraft, now designated B1A, in 32 months. At around this time, a further modification was introduced to the fleet in the form of in-flight refuelling capability, increasing mission range and flight time. Several Valiant bombers were converted to the tanker role.
More on XH558's life in upcoming edition of this serialisation.
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 Extracts are from our Avro 60th Anniversary Book.

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