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#TheXH558Story - Part 8

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

B1s and B2s at RAF Finningley

A mixture of white B1s and then B2s on the pans at RAF Finningley on 28th July 1965. We know from the photographer's records that XH558 is the aircraft on the left, parked directly facing Hangar 3. Hangar 1, where she is now stored, is on the right-hand side of the image. What a remarkable picture!

Courtesy of F.W. Elliot.

All the B1 and 1As were now concentrated in three squadrons at Waddington; No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron reformed in August 1960, taking over 83 Squadron’s eight B1s, and was joined by 101 Squadron which brought its five B1s and two B1As down from Finningley, swapping places with 230 OCU. The third squadron was No 50 which re-formed in August 1961, taking B1s from 617.

RAF Scampton was reorganised to accommodate three B2 squadrons; No 83 arrived in the Autumn of 1960 and took delivery of their first B2 in December. In April 1961 they were joined by a re-formed 27 Squadron, and finally 617 received their first B2 in September to replace the B1s given to 50 Squadron. In 1962 a second B2 wing was established at RAF Coningsby, with three disbanded Canberra squadrons re-formed, No IX, No 12 and No 35. The latter received B2s from the Scampton squadrons which were receiving new aircraft modified to carry Blue Steel.

An official publicity image of the period showing a Blue Steel aircraft being prepared. This was released in public to make the Soviets very much aware of the RAF's capabilites.    

Blue Steel was a rocket-propelled nuclear stand-off missile, carried partly recessed into the bomb-bay of Vulcan and Victor aircraft and was capable of supersonic cruise speeds. Work on the weapon had begun in 1956 when Avro received a development contract from the MoS. The first test firing took place at the Woomera rocket range in Australia early in 1961 and, by early 1963, 617 Squadron became the first fully operational unit to be equipped, followed by 27 and 83 Squadrons later that year.

A daytime operational image - Courtesy Ian Proctor.  

Together with 100 and 139 Squadron Victors they formed the spearhead of the nuclear deterrent, with aircraft on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) aiming to be airborne within 90 seconds of starting to roll.

Even while Blue Steel was undergoing tests, its intended replacement was well advanced, the RAF having shown an interest in the American Skybolt missile back in 1959. This was designed to have a range of over 1,000 miles as against Blue Steel’s 100, and a Vulcan would be capable of carrying two, one under each wing.

In March 1960 agreement was reached with the Americans to supply the RAF, with a target in service date of the end of 1963. Accordingly, 40 Vulcan B2s were modified with strengthened wings and Skybolt attachment points (which were later to prove useful in the Falklands conflict for carrying Shrike missiles and the Westinghouse ECM pod), and XH537 flew with a pair of dummy missiles on wing pylons in November 1961.

Skybolt dummy weapons carried under-wing on XH537. Vulcans in Camera

Tests of the missile were problematic, and this, together with escalating costs and the arrival of the United States Navy’s Polaris missile, led to the US cancelling Skybolt at the end of 1962.

With the British government’s planned basis for its entire nuclear deterrent removed at a stroke, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan opted for the submarine-launched Polaris. This would enter service at the end of the decade, the V-Force shouldering the nuclear deterrent role until then.

More on #TheXH558Story next week.
We have a wide range of books available in our Book Store that will give you a wealth of information on the life of Vulcan aircraft and XH558. 


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