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#TheXH558Story - Part 10

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: Education

through the 70s

The Vulcans’ roles were changing and as we approach the early 80s - plans were being made to slowly retire the fleet.

Following the transfer of the strategic deterrent role to the Royal Navy’s Polaris fleet, on 30th June 1969, the RAF maintained three nuclear-capable low-level penetration Vulcan wings with different weaponry, and accordingly different standard of aircraft. The Scampton Vulcans were designated B Mk.2A as they had provision for Blue Steel. The Cottesmore aircraft had B Mk.2s armed with WE177 laydown thermonuclear weapons. Finally, the Waddington Wing of Nos 44, 50 and 101 Squadrons, relinquished their B Mk.1As, and the Yellow Sun Mk.2, in favour of Vulcan B Mk.2s armed with WE177 thermonuclear weapons.

On 29 March 1972, 27 Squadron disbanded at Scampton but re-formed on 1 November 1973 with Vulcans modified for the maritime radar reconnaissance role, the aircraft being known as B Mk.2 MRR.  (XH558 being one of the aircraft fulfilling this role).

XH558 at the time in her MRR role. Terry Senior collection. 

The MRR Vulcans had Loran C navigation equipment, various electronic sensors, and photographic equipment fitted in the bomb-aimer’s window. Some aircraft also carried air sampling pods on under-wing pylons in their secondary role of upper air sampling. A small change to the Vulcan’s outline also arrived at this time, as the tailfin sprouted a rectangular fairing housing the antenna for the Marconi 18228 radar warning receiver. This improved on its predecessor by being able to display data on several threats at once.

During November 1973 some of the Vulcans began to take on yet another role, with the establishment of No. 27 Squadron as a Maritime Radar Reconnaissance unit, having been removed from the strike role in March 1972. The Vulcans converted for this new role became known as SR Mk.2s, and No. 27 Squadron took the place of No. 543 Squadron, which had operated SR Mk.2 Victors until its disbandment in May 1974.

XM607 during the 70s - an aircraft that would later become better known to the public in 1982. Image 

The Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in mid-1974 led to the Akrotiri Wing being dispersed to Malta before it was withdrawn from the Mediterranean altogether to help defuse the political situation. IX Squadron returned to Britain and joined the Waddington Wing, whilst 35 Squadron went to Scampton.

The Vulcan’s serviceability rate had always been kept at a high level through the professionalism of RAF ground crews, and through the excellent refurbishing and major overhaul programmes carried out by both the RAF at St. Athan and Hawker Siddeley Aviation, now part of British Aerospace, at their airfield at Bitteswell. The RAF Engineering wing at St. Athan completed its 500th Vulcan overhaul in September 1978, when XM573 returned to No. 44 Squadron.

Based within sight of Lincoln Cathedral since 1975, the eight surviving Vulcan B.Mk.2 units remained in the forefront of the RAF’s strike force until the run-down began in 1981, having cost £5million per year* to operate since 1969. By early 1982, the remaining Vulcan fleet was likely to be reduced even further. Events at that time rather extended their operational life, but more on that 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. 


* £5million in 1971 is now estimated to be worth £68million in 2017 - adjusted using the Retail Price Index of inflation.

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