Visit a British air show before September and it’s possible you’ll get the opportunity to witness the last Vulcan bomber in flight — and this is definitely the last year you’ll get the chance, this time.
Alongside the staple leather-clad wing-walking ladies, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, simulated Apache attack-chopper scenarios and Red Arrows displays, you may find XH558 — now owned and flown by charity Vulcan to the Sky Trust, funded by charitable donations and Lottery cash.
The Vulcan holds a very special place in the hearts of many, not just for that unmistakable shape but because it functioned as a basic but wholly British nuclear deterrent early on in the Cold War.
Such was its frontline status and iconic image, the Vulcan was used by James Bond scriptwriters and given generous screen time in Thunderball (1965) — in which the V-bomber is hijacked by SPECTRE resulting in the loss of two nukes, which Commander Bond must then retrieve.
In the real world the Vulcan’s only combat action came in 1982, as part of the Falklands War. The “Black Buck” raids in which Vulcans — supported by a large fleet of aerial tankers — travelled all the way from Ascension Island to attack the Falklands held the longest-distance combat bombing record for nine years until the USAF took the top spot with B-52 raids in the 1991 Gulf War.
Standing as I did at the Cosford Airshow — one of those last displays — just few hundred yards from XH558, with its engines running at full tilt, you knew it was something special. The ground shook and your stomach throbbed as this mighty aircraft passed overhead.
To understand the reasoning behind the creation of the Vulcan you need to know the backstory about the freezing of the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US after World War II. When the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the war entered its final phase. Unfortunately, so did the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US.
The US, wanting to keep all the nuclear toys for itself, passed the McMahon Act — officially the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 — forbidding the transfer of nuclear knowledge or technology to any country, even those former allies (Britain and Canada) that helped develop the bombs which had been dropped on Japan.
July 19, 2015
July 3, 2015
… an air force has significantly under-reported the number of planes downed by one of its aces:
On June 26, the RCAF/Canadian Forces issued a news release stating that the new complex for the RCAF’s Chinooks at Petawawa will be named in honour of First World War flying ace Major Andrew McKeever of Ontario.
“Major McKeever was the epitome of what it means to serve one’s country, with an impressive 17 aerial victories to his name in the First World War,” stated Defence Minister Jason Kenney.
The RCAF news release also credited McKeever with 17 kills.
In addition, Kenney tweeted the details of the news release.
Defence Watch later cited the CF news release.
But a sharp-eyed Defence Watch reader pointed out that the Canadian Forces news release contained a major error.
McKeever had significantly more than 17 kills.
Nearly twice that number, actually. (But you can pick pretty much any number from 18 to 41 and be correct by at least one of the competing “standards”.)
June 1, 2015
Published on 26 Feb 2015
Created in 1965, 1400 Zulu is a classic British propaganda and recruiting film that profiles the Royal Navy’s operations around the world: from the Caribbean to Aden to the Suez Canal and beyond. It’s a job that involves hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of men both above, on and below the water of all the world’s oceans. The film shows some of the newest weapons in the RN’s arsenal including nuclear submarines, missile systems and the Guided Missile Destroyer HMS Hampshire, Harrier Jump Jets and carrier-based Buccaneers, and helicopters. The Royal Marines including frogmen are shown performing maneuvers, and various military exercises are shown and activities demonstrated.
HMS Hampshire was a County-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. Laid down, in March 1959 a couple of weeks behind the class leader Devonshire, she was classified as a guided missile destroyer, as the Sea Lords regarded the concept of the cruiser and big gun ship as discredited by the perceived failure of the Tiger class and the obsolescence of the heavy gun. The description of guided missile destroyer seemed more likely to win approval from the Treasury and Government for an adequate number of warships the size of small cruisers which could play many traditional cruiser flagship and command functions but had armour around neither its gun or missile magazine.
The Blackburn Buccaneer originated in the early 1950s as a design for a carrier-borne attack aircraft able to carry a nuclear bomb below radar coverage. It was a British low-level subsonic strike aircraft that served with the Royal Navy (RN) and later the Royal Air Force (RAF), retiring from service in 1994. Designed and initially produced by Blackburn Aircraft at Brough, it was later known as the Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer when Blackburn became a part of the Hawker Siddeley group.
The Royal Navy originally procured the Buccaneer as a naval strike aircraft capable of operating from their aircraft carriers, introducing the type to service in 1962 to counterbalance advances made in the Soviet Navy. The Buccaneer was capable of delivering nuclear weapons as well as conventional munitions for anti-shipping warfare, and was typically active in the North Sea area during its service. Early on the initial production aircraft suffered a series of accidents due to insufficient engine power, thus the Buccaneer S.2, equipped with more powerful Rolls-Royce Spey engines, was soon introduced.
Although they originally rejected it in favour of the supersonic BAC TSR-2, the RAF later procured the Buccaneer as a substitute following the cancellation of both the TSR-2 and its planned replacement, the F-111K. When the RN retired the last of its large aircraft carriers, its Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF. The South African Air Force also procured the type. Buccaneers saw combat action in the Gulf War and the South African Border War. In RN service, the Buccaneer was replaced with the V/STOL British Aerospace Sea Harrier. In RAF service, they were replaced by the Panavia Tornado.
H/T to @NavyLookout for the link.
May 21, 2015
At The Register, Lester Haines explains why the trust that operates XH558 is having to ground the aircraft permanently:
The Vulcan To The Sky Trust has announced “with considerable sadness” that this summer will be the public’s last chance to catch Avro Vulcan XH558 thundering through British skies, as the legendary V-bomber will be permanently grounded at the end of this flying season.
The trust explains that the axe will fall because “three expert companies on whom we depend – known as the ‘technical authorities’ – have together decided to cease their support at the end of this flying season”.
At the heart of their decision are two factors. First, although we are all confident that XH558 is currently as safe as any aircraft flying today, her structure and systems are already more than ten percent beyond the flying hours of any other Vulcan, so knowing where to look for any possible failure is becoming more difficult. These can be thought of as the ‘unknown unknown’ issues, which can be impossible to predict with any accuracy. Second, maintaining her superb safety record requires expertise that is increasingly difficult to find.
Keeping XH558 in the air has been an epic undertaking, and not without wing-and-a-prayer moments involving last-minute injections of cash.
May 12, 2015
Published on 11 May 2015
World War 1 saw several completely new technologies develop rapidly. The airplane itself was only a few years old but pioneering engineers soon saw its potential for military use. For recognisance and later as fighter or bomber, World War 1 had huge impact on aviation and warfare in general. This special episode gives you an idea about the obstacles that had to be overcome.
April 20, 2015
David Warren casts his thoughts into the air, but a hundred years ago the Wright Brothers’ lawyers would have been doing their legal damnedest to bring him back down to earth in a hurry:
Work on powered, controlled flight in the United States was far behind that in France, or England, but fell farther behind thanks to the Wright brothers. Fixated on the problem of converting invention into wealth, they pursued rival aviators around the USA with teams of lawyers. Their numerous, voluminous, cumbersome lawsuits were based on often fanciful patent claims, emerging from their own intensely secretive research.
One thinks for instance of the great aviator, Louis Paulhan (first to fly London to Manchester), who arrived with two Blériot monoplanes and two Farman biplanes to give flying demonstrations across the USA. Amazed at the workings of the American judicial system, but ignoring legal injunctions to prevent them from flying their machines, they took every prize at the Los Angeles Air Meet in January 1910, setting new records for altitude and endurance.
The Wrights were present, there as elsewhere, though never competing. They and their gaggle of lawyers followed Paulhan and the other foreigners around the country, serving them with process papers, and demanding unbelievably huge sums to call off their dogs, in vile and obvious attempts at extortion. And then they’d hit the local impresarios with additional suits to impound all the cash from ticket sales, &c. Truly: vicious and contemptible men.
To avoid fines or imprisonment in backwoods American jurisdictions, the visitors took to giving their demonstrations entirely for free, but still the lawsuits kept coming. Finally they gave up and went home.
And there’s even a maple-flavoured sidelight in the story:
Part of the reason for Canada’s early advances in aviation (first flight of the Silver Dart at Baddeck in Cape Breton, with its ingenious ailerons, &c) was the migration of American inventors, such as the brilliant motor-mechanic Glenn Curtiss, to safe territory away from the corrupt and unpredictable U.S. courts.
This, I suspect, was among the reasons that the spectacularly inventive Scotchman, Alexander Graham Bell, re-located from his grand mansion in Washington, DC. At first he went north, back to Canada (where he had settled before), only for the summers; but soon he was staying through the winters, too. Not only in flight, but in all the many other areas of his pioneering work (he invented the telephone, &c), he was afflicted with lawsuits from American cranks, with those dollar signs twirling in their eyes and the slick lawyers lining up behind them, ready to exploit a patent regime wide open to political manipulation. For apart from the beauty of the Bras d’Or landscape, Bell was back under the protection of British Common Law.
April 13, 2015
From the RCAF CF-18 Demo Team page:
The CF-18 Demonstration Team will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain — and the courageous airmen that Prime Minister Winston Churchill dubbed the “few” — during its 2015 show season.
The special design of the demo Hornet, reflecting this theme, will be unveiled at a later date.
The summer of 1940 was a dark time for the Allies. With shocking rapidity, Adolf Hitler’s forces had overrun most of Europe. By mid-June, Allied forces had been pushed off the continent and Nazi forces were at the English Channel, preparing to invade England.
“The Battle of France is over,” said British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”
Hitler directed that the Royal Air Force (RAF) — including Canadians and members of other Commonwealth air forces fighting with or as part of the RAF — be eliminated to allow the invasion to take place. The air battle began on July 10, with Nazi attacks on British convoys, ports and coastal radar stations. One of the most savage days was August 13. A few days later Churchill praised the brave airmen in words that have echoed through the decades: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
On September 15, the Germans launched a massive attack but, although the fighting was fierce, the RAF, using new tactics, was victorious. Two days later, Hitler postponed the invasion; he never again considered it seriously.
By the end of September, the Battle of Britain was over. It was the first military confrontation won by air power and Germany’s first defeat of the Second World War. More than 2,300 pilots and aircrew from Great Britain and nearly 600 from other nations participated in the Battle.
Of these, 544 lost their lives, including 23 Canadians. More than 100 Canadians flew in the battle, principally as members of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) No. 1 Squadron (later renamed 401 Squadron) and the RAF’s 242 “All Canadian” Squadron. An estimated 300 Canadians served as groundcrew.
It is a great honour for the RCAF and the 2015 CF-18 Demonstration Team to commemorate the dedication and sacrifice of those brave Canadian aircrew and groundcrew who stood up to tyranny and left their mark on history.
March 12, 2015
I’ve called it the only truly Canadian conspiracy theory … I’ve also described it as “artisanal Canadian myth-making, hand-woven, fair-trade, and 100% organic” … it’s the revenge of the return of the son of the Avro Arrow cancellation! At Aviation Week, Bill Sweetman looks back on the technical achievements and eventual disappointment that was the Avro Arrow project:
The cancellation of the Avro Canada CF-105 interceptor in February 1959 was a traumatic event for Canada’s emerging aerospace industry. When Aviation Week reported on the fighter’s rollout, in October 1957, the magazine called it “a serious contender for the top military aircraft of the next several years”. High praise indeed, for a non-U.S. aircraft, given that the XB-58 supersonic bomber was in flight test and that new aircraft in the works included the A-5 Vigilante and the F-4 Phantom.
But the Arrow was extraordinary, and more so, given that the industry that produced it was less than a decade old when the prototype contract was issued in March 1955. Avro Canada had been formed by Britain’s Hawker Siddeley Group after World War 2 and had quickly produced the CF-100 interceptor, the C-102 jet airliner (the world’s second to fly), and the CF-100’s Orenda engine, which was also fitted to Canadian-built Sabre fighters.
The performance requirements meant that almost everything on the airplane had to be invented. No existing engine would do the job, so Avro spun off a new Orenda Engines subsidiary to produce the Iroquois, the most powerful supersonic engine of the 1950s. The airframe took Canada into the world of integrally machined skins, and both airframe and engine used titanium. The CF-105 was the first aircraft to use 4,000 psi hydraulics. Canada enlisted Hughes for help with the radar and missiles, but the radar was new and the missile was the active-homing Sparrow II. Management was a huge challenge, both because the aircraft was complex (the second-biggest Mach 2 airplane anywhere) and because of the program’s sheer size: at its peak, Avro Canada was the nation’s third-largest company and in the world Top 100.
February 9, 2015
At Sploid, Jesus Diaz shares some photos from the secret assembly line that built the SR-71 aircraft:
Built and designed in the 1960s after the A-12 Oxcart, the SR-71 Blackbird is still the fastest, most vanguardist air-breathing airplane in the history of aviation. These once classified photos reveal how Lockheed built both birds in secret, in California. They look taken at the Rebel base in Hoth.
H/T to Dave Owens for the link, and also a H/T to Jeff for linking to another photo story about how the aircraft were transported from Lockheed’s Skunk Works to Area 51.
Convening to ring the alarm about global warming, our putative betters and would-be rulers gathered in Davos, Switzerland, filling the local general-aviation hangars with some 1,700 private jets. Taking an international commercial flight is one of the most carbon-intensive things the typical person does in his life, but if you’re comparing carbon footprints between your average traveler squeezed into coach on American and Davos Man quaffing Pol Roger in his cashmere-carpeted intercontinental air limousine, you’re talking Smurfette vs. Sasquatch. The Bombardier’s Global 6000 may be a technical marvel, but it still runs on antique plankton juice. The emissions from heating all those sprawling hotel suites in the Alps in winter surely makes baby polar bears weep bitter and copious baby-polar-bear tears.
The stories add up: Jeff Greene brings multiple nannies on his private jet to Davos, and the rest of the guys gathered to talk past each other about the plight of the working man scarf down couture hot-dogs that cost forty bucks. Bill Clinton makes the case for wealth-redistribution while sporting a $60,000 platinum Rolex.
The hypocrisy of our literally (literally, Mr. Vice President!) high-flying crusaders against fossil fuels — who overlap considerably with our high-living crusaders against economic inequality — is endlessly annoying if frequently entertaining. And there is something unseemly about enduring puritanical little homilies on how we need to learn to live with less from guys wearing shoes that cost more than the typical American family earns in a quarter. When that obnoxious Alec Baldwin character from Glengarry Glen Ross informs that sad-sack real-estate salesman that his watch costs more than that guy’s car, he was trying to provoke him into getting richer, to the tune of a Cadillac Eldorado or, if not that, at least the second-prize set of steak knives. But our modern progressive versions of that guy are even more obnoxious: They demand that we lower our expectations while they live lives of opulence that would have embarrassed the Count of Monte Cristo.
Out-obnoxious-ing a guy with Alec Baldwin’s smirking mug takes a lot of brass.
Kevin Williamson, “Davos’s Destructive Elites: ‘None of us is as dumb as all of us'”, National Review, 2015-01-25.
February 6, 2015
Published on 2 Feb 2015
The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was a delta-winged interceptor aircraft, with nuclear rockets and missiles, designed and built by Avro Canada as the culmination of a design study that began in 1953. The Arrow is considered to have been an advanced technical and aerodynamic achievement for the Canadian aviation industry. The CF-105 (Mark 2) held the promise of near-Mach 2 speeds at altitudes of 50,000 feet (15,000 m) and was intended to serve as the Royal Canadian Air Force’s primary interceptor in the 1960s and beyond. But when it was canceled it was a ruin for Canada’s pride. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Canada_CF-105_Arrow
January 10, 2015
Charles Stross in full “beat up the optimists” mode over a common SF notion about sub-orbital travel for the masses:
Let’s start with a simple normative assumption; that sub-orbital spaceplanes are going to obey the laws of physics. One consequence of this is that the amount of energy it takes to get from A to B via hypersonic airliner is going to exceed the energy input it takes to cover the same distance using a subsonic jet, by quite a margin. Yes, we can save some fuel by travelling above the atmosphere and cutting air resistance, but it’s not a free lunch: you expend energy getting up to altitude and speed, and the fuel burn for going faster rises nonlinearly with speed. Concorde, flying trans-Atlantic at Mach 2.0, burned about the same amount of fuel as a Boeing 747 of similar vintage flying trans-Atlantic at Mach 0.85 … while carrying less than a quarter as many passengers.
Rockets aren’t a magic technology. Neither are hybrid hypersonic air-breathing gadgets like Reaction Engines‘ Sabre engine. It’s going to be a wee bit expensive. But let’s suppose we can get the price down far enough that a seat in a Mach 5 to Mach 10 hypersonic or sub-orbital passenger aircraft is cost-competitive with a high-end first class seat on a subsonic jet. Surely the super-rich will all switch to hypersonic services in a shot, just as they used Concorde to commute between New York and London back before Airbus killed it off by cancelling support after the 30-year operational milestone?
Firstly, this is the post-9/11 age. Obviously security is a consideration for all civil aviation, right? Well, no: business jets are largely exempt, thanks to lobbying by their operators, backed up by their billionaire owners. But those of us who travel by civil airliners open to the general ticket-buying public are all suspects. If something goes wrong with a scheduled service, fighters are scrambled to intercept it, lest some fruitcake tries to fly it into a skyscraper.
So not only are we not going to get our promised flying cars, we’re not going to get fast, cheap, intercontinental travel options. But what about those hyper-rich folks who spend money like water?
First class air travel by civil aviation is a dying niche today. If you are wealthy enough to afford the £15,000-30,000 ticket cost of a first-class-plus intercontinental seat (or, rather, bedroom with en-suite toilet and shower if we’re talking about the very top end), you can also afford to pay for a seat on a business jet instead. A number of companies operate profitably on the basis that they lease seats on bizjets by the hour: you may end up sharing a jet with someone else who’s paying to fly the same route, but the operating principle is that when you call for it a jet will turn up and take you where you want to go, whenever you want. There’s no security theatre, no fuss, and it takes off when you want it to, not when the daily schedule says it has to. It will probably have internet connectivity via satellite—by the time hypersonic competition turns up, this is not a losing bet—and for extra money, the sky is the limit on comfort.
I don’t get to fly first class, but I’ve watched this happen over the past two decades. Business class is holding its own, and premium economy is growing on intercontinental flights (a cut-down version of Business with more leg-room than regular economy), but the number of first class seats you’ll find on an Air France or British Airways 747 is dwindling. The VIPs are leaving the carriers, driven away by the security annoyances and drawn by the convenience of much smaller jets that come when they call.
For rich people, time is the only thing money can’t buy. A HST flying between fixed hubs along pre-timed flight paths under conditions of high security is not convenient. A bizjet that flies at their beck and call is actually speedier across most intercontinental routes, unless the hypersonic route is serviced by multiple daily flights—which isn’t going to happen unless the operating costs are comparable to a subsonic craft.
November 11, 2014
Aviation Week has a fascinating tale of politico-military skulduggery involving the on-again, off-again purchase of F-35 fighters to replace the RCAF’s aging fleet of CF-18s:
A radical fast-track plan to jump-start Canada’s stalled effort to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is revealed in a briefing document obtained by Aviation Week.
The Oct. 27 brief from JSF Program Executive Office director USAF Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan to Air Force secretary Deborah James calls for Canada to receive four F-35s next year, by diverting them from U.S. Air Force low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 7 orders. Canada would then buy four Lot 9 aircraft that would be delivered to the Air Force in 2017. According to the briefing, Canada would sign a letter of intent within days — “mid-November” — and Congress would be notified by the end of November.
Neither the JSF Program Office nor the Canadian Department of National Defense responded to repeated inquiries about the planned deal this week. The legal basis for such an exchange, absent an urgent operational need, is uncertain. The proposed LRIP 9 replacement aircraft are not on contract, and as far as is known, negotiations for them have not started.
Mark Collins thinks he sees the real motivation here:
1) The RCAF gets four darn expensive LRIP 7 F-35As in 2015 essentially for free (the “swap” and thus the need for Congressional notification); our government can say it’s not spending any money – but at the same time is effectively committing to the plane (the letter of intent and “beddown” – horny for the Lightning II?);
2) Canada pays for four, appreciably less costly, F-35As from LRIP 9 and gives them to the USAF as replacements (almost Lend-Lease!).
Hence: Canada decides slyly on the aircraft and the US, also on the sly, probably gets the largest current foreign F-35 commitment (still 65?) after the Aussies (72). Sweet, eh.
October 1, 2014
German magazine Der Spiegel reports on the sad state of readiness in the German military:
Last week, a single person pushed Germany’s air force to the very limits of its capacities: Ursula von der Leyen, the country’s defense minister. Von der Leyen requested that two Transall military transport aircraft with missile defense systems be transferred to Amman, the Jordanian capital. The defense minister and a pool of reporters then flew for eight hours on Thursday morning in one of the aircraft to Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Back in Germany, the military had but a single additional Transall at its disposal.
After her arrival in Erbil, von der Leyen proceeded to the palace of the Kurdish regional government’s president. Her visit was to be concurrent with the delivery of German weapons, intended to aid the Kurds in their fight against Islamic State jihadists. Unfortunately, the machine guns and bazookas got stuck in Germany and the trainers in Bulgaria because of a dearth of available aircraft. One had been grounded because of a massive fuel leak. What could have been a shining moment for the minister instead turned into an embarrassing failure underscoring the miserable state of many of the Bundeswehr‘s most important weapons systems.
Against that backdrop and pressure from the international community, the ramshackle state of the Bundeswehr is no laughing matter in Berlin. At the moment, if Germany’s allies were to ask it to step up its participation in deployments in the Baltic states or Iraq, for example, Chancellor Merkel would likely have to politely pass, creating a highly embarrassing situation for the country. For the moment, though, most pressure related to the Bundeswehr‘s ailments has been directed at von der Leyen. Her critics argue that she has pursued a foreign and security policy vision that goes beyond the Bundeswehr‘s actual capabilities. Now she faces additional criticism that she tried to play down the military’s problems to members of parliament even though senior officials in her ministry were well aware of major shortcomings in the armed forces.
“Contrary to her own list of needed equipment, she created the impression in parliament that anything that could drive, fly or float was capable of full deployment,” said Rainer Arnold, the defense policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). “But we members of parliament will not be taken for idiots.”
The defense minister hasn’t exactly been blind-sided by the criticism either — she’s known about the problems since before entering office almost a year ago. On Friday, she summoned the heads of the German army, navy and air force as well as the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr to her office for five hours of questioning, much of it centering on events in parliament last Wednesday.
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.
September 28, 2014
Strategy Page looks at a recent mini-scandal when it was noted by Canadian media types that the Royal Canadian Air Force was — shock! horror! — actually recruiting foreign pilots:
Canada has a long history of allowing foreigners to join its armed forces. This happened on a large scale with Americans in the years before the United States entered World War I and World War II. But Australians and British recruits continue to be welcomed, as well as those from other parts of the old British Empire.
The big advantage of recruiting foreign pilots in the last five years was the need to obtain experienced personnel with lots of flying time in aircraft (like transports) Canada was operating all over the world. Canada has lost a lot of their experienced pilots for these aircraft to retirement or more attractive offers from commercial airlines. The incentive for British military pilots was keeping some of the high rank and credit for time already served in the British military. The British recruits will also be able to become Canadian citizens quickly, which is what many British citizens have been doing regularly since Canada became independent in 1867.
The RCAF also reminded the media that it has long used foreign pilots, often as instructors, on a “loan” program. The foreign country continued to pay the salary of their pilot but the RCAF picked up all other expenses while the foreign (often American) pilot was working in Canada. The loaner pilots are most frequently used when Canada is buying a new type of aircraft and needs pilots experienced with the new aircraft in order to speed the training of Canadian pilots.