Cold War Era


Vulcan aircraft featured a rapid start system to allow the bombers to take-off in very short time to head for enemy targets before any incoming weapons destroyed their airbases

The gorgeous videos in this post show two scrambles performed by Royal Air Force (RAF) Vulcan strategic bombers.

The first footage, called “Scramble in 2 Minutes!”, shows a typical Cold War Era scramble carried out by Vulcan’s belonging to the famed No. 617 Squadron (Sqn) “Dambusters.”

As you can see the footage also shows a rapid start of the aircraft’s Olympus engines. The rapid start system was designed to allow the bombers to take-off in very short time to head for enemy targets before any incoming weapons destroyed their airbases.

During the Cold War the British could not afford to maintain standing patrols like Strategic Air Command (SAC), but Bomber Command managed to increase squadron complements from ten to eleven crews (although there were no more aircraft) to keep one crew from every V-bomber squadron permanently on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), ready to go to war at the sound of a siren.

As explained by Andrew Brookes in his book Vulcan Units of the Cold War, Vulcan B 2s had self contained simultaneous rapid starting systems for all four engines. The captain moved all the throttles to the 50 per cent RPM position, selected the master start switch ‘on’ and pressed the master Rapid Start button. Four air storage cylinders, charged to 3300 psi, were bulkhead on each side. These provided air through a pressure reducing value to a combuster unit on each engine. As the latter wound up, the alternators came on line and the flying controls started automatically. Then the instrument gyros ran up, all within 20 seconds, and it was all systems go.

Marshalls of Cambridge came up with an ingenious system of elastics and levers to disconnect the ground electrics and intercom. Spring-loading took care of the pitot head and Q-feel air intake covers as the aircraft moved forward. Afterwards, all the Vulcans had to do was to roll forwards onto the runway and lift off in quick succession.

Vulcan B 1/B 1As did not have an internal rapid start capability, so Bomber Command engineering staff officer Sqn Ldr C Dixon designed the ‘Simstart’ trolley that, with its array of batteries, enabled an aircraft crew chief to start all four engines virtually simultaneously while the crew strapping in.

As told by Brookes, there is a classic tale of the fiery Wg Cdr Arthur Griffiths and his No 101 Sqn crew who set their B 1A to combat readiness, locked the entrance door and went off to the crewroom. When the hooter blew, they rushed out to the pan, where the crew chief had already started the engines via the Simstart trolley. “Give me the door key,” shouted ‘Bootsie’ Griffiths to his co-pilot, Tony Woodford. “I haven’t got it,” said Tony, “You must have it.” “No I fucking well haven’t. You must have it,” and so it went while the jet, four engines turning, strained at the chocks ant tried to break free. Finally, the crew chief had to use a fire axe to break and restore order.

However a Vulcan QRA Take-off was quite a spectacular view, as you can see by looking at the second video that shows Avro Vulcan XH558 “The Spirit Of Great Britain” performing a scramble during an airshow.

Vulcan XH558 was the last remaining airworthy example of the 134 Avro Vulcan jet powered delta winged strategic nuclear bomber aircraft operated by the RAF during the Cold War. It was the last Vulcan in military service, and the last to fly at all after 1986. It last flew on Oct. 28, 2015.

Photo credit: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK, via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • Particularly given the size and weight of the Vulcan, that is some really serious acceleration in the second video. And a seemingly incredibly short takeoff roll before a take-off angle that many fighters would be proud of.

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