Usually if I’m going to Southend Airport – or should I say London Southend Airport – it’s to catch an EasyJet flight for a jaunt to some European destination or another. However today I made my way to Southend Airport to see a fantastic piece of RAF history – Vulcan B2 bomber XL426.
This is a model of aeroplane brought into service as the Cold War began to get decidedly chilly in the 1950s, designed by the same company as the famous Lancaster bomber used in the Second World War. The Vulcan, with its distinctive delta wing and four jet engines, was designed to deliver nuclear bombs to enemy targets should hostilities take a turn for the most horrific worst.
XL426 itself entered service in 1962, and stayed in operational service until 1984. By then the nuclear deterrent role had passed from the RAF to the Royal Navy, with missiles launched from stealth submarines a far more effective system of delivering nuclear armageddon.
The plane was sold in 1986 and delivered to Southend Airport where a new owner had ambitious plans to keep her running as a display aircraft. Huge expenses meant that never quite came together, but eventually it ended up in the hands of the Vulcan Restoration Trust, a team of volunteers who have restored the aircraft to almost fully working condition. The team organise regular public open days to keep funding for the project trickling in, and that’s what I attended today.
The Vulcan B2 XL426 on its little purpose built patch at London Southend Airport.
The forward section of the aircraft carries radar equipment.
The projection at the front is used for refuelling in-flight, the pilot would have to “catch” the hose from a plane up front with this in order to transfer the fuel.
The entire crew of five had to make their way to the cramped cockpit up the small ladder way seen here.
The bomb bay. Whilst the first nuclear bomb it was designed to carry filled the entire compartment, later bombs were much much smaller and didn’t need the space. Vulcan bombers were eventually also fitted to carry conventional bombs, up to 21 could be contained in three panniers of seven weapons each.
The WE177B – one of the much smaller, later thermonuclear bombs.
This is an emergency air-powered generator. In the event the four main engines and the back-up turbine failed this small unit could be deployed to create enough electricity to keep the onboard systems functioning long enough for the crew to be able to maintain control of the aircraft whilst they prepared for their escape via ejector seat or parachute jump out of the main hatch.
The Vulcan Restoration Trust volunteers prepare for powering up the back-up turbine.
The probe here at the back of the plane has a sensor in it which alerts the pilot if it touches the ground on landing. Essentially a crude aeronautical version of a parking sensor.
With the back-up turbine spinning the crew are able to operate aircraft systems and here the bomb bay doors are closing.
The plane is right next to the railway line which runs to the airport. Lookout for it next time you’re off on a cheap flight to Spain.
Matt Parson, one of the Trust volunteers, proudly guides visitors around the aircraft.
Inside the very cramped cockpit this is facing rearwards and is the navigation position.
A sextant for confirming position with the sun or stars. No GPS here.
The pilot’s controls.
The circular screen is the radar display.
Part of an ejector seat.
And me on an ejector seat.
Thanks to Matt Parsons at the Vulcan Restoration Trust for showing me around and giving me the full lowdown. More information on the trust website.