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Vulcan Armament

The Avro Vulcan was originally designed to carry a nuclear payload. Due to it's innovative design, and large bomb-bay, it was able to carry a range of different weapons including missiles and free-fall bombs.

 This page briefly explains a little about the main types of ordnance which were carried by the Vulcan fleet between 1953 and 1998. 



Blue Danube

Blue Danube Nuclear Bomb

The above picture shows the United Kingdom's first operational nuclear weapon. It was called Blue Danube and was a free-fall device, capable of delivering a 15 kilo-ton yield. The Avro Vulcan, and other V-force aircraft, were all designed to carry this bomb. Only around 20 were produced. It had retractable fins to allow easier loading into the bomb bay.
It was a fission bomb.

Weapon Type Free-Fall Fission Bomb
In Service 1953 - 1961 
Yield 15 Kilotons
Diameter 5 ft
Length 24 ft


Blue Steel

Blue Steel on display in hangar at IWM Duxford

By providing the ability to attack a target from outside the range of an enemy's defences, the Blue Steel air-to-surface thermonuclear missile provided to be an effective weapon used by the V-force.

Work on the weapon began in the mid 1950's. A four-year test programme, which included firing in both Australia and the UK, saw the missile enter production in 1959. By 1963 the missile was being delivered to RAF squadrons around the country.

The main quality of this weapon was the fact that, once released, it required no further signals from outside. Meaning it was impossible for it to be jammed or diverted by enemy counter-measures.

Blue Steel on display in hangar at IWM Duxford

It had an operating range of 100 miles. Around four seconds after being deployed by the carrier aircraft the Rolls Royce Stentor rocket motor would ignite and propel the missile to an altitude of 70,000ft at a speed in excess of 1000 mph.

A high altitude attack using Blue Steel. Note the Vulcan is painted in anti-flash white.


The missile was claimed to be accurate to within 300ft in ideal conditions.

Blue Steel, although an effective weapon, did present a number of problems to RAF ground crew. Not least of which was the highly dangerous nature of the missile fuel, and the fact that the complicated electronics used to guide the missile had to be protected from environmental extremes to prevent malfunction. The later problem was reduced by storing the missile in specially constructed heated, air-conditioned, storage facilities.

Blue Steel on display at RAF Museum Cosford

Weapon Type Air-to-Surface Thermonuclear guided missile
In Service 1963 - 1970 
Engine Stentor Rocket with 2 propulsion chambers
Span 13 ft
Length 35 ft

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Yellow Sun

The Yellow Sun thermonuclear bomb was a free-fall weapon supplied to the V-force.

The Yellow Sun weapon was carried by both Victor and Vulcan aircraft, but not by the Valiant. All three V-bombers were fitted with an integrated wiring system, circa 1958, that would make them compatible with three new weapons that were due to enter service:
 Yellow Sun, Red Beard and the US Mk-5. 

Whilst this programme was underway, it was decided not to allocate Yellow Sun to the Valiant fleet. The new wiring harness was neither compatible with Blue Danube nor the interim mega-ton weapon 'Violet Club'.

Mega-ton tests using Valiants carrying  Blue Danube carcasses containing experimental warheads.

 The Green Grass warhead in Mk1 Yellow Sun was never tested!

Yellow Sun underwent successful trials off Christmas Island, and was operationally deployed  in 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile Crisis.

Weapon Type Free Fall Thermonuclear Bomb
In Service Mk 1 1958 - 1961

Mk 2 1961 - 1972 

Yield  Mk 1 500Kt

Mk 2 1Mt

Diameter 4 ft
Length 20 ft

The weapon was replaced by the WE177. 


The WE177 free-fall thermonuclear bomb entered service with the RAF in 1966. Its origins can be traced back to 1957 when a joint Naval/Air Staff requirement asked for a medium or low level deployed nuclear device. This, incidentally, was intended for use on the TSR-2 aircraft, which never entered military service.

Despite the cancellation of the TSR-2 programme the trails of WE177 continued and the weapon was given to the RAF V-force.

During its operational life there were three variants.

Type A

Known as a 600-pounder, this variant housed a single stage warhead capable
 of delivering two selectable low yield loads.

It was deployed mainly by the Royal Navy as an anti-submarine
 weapon between 1969 and 1992.

Type B

The type B was the first of the three variants to be deployed, when it was issued to V-force Vulcan aircraft in 1966 as part of the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear deterrent.

It was a two stage device capable of delivering  a higher yield than either A or C variants.

Type C

This variant was used mainly by the RAF and was similar in many ways to the type B. In fact many of the components were inter-changeable between the B & C variant.

WE117 Type A on the left (note : no external wring duct)  Image (c) David Farrant.

WE117 Type B or C

Internal construction of the WE117

  Type A Type B Type C

Weapon Type

Nuclear Free-Fall Weapon Nuclear Free-Fall Weapon Nuclear Free-Fall Weapon
In Service 1969
Yield Around
 10 -15 kilotons
Around 400 kilotons  Around 
Weight 600lb 950lb 950lb
Length 112 inches 133 inches 133 inches

Between 1966 and 1998 most RAF strike aircraft were capable of delivering
 all variants of the WE177.

The weapon had a number of release options including :

 Water Lay Down  
 This was used against enemy submarines.

Low Level Release 
Where the delivery aircraft would drop the bomb whilst flying at low level. Parachutes would retard the decent of the bomb to allow the aircraft enough time to leave the blast area

High Level Release 
 This method of delivery allowed the aircraft crew to select whether the bomb exploded on the ground or in the air above a target.

Toss Realise
This method of delivery was similar to high level release in as much as the manner in which the bomb exploded could be controlled by the air crew. This was used if an enemy had good defences which would have detected a high-flying intruder aircraft.

The crew of the delivery aircraft were able to set the WE177 to ground-burst or air-burst, thus allowing greater tactical options to the commander-in-chief should the weapon need to be deployed.

With an overall in-service life of 32 years the WE177 was the longest serving of all the UK's nuclear weapons.

On 21st April 1998, the final operational loading of WE177 took place at RAF Marham. Shortly after this, the RAF withdrew the WE177 from service.
 Since this point the RAF has become a non-nuclear force.


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Iron Bombs

Close up of a 1000lb iron bomb

21 1000lb bombs displayed at RAF Museum Hendon

Racks used to hold the iron bombs whilst in flight

Although the Vulcan was capable of delivering a thermonuclear payload, it was also able to carry conventional bombs in its huge bomb bay.

Twenty-One 1000lb bombs could be carried at any time.

High Explosive (HE) Iron Bombs were the only weapons
 used in "anger" by the Vulcan.

We should be glad that the V -Force was never
 asked to deliver its intended nuclear payload.

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