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Vulcan Crew

 

This page gives a brief description of each of the functions of the five crew members aboard the Avro Vulcan.

Each airman had a vital role to play in ensuring the Vulcan reached its designated target, delivered its cargo, then returned home safely before flying its next sortie.

 

 

Captain

In a Vulcan crew the Captain was always the pilot and, because of this, he was required to have experience of both flying and bomber operations. The duty of the pilot was to control the aircraft as well as to command its crew. He did this in co-operation with the crew using the individual talents and expertise of each crew member to ensure a successful sortie.

Being such a complex aircraft the Captain relied upon the other airmen who flew with him to keep him updated as to how the plane was performing. The Pilot had, therefore, to earn the respect of those whom he flew with. He had to be thoroughly proficient at his own job of flying the aircraft and be able to show good "man management" skills to coax the best from each man aboard.

The Captain was also required to give training to the Co-Pilot in the art of Vulcan flying so as to bring him up to the standard where he himself might become a Captain. 


Such a transition from Co-Pilot to Captain usually took around two and a half years. 

Although several of the finest co-pilots took less time than this.

 


 

Co-Pilot

The Co-Pilot, was often on his first operational flying tour since leaving the RAF training establishments. Being posting to V-Force was usually a big anti-climax for the young officers, as most wanted to join fighter squadrons as these were seen (by those outside the RAF at least) to be the more "glamorous" roles.

Of course the Co-Pilot had a very significant part to play in the flying of the Vulcan. His main duty was to control the fuel supply and the cabin conditions as well as assisting the Pilot with the handling of the aircraft. He also looked after all the communications with local air traffic control (ATC). Once the aircraft had left the local ATC this job was given to the Aerial Electronics Officer (AEO). Although fuel handling perhaps sounds a rather mundane task it was a job which had to be carried out precisely. Each Vulcan could carry up to 40 tonnes of fuel, and if this had been allowed to alter the
 centre of gravity of the aircraft, the results could be fatal.

With each successful mission, the Co-Pilot gained in experience and confidence. He would be given more flying time, and usually about a year after becoming Co-Pilot would be sent to an RAF Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) to be trained in the role of Vulcan Captain. The majority of Vulcan Co-Pilots received this training and went on to become experienced Pilots in their own right.

 


 

Air Electronics Officer

The Air Electronics Officer (AEO) had numerous responsibilities aboard the Vulcan. His main role was the operation of the Electronic Warfare (EW) equipment. The Vulcan was equipped with a wide assortment of EW aids designed to help it succeed on its missions. Early Vulcan missions relied heavily on "active" jamming. However it was quickly discovered that Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) signals used by the Vulcan to jam enemy radar's etc were in fact used by the enemy to pin-point the locations of the Vulcans, and enable enemy fighters to intercept them. Once this was established the Vulcan used more "passive" countermeasures to prevent detection. The Vulcan was able to detect enemy fighters with its Tail-Warning Radar. It was also able to lock onto Surface to Air Missile guidance systems and thus allowed the AEO to inform the Pilot to perform evasive action whilst the AEO launched defensive counter such as infa-red flares or "Chaff" which would (hopefully) confuse the approaching missile.

He was experienced in long range communications using R/T (voice) and W/T (Morse code), the latter in order to counteract radio jamming which was often experienced in combat situations.

A cross-section of the tail-mounted radar warning detector known as Red-steer

Another Red Steer unit, this time not behind glass

The Vulcan relied upon its complex electrical system for all of its functions. It was equipped with no manual flying controls so if the electrics failed, then the aircraft would not be able to maintain flight. In an emergency 28v supply was provided by back up batteries, however, in the event that all four generators failed the AEO could activate the Ram Air Turbine (RAT) which was like a mini alternator that could be dropped into the air flow around the aircraft, and provided a 115V emergency supply to enable the aircraft's basic operations to be maintained. This option was only available to the AEO at high altitude, and was used to give enough time to initiate the starting of the Airborne Auxiliary Power Plant (AAPP) a gas turbine engine located near to the starboard engines. This provided a more reliable supply of electricity from which essential services would be operated. Although the AEO had all this back-up and emergency equipment the Vulcan's electrics frequently ran without any problems. In fact most of these devices were only installed to prevent aircraft loses due to battle damage received during bombing missions.

 


 

Nav Plotter

The Navigator Plotter (Nav Plotter) was in charge of navigating the Vulcan to its desired location. He achieved this by using the advanced electronic devices which the Vulcan included. However he was also trained to perform the same duties with very limited resources (a sextant & compass). This was in case the electronic aids became unusable due to combat or other failure. The Nav Plotter was often regarded as the hardest working member of the Vulcan crew. Before missions he would spend hours preparing a flight plan. This was often altered at the last minute or during flight, and thus recalculations needed to be performed quickly and accurately. Nav Plotters embarking on sorties carrying the "Blue Steel" nuclear missile used the inertial navigation system which was built into the weapon. This navigational aid was very accurate and could be used until the missile was launched. The Vulcan aided the Nav Plotter in his work with such equipment as the doppler navigation system, H2S radar, TACAN and the radio-compass.


The radar screen used as part of the Navigational Bombing System (NBS)

The Nav Plotter also had the task of using the small "blister" found just in front of the entrance hatch on the underside of the Vulcan to perform visual bombing. This system, which had been used during WWII was less accurate than other methods, and was seen as a "last resort" option. It was fairly accurate, especially at low level, but naturally required good visibility in order for the  Nav Plotter to see what he was doing!

 


 

Nav Radar

The Navigator Radar (Nav Radar) had the responsibility for co-ordinating the bombing. This role was especially important on nuclear missions. These had to be performed "blind" and thus he controlled the radar and Navigation Bombing Systems (NBS) which allowed the Vulcan to deliver its payload from an altitude ranging from 57,000 feet down to an amazingly low height of 250 feet.

A cross section of the Vulcan's nose-mounted Terrain Following Radar (TFR)

Naturally the lower the altitude the more accurately the payload could be deployed. Nuclear munitions had to be released from high altitude, however in this scenario total accuracy was never deemed to be a major problem for obvious reasons.

During the final phase of a "bomb-run" the Nav Radar controlled the "sight" of the aircraft by using a small joystick located in front of him, on his table.

The Nav Radar also needed to work in conjunction with the AEO to help defend the aircraft from enemy interceptors. This was achieved by angling the radar scanner upwards. This enabled the Vulcan to "see" any aircraft approaching from the front and also gave a (limited) view from the sides. This information was then used by 
the pilot to help take any evasive action.

As well as these duties, the Nav Radar would assist the Navigator Plotter with navigating the Vulcan. He used the terrain-following radar for this as it illuminated the ground and helped to locate way markings etc. He could also be asked to use the sextant to help the Nav Plotter get an accurate indication of exactly where
 the aircraft was during longer bombing sorties.

 

 

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