We will be leaving the indoor display for now and head outdoors. First stop, arguably the main attraction of this museum, the Avro Vulcan. The Vulcan was the second of the so called V-bombers.
The "V bombers" were the Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft during the 1950s and 1960s that comprised the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear strike force known officially as the V force or Bomber Command Main Force. The three models of strategic bomber, known collectively as the V class, were the Vickers Valiant, which first flew in 1951 and entered service in 1955; the Avro Vulcan, which first flew in 1952 and entered service in 1956; and the Handley Page Victor, which first flew in 1952 and entered service in 1957. The V Bomber force reached its peak in June 1964 with 50 Valiants, 70 Vulcans and 39 Victors in service
The Vulcan is best remembered for its daring raid on Port Stanley, Falklands. At the time, and maybe still, the longest bombing raid in history. (6600 miles)
Although I do like the Vulcan I have always preferred the third V bomber the Handley Page Victor. The Victor played a crucial role in that same Falkland raid as well. The Victor suffered from fatigue in the tail section. Low level bombing raids were not possible due to these fatigue issue, so they were converted to serve as tankers. The Victor tankers ensured the Vulcans could make it to the Falklands. But it was the Victor flew much longer missions as they themselves had to be refuelled as well. It was a logistical nightmare.
Not from the museum, but from my personal book collection, a favourite of mine;
But here is the Vulcan and it is an impressive plane, no matter what.
Very distinctive wings;
Remarkable small wheels for such a large plane I though. Car for size.
The most interesting on this particular Vulcan is, the cockpit is almost always open. You climb in, just like the crew by means of this ladder, just ahead of the nose gear.
You climb up, very careful not to bump your head against various bits sticking out and you will find yourself on a little platform, facing backwards this is what you will see:
In order to get to the pilot seat you have to climb another couple of steps up and this is what you will see:
I was very lucky, I was the only visitor and there was a very knowledgeable and friendly museum staff member (volunteer) in the Vulcan cockpit with me. He was an electronic expert, had worked for some years in the RAF. Had retired some years ago and now helped restore planes at the museum. Although he had never flown or worked on the Vulcans I was hugely impressed by his intimate knowledge of the plane and its operation. I spend about an hour chatting to him. I can’t recall everything unfortunately, but let me point out a couple of things we discussed.
One key feature of the Vulcan is it does not have a traditional yoke, but a what most people would call a joystick. It was one of the very first plane with fully electrical control systems. No wires/pulleys!
Both pilots have ejection seats, but the three rear facing crew members do not have ejection seats. Obviously, they had parachutes. Getting out of Vulcan for them was near impossible. You had to eject the fuselage cover through which you normally enter and jump down. At high speed almost certainly fatal. Also, when a Vulcan (or any delta) suffers structural damage the pilots usually lower the landing gear as it ensures more stability. If that was the case, and lets be real, you don’t jump out of a plane unless something is badly wrong, these three crew members would not be able to jump out as they would hit the nose gear immediately.
We discussed at length the way they navigated on these planes. I have some images of some of the instruments they used, see further on. But I was intrigued by some of the instrumentation fitted in these bombers. Because in those days navigation tended to be more or less dead reckoning. The Vulcan is equipped with a very fancy wind drift recorder. Which is very beneficial when relying on dead reckoning technique.
They also have one (1) Inertial Navigation System (INS). Virtually all modern jet airliners as from the 80s onwards have always had three INS systems. The reason being that each INS system has an error and also a phenomena known as drift. Basically the longer an INS system operates the further it will drift away from the real position. Modern INS system rely on three system to partly cancel out errors and drift. Also, these day GPS can update the reference position for INS. But in those days this one, purely mechanical INS, was as good as it got!
The Vulcan also carried the Avro Blue Steel nuclear Missile.
This was a Mach 2,3 rocket with a range of about 100-150 miles. It carried a 1.1 megaton thermo nuclear war head. When the crew got ready to launch it, they needed to provide it with its current position. That needed high accuracy. Blue Steel itself was equipped with three INS, but relied on getting its starting position (datum as it is known) from the Vulcan crew.
A very interesting experience, sitting inside the cockpit of this basically antique, airplane discussing these sort of things with a real expert!
After the Vulcan cockpit experience, the weather had improved considerable, so I decided to make a round outside and look at the various aircraft on display.
This is the Boulton Paul P.111A. A single seat Delta wing research aircraft. First flew in 1951. It was used researching aerodynamic properties of the delta wing at transonic speeds.
A 1962 De Havilland DH125 undergoing restauration. As you will notice, still a long way to go. It actually became 12 seat executive jet. This particular aircraft was used, after flight testing, as an instructional airframe.
One of my all time favourite, arguably one of the prettiest figures of that era, the Hawker Hunter. This is model F6A
This one is little bit more rare than the Hunter. To this date there are still airworthy Hunters flown around the world. Although not by the military, just enthusiast. But there are no airworthy Gloster Javelin about, as far as I am aware. You don’t come across them very often, not even in museums. It is a two seater all rather fighter.
A 1947 Hawker SeaHawk. Single seater carrier based bomber.
Of course, no British aviation museum would be complete without a Harrier!! This is a Sea Harrier. The Harrier is a so called VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing).
Here you see one of the four (two on each side) moveable nozzles.
The pilot, by means of a lever could rotate the four nozzles to face rearwards from vertical. In the vertical position it would allow the plane to hoover, take off and landing. The plane also had small air jets in the wingtips that helped balancing it. Flying the Harrier and in particular transitioning from flight to hoover and subsequent landing was incredibly difficult. There are no electronic gadgets to help the pilot. It is all mechanical. Harrier pilots compared hoovering with balancing a 14 tonnes plane on a needle. Took an awful lot of practice.
Another carrier based, all weather fighter, the Sea Vixen from De Havilland. About early 50s.
Of course, several Tornado’s on display. The Panavia Tornado was a UK/Germany/Italy initiative. Two seat, all weather, swing wing, interdictor strike aircraft. Capable of Mach 2,2, ceiling 50.000 feet. This particular plane saw action during the first Gulf war.
Just an interesting detail here on the Tornado. The retracted fuel probe for inflight refuelling.
Interesting to know is that the Tornado’s could have flown the Falkland missions easily. They had inflight re-fuelling capability, whereas the Vulcans at the time did not. The RAF had to basically search through all their facilities and warehouses to find the old refuelling kit for the Vulcans and re-install it. Also the Vulcan crews were not trained at the time (Falklands) for refuelling. So that was a skill they quickly had to acquire.
It has often been debated why the British choose the Vulcan over the Tornado. It was all about perception and getting a very serious signal across to the Argentinians, that the British could fly BIG bombers across the ocean. Basically Maggie saying "don’t mess with me”!
And now for something very different, a Fairly Gannett. Three seat naval anti submarine, torpedo bomber and training aircraft. It has an unusual propellor design, two contra-rotating propellors on the same shaft.
The idea behind the contra rotating propellors is you don’t have to worry about large torque forces as you encounter on single propellor planes. In theory easy to fly, but in practice very complex engines. There have been a few other planes with a similar propellor design.
The museum is right on the edge of Coventry airport. Their neighbours are several airplane clubs. There was a constant taking off and landing of various small single engine aircraft. Here you see a Diamond D40, single engine, taxing to the runway.
I have flown some 20-30 hours on the Diamond. Very nice plane, fully digital and glass cockpit. When it comes to pinpoint navigation the D40 can give any of the museum planes a run for their money!!
One of the most recognisable interceptors ever, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. This is a Danish Airforce plane. Many airforces around the world flew F104s at some point in time. In Germany they were known as the widow maker, due to a number of fatalities. The Dutch Airforce flew F104s as well. The Dutch F104s also sparked the largest Dutch Royal crisis ever. It was found that then Queen Julianne husband, Prince Bernard, had take a bribe from Lockheed! The queen was not amused and Bernard had to hang his military uniforms back into his wardrobe, never being allowed to wear them again. Normal people get thrown in jail, but Princes are just de-robed.
I don’t know why, but the English Electric Canberra has never ever appealed to me. You see them in museums a plenty. But somehow it is just not a plane for me.
Two English Electric Lightnings. These aircraft had twin jet engines mounted on top of each other. It was one of the first, if not the first (?) jets to achieve a vertical climb rate of over 50.000 feet/minute. Attachment 2431278
This being a car forum, I feel the need to bring in some car related anorak facts as well. This is the best I can do, Jeremy Clarkson is a huge fan of the Lightning. And he put one in his garden. His wife was not so keen.
Another favourite of mine. Again, you will need to look around the world to find these; The Dassault Mystere IV. Very pretty plane I think!
Another plane that I always felt had a very special look. The McDonnel (T)F101 Voodoo. This is 1955s plane. And it is fairly large too. Used as bomber, trainer and photo reconnaissance.
The first of the so-called Century Fighters, the F100 Super Sabre. It was the first American fighter that could go supersonic in level flight. Saw a lot of action during the Vietnam war.