Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds ANDY MARSON: Yes. I grew up in the 1960s, when, of course, we still owned half the world. And I thought I wanted to do my part and see some of it. So I decided to join the Air Force straight from school, which I did, in 1970 when I was 18 years old. And never actually knew much about Vulcans or the nuclear deterrent. And did my navigator training, and then got posted to Vulcans at Waddington straight away. So that was my first introduction, really, to the V bombers, as such, and the nuclear role when I was still about 19, 20 years old.
Skip to 0 minutes and 42 seconds Indeed, yes. The quick reaction alert had gone by that stage, because Polaris had taken over. But the V bombers, or the Vulcans, were still a secondary nuclear strike. So I was actually involved with that from day one.
Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds It was tactical free fall– well, strategic free fall nuclear weapons.
Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds By the mid 1960s, the Vulcan had become a low level force to get in under the radar. So our standard routine would be after the four-minute warning, the whole force would get airborne within two minutes on a scramble, climb out to high level– about 45,000, 50,000 feet, route out towards– the routing we took was out towards the Baltic, and then let down to low level to ingress over the USSR at low level. Drop the weapon from low level. It could be dropped down to 100 feet. And then basically, once you drop the weapon, it was up to you where you went with the aeroplane. They were one-way missions. There would be nothing to come back to.
Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds Obviously, after the four-minute warning that you had from Fylingdales, that meant that the Russian missiles were incoming. So by the time we actually got out across the North Sea, there would be nothing left. So it’s a one-way mission. And after we dropped the weapon, is was up to the crew where we’ve go. Nobody was really interested with us.
Skip to 2 minutes and 2 seconds To be honest, you didn’t really think about it that much. I was only 21, 22. You thought more about going down the pub at lunchtime than you did really thinking about anything like that. And also, the case was– if you went, it meant that all your loved ones, including the pub, had gone. So it was a case of do unto them as they have done unto you. Because you knew if you went for real, it meant it had happened for real. And you just hoped to God that it didn’t happen. And it was a nuclear deterrent. And we’re standing here today that proves that as a deterrent, it worked.
Skip to 2 minutes and 35 seconds Absolutely. The whole Western world would have changed. And of course, it was a reactive force, not a proactive force. So we would only have launched if the threat was coming in for real. So we were under that impression– that had we gone, it would have been the end for everybody. And of course, as a deterrent, as I say, it did the trick as a deterrent. It worked. In fact, the Russians were very scared of the Vulcan, because it was the one aircraft that could actually get to Moscow.
Skip to 3 minutes and 3 seconds That’s correct. I started off on the GR1s in Germany at Laarbruch in Bruggen back in the early 1980s, which was the height of the Cold War. If you remember that time, the missiles were going in. Greenham Common was happening at that time. It was a big expansion. And we were on live QRA there. That was the front line Quick Reaction Alert. So I was spending time– 24 hours in a compound with a live weapon onboard. Again, having to go to reactively– yet again– if the threat of the Russians, which weren’t very far away on the inner German border, came over.
Skip to 3 minutes and 33 seconds Again, that was up there in the Tornado, either at night or in bad weather, on automatics using terrain-following radar flying at 200 feet.
Skip to 3 minutes and 44 seconds Luckily, the Vulcan design being a delta wing could actually take to the low-level operations because of the wing loading. The Victor couldn’t. And of course, the Valiant had the problem with its wing spar. Having said that, we used to fly around about 360 knots. It was still hot. The big problem with the Vulcan was it was designed as a high-level bomber. So it had a very efficient heating system when it was minus 60 outside. What it didn’t have was a very efficient cooling system when you’re flying around in the summer. So it used to be like a sauna inside.
Skip to 4 minutes and 11 seconds You’re also in a rubber suit as well, because of course, you had to wear all the emergency kit in case you came out into the sea. So although the conditions outside may have been about plus 18, plus 19 in glorious days, the sea temperature, if you came into it, was still cold. So you had to dress for survival, not just dress to be comfortable inside the aeroplane.
Skip to 4 minutes and 35 seconds Well, I think the TSR2 was towards the end of British aircraft military engineering as such. We don’t make any four-engined aircraft at all now. We don’t make anything on our own. Unfortunately, the TSR2 was another political folly. Too many fingers in the pot, too many decisions of changing it. Had the engineers been able to get on with it, it would have probably been a successful airplane. But like anything else, they kept changing the specifications. Too many committees involved. And everything these days is done by committee. You think the Vulcan was actually from crayon on a drawing board to flying in five years.
Skip to 5 minutes and 10 seconds You compare that to how long the Euro Fighter 2000 has taken or the Tornado took, nothing is done in five years anymore. Or even the F35, and that was without computers– just slide rules, minimum wind tunnels. And also, the Vulcan as well– that five years, they built three– or I think four little Avro 707 prototypes as well to prove the concept worked. In five years, that’s amazing. Even that couldn’t be done now.
Skip to 5 minutes and 38 seconds Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time as an instructor at Cranwell flying Dominies And they were short of navigators on the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Living in the local area, I was asked if I wanted to join. So in 1998, was selected to fly the Lancaster and the Dakota, which I did as a great privilege for seven seasons– again, remarkably flying the Lancaster, which was the same aircraft as owned by Roy Chadwick only seven years later. So I started off my Air Force career on one of Roy Chadwick’s creations and ended it on one of his earlier creations.
Skip to 6 minutes and 16 seconds They are totally different. The Vulcan is an ergonomic slum. It’s the only way it can be described. Lots of British aircraft in the 1950s, they designed fantastic air frames, and then the Air Force came along and said, where’s the crew going to sit? And it was like, oh, you need a crew in it as well, do you? We haven’t thought of that. So they drill a little hole and find out where the crew is going to be. And the Vulcan, although it looks massive from the outside, is the inverse Tardis. People think it’s huge. And people also see the great James Bond film Thunderball where you’ve got the door in the bomb bay where he climbs up into the cockpit.
Skip to 6 minutes and 50 seconds No, that’s Hollywood. It’s the only aircraft that’s actually smaller on the inside than it is on the outside. And initially, it was designed as a single pilot operation as well. So they shoehorned two pilots in as well. So you can always see a Vulcan crew walking along, because the captain is walking along like that and the co-pilot is walking along like that. Because when the ‘Bone Domes’ on, they can’t keep their heads straight. Which is why a lot of crews even today fly with a cloth helmet on. Because it means– I’m tall. You are like that. Down the back, there’s three people shoved into where one used to be.
Skip to 7 minutes and 21 seconds And they actually say the real crew trainer for a Vulcan is like putting three people into an under stairs cupboard for five hours with the light switched off is the best way. It’s claustrophobic. Also in those days, equipment was– I think it was thrown in, and where it was landed, it was bolted. But apart from that, it’s got its charm.
Skip to 7 minutes and 44 seconds Unfortunately, this is the last flying season for her, yes, after eight magnificent years. And it’s rather fitting today that we actually got the tribute for Jack Hayward. Because of course, if it wasn’t for Sir Jack, we wouldn’t be here today at all.
Skip to 8 minutes and 1 second She’s still got airframe and engine life left, but the problem is being a complex airplane, unlike some of the older airplanes, some of the metallurgy and some of the other systems are coming to the end of their life or need inspection. And already, the experts we’re taking out of retirement. So they’re coming out of their homes to actually help to actually give us advice. So the people aren’t there. And industry, now, has moved on. So although older airplanes like the Lancaster and the Spitfire, the older technology is easy to repair and keep up with, some of the metallurgy and some of the systems, like the undercarriage, which is magnesium alloy, just isn’t there anymore.
Skip to 8 minutes and 35 seconds And also, this Vulcan has now got more hours than any other Vulcan has in service. So although she’s got engine hours and airframe hours left, it’s the expertise on the engineering side of outside contractors keeping up and keeping it in perfect flying condition.
Skip to 8 minutes and 58 seconds The TSR2, I remember seeing the first prototype airborne. I think I was about 12 or 13. And that is what made me want to join the Air Force. And that’s what I wanted to fly. Which of course, by the time I was 14, it was scrapped already. But I still flew. Of course, that was going to be the replacement for the Vulcan. And we talk about some of the old kit that was in the Vulcan– of course, the Vulcan kept going. And because it was always going to be replaced by something, it never ever got the updated kit like the B52 had that kept it updated– until, of course, the Falklands War.
Skip to 9 minutes and 29 seconds Then the kit was put in, miraculously, all of a sudden.
Flying the Vulcan: XH558
Footage of the interview with Andy at the RAF Cosford Air Show, cut with flight footage of XH558 in the air.
Andy was a Vulcan navigator plotter in the RAF, and also flew in the back seat of a Tornado GR1 in the 1980s. He in addition acted as an instructor for the RAF and for Italian Tornado crews before moving on to multi-engined aircraft for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and then to Vulcan to the Sky in RAF retirement.
In 1970, when Andy Marson joined the RAF, Polaris - Britain’s submarine based nuclear deterrent - had become the primary method of deploying nuclear weapons, with the HMS Resolution taking her first Polaris-armed operational patrol in 1968. The Vulcans were now the secondary strike method for nuclear weapons. The difference between tactical and strategic bombing is often seen as quite a blurred line, however a tactical bomber is usually regarded as aimed at specific targets such as sites of military value, and a strategic bomber is usually regarded as a technique used during total war, with the end goal of gaining victory by destroying the morale of the enemy, or their economy, and usually aim to cause damage to the population rather than a specific target.
The TSR2 was a Cold War strike and reconnaissance aircraft developed by the British Aircraft Corporation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was an aircraft designed to fly at low altitudes and high speeds, attacking high-value targets with conventional or nuclear weapons. However, they could also fly at high altitudes, and were designed to be able to take photographs at high-speeds. Unfortunately, due to high-rising costs and disagreements within committees, the TSR2 was scrapped in 1965. The replacements for this aircraft included the Blackburn Buccaneer and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Eventually the smaller Panavia Tornado was adopted to fill a similar role to the TSR2. We will spend quite a lot of time considering the TSR2 in Week 5.
To give you a further view about how cramped it was in a Vulcan, watch this BBC video, which shows the inside of a Vulcan bomber if you were interested in the design of the cockpit, and it gives an insight into the visibility the pilot of the aircraft had.
© Royal Holloway, University of London and the RAF Museum, Hendon