December 2022

Avro Vulcan Black Buck

Avro Blue Steel

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Avro Type 698 Vulcan B.2

50 Sqn, Royal Air Force, Operation Black Buck 5.

Ascension Island / Falkland Islands, May 1982.

Airfix 1/72 (1983 mould)

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The Avro Vulcan entered service with the RAF in 1956 in the high altitude nuclear bombing role alongside its V-Bomber siblings, the Handley Page Victor and Vickers Valiant. However, by the early 1960s, Soviet air defences had evolved to the point where bombers were no longer viable at high altitude and the V-force was driven to operate at low altitudes.  This massively reduced the Vulcan’s effectiveness, with for example a 350 knot maximum speed at low level rendering the aircraft highly vulnerable to enemy fighters and SAMs.  

To try and restore capability, Vulcans (and Victors) were armed with the Blue Steel stand-off missile although this was itself very limited in capability and not reliable.  With the Royal Navy's Polaris ICBM armed submarines taking over the UK's strategic nuclear role in 1962 and despite serious doubts over its continued effectiveness, the Vulcan was retained by the RAF, but in a tactical support role armed with the lighter WE177 nuclear weapon. A conventional bombing capability also existed, with space for up to 21 x 1,000lb high explosive bombs.

The Vulcan's only combat missions took place during the 1982 Falklands War.  Desperate to prove their continued relevance in "out of area" operations (after all, the RN's large carriers had explicitly been withdrawn because of the RAF's claimed "worldwide reach"), the RAF mounted a series of remarkable long range conventional bombing and anti-radar missions to attack the islands.  

Whilst undoubtedly demonstrating the outstanding skill, courage and organisation of the Vulcan and Victor crews and support staff involved, the Black Buck raids were of very limited military effectiveness and required enormous resources (which could arguably have been much better expended elsewhere). Only one of 21 bombs dropped in Black Buck 1 actually hit the Port Stanley runway and this was a better result than predicted. Almost every Victor tanker that the RAF possessed was needed to get just one aircraft over the islands and back.  

Although it confirmed the UK's capability to reach the islands without an aircraft carrier, the RN was required to fly very risky Sea Harrier CAP and BDA missions to protect the bombers on their run-in and to assess damage afterwards. As if to make the point, Black Buck 1 was followed early the next morning by a Sea Harrier mission against Port Stanley Airport that dropped 27 bombs, most of which did hit the target, setting Argentine fuel tanks on fire and preventing the use of the runway by fast jets. Nevertheless, it is claimed (with some anecdotal evidence) that the Vulcan missions forced the Argentine Air Force to retain fighter aircraft close to home, to defend their own air bases should the UK change targets.

For a gripping dramatised account of the Black Buck missions, I thoroughly recommend Rowland White’s book “Vulcan 607”.   However, for a balanced view of the air war over the Falklands, you should read Rowland White’s “Harrier 809” as well.

Building the (original) Airfix Vulcan Kit:

The original Airfix Vulcan kit first appeared in 1983, at a fairly dark time in the company's history. The kit is relatively simple in engineering with a minimalist cockpit, raised panel lines (which are by no means the worst I have ever seen) and some very crude chunky engineering in thick plastic.  It also has two well known and difficult to resolve issues - very poor engine intake assemblies and crude simple exhausts.  As these are two of the most obvious features of a finished model this was a real problem.  But hey, it was a much wanted Vulcan kit, modellers re-scribed panel lines to their satisfaction and the aftermarket cottage industry sprung into life with resin and etch parts to address the major issues.

More recently, Airfix have issued a new mould kit with every detail you could wish and some exquisite moulding.  But it is very expensive.  And I already had two of these older ones in the stash (both purchased very cheaply in sales).  One of them has been sold on to another modeller, but this one will receive my attention.  I don't plan to do much beyond the basic kit contents although I would have bought some resin intakes and exhausts, but haven't been able to find any.

The kit provides decals for XM607 of 44 Sqn (Black Buck 1), XH562 (9 Sqn) from 1977, and an anti-flash white XL321 of 617 Sqn in 1963 (which also comes with a Blue Steel Stand-off nuclear missile).  With a small modification, I intend to build XM597 of 50 Sqn, on Black Buck 5, with two Shrike missiles on the port pylon and an AN/ALQ-101 jammer on the starboard. The kit decals are usable, but rather strangely, the red centre to the small and large roundels was badly out of centre. I don't really understand this as the rest (including the fin flashes in the same colours) were OK.  Fortunately this type of roundel is relatively easy to replace with spares/aftermarket. The decals also had the infamous Airfix spare film layer that separates as you apply them, plus a small white border on some decals that wasn't obvious until applied.

The kit is very basic, with an upper cockpit consisting of a panel, two seats, two yokes and two pilots.  Actually, you can't see any of this once the canopy is on, but I added two side panels and a centre panel all made from sprue.  Rather than leave it completely bare, I added the two figures, although they fill up almost the entire space (so you really can't see anything now) and some leg surgery was needed to fit them in.  I also boxed in the area around the entry ladder using plastic card, so that I could leave it open.

XH558 displaying at the RNAS Yeovilton Airshow

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Although the Black Buck missions were completed without loss, it was clear that luck had played too much of a role and that the claimed results were of marginal effectiveness. The Vulcan's time was up and they were quietly withdrawn from front-line service (as originally planned) shortly after the Falklands conflict ended.

Vulcan XM597 is preserved at the Scottish National Museum of Flight at East Fortune.  It is one of only 2 Vulcans ever to see combat in nearly 60 years of service.  This particular aircraft flew the first Shrike anti-radar mission (Black Buck 5) on 31st May 1982 (both of the Shrikes fired missed the target), but is better known for an incident during Black Buck 6. On this mission, two Shrikes hit an Argentine Skyguard radar, killing its 4 operators. Unfortunately, XM597 broke its refuelling probe during the return journey and was forced to divert to Rio de Janiero airport, where it, its crew and 2 unfired Shrike missiles were impounded by the Brazilian authorities until the end of hostilities.

The “Vulcan To The Sky Trust”, who formerly flew XH558 at UK airshows, have an excellent account of Black Buck 6 and the ill-fated Rio diversion at

XH558 displaying at RIAT Fairford

XM597 on display at the Scottish Museum of Flight, East Lothian

The issues of the intakes are well documented, suffice to say I assembled them very carefully, ran some liquid glue down the seam to fill it and placed them into the fuselage.  They are a very tight fit and this causes issues later when you try to join the top and bottom fuselage halves. I applied a lot of force to hold them in place whilst my liquid glue set, plus I removed one set of locating pins.  I also accepted at this stage that filler and sanding would be unavoidable.

As normal, I used Tippex correction fluid as my filler. It worked well on the fuselage, but the wing joints are very difficult to get right, leaving variable gaps plus, most difficult to resolve, a noticeable change of wing surface at the joint.  I wasn't entirely happy with how these turned out, and I would probably say this is the most difficult part of the kit to fix.  

The wing joints after filling and sanding.

With most of the airframe complete, I decided it was time to paint the upper surface.  Given the size of the model and the current unavailability of tinned Humbrol 165 Mid Sea Grey enamel, I took a different route from my usual hand brushing, employing a rattle can of spray Humbrol acrylic 165 instead.  I don't normally airbrush or spray anything - I don't have space in the house (having covered the dining room in a grey mist once - never again), results can be very variable (how many otherwise well built kits have you seen online with dreadful orange peel paint finishes!) and I am confident that I can achieve a brushed coat that is just as good and with more consistent results.  But needs must and this kit was transported into my "spray booth" (the back garden), on the only dry and calm day of the month, for a coat of sprayed paint.  It worked remarkably well, giving an impressive smooth finish, albeit not desperately well matched with the tinned MSG I used for the canopy (the rattle can seems a bit green/blue to me). The wing seams showed up quite badly at this stage and needed a little re-work....and for an acrylic paint, my goodness it stank the whole house out when I brought it inside half an hour later !

My first try with a spray “rattle can”.  The finish is good, but the grey seems a little too green/blue.

The upper green camouflage was applied by hand-brushing Humbrol 163, as was the underside 164 Dark Sea Grey.  There does seem to be some confusion over Vulcan colours in general - XH558 as it currently exists is definitely wrong, with a gloss finish and a darker grey than intended.   I have seen claims that the wrap-around camouflage used Dark Sea Grey, but before this the top sides were Medium Sea Grey, either gloss (early) or matt.  The undersides of the Falklands Black Buck aircraft were freshly painted in a dark grey for their nigh-time raids. Again there is confusion, largely driven by the claims of Dark Sea grey on the top-sides, and some modellers have used Extra Dark Sea Grey or a blue grey.  However, both the "Falklands scheme" aircraft that I have visited (XM598 at Cosford and XM597 at East Fortune) are definitely Dark Sea Grey, with Medium Sea Grey uppers, so this is what I have chosen.

The kit undercarriage goes together well and is really the only detailed part of the kit.  I stayed away from adding the recommended 30g of lead ballast in the nose, preferring a simple prop to minimise load on the kit wheels.  The kit comes with the two improvised underwing pylons used to carry Shrike anti-radar missiles and/or the AN/ALQ-101D ECM pod scrounged from the Buccaneer force.  However, although the basic pylons are there, the dual mount adaptor and the deep pylon for the ECM pod are not and have to be taken from the spares box.  

One of the biggest problems I found with this kit is how to handle it whilst painting the detail and applying decals.  It is big and very heavy; whilst a bigger modelling space/desk would probably have helped me, it is not feasible to build the kit in sections and awkward to move around, although fortunately there are few protrusions to break off!  As usual I left attaching the undercarriage wheels until last, as they can be vulnerable whilst handling. The kit also used an astonishing amount of paint (nearly half a tin for the undersides). I even feared that my precious 2nd last bottle of Klear might be exhausted as I coated the upper surfaces before decalling.

There is no doubt that the new Airfix kit is light years ahead of this one.  But if you have one in the stash or if the new one is too much for you to pay, then this is still an enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating kit to build !

XH558 displaying at RIAT with the Red Arrows

A  Vulcan B1 nose section at Doncaster Aeroventure

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My take on the two weapons pylons.

The Shrikes and AN/ALQ-101 jammer (known as the Dash 10) came from the spares box.

December 2022 - Part 2

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