Crashed in Iran: Final flight of Vulcan XJ781

In 1955, the UK entered in to an alliance that with the benefit of hindsight seemed doomed to failure. It was known under a few names, it initially being referred to as the Baghdad Pact or the Middle East Treaty Organisation (METO) but was most commonly referred to as the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). The origins of the alliance can be traced back to a year prior when Turkey and Pakistan signed a treaty of mutual cooperation on defence matters. Encouraged by the United States in 1955, a new agreement was penned that added Iraq, Iran and perhaps most significantly the United Kingdom however the US itself was held back from formal involvement until 1958.

In a nutshell, CENTO’s role was modelled along the lines of NATO in Western Europe with the goal being to establish a series of militarily powerful countries on the Soviet Union’s southern flank and to counter any communist revolutionary forces emerging in the Middle East. It was headquartered in Baghdad, Iraq until 1958 when Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Qasim of the Iraqi Army overthrew and killed the last King of Iraq, King Faisal II. Iraq then withdrew from CENTO and the headquarters was moved to Ankara in Turkey.

The 1960s were a tough time for the organisation. It’s existence was heavily criticised for its lack of action to help curb the first Indo-Pakistan War, the Six Day War, tensions between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus and it’s seeming lack of ability to prevent Communist revolutionary forces rising up across the Middle East. Even the UK and US, who should have been its biggest supporters, often bypassed it when dealing with specific issues and countries in the region. The US had to especially tread carefully when dealing with CENTO because of the strong pro-Israel lobby in Washington which viewed the alliance with suspicion.

For the UK, its military bases on Cyprus were of high importance for the alliance with the RAF’s Near East Air Force providing a nuclear strike capability with Avro Vulcan B.2s from early 1969. The aircraft were operated by Nos.9 and 35 Squadrons out of RAF Akrotiri which was by then the only RAF station left on the island after RAF Nicosia was forced to close in 1966 to become Cyprus International Airport.

One of the advantages of being a member of CENTO was that British military units could undertake deployments to member states which for RAF crews allowed them to gain invaluable experience operating over the Middle East. It was not uncommon for the long range Vulcans to fly to Iran or Turkey on goodwill flights or to train with their respective air forces and one place they would regularly visit was Shiraz Air Base in south-west Iran.

Avro Vulcan XJ781 B.2On May 23rd 1973, one such visitor to Shiraz was Avro Vulcan B.2 XJ781 operating with No.9 Squadron which, having completed a routine training mission turned towards the Iranian base for landing. In this instance, the usual crew of five were joined by a sixth man, an officer from the Imperial Iranian Air Force who was aboard acting as an observer. This was not uncommon but often proved problematic for the British crews as the observers almost never spoke any English leading to safety briefings being conducted with pointing at things hoping he understood. The observers also liked to smoke during the flight.

All had gone well until it came time to lower the undercarriage ready for landing. While the nose and starboard undercarriage legs lowered successfully, the port leg refused to budge despite the efforts of the crew. Low on fuel, the crew had no choice but to attempt an emergency landing at Shiraz. The ground personnel at Shiraz immediately went in to action and began spraying down foam across one of the two runways at the base in an attempt to cushion the port wing when it inevitably made contact with the ground and reduce the chance of fire. With the runway sufficiently doused down, the aircraft made its landing attempt.

The Vulcan touched down on its starboard undercarriage with pilot Flight Lieutenant John Derrick fighting to keep the wings level before the nosewheels made contact with the ground. The aircraft ran on just the starboard and nose wheels for a short while before the port wing was lowered as carefully as possible on to the ground. With the wing scraping along the foam-soaked runway it began pulling the aircraft to the left, sending it veering off the runway and across an adjacent gully that was not marked on any maps of the airfield. The nosewheel fell in to the gully and was sheered off followed quickly by the starboard undercarriage leaving the Vulcan to slam down on to its belly before finally sliding to a halt. As the aircraft slid across the ground, the bomb aimer’s window in the blister under the nose shattered sending clouds of dust in to the lower deck of the cockpit while the navigator’s table collapsed temporarily trapping the two navigator’s by their knees. Aside from the bruised knees, the five crew and the Iranian observer were all unhurt and with the crew hatch stuck against the ground they left the aircraft through the canopy which had been ejected after the undercarriage collapsed.

Avro Vulcan XJ781 Iran Shiraz crash

Flight Lieutenant John Derrick in front of the crashed XJ781 at Shiraz (Courtesy James Rich)

A maintenance team from Akrotiri was flown out aboard a Hercules cargo plane and immediately declared the crash as a Category 5(C) meaning it was beyond repair or salvage. The Iranians agreed to accept the airframe as scrap but insisted that British engineers familiar with the aircraft remove key military components. Thus, after twelve years of service XJ781 ended its days being broken up on a dusty Iranian airfield.

In many ways the crash of such a symbol of British military power as a V-Bomber symbolised the ailing position Britain found itself in when dealing with CENTO. A year after the crash, Turkey invaded Cyprus in defence of Turkish Cypriots following a military coup organised by the Greek Junta. This forced Britain to withdraw all military support for Turkey and consequently CENTO itself which from then on existed only on paper. In 1979, whatever remained of CENTO was dissolved in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.


Thanks to James Rich, Flight Lieutenant John Derrick’s nephew.

 

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Weapon File: Martel

Blackburn Buccaneer Martel missile

Royal Air Force Blackburn Buccaneer toting one anti-radar Martel and two TV-guided Martels (sistemasdearmas.com.br)

In the 1960s it was becoming increasingly apparent that shipborne defences were becoming so strong that traditional direct attacks by aircraft using unguided bombs were becoming unfeasible. The answer therefore was to develop stand-off weapons; missiles that could be launched at the ship from outside the range of the target’s defences. It was actually the German Luftwaffe during World War II who pioneered the use of guided air-to-surface missiles to attack ships but the technology was immature. Anti-ship missile technology in the 1950s was a gargantuan affair with only the largest bombers being able to carry the missiles many of which were themselves the size of small aircraft. The 1960s saw the miniaturization of weapon technology to the point where fast jets could carry advanced attack weapons.

In 1964 Hawker-Siddeley in the United Kingdom and Matra in France decided to collaborate on a study in to developing a new missile that could be fielded by fast-jets such as the Dassault Mirage F.1 then in development. The development team settled on two types of guidance options for the new weapon that meant that two specific variants would have to be produced.

The first type was to be fitted with a radiation seeker that would use the target ship’s own radar emissions to locate it. This meant that even if the target ship was not sunk by the missile’s impact then at the very least the vessel would be “blinded” and unable to defend itself from a follow-up attack. However, the problem with this system was that if the target vessel turned off its radar then the missile would be unable to zero in on it. Also, if the target was a merchant ship with little or no radar emissions then the weapon would be effectively useless. Therefore this version was used in a supporting role rather than be used for attacking ships with the intention of sinking them.

This resulted in the development of a TV guided version that was steered on to the target by the launch aircraft. The TV guided version of the weapon had a small Marconi camera fitted in a clear and more rounded nose section. The images from the camera would be relayed to the launch aircraft where the pilot/weapons officer could then send corrections via a datalink pod. Carrying the pod did take up a pylon on the launch aircraft thus reducing the amount of weapons, external fuel tanks or Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) equipment that could be carried.

Anti-radar version (top) TV version (bottom) (blackburn-buccaneer.co.uk)

Anti-radar version (top) TV version (bottom) (blackburn-buccaneer.co.uk)

The two different types of guidance lead to the name “Martel” which stands for Missile Anti-Radar TELevision. To distinguish the two variants the anti-radar version was designated AS.37 while the TV guided version was designated AJ.168. In terms of weight the anti-radar version was a mere 34lbs heavier. Hawker-Siddeley took prime responsibility in developing the TV guided version while Matra took the lead in developing the anti-radar version. Despite their naval inception both versions would have secondary land attack roles and indeed for the French especially Martel would become the standard anti-radar missile of the Armée de l’Air through the 1980s.

The Royal Navy soon became interested in the weapon with the intention of fielding the aircraft on the Blackburn Buccaneer S.2. It came as a surprise to some that the Royal Navy was investing in new weapons for their aircraft since by this time it was clear that the Fleet Air Arm’s fast-jet days were numbered. In 1968 a series of weapon trials involving De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.1 XJ481 were carried out. The Sea Vixen was operated out of Boscombe Down and was modified with a new nose featuring a camera to record the launch and the necessary equipment for guiding the TV version in the observer’s station. Another Sea Vixen, XJ494, also participated in the trials. The tests showed the weapon was capable of a high degree of accuracy with weapons landing around the centre of a 100ft target under ideal conditions. The Matra team were also enjoying success with the anti-radar version and in so in 1970 work began on integrating the weapons on to the Royal Navy’s Buccaneers.

The Buccaneer S.2 had to be heavily modified to allow it to carry the weapon with the most notable alteration being the relocation of the inner and outer pylons as a result of the weapon’s wingspan. This was necessary to prevent the weapon from obstructing the undercarriage doors and provide clearance for additional weapons or fuel. Even then the pylons themselves had to be modified to carry the weapon. The weight of the missiles meant that initially the wing folding system simply couldn’t cope with them still attached but they were uprated later with more powerful hydraulic rams to compensate. The landing gear of the aircraft was also beefed up to allow it to land on a carrier with the weapons still attached; the British tax-payer wouldn’t allow the crew to ditch the weapons if they weren’t fired.

RAF Buccaneers armed with Martel (spyflight.co.uk)

RAF Buccaneers armed with Martel (spyflight.co.uk)

The observer’s station in the cockpit of the Buccaneer had to be modified to accommodate the equipment necessary to guide the TV Martel on to the target. The television display itself was mounted on the floor between the observer’s legs because of the lack of space for it anywhere else. The small control stick was mounted on the right-hand console of the rear cockpit for guiding the missile. Tests of the Buccaneer and TV Martel were carried out over the Aberporth firing range between 1970 and 1973. Trials with the anti-radar version began in September 1974 with Buccaneers travelling to France.

With the recycling of the Fleet Air Arm’s fast jets to the Royal Air Force in the late 1960s it was actually an RAF unit that became the first Martel operator in 1974 namely No.12 Squadron at RAF Honington. Royal Navy squadrons began fielding the weapon a year later. The RAF Martel-capable aircraft were designated Buccaneer S.2B while the Royal Navy’s aircraft were S.2Ds. When the Royal Navy finally relinquished their Buccaneers to the RAF in 1978 the S.2Ds were modified to S.2B standard.

Throughout the 1980s Martel was the weapon of choice for anti-ship attack and a number of attack profiles were developed to best utilise the weapon;

  • A “classic” TV Martel attack would see the Buccaneer racing along the ocean at around 200ft. The aircraft’s Blue Parrot radar would start to slave the weapon on to the target at a range of between 30-38nm allowing the weapon time to configure itself for its flight profile. During the launch phase the Buccaneer would “pop-up” into a climb to allow the datalink pod a clearer signal. The Martel would then cruise at an altitude of around 2000ft (this could be altered depending on the cloud base) before the Buccaneer observer took control during the terminal (attack) phase. Ideally he would aim for the target vessel’s own weapons in an effort to trigger secondary explosions that would sink the ship but more often than not the aim point was the main superstructure as this often presented the clearest image on the small screen in the rear cockpit. The missile’s motor continued to burn throughout the whole flight range which helped with its ability to penetrate the hull of a target ship.
  • The anti-radar Martel could be used in conjunction with TV Martel during an attack whereby the anti-radar version would suppress the target’s defences allowing the TV guided version to carry out its attack. It was not ideal, however, for the Buccaneer to carry both types of weapon at the same time because of the sheer workload that could overwhelm the observer. Also, the Buccaneer was only capable of carrying out one missile attack not the two types simultaneously. Therefore, ideally a second Buccaneer would suppress the ships defences while the first Buccaneer made its attack with the TV guided version.
  • The anti-radar version could be used in support of a conventional bomb attack on a target vessel. In this instance the Martel remains primed and ready for launch should the target vessel activate its radar to detect the incoming strike force. The anti-radar Martel would (hopefully) strike the target vessel destroying its exposed radar towers and inflicting significant enough damage on the vessel to limit the crew’s ability to respond to the following attack run by the Buccaneers.

The weapon was not perfect however and had its drawbacks. The TV Martel could only be used in daylight operations and in greater than 50% visibility. Some experimental Buccaneer crews reported that they could still detect a silhouette of a ship under a clear night sky with a bright full moon but training for night attacks was not standard practice. The anti-radar Martel was able to operate in day or night.

The radiation seeker that guided the anti-radar version could be tailored to suit a specific target radar which was a big advantage over some earlier anti-radar missiles but this had to be done on the ground before take-off which required military intelligence to determine just what kind of defensive radar the strike package would likely encounter. This was dramatically highlighted in 1987 when a flight of four French Jaguars launched to attack a Libyan surface-to-air missile battery. Not knowing which radar the Libyans were using each Jaguar’s Martel was tailored differently meaning only one was able to attack the target (which it did successfully). The anti-radar version was also susceptible to atmospheric conditions which reduced the seeker’s effectiveness.

Trials with the anti-radar Martel aboard an Avro Vulcan (examiner.com)

Trials with the anti-radar Martel aboard an Avro Vulcan (examiner.com)

Both missiles had a very big disadvantage in that their transit flight profile was quite high (up to 2,000ft) which made them easy to detect and engage with defensive fire. This was one of the many reasons why the TV Martel’s replacement, the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile, was designed as a sea skimmer to limit the target’s ability to detect and engage it during the terminal flight phase. Sea Eagle owed a lot to the Martel in terms of aerodynamic shape and configuration and entered service in 1988 replacing the TV Martel. The anti-radar Martel remained in service until the Buccaneer was retired in 1994.

Theoretically, Martel could have been fielded by a number of other RAF platforms. The RAF’s Nimrod fleet were capable of operating the weapon and crews did train predominantly with the anti-radar version but the Nimrod was primarily used for sub-hunting and organizing attacks on enemy ships by the Buccaneers.

During the 1982 Falklands War, Avro Vulcan bombers began to be modifed to carry the anti-radar version for defence suppression missions over the islands. While trials were carried out with Avro Vulcan B.2 XM597 firing a missile over Aberporth on May 6th 1982, in the end the smaller American AGM-45 Shrike was carried instead because the Vulcan could carry four of them instead of just two larger Martels. There were also plans for Handley Page Victors to field the weapon.

  • Wingspan : 3 feet 11 inches
  • Length : 13 feet 9 inches (anti-radar) / 12 feet 9 inches (TV)
  • Body Diameter : 1 foot 4 inches
  • Weight : 1,180lbs (anti-radar) / 1,146lbs (TV)
  • Warhead : 330lb delayed proximity fused fragmentation (anti-radar) / 330lb radar fused semi-armour piercing
  • Speed : Mach 0.84 (636 mph)
  • Maximum Range : 74 miles (when launched from altitude. Low level launches significantly reduced range)

Watching the Vulcan – Mission Failed

There are plenty of videos on YouTube about people who go to see the awe inspiring Avro Vulcan XH558. Here’s a video about a group of people who went but DIDN’T. I recorded so much I thought I had to edit it in to a little video if only for the amusement of all of you who follow Defence of the Realm (thanks again of course). Also a number of people there wanted to see it all and so I had to oblige.

Nevermind.

I got to meet a lot of nice people and it was a bit of a laugh in the end but I am genuinely devastated I didn’t get to see it.

Luck of the draw I guess.

Enjoy my fail.

NEWS: “UFO” buzzes display by Avro Vulcan XH558

Avro Vulcan UFO

In the past few days footage has emerged of an apparent unidentified flying object (UFO) passing over Avro Vulcan XH558 as it performed a fly past over the Shoreham power station in Southwick. The footage was filmed by a local woman named Elaine Castello and the object can be seen just as the Vulcan passes out of sight before disappearing behind the clouds.

Malcolm Robinson, the founder of Strange Phenomena Investigations, said that 95 per cent of all UFO reports turn out to have “natural explanations” but claimed that about four per cent of the reports could be accredited to a combination of ‘black budget’ stealth aircraft and rare, atmospheric phenomenon. He then finished his assessment by claiming that one per cent remain classified as “not of this world.”

You can view the footage by clicking here. Comment below what you think it could be.

Avro Vulcan XM569 Cockpit at the Jet Age Museum

A small collection of pictures of the cockpit of Avro Vulcan B.2 XM569 on display at the Jet Age Museum in Gloucestershire.
History: The Jet Age Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins


The cockpit of Avro Vulcan B.2 XM569 is currently on loan to the Jet Age Museum (according to the website) and is open to members of the public for tours. It was closed for repainting during my first visit to the museum back in April so I was eager to get in to it on this second visit. This is the second Vulcan cockpit I have had the privilege of taking a look inside after visiting Vulcan XM575 back in January. That time I only got to sit in the Air Electronic Operator’s seat (a fascinating position I assure you so do not misunderstand me on that) but this time the staff at the Jet Age Museum were kind enough to let me sit up top in the boss’ seat.

Once again the 12 year old boy inside of me escaped as I climbed the ladder up to the top level where the pilots sat. While my heart was of a 12 year old boy again my bumpy body reminded me that I do have a bit of weight to lose as I seemed to catch every protrusion on the way up. Sat in that seat I put my hands on the controls and really got a (albeit brief) feel for what it must have been like for the pilots of these magnificent aircraft. It didn’t matter that there was no aeroplane behind me my mind’s eye saw nothing but clouds ahead of me for a few brief seconds.

Back to reality; I spent several minutes with the tour guide (I forget his first name but his surname was Griffiths as he made a point to tell me of his Welsh routes hearing my accent). I then spent a few minutes taking pictures to share on DotR. Now here comes the confession; unfortunately my usual camera’s batteries died shortly after reaching the museum and with no time to go and get some new ones my wife kindly offered me her phone. Thus the quality of the pictures aren’t as good as I would like but I am sure I will be visiting again soon so I will take new ones with my camera then.

DotR on YouTube – Nuclear armed Vulcan bomber struck by lightning

The latest video on DotR’s YouTube channel is now up and running. Its a brief summary of the incident in 1967 when a Vulcan bomber armed with a WE.177 nuclear bomb was struck by lightning. You can view the whole article here.

DotR on YouTube – Vickers Valiant B.2

The second mini-documentary on Defence of the Realm’s YouTube page concerns the Vickers Valiant B.2. This video is a bit more adventurous than the last one incorporating video not just pictures. This is more of what I had in mind when starting the YouTube page.

If you would like to read the original article on the Vickers Valiant B.2 then CLICK HERE.