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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End of an era as Tornado OCU disbands

Panavia Tornado OCU RAF Lossiemouth disbandment ceremony

The Royal Air Force Tornado Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), XV(R) Squadron, formally disbanded yesterday in a moving ceremony at RAF Lossiemouth. Led by the Band of the Royal Air Force College, the ceremony was held inside inside a hangar in front of 750 invited guests including families and associates of the squadron.

During the ceremony, Chief of Defence Intelligence Air Marshal Phil Osborn, who himself had served as a Tornado navigator said to the attendees;

I’m honoured and privileged to be here for the disbandment of XV(R) Squadron after its 102 years of loyal service. But today, whilst our feelings obviously include sadness we know that this magnificent event is also a celebration; a celebration of history and tradition, and of service and professionalism in the service of the nation.

XV (or No.15) Squadron has a long and proud history that can be traced back to the First World War. It was formed as a training unit at Farnborough on March 1st 1915 but crossed to France in December 1915 equipped with the BE2c for corps-reconnaissance duties over the Western Front. One unusual task the unit undertook was the dropping of ammunition by parachute to troops on the front line during 1918.

During the Second World War the squadron flew a series of bomber types such as the Fairey Battle, Vickers Wellington and Avro Lancaster. After the war, the squadron became one of the handful of RAF units to fly the Boeing Washington (RAF B-29 Superfortress). On April 1st 1992, the XV (Reserve) identity was transferred to the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit at RAF Honington before the unit moved to RAF Lossiemouth in 1993.


Below is a TV documentary recorded in the late 2000s outlining the squadron’s work in training RAF Tornado GR.4 crews.

Image: RAF via Facebook

RAF Typhoon pilots training with French and US colleagues at Langley AFB

RAF Typhoon Rafale F-22 RaptorThe United States Air Force is hosting a multi-national exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia dubbed Atlantic Trident 17. The exercise will begin on April 12th and will continue until the 28th. It will be hosted by the resident 1st Fighter Wing of the USAF equipped with the F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter.

British and French combat aircraft will participate in the exercise in the form of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s and Dassault Rafales respectively. The RAF have committed 175 personnel to the exercise with the first contingent having already arrived. Among the US aircraft deployed will be a number of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs which the RAF has on order in its Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) F-35B Lightning II guise along with the Royal Navy.

The exercise will be focused around combat experience the three air arms have gained over Syria and Iraq in recent years but will add an airborne threat element which the pilots will have to defeat in order to complete their strike missions.

USAF Colonel Peter Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander said in a press conference;

This exercise was designed to encourage the sharing and development of air combat TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) with our French and UK partners, against a range of potential threats leveraging US Air Force fifth-generation capabilities. This is not only an opportunity to share the capabilities of the aircraft, pilots and maintainers between our nations, but to build friendship, trust and confidence that will improve our interoperability as we go forward.

 

Gloster Goral

Born in war, the immediate post-war period was both a time of optimism and frustration for the new born Royal Air Force. On the one hand, military aviation had been firmly established as an indispensable tool of war but the concept of an air arm independent of both army and navy was seen as an unnecessary expense in peacetime. Coupled with the tightening of the national purse, it meant that after 1918 the RAF had to fight for every penny from the government and make the most of everything they had not only keep the service viable but alive.

Airco DH.9AThroughout 1918, numerous companies were developing new and more advanced aircraft ready for the front in 1919 but the armistice on November 11th 1918 saw many of these projects curtailed. The RAF were thus left to operate the best picks of their wartime inventory from 1918 among them of which was the Airco DH.9A. The DH.9A was an excellent light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft and when its performance is compared to the Avro 504s and Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2s that the Royal Flying Corps went to war with in 1914 it becomes strikingly clear how quickly military aviation advanced in just four years of fighting.

Peace in Europe however did not translate in to world peace and the RAF went back to war almost immediately supporting the anti-Bolshevik “White” Russians in the Russian Civil War. The RAF also flew intensive operations policing the British Empire which now included former Ottoman Empire territories that were resentful of their new British masters. The DH.9A proved adept in these theatres being rugged and reliable but over time it became clear that they needed replacing and in the mid-1920s the RAF began to seriously look at its options. Under Air Specification 26/27, the RAF told Britain’s aircraft manufacturers that in order to reduce costs the winning design would have to make the maximum use of DH.9A parts that were readily available. Emphasis would also have to be placed on suitability for policing the Empire with all the harsh and primitive operational environments that entailed. With the relative drying up of government orders in the 1920s, the aircraft manufacturers were quick to respond to the specification. Eight companies drew up plans for an aircraft to meet the RAF’s requirements including Bristol, de Havilland, Fairey Aviation, Gloster, Vickers and Westland.

The Gloster submission was headed up by two well respected aircraft designers namely Captain S. J. Waters who had previously worked for Fairey and H. P. Folland who had worked for the Sopwith company during the war. The resulting design was essentially the mating of a new oval-shaped, all-metal frame, fabric-covered fuselage with the wings from a DH.9A. Careful consideration was given to the need to make repairs in the field and so the aircraft was designed to allow key metal components to be replaced with wooden ones should the need arise. In theory, the aircraft could have been manufactured with an all-wooden frame and this was offered as an option to potential export customers. The fuselage was essentially built in three whole main sections that could be quickly separated if the aircraft needed to be transported by sea or rail and then reassembled relatively quickly. With humidity being a constant problem in parts of the Empire such as India a great deal of rust proofing was incorporated in to the frame.

Gloster Goral J8673 Bristol Jupiter

The aircraft had a crew of two with the pilot sat under the wing trailing edge with a cutout above his head for vertical visibility. The gunner/observer sat behind him in a position raised several inches higher and had a single 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis machine gun mounted on a ring to provide defensive firepower and to complement the pilot’s own 0.303 Vickers machine that was synchronised to fire through the propeller arc. The aircraft had provision for carrying a variety of light bomb configurations up to 460lbs total.

The Air Ministry specification had originally highlighted the Napier Lion 12-cylinder ‘broad arrow’ W12 engine as the preferred choice to power the winning design because it was readily available. Developed for military purposes in 1917, it was the most powerful Allied aeroengine when it entered service and had seen considerable use in civilian and racing circles. However, Gloster defied this requirement and went with the newer and more advanced Bristol Jupiter series of radial engines. They had briefly considered the even more complex Siddeley Jaguar 14-cylinder, two-row radial engine but this was seen as too risky to propose to the conservative RAF. The Jupiter was a nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled radial engine that despite having a lengthy development period that even saw its original manufacturer, Cosmos Engineering, go bankrupt had developed in to a fine powerplant that was seeing increasing use in both military and civilian aircraft. Gloster was not alone in this choice with Bristol themselves and more notably Westland selecting this engine for their own similar aircraft.

As construction of the first prototype was nearing completion it was fitted with the Jupiter VIA which developed 425hp and drove a two-bladed propeller 12ft in diameter. The prototype was given the serial J-8673 and was christened the Goral after a type of mountain goat found in northern India which reflected its planned use to police the Empire. The prototype took to the air for the first time on February 8th 1927 and once it was proven airworthy it was handed over to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Martlesham Heath for evaluation. Over the coming months, it was joined by other contenders for Air Specification 26/27 including Westland’s design which had been christened the Wapiti. The prototype was returned to Gloster at least twice to have the design tweaked and the engine replaced with the more powerful Jupiter VIIIF that churned out 480hp but it was to no avail and the Wapiti was declared the winner.

Gloster Goral J8673 Bristol Jupiter A&AEE

Compared to the Wapiti the Goral was faster, had a greater service ceiling and a longer range while the Wapiti had a marginally higher bomb load. However, where the Wapiti won was that it shared a much higher degree of commonality with the DH.9A which was one of the key points of the Air Ministry’s specification in the first place. Westland had a distinct advantage over the competition in that they had produced DH.9As under license and were far more familiar with it. In October 1927, the Air Ministry placed an initial order for 25 Wapitis confirming that the Goral had no future with the RAF but Gloster kept the aircraft on the books hoping to attract foreign interest.

Despite some passing enquiries, nothing really materialised until 1931 when an Argentinian purchasing commission which had set up an office in Brussels sent a request for information on the aircraft to Gloster. The commission confirmed their interest but expressed concerns that the aircraft was unsafe and believed this was why the Air Ministry had rejected it. The Air Ministry responded by sending the Argentinians a detailed letter outlining that the aircraft was not only safe but well suited to the Argentinian requirements. Unfortunately, the Argentinians didn’t resply to the letter and a short while later they placed an order with France for the Breguet Br.19; an aircraft of similar performance and configuration.

Thus the Goral was lost to history.

SPECIFICATION

Gloster Goral

  • Role: Two seat light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft
  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 31ft 6in (9.4m)
  • Wingspan: 46ft 7in (14.19m)
  • Height: 11ft 4in (3.3m)
  • Empty weight: 2,796lbs (1,268kg)
  • Gross weight: 4,441lbs (2,014 kg)
  • Powerplant(s):
    (i) 1 × Bristol Jupiter VIA 9-cylinder radial (425hp)
    (ii) 1 x Bristol Jupiter VIIIF 9-cylinder radial (480hp)
  • Maximum speed: at 5,000ft (1,524 m) 136mph (218km/h)
  • Maximum Range: 750 miles (1,207 km)
  • Service ceiling: 21,500ft (6,552m)
  • Armament:
    1× synchronised forward firing 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun
    1× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun mounted on ring in gunner’s cockpit
    Up to 460lbs of bombs

Royal Navy’s last Lynx deployment

2017 will see the end of this remarkable aircraft’s career with the Royal Navy as it Lynx HMA.8 ZF562 404 HMS Monmouth Iron Duck Duke 2completes its last deployment with the only remaining operator, the Fleet Air Arm’s 815NAS, currently finishing up its final deployment with the type. A single example of the Lynx HMA.8 is aboard the Type 23 frigate HMS Portland as it carries out a nine-month cruise which includes supporting Operation Kipion.

According to the Royal Navy’s website, the Royal Navy element of Operation Kipion is outlined as follows;

Our maritime presence is a demonstration of our continued commitment to enduring peace and stability, comprising: a command element, the United Kingdom Component Command (UKMCC), responsible for the wider region, across the Gulf and Indian Ocean, exercising command and control of the RN and RFA ships and cooperating within a 30-nation maritime force.

As well as the last Lynx HMA.8 flight on board, HMS Portland also carries a Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. En-route to the Kipion operations area, HMS Portland and the Lynx were able to conduct anti-submarine training against a French nuclear submarine.

Earlier this year, HMS Portland sailed to the South Atlantic to the British island of South Georgia, a fitting visit for the Lynx given how pivotal the early model Lynx helicopters were in recovering the island and the Falklands from Argentine occupation in 1982. The vessel is now making its way north and yesterday undertook a Replenishment At Sea (RAS) operation with RFA Gold Rover off the west coast of Africa. Like the Lynx, the RFA Gold Rover is set to be withdrawn from service in the coming weeks having spent 43 years fuelling the fleet’s warships.

Barring some unforeseen requirements, HMS Portland and its Lynx are scheduled to return to the UK on March 10th whereby the helicopter and its crew will disembark for the last time. The Lynx is being replace by the newer Wildcat which although built off the previous airframe is almost a wholly new beast.

 

Typhoons scrambled against two Russian Blackjack bombers

RAF Typhoon Tu-160 BlackjackThe British newspaper The Independent has reported that the Typhoon FGR.4s were scrambled as the two bombers came in to Britain’s area-of-interest over the North Sea. The aircraft had already been tracked by NATO radar stations before that responsibility was handed over to the RAF at around 1000hrs.

The Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” strategic bombers are reported to have flown between the Shetland and Faroe islands before transiting down the west coast of Ireland and over the Bay of Biscay. Continuing south, the responsibility for tracking the two Russian bombers then passed to the French and then the Spanish before they turned north back towards the UK as they headed for home.

An RAF Voyager tanker supported the Typhoons as they tracked the Russian planes. An RAF spokesperson was quoted as saying:

We can confirm that quick reaction alert Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby scrambled to monitor two Blackjack bombers while they were in the UK area of interest. At no point did the Russian aircraft enter UK territorial airspace.

 

RAPTOR pod too big for Typhoon

royal-air-force-panavia-tornado-gr-4-za404-raptor-pod

RAPTOR pod on centreline (commons.wikimedia)

As the RAF’s plans to finally phase out its Panavia Tornado GR.4 force in favour of the Eurofighter Typhoon progress ahead, details have emerged that one asset the Tornado has that will not be transferred over is the Tornado’s RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for TORnado) pod. RAPTOR is a stand-off electro-optical and Infrared long-range oblique-photograpic reconnaissance pod which is capable of producing high-resolution images and then transmitting them via a real-time data-link to image analysts at a ground station. The pod entered service in 2001 and has seen valuable use over Iraq during Operation Telic and continues to be used in operations against Daesh-ISIS.

However, the RAPTOR pod has proven too heavy and too large to fit on the optimum centerline station of the Typhoon; the undercarriage doors are in the way. This has meant that the pod will now have to be retired with the Tornado force but the capabilities it offers may not be lost with the Typhoon. UTA Aerospace Systems (UTAS) has proposed adapting the Typhoon’s centerline fuel tank to carry an improved version of the RAPTOR’s camera and datalink equipment. Christened Fast Jet Pod 2 (FJP2), it could alternatively house the tactical synthetic aperture radar (TacSAR) that UTAS announced was being jointly developed with Leonardo (then Selex Galileo) at the 2014 Farnborough airshow.

The question remains however; how important is manned aerial reconnaissance to the British military in the 21st century? The British armed forces have recently made great strides towards increasing their unmanned tactical reconnaissance and strike assets with the Royal Navy having just completed possibly the most comprehensive unmanned systems exercise in the world namely Unmanned Warrior 2016.

Unmanned systems have all the capability advantages of a pod such as RAPTOR carried by a manned aircraft but has the added advantage of eliminating the risk to aircrew. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones have proven themselves in the fight against global terrorism but in a modern conflict where there would be hostile air activity they are exceptionally vulnerable to interception. On December 23rd 2002, an Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a US RQ-1 Predator drone which reportedly opened fire on the MiG with a Stinger missile but failed to hit it. Proponents of manned reconnaissance platforms claim that an aircraft such as Typhoon has a greater chance of defending itself in the face of a dense threat environment and can also carry weapons to immediately attack targets of opportunity should they detect them with their reconnaissance equipment.

royal-air-force-raf-typhoon-fgr-4-eurofighter-panavia-tornado-gr-4

UTAS has already produced a downsized version of RAPTOR centered around the pod’s DB-110 system for use on aircraft in the F-16 class and this is also an option for the RAF’s Typhoon.