From Vulcan to UAV

The Farnborough Air Show is a biennial jamboree that’s actually more market place than show. It’s where you come to buy aircraft or satellites or spare parts or just about anything you might need if your business is about flying high. 

Crowds watching Vulcan XH558 landing at the Farnborough Air Show, 2010 (Doug Millard)

Crowds watching Avro Vulcan XH558 landing at the Farnborough Air Show, 2010 (Doug Millard)

But this year I abandoned the trade halls to watch the Avro Vulcan XH558 bomber take off – its Olympus engines howling like no other jet, and then land, having thrilled the crowds with a beautiful, graceful and yes – awesome flying display – the only Vulcan that is airworthy. 

Vulcan XH558 soars overhead at Farnborough, 2010 (Doug Millard)

Vulcan XH558 soars overhead at Farnborough, 2010 (Doug Millard)

I got talking to Michael Trotter, Business Development Manager of the ‘Vulcan to the Sky’ Trust whose volunteers had made XH558 airworthy once more. He was interested in the Science Museum’s Blue Steel stand-off bomb – as carried by Vulcans during the Cold War. 

Blue Steel

Trial Version of Blue Steel now in the Science Museum's Collections (Science Museum/Science & Society)

I was thinking of this the other day while reading an RAF Defence Studies booklet on UAVs – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. According to its historical preamble the Blue Steel – which separated from the aircraft before accelerating to its target – would be classed as a form of UAV – after all, it was unmanned. But UAVs usually return to their owners – which the nuclear-tipped Blue Steel certainly wasn’t designed to do. 

Phoenix UAV shortly after launch, ca. 1990 (BAe Systems)

Phoenix UAV shortly after launch, ca. 1990 (BAe Systems)

The Phoenix UAV was designed to return – by parachute – having reconnoitred the battlefield, and the Museum recently acquired one to add to its small squadron of historic UAVs. 

The paper I was reading predicted an ever-increasing use of UAVs in the years to come. There were certainly plenty on static display at the Farnborough market place this year: 

Global Hawk, 2010 (Doug Millard)

Global Hawk, 2010 (Doug Millard)

Fire Scout,2010 (Doug Millard)

Fire Scout,2010 (Doug Millard)

Phantom Ray, 2010 (Doug Millard)

Phantom Ray, 2010 (Doug Millard)

 I wonder whether today’s market is likely to be tomorrow’s show?

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