Accidents and Incidents

  • On 1 October 1956 Vulcan B1 XA897 crashed at London Heathrow Airport after an approach in bad weather, striking the ground 700 yd (640 m) short of the runway just as engine power was applied. The impact probably broke the drag links on the main undercarriage, allowing the undercarriage to be forced backwards and damage the trailing edge of the wing. After the initial impact the aircraft rose back in the air. The pilot, Squadron Leader D. R. Howard, and co-pilot Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst both ejected. The aircraft then hit the ground and broke up. Howard and Broadhurst survived but the other four occupants including Howard’s usual co-pilot were killed. XA897 was the first Vulcan to be delivered to the RAF. AOC-in-C Bomber Command, Air Marshal Broadhurst, had taken the aircraft with a full Vulcan crew of four and an Avro technician on a round-the-world tour. At the conclusion of the tour, Broadhurst was to land at Heathrow Airport in front of the assembled aviation media. RAF aircraft were not equipped to use the Instrument Landing System installed at Heathrow and other civil airports so a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) was carried out.
  • In 1957 a Vulcan B1 (XA892) attached to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down for acceptance testing was unintentionally flown to an Indicated Mach Number (IMN) above 1.04, alarming the crew that it had reached supersonic speed. The aircraft commander, Flt Lt Milt Cottee (RAAF) and co-pilot Flt Lt Ray Bray (RAF) were tasked to fly with twenty-one dummy 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs and, at 478 mph (769 km/h) and 0.98 IMN, to take the aircraft to a load factor of 3 g. The Vulcan was climbed to 35,000 ft (11,000 m) and then dived with the intention of reaching the target speed at 27,000 ft (8,200 m). Approaching the target altitude the Mach trimmer reached the limit of its authority and, even though the crew had closed the throttles and were applying full up-elevator, the aircraft continued to pitch nose-down, passing the vertical at 1.04 IMN. As it went beyond the vertical Flt Lt Cottee contemplated pushing forward to go inverted and then rolling upright. Instead he opened the speed brakes, even though the airspeed was above their maximum operating speed. The speed brakes were not damaged and succeeded in reducing the Mach number. The aircraft came back past the vertical at about 18,000 ft (5,500 m) and regained level flight at 8,000 ft (2,400 m). There was no report of a sonic boom in the vicinity so it is unlikely a True Mach Number of 1.0 was reached. (At Mach 1.0, the Vulcan had position error of about 0.07.) After the flight a rear bulkhead was found to be deformed.
  • On 20 September 1958, a Rolls-Royce test pilot was authorized to fly VX770 on an engine performance sortie with a fly past at RAF Syerston Battle of Britain "At Home" display. The briefing was for the pilot to fly over the airfield twice at 200–300 ft (61–91 m), flying at a speed of 288–345 miles per hour (463–555 km/h). The Vulcan flew along the main 25/07 runway then started a roll to starboard and climbed slightly. Very shortly, a kink appeared in the starboard mainplane leading edge followed by a stripping of the leading edge of the wing. The starboard wingtip then broke followed by a collapse of the main spar and wing structure. Subsequently, the Vulcan went into a dive and began rolling with the starboard wing on fire and struck the ground at the taxiway of the end of runway 07. Three occupants of a controllers' caravan were killed by debris, a fourth being injured. All four of the Vulcan crew were killed. The cause of the crash was pilot error; the aircraft commander flew the aircraft over the airfield at 472–483 miles per hour (760–777 km/h) instead of the briefed 288–345 miles per hour (463–555 km/h) he had also descended to a height of 65-70 ft (approximately 20 m). Rolling the Vulcan to starboard while flying at this speed, the aircraft was rolled at a rate of 15-20°/sec while pulling up into a 3,000 ft (910 m)/min climb imposing a strain of between 2-3 g where it should have remained below 1.25 g. The VX770 was a prototype and was not as strong as later production models, indeed buckling of the leading edge in this plane was a known problem and was the primary reason for low flight performance limits being imposed. Avro Chief Test Pilot Tony Blackman notes that when Avro display pilots carried out aerobatics it was followed by a careful, but little known, inspection of the inside of the wing leading edge. Blackman understands that Rolls-Royce pilots also carried out aerobatics but he speculates that Rolls-Royce knew nothing of the special inspections, and VX770 may well have been severely structurally damaged before it took off for the display at Syerston. see Video of crash
  • On 24 October 1958, Vulcan B1 XA908 of No. 83 Squadron crashed in Detroit, Michigan, USA after a complete electrical systems failure. The failure occurred at around 30,000 ft (9,100 m) and the backup system should have provided 20 minutes of emergency power to allow the aircraft to divert to Kellogg Airfield. Due to a short circuit in the service busbar, backup power only lasted three minutes before expiring and locking the aircraft controls. XA908 then went into a dive of between 60-70° before it crashed, leaving a 70 ft (21 m) deep crater in the ground. All six crew members were killed, including the co-pilot, who had ejected. The co-pilot’s ejector seat was found in Lake St Clair but his body was never found.[30] It is thought he was the only member of the squadron who could not swim.
  • On 24 July 1959, Vulcan B1 XA891 crashed due to an electrical failure during an engine test. Shortly after take-off the crew observed generator warning lights and loss of busbar voltage. The aircraft commander climbed XA891 to 14,000 ft (4,300 m) and steered a course away from the airfield and populated areas while the AEO attempted to solve the problem. When it became clear that control of the aircraft would not be regained the aircraft commander instructed the crew in the rear compartment to exit the aircraft, and the co-pilot to eject. The aircraft commander then also ejected. All the crew survived making them the first complete crew to escape successfully from a Vulcan. The aircraft crashed near Hull.
  • On 12 December 1963, Vulcan B1A XH477 of No. 50 Squadron crashed in Scotland on an exercise at low level (not less than 1,000 ft (300 m) above ground.) XH477 had struck the ground while climbing slightly. It was assumed XH477 crashed due to poor visibility.
  • On 11 May 1964, Vulcan B2 XH535 crashed during a low speed demonstration. The test pilot was demonstrating a very low speed and high rate of descent when the aircraft began to spin. The landing parachute was deployed and the spin stopped briefly but the aircraft then began to spin again. At around 2,500 ft (760 m) the aircraft commander instructed the crew to abandon the aircraft. The aircraft commander and co-pilot ejected successfully but none of the crew in the rear compartment did so, presumably due to the g forces in the spin.
  • On 16 July 1964, Vulcan B1A XA909 crashed in Anglesey after an explosion and Nos 3 and 4 engines were closed down. The explosion was caused by failure of a bearing in No. 4 engine. The starboard wing was extensively damaged, the pilot had insufficient aileron power, and both airspeed indications were highly inaccurate. The whole crew successfully abandoned XA909 and were found within a few minutes and rescued.
  • On 7 October 1964, Vulcan B2 XM601 crashed during overshoot from an asymetric power practice approach at Coningsby. The copilot had executed the asymetric power approach with two engines producing thrust and two at idle. He was being checked by the Sqn Cdr who was new to type. When he commenced the overshoot the copilot moved all the throttles to full power. The engines that had been producing power reached full power more quickly than the engines at idle and the resultant asymetric thrust exceeded the available rudder authority, causing the aircraft to spin and crash. All the crew perished. Sqn Ldr Ron Dick, later Air Cdre, said it had happened to him once where the horizon passed rapidly across his field of view. The only recovery was to retard all 4 engines to idle and then increase them together.
  • On 11 February 1966, Vulcan B2 XH536 of the Cottesmore Wing crashed in the Brecon Beacons during a low level exercise. The aircraft struck the ground at 1,910 ft (580 m) near the summit of Fan Bwlch Chwyth 2,635 ft (803 m), 20 mi (32 km) NE of Swansea. All crew members died. Hilltops at the time were snow-covered and cloud extended down to 1,400 ft (430 m).
  • On 7 January 1971, Vulcan B2 XM610 of No.44 Squadron crashed after fatigue failure of a blade in No. 1 engine that damaged the fuel system and led to an engine fire. The crew abandoned the aircraft safely and the aircraft crashed harmlessly in Wingate.
  • On 14 October 1975, Vulcan B2 XM645 of No.9 Squadron out of RAF Waddington lost its left undercarriage and damaged the airframe when it undershot the runway at Luqa airport in Malta. The pilot decided to do a circuit to crash land on runway 24 after it was covered with fire prevention foam. As the aircraft was turning inbound for the landing, it broke up in mid-air over the village of Zabbar, killing five of its seven crew members. Only the pilot and co-pilot escaped, using their ejection seats. Large pieces of the aircraft fell on the village. One woman (Vincenza Zammit, age 48), who was shopping in a street was hit by an electric cable and killed instantly. Some 20 others were injured.
  • On 12 August 1978, Vulcan B2 XL390 of No. 617 Squadron crashed during an air display at Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois in the United States. The accident sequence started at about 400 ft (120 m), after a possible stall during a wing-over. The Vulcan crashed into a landfill just north of the base and all crew members aboard perished.