Friday, October 05, 2007

Blue Steel -- The Vulcan's Weapon

(* A sequel to Jeremy Briggs' piece on the Vulcan...)


As a sequel to the piece on the Vulcan bomber in the various comics and picture books, here is a little more information on the Vulcan’s Blue Steel weapon.

The Blue Steel stand-off weapon was a large missile, so large in fact that it didn't completely fit into the bomb-bays of either its Vulcan or the Victor carrier aircraft. To describe it simply it was an early version of a cruise missile which was carried to within 150 miles of the target where the missile was dropped from the aircraft’s bomb bay. The Blue Steel’s rocket motor lit and propelled it at supersonic speed to its designated target. This meant that the bomber could “stand-off” from the target outside of the immediate air defences, therefore in theory making it safer for the aircraft and its crew. The Royal Air Force had 53 operational Blue Steels which were used as part of Britain’s nuclear deterrent from 1963 until 1970 when the Royal Navy's new Resolution-class submarines with their Polaris missiles took over the duty.

Inevitably, since the Vulcan bomber was featured in so many children’s books, its very obvious main weapon was also featured. The Ladybird book with the most about the Vulcan was The Airman In The Royal Air Force from their People At Work series. Written by I and J Haverhand and illustrated almost photographically by John Berry, the picture of the Vulcan in flight shows the plane from below with the Blue Steel semi-recessed in its bomb bay.

Since this Ladybird book was about all the trades of the RAF it also showed fitters working on the Blue Steel’s twin chamber Stentor rocket engine designed and manufactured by Armstrong Siddeley. This was a very accurate representation as can be seen by comparing it to this photo of a Stentor on display at the National Museum Of Flight.

Like the Vulcan the Blue Steel also featured in the Collin’s Orbit Books. Rather than being in one of the three Planes titles, the missile made it into Rockets and Spacecraft Book One where it is shown immediately after being dropped from the Vulcan’s bomb bay with its rockets lighting.

Yet consider the incongruity in describing this weapon in any picture book for children. After all the Blue Steel was designed for one reason, to carry a nuclear weapon to the Soviet Union where it would kill people - a lot of people. The Red Snow nuclear warhead, which each Blue Steel carried, was rated at 1.1 megatons which was 70 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Rather than end on that depressing note let me instead leave you with an illustration of a Blue Steel launch from the 1963 Eagle Annual. Wilf Hardy painted this lovely picture and you will notice that instead of being white like all the rest of the ones featured here, this Blue Steel is actually blue. The illustration depicts a test flight of one of the prototype missiles. Fitted with the less powerful Double Spectre rocket engine, it would have had nothing more explosive in its nose than data recording equipment.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books