Black Buck 1

First Major British Offensive – 1982

The first surprise raid on the islands from 30th April to 1st May was the first major British offensive against Argentine forces in the Falklands. They aimed it at the main runway at Port Stanley Airport. The bomber, carrying 21 1,000-pound bombs, would fly over the runway at approximately 35 degrees. The bomb release system dropped bombs continuously from 10,000 feet for at least one bomb to hit the runway. The Vulcan fuel tank could hold up to 42,000 litters in 14 bag pressure tanks weighing in at an impressive 34,000 kg (five on each wing and four on the fuselage). Based on an assessment of the Vulcan’s fuel requirements, 11 Victor tankers, including two reserve aircraft, were responsible for refuelling a single Vulcan before and after the attack on the Falklands. Two Vulcans were assigned to the mission. Flt Lt Reeve commanded one, and Flt Lt Withers commanded the other as a reserve aircraft. After Withers had successfully completed his first aerial refuelling, he would return to Ascension. The plan required 15 Victor sorties and 18 aerial refuelling missions. It was the longest bombing mission that had ever been carried out at that time. Eleven Victors and two Vulcans took off from Wideawake Airfield in the Ascension Island at 23:50 GMT, spaced 1 minute apart, with Reeve’s Vulcan starting 11th and Withers’ Vulcan taking off last.

Vulcan Bomber

With a sixth crew member and a new paint job, the Vulcans were fully loaded with bombs and fuel, far exceeding their design maximum takeoff weight of 93,000 kg. On warm Ascension Island, the Bristol Olympus 301 engines had to run at 103% of rated power for the Vulcans to get off the ground. Shortly after takeoff, Reeve’s aircraft failed. The rubber seal on the captain’s side window was gone. Unable to close or seal the window and apply pressure to the flight deck, it forced him to return to Ascension. The Vulcan had no way to run out of fuel and was too heavy to make an emergency landing, requiring the crew to remain airborne in a cold, noisy cockpit until the fuel depleted to a safe level. Withers then became the first Vulcan. Twenty minutes later, one of the Victor tankers returned to Ascension with a faulty refuelling hose system and a reserve force aircraft took its place.

Read the book to see more coming soon!

– Peter Farrington Craftsman

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