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Round-The-World Vulcan crashes

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Published on Jul 13, 2007

In September 1956, the RAF received its first Vulcan B 1, XA897, which immediately went on a fly-the-flag mission to New Zealand. On 1 October, while approaching Heathrow to complete the tour, XA897 crashed short of the runway in bad weather conditions, the two pilots ejecting successfully although the rear crew was killed. The aircraft Captain was Squadron Leader "Podge" Howard and the co-pilot was Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst. It appears that due to time delays in the rather primitive Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) system of the time, the aircraft became too low on the approach without being warned by the GCA system and damaged its undercarriage in an inadvertent touchdown short of the runway threshold. Control was then lost during the subsequent overshoot (go-around).
Although the Vulcan had a normal crew of five (two pilots, two navigators and an Air Electronics Operator (AEO)), only the pilot and co-pilot were provided with ejection seats. This feature of the Vulcan has been the basis of significant criticism; there were several instances of the pilot and co-pilot ejecting in an emergency and the "rear crew" being killed because there was not time for them to bail out.

The navigator plotter, navigator radar and AEO bailed out through the crew entrance door in the cockpit floor immediately ahead of the nosewheel, their parachutes opening automatically by static line. As the crew door was immediately forward of the front undercarriage, it was very important that the pilots retracted the gear before bail-out. The method of escape was practised regularly in ground rigs, and successfully used on more than one occasion, with all crew members surviving.

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