Tag Archives: Falklands War

The story of the SEAD Black Buck missions flown by Royal Air Force Vulcan bombers during the Falklands War

SEAD missions, Vulcan style.

The RAF Avro Vulcan was initially planned to be retired in early 1982 but the outbreak of the Falklands War, in April that year, postponed the withdrawal of the most distinctive among the bombers that (along with Vickers Valiant and Handley Page Victor) formed the Britain’s nuclear deterrent V-force.

Most important, the Falklands conflict has been the only time the Vulcan was used in anger: in fact, seven very long-range “Black Buck” missions were performed against Port Stanley, with three of these sorties flown by the bombers in the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) role, using AGM-45 Shrike missiles mounted on makeshift underwing pylons.

Two surveillance radars threatened British air operations against the Islands: an Argentine Air Force Westinghouse AN/TPS-43F placed near Stanley Airport on Apr. 6 (later moved into the town itself for protection), and an Argentine Army Cardion TPS-44 positioned close to Stanley on the Airport road.

To destroy the Argentine radars the RAF considered to use the Martel missile, but since the U.S. Air Force provided the AGM-45 it was decided to arm the Vulcans with the Shrike.

As explained by R. Burden, M Draper, D. Rough, C. Smith, D. Wilton in their book Falklands The Air War, the first anti-radar Vulcan mission (“Black Buck 4”) was launched from RAF Wideawake Airfield at Acension Island on May 28, using the Vulcan XM597 crewed by Sqdn. Ldr. C.N. McDougall (Pilot), Fg. Off. C. Lackman (Co-pilot) plus Flt. Lts. D. Castle (Nav-Radar), B. Smith (Nav-Plotter), R. Trevaskus (Air Engineering Officer) and B. Gardner (another Vulcan Pilot).

Unfortunately the aircraft was forced to abandon the mission after the Victor tanker aircraft supporting it experienced the failure of the hose drum unit (HDU). “Black Buck 5” was launched on May 30 shortly after midnight, using the same aircraft and crew and this time both the Shrikes carried by the bomber were launched, but they only slightly damaged the AN/TPS-43F that returned operational again 24 hours after the attack.

Avro Vulcan

The same aircraft and crew took off again from Wideawake for “Black Buck 6” on Jun. 2, this time armed with four Shrikes instead of two, for another raid against the same radar.

The AN/ATPS-43F radar was switched off as the Vulcan approached the target during the early hours on Jun. 3.

After the aircraft spent 40 minutes overhead waiting for this or any other radar to be switched on, its radar warning receiver (RWR) picked up an Argentine Army Skyguard radar which was acting as a fire control unit for one of the 601st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group (GADA 601) anti-aircraft batteries close to Port Stanley.

Immediately the Vulcan launched two Shrikes that destroyed it.

After having loitered on station for few more minutes hoping that the AN/TPS-43F radar might be switched on again, the bomber reached its Victor tanker for an air-to-air refuelling (AAR) half way back to Wideawake.

Noteworthy the Vulcan was forced to interrupt the AAR, given the break of the tip of its refuelling probe and the crew had to divert to Rio de Janeiro airport in Brazil.

Due to its very low fuel state, the bomber climbed to 40,000ft, where it burned less fuel and where its aircrew tried to release the two unfired Shrikes. Eventually one of them failed to fire and remained attached to the pylon because there was no other system for releasing it.

The aircrew collected all the classified documents together, placed them inside a hold-all and jettisoned them through the crew entry door after the cockpit had been de-pressurised and the crew had put on oxygen masks. Then, after diplomatic channels contacted Embassy staff at Rio de Janeiro, arrangements were made with Brazilian ATC and the Vulcan performed an emergency landing at Rio’s Galeao Airport.

After the aircraft engines were shut down 2,000 lbs of fuel remained, less than what would have been required for an overshoot and one circuit.

The Brazilian authorities impounded the aircraft and the unfired missile and the Vulcan aircrew was very well treated during their stay at Rio’s Galeao Airport. The chance to return home was soon offered to them but they decided to remain with their bomber until it was released on Jun. 10, when the aircraft returned to Ascension Island.

Wild Weasel Vulcan

Image credit: Crown Copyright

Argentina to get Russian Su-24 Fencer attack planes; UK to review Falklands air defenses

UK may be forced to review Falkland Islands air defenses to face a renewed threat in South Atlantic.

According to a report in the Daily Express newspaper, the Argentine Air Force is to get a dozen Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer attack planes from Russia in return for foodstuff.

As a consequence, the UK Ministry of Defense is in the process of reviewing the Falkland Islands air defenses, as the delivery of the supersonic, all-weather attack aircraft ahead of the delivery and full operating capability of the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers could pose a  threat to the islands, referred to as “Malvinas” by the Argentine.

According to Jane’s, the islands current air defenses include four Eurofighter Typhoon jets, Rapier SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems, along with about 1,200 troops permanently stationed in the South Atlantic base.

Even though the Typhoons are modern enough to deal with a dozen Su-24s, the Soviet-era twin-engined two-seater planes with a variable geometry wing with a combat radius of 615 km in lo-lo-lo profile, are able to perform ultra-low level surface and maritime strike missions, carrying a wide variety of General Purpose as well as Laser Guided Bombs and stand-off missiles, such as the Kh-31 (AS-17 “Krypton”) anti-radiation and anti-shipping sea-skimming missiles.

We don’t know whether the potential deal includes armament; still the possible delivery of Su-24s to Argentina makes the Falkland Islands a bit more vulnerable to an attack by the Fuerza Aérea Argentina than it will be until the FAA operates a fleet of aging Mirage III or A-4 Skyhawks, the same jets defeated by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy during the Falklands War.

Image credit: Alexander Mishin


Super cool video shows a C-130 Hercules almost hitting the camera on landing in Antarctica

A few days ago we posted the video of an Argentine Air Force C-130 buzzing people’s heads during a daredevil low passage on the runway at Base Antártica Marambio, the main Argentine base in Antarctica.

Even if we said that the stunt was not only unnecessary but also dangerous, several readers from Argentina have tried to explain the mindset of the AAF after Malvinas (Falklands) war.

“For them [AAF pilots] flying ultra-low is a matter of pride” explains “Pampa”, a reader who left an interesting comment on the blog post.

“That is how the Hercules broke repeatedly the British blockade, by day and night, until the last day. Only Hercules lost was during an exploration mission, as the AF lacked other planes suitable for the task, an almost suicide task, as it was done with the onboard radar and MK-1 eyeballs, and they paid with their lives because they have to fly at “normal” altitudes!!!”

Juanma Baiutti, another reader says: “The final flyby is quite common when leaving the base but it’s made only when there are perfect conditions.As we dont have a very large air force, most of our C130 pilots that have antartic certification (not everyone do the Antarctic logistic flight) goes to Antarctica often. They all know about the weather there and their limitations. In fact, they all have flown the Twin Otter from Marambio for 6 months at least 2 times!”

Here’s another cool video taken over there. This time it is not a low level flying but a normal landing with a touchdown extremely close to the camera.

Once again, a must see!

H/T to Emiliano Guerra for the heads-up

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Harrier: the story of the “Jump Jet” fighter jet that helped Margaret Thatcher win the Falklands War

One cannot speak of Margaret Thatcher, who passed away on Apr. 8, 2013, without mentioning the 1982 Falklands – Malvinas a war, a conflict that the UK was able to win thanks to a revolutionary airplane: the Harrier.

The origins of the “Jump Jet” date back to the Cold War-

The historical context imposed by the Cold War made the tactical experts wonder how to get rid off one of the basic drawbacks of an airplane – airplane is dependent on runways. The reality of nuclear war to come was brutal, airstrips and their coordinates were not secret, both in the West as well as in Soviet Russia. Obviously they would be destroyed  in the beginning of any conflict.

Assisted Take-off was another approach towards making take-offs shorter. It was issued by the Germans during the WWII. They were pioneers in the field nowadays referred to as JATO or RATO (Jet/Rocket Assisted Take-Off). This approach resulted from severe damages made to the German airstrips by the allied bombers at the end of the WWII.

The lenght of the airstrips was limited because of them being damaged. The air superiority can be achieved by destroying the infrastructure needed for the airplanes to operate.

Dispersing the aircraft was an idea which was often talked about after the second world war. Some countries have developed a concept of highway strips – section of a highway that is specially built to allow landing of (mostly) military aircraft and to serve as a military airbase.

And this was the basic assumption that led to the development of Harrier Jump Jet

The advantages of using RATO not only included shortening the required runway lenght but also limit fuel consumption and prolong the range of the aircraft.

Using rocket engines had its downsides as well. First of all, the fuel is sensitive and requires special treatment. Second, the additional trained crew for rocket maintenance is needed.

JATO technology was broadly researched in the USA.

Bombers and other jets had big requirements towards the runways. Without long runways they were not able to operate. Nevertheless, use of RATO throughout the Cold War period was limited. Tactical danger of a nuclear strike has contributed to emergement of ZLL or ZLTO programme (Zero Lenght Launch / Zero Lenght Take-Off).

F-84 ZEL

Image Credit: airvectors.net

The system has been developed by the Martin company, which, in the early stage of the test programme has used disabled F-84 fighter jets. F-84 had a rocket engine installed in the back section of the fuselage and it was shot into the desert. Test programme was started on Dec. 15, 1953.

On Jan. 5, 1954 the first piloted launch took place. The worries (to be proven wrong later) considered the high G-loads the pilots were to face during the take-off procedure. 3.5Gs were recorded, not much more than G-load of an aircraft carrier catapult take-off.

F-84 was driven up to 175MPH – well above the stall speed. Nevertheless the programme was abandoned.

An interesting application of the JATO technology was the C-130 Hercules destined to the Credible Sport operation. The U.S. planned a hostage rescue mission in Iran in the 1980. The plan was corageous – it assumed C-130 landing and taking-off from a football stadium the hostages were held in proximity of.

The XFC-130H planes had been modified by installing rocket engines on the fuselage, not only to assist take-off but also to shorten the space required for landing. Additional modifications included arrestor hook so that big plane could land on an aircraft carrier.

Nevertheless, the problems which occured at programming the rocket sequence made the tacticians turn towards a different rescuing plan.

British Rolls-Royce started  its VTOL experiments from the early 50s.

The Flying Bedstead project used 2 engines – one for vertical flight and the second one for horizontal movement. The project is notable because of the first use of jet engines for providing the control in hover later applied in the lunar landing module. The platform was the springboard for what was to become a foundation for the best known VTOL jet in history.

Revolution came together with introduction of Rolls Royce Pegasus Engine and P.11.27 known today as Harrier.

It was developed in mid 1960s, as a first of the practical VTOL concepts. The thing that made the Harrier different from other designs at the time was its engine – the Pegasus. The concept surpassed the contemporary VTOL designs in a sense that they either took-off standing on their tail – that was far from being conveinient for the pilots – or needed several powerplants to achieve VTOL.

The designers had to overcome meny difficult problems in designs such as Convair Pogo or Lockheed Salmon and Rolls-Royce Flying Bedstead. And the British approached the issue from completly different angle,  succeding.

Harrier was designed by Hawker Company in 1957 in a form of P.11.27 Kestrel prototype in cooperation with other NATO countries.

The Pegasus Engine was the strong point of the new aircraft since it simplified what other designs (e.g. French Balzac) complicated. The concept works as a basic thrust-vectoring – nothing unusual now, in 2013, but quite extraordinary in the ’60s.

Nevertheless the concept was not really trusted, and it took almost 20 years for it to prove it was useful.

In the mid ’60s the Harrier was the only VTOL aircraft in the market. But its performance in comparison with the conventional designs of that period was not really satisfying. It was subsonic and it could not carry much of armament. Still the U.S. Marines considered it was extremely useful as it did not need runways. In the context of nuclear danger, that feature was a clear advantage.

U.S. Marines bought the Harrier in 1968, and in the following year so did RAF.

In the RAF, Harrier did not play a role of a frontline fighter, it was rather a CAS aircraft which did not need runways to operate. However, changes were to come, as the Royal Navy did not have big carriers at the time.

Being faster than a helicopter, Harrier would be a perfect means for providing cover to the Royal Navy. This is when Sea Harrier was created. It was basically a Harrier fitted with a radar what would make it less of a CAS aircraft and more of a fighter.

It is hard to describe the Harrier history without mentioning the Falklands intervention. The concept was still regarded as not very useful until 1982, when the Falklands intervention was conducted.

The engineers were saying that they need a small local war to let the Harrier prove its capabilities, and they had it. If it was not for the 20 Harriers that initially took part in the campaign, Margaret Thatcher would have probably lost the war.

Nevertheless, the inequality in air-power was signifcant, as at the beginning of the conflict it was 20 Harriers vs. 200 airplanes of the Argentinian Air Force.

Additional details on the Falklands intervention can be found in this article by Richard Clements published on The Aviationist for the 30th anniversary of the war.

Harrier Falklands

Image credit: Fleet Air Arm Museum Facebook page

The war started on May 1, 1982 with the attack on Port Stanley. The enemy for the Harrier – Mirage airplanes – had twice the speed and performance of the Jump Jet. Nevertheless, unique thrust vectoring feature and the hook maneuver let the British pilots achieve the first 2 kills during the war.

However, on May 6, 1982, two Harriers were lost due to the terrible weather conditions and fog: they collided mid-air. There were only 18 aircraft left protecting the Royal Navy. Until May 21, Sea Harriers achieved 9 kills, and RAF GR.3 Harriers were on their way on a container ship – Atlantic Conveyor. When they arrived they overtook the air-to-ground tasks, leaving the air-to-air sorties to the Sea Harrier.

The Argentinian pilots were undertrained. The objectives given to them during the briefings were to avoid the RAF and Royal Navy’s fighters and to bomb the ships at all costs.

On June 6, the Argentinian Skyhawks were attacking the British Fleet, when Harriers intercepted them only one of the four taking part in the attack escaped.

However, it was not easy for the British pilots either. The weather conditions were terrible, with the fog and 50 feet waves on the Atlantic. The Argentinian planes also suffered from what the sea l0oked like, because after Port Stanley was overtaken they had to fly from the mainland, continental part of the country.

The combat was not easy. Eight planes at a time were stationed on board tha aircraft carrier and one pilot spent the entire night on alert in the Harrier cockpit. That was really excruciating for the crews.

The war ended on June 14 when Harrier jets flew their last sortie disabling the Port Stanley. Without them, winning that war so far away from the UK would be practically impossible.

And Margaret Thatcher would not be probably that well known.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist.com


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Video: Argentine Air Force Mirage 5 insane low level flyby

Argentinean pilots have a good tradition of low level flying.

Along with images of ultra low altitude attacks on British warships during the Falklands War (Malvinas), we’ve already seen and commented a more recent daredevil flyby of an Argentine Air Force IA-63 Pampa.

The last of a series of almost insane stunts depicts a Mirage 5P flying between the shelters of an unknown airbase in Argentina.

Although combat planes can quietly operate at medium or high altitude with stand off weapons, in the majority of most recent scenarios pilots still train low-level high speed flying to face enemy threats they could face during attack, special operations, reconnaissance, Search And Rescue, troops or humanitarian airdrop missions in troubled spots around the world.