As the world watched Britain launched audacious strike attacks or ‘Black Buck’ raids against occupying Argentine forces in the Falkland Islands. On the night of 30th April/1st May, ‘Operation Black Buck 1’ saw Vulcan XM607 bomb the runway at Port Stanley, which was at that time, the longest range bombing mission ever attempted. ‘Black Buck 6’ was mounted in an attempt to take out Argentinean anti-aircraft radar installations on the Falkland Islands and would see Avro Vulcan B.2 XM597 equipped with four AGM-45 ‘Shrike’ missiles for the task.
With the ‘Black Buck 1’ bombing raid against Port Stanley Airport on the night of 30th April/1st May 1982 showing a watching world that Britain had both the capability and the resolve to mount such an audacious strike attack, Argentine forces occupying the Falkland Islands knew they about to face a committed enemy and could come under attack at any moment. The ‘Black Buck’ raids required the use of a complex airborne refuelling plan, involving as many as eleven Victor tankers to get a single Vulcan over its intended target and seven such operations would ultimately be planned. ‘Black Buck 6’ was mounted in an attempt to take out Argentinean anti-aircraft radar installations on the Falkland Islands and would see Avro Vulcan B.2 XM597 equipped with four AGM-45 ‘Shrike’ missiles for the task. Loitering over Stanley Airfield for 40 minutes in an attempt to try and get radar operators to turn on their equipment, two missiles were eventually fired and a Skyguard fire control radar unit destroyed, but with lack of fuel now a major concern, the Vulcan headed back to rendezvous with a waiting Victor tanker over the ocean.
Unfortunately, the Vulcan’s refuelling probe broke during the transfer procedure and the aircraft’s Captain was left with just two options - ditch his aircraft in the ocean, or attempt a divert to land at Rio de Janeiro Airport. Heading for Brazil, the aircraft put out a mayday call and requested an immediate fuel critical landing at the nearest airport. At the same time, crew members threw sensitive documents into the ocean and attempted to ditch the two remaining Shrike missiles prior to landing, but despite their best efforts, one simply refused to release. Controllers in Brazil were becoming increasingly irate and would not grant authority until the aircraft identified itself and its airport of departure, also scrambling a pair of fighter jets to intercept the approaching aircraft. After several minutes of increasingly heated conversation, the Vulcan Captain informed the controller, ‘We are a British aircraft low on fuel, with a loss of cabin pressure and we are from Huddersfield!’ Finally cleared to land, the Vulcan touched down with so little fuel remaining that it would not have had enough to make a circuit of the airfield, but significantly with a single Shrike missile still attached to its pylon. With the aircraft now impounded, the crew would have some difficult questions to answer over the next few days.
Eventually, a high-level diplomatic deal was struck to release the Vulcan and its crew, with a fully fuelled up aircraft allowed to head back to Ascension Island on 10th June 1982, in return for spare parts for Brazilian military Lynx helicopters. The covertly supplied Shrike missile remained in Brazil. Avro Vulcan B.2 XM597 had a new refuelling probe fitted at Wideawake Airfield and flew back to RAF Waddington on 13th June. The aircraft is now preserved at Scotland’s National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, East Lothian.
The amphibious invasion and occupation of the Falkland Islands by Argentinean forces on 2nd April 1982 resulted in military planning which had already been taking place in Britain increasing in pace dramatically. In addition to assembling a powerful naval Task Force, planners were also exploring ways in which they could prevent the main airport at Port Stanley from being used as a base from where Argentinean strike jets could operate from, with their fleet of ageing Avro Vulcan B.2 bombers seen as being the only option for such a mission. As the Vulcan was scheduled for service withdrawal later that same year, the use of these Cold War sentinels for this huge undertaking would not be without its challenges and was underlined by the fact that the aircraft didn’t even have all the bomb rack components they were going to need for the task - these had to be bought back from the scrap metal dealer they had previously been sold to. The aircraft would also have to be given an in-flight refuelling capability if this plan was to be a viable one, so this was a time of feverish activity at Vulcan stations. On 29th April, just two weeks after training had begun, the first two Avro Vulcan bombers left RAF Waddington and set out for Ascension Island, arriving nine hours later having flown non-stop to Wideawake Airfield, refuelling from supporting Victor tankers twice each during the flight. On the night of 30th April/1st May, ‘Operation Black Buck 1’ saw Vulcan XM607 bomb the runway at Port Stanley, which was at that time, the longest-range bombing mission ever attempted.
In an attempt to neutralise Argentinean anti-aircraft radar installations operating at Port Stanley Airport during the Falklands War, the RAF mounted the sixth of their long-range ‘Black Buck’ missions, sending Avro Vulcan B.2 XM597 carrying four AGM-45 ‘Shrike’ anti-radiation missiles to undertake this specialised task. Loitering over Stanley Airfield for 40 minutes as they tempted radar operators to turn on their equipment so they could be targeted, two missiles were eventually fired and a Skyguard fire control radar unit destroyed, but with lack of fuel now a major concern, the Vulcan headed out to sea and a rendezvous with a waiting Victor tanker.
The refuelling procedure did not go to plan and a broken probe left the pilot with just two options - either ditch the aircraft in the ocean or attempt an unauthorised divert to Brazil. Heading for Rio de Janeiro airport, the Vulcan broadcast a mayday call requesting an immediate fuel critical landing, whilst at the same time attempting to jettison the two unused Shrike missiles, along with the many sensitive documents they had on board. Safely landing, but with so little fuel left they could not have stayed in the air for a minute longer, the Vulcan touched down with one of the Shrike missiles still attached to its pylon, creating an embarrassing international incident as the Falklands War raged on.