Avro Vulcan (Crew Positions)

The Avro Vulcan was typically crewed by a Pilot, a Co-Pilot, a Navigator (Plotter), a Navigator (Radar) and an Air Electronics Officer (AEO)

The Captain and Co-Pilot were on the flight deck, with the Navigator (Radar), Navigator (Plotter), and Air Electronics Officer (AEO) on the lower deck (from left to right, facing rearwards).

Captain and Co-Pilot Seats

Nav (Radar), Nav (Plotter) and (AEO) Seats

Makeshift 6th and 7th seats were also available for use by personnel such as a Crew Chief who flew with the crew on exercises such as Rangers.

Sixth Seat

[Photographs courtesy of Stephanie A. Lawton (Solway Aviation Museum)]

Crew Positions in the Vulcan [Courtesy of Ron Powell]

“The following is an extract from the book “Shropshire Blue” by Ron Powell

“To enter a Vulcan, the crew climbed up a ladder and through a rectangular hatch beneath the fuselage, just in front of the nosewheel. Once inside, the two pilots carried on up another narrow ladder to sit side by side on their ejection seats beneath the domed cockpit. One of the three rear crew – two navigators and an air electronics operator – having telescoped and stowed the entrance ladder to one side, closed the hatch. These three then turned their backs on the pilots and, just behind the hatch, stepped onto a small platform, on which they sat side by side at a desk, facing backwards at a wall of instruments and radar scopes.

Some way behind this wall was the bomb bay – inaccessible to the crew, unlike in the James Bond film, Thunderball, where there was a door between the crew compartment and the nuclear weapons in the bomb bay!

Close to the hatch, was a sixth seat, which could be occupied by a passenger or an NCO called a Crew Chief, an engineer who flew with the aircraft when it was due to land anywhere other than its home base.

Only the pilots sat on ejection seats. To get out in an emergency, they had the option of pulling a yellow and black handle on the seat between their legs, or a similar one above their heads. Pulling either would blast the heavy canopy away, then fire them and their seat into the airflow. Separation from the seats was automatic, after which they could float down on their parachutes.

The rest of the crew had no such luxury.

To save costs during the development of the Vulcan, it had been decided not to provide the rear crew with an automatic means of escape, even though it was technically feasible. Instead, the rear crew were provided with assister cushions which inflated to help lift them out of their seats against the g forces likely to be experienced in a stricken aircraft. The Crew Chief or passenger lacked even this minimal level of support.

Once out of their seats, the rear crew had to step down to the hatch and pull a handle to blow it open against the pressure of the airflow. Then, one by one, they had to slide down the hatch and clear of the aircraft – avoiding bashing into the nosewheel if the undercarriage was down. Once clear, their parachutes were operated automatically by a static line attached to the aircraft. If this failed, they could pull the ripcord themselves like a conventional parachutist.

As you can imagine, in an emergency, with the aircraft doing heaven knows what, none of this was likely to be straightforward.

The nightmare scenarios were emergencies where there was insufficient time for the rear crew to get out before the aircraft broke up or hit the ground, or where, even if they managed to get out, the aircraft was too low for their parachutes to open.

The history of the Vulcan was peppered with accidents where the front crew ejected and survived, and the rear crew died in the ensuing crash. But there were also instances where the front crew seem to have stayed in the cockpit to die, rather than eject and leave their comrades to face death alone”

6th and 7th seat (Crew Chief) [Courtesy of Richard Pidduck] 

When flying on a “Ranger” to an away base where the aircraft would carry out flying operations or occasionally take part in Airshows, it was normal for the Crew Chief, a non-commissioned airman in the rank of Chief Technician to fly with the aircraft as No 6. Crew Chiefs were selected from the main aircraft engineering ground trades and given additional training across a spectrum of trades to enable them to make all the common basic repairs. They were also issued with flying clothing and usually allocated to a particular aircraft.

Although there were only seats for 5 crew members, No 6 would perch on a shelf to one side of the front entrance door, using his parachute as a seat, or back rest.

It was common practice also for a 7th crew member to be selected to go on overseas flights as a special perk, or thank you for good services to the squadron. As the squadron engineering clerk, i had managed to achieve enough smarty points during my 3 years with 35 Squadron to be in the running for such a reward.

Before any flight in the Vulcan, the “fortunate” one had to undergo emergency evacuation training in the special facility available. This was basically a Vulcan crew compartment suspended at an appropriate height in a building. Two methods of escape were practiced along with the whole crew. This meant escaping through the doorway, and escaping through the ejected roof space. The whole crew had to escape within a defined period to pass the test. It was also necessary to be “hung” to ensure that the parachute harness would not have harmful side effects if used.