Snapshot File - Flying in the Vulcan
Flying as a rear crew member in a Vulcan was both frightening and uncomfortable. The discomfort started when you got dressed. There were several options as to what to wear, depending on the time of year and the task you were undertaking. For flying in the airfield circuit you might get away with wearing your underpants, a green tee shirt (everything was green), aircrew socks, boots and a flying suit. The flying suit was light and comfortable and composed mainly of pockets and zips. If you were, for instance, flying low level over the United States, then you would wear over your tee shirt and under your flying suit, a white cotton air ventilated suit. This was a mass of little tubes and was connected to the aircraft cooling system. The most uncomfortable option was also the most common. If it was winter or if you were flying over the sea, you wore an immersion suit. Under the immersion suit you wore a green (of course) bunny suit. This was a one piece suit with a nice warm fluffy inside. The immersion suit was of rubber and covered you from neck to toe and out to your wrists. At the neck and wrists were thin tubes of rubber that the Flying Clothing people cut the fit very tightly to stop the water getting in. It also made it hard to breathe and to get blood through to your hands!
Next came the external gear. First was your Mae West, or inflatable jacket. Your parachute harness came next, and had to fit tightly, especially through your crutch. Failure to get this right meant finding your balls behind your ears if you had to bail out. On your back was your parachute, and hanging down behind your bum was a dinghy. When you sat in your bare metal seat, these two items formed bone hard padding to lean back on and to sit on. Then came your seat harness and you plugged yourself into the intercomm, oxygen and air conditioning. And finally finally, there was line that armed your parachute as you left the aircraft. The overall affect of this was that not only were you trussed like a chicken, but you had a curved spine. After six years of flying in the Vulcan I had more or less permanent backache. It took six months of not flying in the Vulcan for the backache to depart!
The Vulcan cabin was pressurised to 10,000 feet. You can live at this altitude without an oxygen supply, there is enough in the atmosphere. For safety reasons, one pilot and one rear crew member were always on oxygen, which meant wearing a mask. Down the back we were supposed to take turns, but I always volunteered to have mine on. This was because the microphone was in the mask and the AEO had a lot of talking to do. In addition, for my first three years the Nav Plotter, sitting next to me, was a guy with a stomach defect, which meant he was always airsick at low level. Not many people know that air sickness is catching.
The rear crew sat down the back, in the dark, facing aft. The pilots were several feet higher and in daylight. They also had ejector seats. For reasons of aircraft design and money, the rear crew didn’t have ejector seats. Our seats did swivel though, to give us a slight chance of making the exit which was set into the floor just forward of our seats.
In the event of having to bail out, the Nav Radar would open the door in the floor and would be first out, followed by the Nav Plotter. Last of all would be the AEO - me. There wouldn’t be time to disconnect the various tubes and cables you were hooked up to, so they were designed with “break” points. The parachute line would arm the chute, stopping it opening till you were below 10,000 feet. So, if you bailed out at 30,000 feet, you were supposed to free fall till 10,000, when your chute would open. A possible problem was if the undercarriage was down (hydraulic failure?). The nose wheel was aft of the hatch, so as you slid down the hatch with all your connections safely disconnecting, the first thing you saw was the nosewheel. You leapt aft, grabbed the nose wheel strut and swung round it. Likely story! A final point about the “break” points. I was taking a Canadian air force major through the various safety drills once. He slid down the door and the breaks didn’t break. He hung upside down and then the leg of his nice Canadian flying suit tore off. Luckily there was only about 4 feet to the ground. He wasn’t very happy though. I really must remember not to fall over when I am laughing.