Vulcan XJ823 – Falklands conflict veteran in Cumbria ?

During 1982 a small collection of islands, thousands of miles from the UK, were catapulted into the headlines.

The Falkland Islands, a disputed bit of territory northeast of the southern tip of South America, was thrust into the spotlight when thousands of Argentine soldiers arrived on April 2.

They quickly overwhelmed the small number of Royal Marines stationed in the area and claimed sovereignty.

Avro Vulcan XJ823 was a reserve plane during the Falklands conflict

Avro Vulcan XJ823 may have been a reserve plane during the Falklands conflict

Diplomatic and political negotiations quickly got into gear and behind the scenes a military response was prepared.

It soon became clear that, due to the remote location and distance from the UK,  any plans would require the movement of vast quantities of men, materials and equipment.

Although many of the plans still remain top secret, and are not due for publication for many decades, it is thought that an Avro Vulcan bomber on display in Carlisle played some part in the proceedings.

Avro Vulcan XJ823

With a wingspan of 111ft and weighing around 200,000 lb the Avro Vulcan bomber was built at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s.

Vulcan bomber number XJ823 is currently an attraction at the Solway Aviation Museum in Carlisle, Cumbria.

Historians based at the museum think that this aircraft was based on Ascension Island during the height of hostilities in April and May 1982.  However, evidence that it actually took part in any sorties over the Falklands are inconclusive.

Ascension Island, a British Overseas Territory in the south Atlantic, was, and still is, a key staging post between the UK and the Falkland Islands.

Operation Black Buck

Officially five Vulcan bombers were chosen to take part in operations to disrupt the capabilities of the Argentine  air force.

Due to retire from service in June 1982 the chosen Vulcan aircraft were quickly serviced, fitted with refurbished  equipment for mid-air refueling and sent to Ascension Island.

Vulcans, XM607 & XM598, left for the Wideawake airfield in the south Atlantic, on the 29th of April.

This journey of more than 4,000 miles took nine hours to complete.

The seven planned missions between Ascension Island and the Falklands were called Operation Black Buck. These took place between 1 May and 12 June 1982.

Avro Vulcan XJ823 at Carlisle Airport

Avro Vulcan XJ823 at Carlisle Airport

Why XJ823 was based at Ascension Island during the conflict and not officially publicly used in operations is unclear.

Some commentators suggest that it was probably chosen to be in the area because it was the ‘on paper’ the ‘newest’ most reliable Vulcan in service.

Possibly it was used in covert operations, still subject to security concerns, or maybe XJ823 remained on the airstrip for strategic flexibility and was never deployed.

Britain formally declared an end to hostilities on 20 June 1982.

XJ823 history

The history of XJ823  starts in 1961 when it was delivered to No 27 Squadron at Scampton on 20 April.  It was then transferred to No 35 Squadron at RAF Coningsby.

Long-resident on the Akrotiri Wing, 823 returned to the UK at Waddington with IX Sqn in 1975.

From April 1977, after receiving Maritime Radar Reconnaissance modifications (MRR), which gave it a gloss paint finish,  823 served with No 27 Squadron at Scampton.

823 was refitted and transferred to 35 Squadron at Scampton in April 1981 and subsequently went to Waddington in 1982.

Arrival in Cumbria

Vulcan XJ823 was flown into Carlisle on 24th Jan 1983, seven months after the official end of Falkland Island hostilities.

It had been bought from the Royal Air Force by two volunteers for £2,000 with around 5,953.30 hours on the airframe.

The tail now carries 35Sqn insignia on the starboard side and 27Sqn (Dumbo) on port.

Unanswered questions about 823

As you would expect from almost any piece of military hardware, many questions remain unanswered.

Historians are curious as to why 823 was so close to the Falklands during the conflict but appears not to have taken part.

They are also wanting an answer to the significance of four very faded stars on the entrance to the crew hatch.

Can you answer some of the questions about XJ823?

Let us know via the comments area below or via the contact us form.

Update 1 June 2019

We have been informed by Stephanie Lawton, a volunteer Exhibition Officer at the Solway Aviation Museum, Carlisle, Cumbria and part owner of Vulcan XJ823 that the aircraft at Carlisle took no part in the Falklands War, or went to Ascension Island.

Stephanie goes on to say: ” The aircraft was undergoing a major service at Scampton, and had her fuel probe taken off, during the conflict. She then wouldn’t have been able to be refuelled in flight, to get to Ascension island.

The fuel on board would have only been enough for an eight hour flight”.

This new information now contradicts the widely held and published story from 2012 that Vulcan XJ823 played a part in the Falklands Conflict upon which this article was based.

Can you add more to the history of this aircraft, let us know via the comments or get in touch via email ?

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