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40 YEARS AGO TODAY - BLACK BUCK SEAD

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40 YEARS AGO TODAY - BLACK BUCK SEAD

Old 28th May 2022, 11:01
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40 YEARS AGO TODAY - BLACK BUCK SEAD

Some of our members may be aware of the following 3 stories, particularly if they have read Tony Blackman’s book, Vulcan Boys. However, many will be unaware, even after 40 years have elapsed, that there were an equal number of SEAD/DEAD missions planned for Black Buck as there were bombing missions. Arguably, these Black Buck missions, employing the Shrike AGM-45 missile, were more successful than the 3 bombing missions, despite little publicity and shared knowledge over the intervening 40 years. I will very briefly tell the story of each of these missions over the next few days or so for those who may be interested in the highlights of each historic mission. I think they need telling after all these years of deliberate ignorance and a multitude of un-truths, not to mention the little interest shown by the RAF’s own Air Historical Branch. I believe that these short stories warrant their own thread rather than including them with the 40th Anniversary thread that recalls in excellent detail the successes of our Sea Harriers and GR3s during the conflict.

Forty years ago this evening, Vulcan XM 598 launched at midnight from Ascension Island with a formation of 12 Victor tankers, in total radio silence, to attempt a round trip of some 7600 nm, including a planned 45 min loiter overhead Port Stanley. The aim of Black Buck 4 was to attack a radar site that the Task Force commander had deemed to be a serious threat to the ships in his task force. The intent was to coordinate the attack with an airfield attack on Port Stanley by GR3s. A Westinghouse TPS-43 was being utilised to provide tactical direction to Argentinian Super Etendard and A-4 Sky Hawks for attacks on RN surface ships. At very short notice, the crew of XM 598 developed an impromptu and totally unrehearsed tactic that would employ the Shrike AGM-45 anti-radar missile in an attempt to suppress or destroy this worrisome Argentinian search radar.

During the long transit south the radar markers failed on 598’s H2S radar, which were required to provide a 6.9 nm firing range for the launch of the Shrike missile. Two missiles would have to be launched in a 20-degree dive to stand any chance of hitting and suppressing the intended target. A range greater than 6.9 nm would result in a far lower pK, and a firing range of less than 6.9 nm saw the pK rapidly reduce to zero. It also required the radar to be active and emit energy for the missiles to home in on, energy that would hopefully be detected by the RWR directly in front of the AEO’s position. The navigator (radar) spent the best part of an hour using some O level trigonometry to calculate the offsets to generate range markers by an alternative means (ex-Vulcan Nav Radars would understand this bit) for the 3 possible target locations provided to the crew by HUMINT. After an hour or so, and with the nav plotter double checking the calculations, the rear crew finally declared to the captain, Neil McDougall, that they had a reversionary solution for the attack and therefore they need not abort the mission.

However, after almost 5 hours and having already refuelled 3 times on the transit south, on the planned fourth coupling with the final tanker the Victor’s Hose Drum Unit failed to deploy its drogue meaning XM 598 would be unable to receive a final fuel transfer to complete the sortie. As a result, the crew were forced to abandon the mission and return to Ascension Island feeling utterly dejected and disappointed.

Later I will post the story how, following a re-launch of the mission, now named Black Buck 5 (this time in XM 597), the crew succeeded in striking and damaging a TPS-43 search radar on the edge of Port Stanley thereby limiting its level of performance for the remainder of the conflict, despite vital spares being flown in the following day.

2 Shrikes were carried on BB4 and 5, with homing heads optimised against the TPS-43

The crew of BB4

The TPS-43 radar on the southern edge of Port Stanley town
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Old 28th May 2022, 13:17
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Black Buck 5

Following the bitter disappointment with having to abort their first mission on Black Buck 4, Neil McDougal’s crew re-launched in a similar fashion as Black Buck 5 with a dozen Victor tankers at midnight on 30 May. This time a Russian AGI (Intelligence gathering) ship had been sighted 40 nm south of Ascension Island. It later transpired, following information provided by Argentine officers long after the conflict, that the AGI had forwarded information of the take-off time and formation size to Argentinian air defence forces on the Falklands. So there would be little or no chance of a surprise attack this time. No doubt the TPS-43 would be on maximum alert in 8 hours’ time.

XM 597 arrived at its descent point some 250 nm from the Falklands having refuelled 4 times, it descended to low level for its ingress and then commenced a climb to a sanctuary height of 16 000 ft over East Falkland with around 40 nm to run to the airfield. There then ensued a game of cat and mouse between the crew and the TPS-43 search radar, which the rear crew eventually located on the southern edge of Port Stanley. After 30 mins triangulating the radar emissions 597 eventually manoeuvred into a firing position as the TPS-43 continued to track it intermittently, and successfully launched 2 Shrikes from a 20 degree dive. The first missile impacted 6 metres from the target radar with the warhead slicing through the radar’s waveguide assembly. The second missile impacted around the same distance from the operators’ cabin blasting its door off and badly shaking the operators but (we can say fortunately now) no casualties were incurred.

XM 597 returned to Ascension after spending a total of 45 mins in the overhead of East Stanley and landed back after a total airborne time of precisely 16 hours, 5 mins longer than the bombing sortie of Black Buck 1. XM 597 and its crew slid into the record book having completed what was, up to then, the longest air-to-ground combat mission in the history of air warfare.

In 2 days, I will post here the story, very briefly, of Black Buck 6 describing how and why the crew ended up at 43,000 ft with the escape hatch open and no fuel reserves, with the Brazilian Air Force QRA scrambled to intercept it, and the intervention of Pope John Paul II and the CIA that helped secure the eventual release of the crew.

The primary crew and reserve crew for BB5

2 Shrikes with radar heads optimised against a TPS-43 radar

The Shrike AGM-45 mounted on a make-shift pylon where a Skybolt missile would have been mounted in the past

The crew chilling on their return to Ascension Island after a 16 hour mission
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Old 28th May 2022, 13:57
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And to think Argentina was interested in acquiring Vulcans when their retirement was announced.
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Old 28th May 2022, 14:00
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Darvan
Can you explain to this ex-nav radar how offsets generate range markers? Mind you it has been a long while.
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Old 28th May 2022, 14:32
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It has been a long time since I had to do this but I remember that you could generate a fixed range marker by winding on a calculated distance in yards (N/S and E/W) onto the internal offset potentiometers of the CU 585. I think you could do the same with the external offsets also. You had to have the Shift selected off as you could not drive the usual markers out ahead of the aircraft (as they had failed). Photo of CU 585 attached.
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Old 28th May 2022, 14:32
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After 10 minutes in bed it came back to me: STAB and PC! But if he'd lost his markers already ...
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Old 28th May 2022, 15:29
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I think I’ll phone a friend!

YS
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Old 28th May 2022, 15:45
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Nice to see the marked up Vol 10 wiring diagram next to the set up - and when you tell the kids today...
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Old 28th May 2022, 18:29
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Originally Posted by Yellow Sun
I think I’ll phone a friend!

YS
My friend returned my call:

We used to generate a variable ranger marker on an internal aids approach to tell the pilot the range to touch down. The CU585 on right of screen has emergency height function sx. Switch it to emergency. Select any height and then wind down at intervals and the height you select generates a range marker that you already know equates to distance from touch down. You also actually have a heading marker now as well (not the usual bearing marker now on the 1/4 mill scale) plus now a range marker defining different distances that you have selected as height on the sx but not used as height! If that all makes sense to you.
YS
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Old 28th May 2022, 19:39
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Why did they camo the missiles?
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Old 28th May 2022, 20:01
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That’s a good question and I don’t really know. Perhaps the groundcrew tried to tone down its distinctive shape on the pylon to confuse any local HUMINT photographer on ASI.
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Old 28th May 2022, 20:31
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I remember an airline colleague Wilf who had been on Vulcans tell me about the aircraft that diverted to Brazil. He said that once they landed the Nav tried to burn the charts but due to the plastic coating they would not burn. He also said that when the crew had been released the crew wondered where the Shrike had gone and they found that the Brazilians had boxed it up for them . It all could be bar room chatter but it had a hint of reality at the time.
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Old 28th May 2022, 20:44
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Extraordinary how stories are invented. How the crew disposed of all its secret documents, maps, film, crypto and code words will be revealed in my next instalment in a few days to coincide with the anniversary of Black Buck 6.
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Old 28th May 2022, 22:27
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Darvan,
Fascinating debrief, which will keep us glued to the scope.
Wow, those Shrikes look so small on the huge Vulcan, they could be misidentified as Sidewinders !!
But maybe in the next instalment...
cheers
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Old 28th May 2022, 23:06
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Originally Posted by Yellow Sun
My friend returned my call:



YS
YS
The quote from your friend rings true, but, as I said, it's been a long time!
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Old 30th May 2022, 13:05
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Black Buck 6 - Part 1

Black Buck 6 followed an almost identical profile to that of Black Buck 5. This time the crew doubled their load of Shrikes to four: two optimised against the TPS-43 and two optimised against the Skyguard radar that they had detected in the vicinity of Port Stanley on their previous mission. There was only one way to ingress Port Stanley; the aircraft had insufficient fuel to push further south and approach from a different cardinal point. At fifty miles XM 597 pulled up from its run-in height of 200ft above mean sea level and initiated a climb to 16,000ft where it settled down into another racetrack pattern to try and entice the TPS-43 into action. Again nothing! Not a single bleep or single burp on the RWR. As predicted, the radar crew had suspected Black Buck 6’s motives and their radar stayed stubbornly silent. They had learnt a valuable lesson from our previous encounter and were, sensibly, leaving their radar in standby mode. Had that Soviet trawler tipped them off again?

The crew of 597 continued with a game of ‘cat and mouse’ for almost another twenty minutes attempting to triangulate the position of the TPS-43 but the Argentinians were playing hard to get. The co-pilot then announced that they had enough fuel for one more pattern before they needed to bug out. They were becoming increasingly frustrated but then remembered what the resident Boscombe Down SME told them. They had been advised that, as a last resort, if the radar did not emit, they could always launch the missile ballistically in a dive but the chances of scoring a hit would be extremely slim. Again, that assumed they knew the precise location of the mobile radar beforehand.

As a final resort the crew considered launching two Shrikes ballistically. Just as 597 manoeuvred into a firing position, the AEO picked up a short burst of Skyguard energy. XM 597 pointed at the emitter and Neil McDougal bunted 597 into a steep dive from 15 nautical miles to the northeast of the airfield. At precisely 6.9 nm, the AEO pushed the fire button on the Nav Rad’s call and made the switch selection for the second Shrike. The second missile juddered loose and filled the cockpit with the enticing smell of cordite again. The Nav Rad pulled his head out of the radar screen and glanced across at the radio altimeter that now showed 5000 ft and 597 still hadn’t fully recovered from the dive! An ops diary kept by the Argentinian radar crew reported the aircraft being as low as 1000 m. The RWR had now lit up like a Christmas tree. All hell had broken loose over the airfield and 597 bottomed out at three thousand feet amidst a salvo of triple A from the Super Oerlikon guns. The sky pulsed with shards of light in the clouds all around as Neil applied full power and recovered 597 to its sanctuary height of sixteen thousand feet.

A few years ago, Grupo de Artilleria Antiaerea 601 revealed to the crew that the TPS-43 had been damaged on Black Buck 5, and that a Skyguard radar had been completely destroyed with the loss of four operators and a fifth injured on Black Buck 6. They had been fortunate on Black Buck 6. The Skyguard radar had 597 locked up and was about to open fire when it was hit by 2 Shrikes. The GA 601 ops diary for that day had revealed that the crew of XM 597 had got lucky by firing the first shot, by only a matter of seconds though. XM 597 and its crew departed the Falklands for Ascension Island without really appreciating the level of success they had achieved. However, it seemed more than a coincidence that the radar ceased emitting after 30 secs, which was the calculated time of flight of a Shrike fired from around 7 miles.

XM 597 rendezvoused with a Victor tanker east of the coastline of Brazil. However, on Neil’s sixth attempt to prod the basket the probe penetrated the basket, damaging its spokes and sending splinters of aluminium down the engine intakes, damaging the inlet guide vanes of numbers 2 and 3 engines, and leaving the tip of the probe embedded in the basket! Without an uplift of fuel there was no way they would make Ascension Island. Their rendezvous with the tanker had been further East than planned so that the Brazilian coast was almost 800 miles away and they only had sufficient fuel for about an hour and a half’s endurance or 700 miles range. Their brief from the ops team back on Ascension was that if such an event occurred, they should abandon the aircraft and take to their dinghies.

Unknown to the crew at this juncture XM 597 had also developed a fuel leak from the galley between the wing tanks and bomb bay tank. Every attempt by the co-pilot to re-balance the fuel tanks with the cross-feed cock resulted in 597 losing more fuel from a fractured fuel pipe. This was just not their day. There was no safe jettison capability for the 2 remaining Shrikes and so the crew would need to live fire the missiles off the rails. Unfortunately, there was a fishing fleet 40 nm ahead, so 597 had to turn further south by 60 degrees and live fire the 2 missiles away, one of which hung up.

There was also the matter of disposing of all their planning material, charts, maps, H2S R88 radar film, crypto and code-words. If they did make Brazil, there was a potential intelligence windfall for their authorities. There was only one way of disposing all the sensitive and classified material and that was by opening the escape hatch and throwing the lot out of the door. So the crew elected to depressurise the aircraft cabin and open the escape hatch in flight – at 43 000ft. Now, to the best of my knowledge I don’t think this had ever been tried in a Vulcan before at 43 000ft. Perhaps it had been attempted at a much lower altitude but the situation would then have most likely required the rear crew to abandon aircraft due to some life threatening emergency such as an engine or airframe fire.

Check in again tomorrow to hear how the crew handled the in-flight emergency and landed at Rio International Airport with only 1500 lbs of fuel remaining, and how the intervention of Pope John Paul II and the CIA secured their release after being placed under arrest for 7 days.



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Old 30th May 2022, 16:53
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We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us.


This gentleman, who was actually a-bed in a Bruggen AMQ, is in absolute awe of these threads. The words are riveting, and the photos remind us of the humanity at each end of the missiles' trajectory. Thank you.
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Old 31st May 2022, 14:04
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Originally Posted by uxb99
Why did they camo the missiles?
Yes that is quite the custom camo job on the missile. The missile designers would likely cringe if they saw their masterpiece attacked with a can of rustoleum rattle can paint!

Minor question about that tow bar on the Vulcan, can you still open/use the crew entrance hatch with it attached?

Looking forward to the next instalment,
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Old 31st May 2022, 14:07
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BLACK BUCK 6 PART 2

The story of Black Buck 6 continues....


The GADA 601 Skyguard Fire Control Radar

An English translation of an entry into the GADA 601 Ops diary

Headlines in the Brazilian Press (made to give the impression that the Vulcan had been intercepted)

Remains of a Shrike missile from Black Buck 6

The rear crew had loaded all their classified planning material, photographic film and crypto into the aircrew ration box and added an undercarriage lock for extra weight. The spare pilot (whose role was to assist with the AAR) and the Nav Rad then edged the ration box closer to the ‘six by three foot’ escape hatch and pushed it onto the lip of the door as they stared out into the South Atlantic abyss. One extra shove and the ration box slid down the door and disappeared out of sight. The manual operating handle had now travelled into the locked-open detent position and would need to be un-locked manually. Two of the rear crew therefore straddled over the open hatch and, using an aircrew knife, were able to prise the handle out of the locked position.

All the while the AEO had been pushing out a Mayday call on the HF distress frequency asking for permission to land at a suitable airfield in Brazil. They had been pressure breathing for a full thirty minutes, which made both internal and external communications nigh on impossible. The Brazilian authorities demanded to know their origin and destination before agreeing to cooperate with the crew and so the Nav Rad’s suggestion of “tell them we’re from Huddersfield” in a Donald Duck accent whilst pressure breathing gave them that little extra time to concentrate and communicate with each other on intercom and to handle the in-flight emergency (I could just imagine the controller searching through his publications looking for a place called Huddersfield). With the escape hatch now closed and locked they were able to repressurise 597 and return to some level of normality.

An immediate tot up of the fuel tank contents revealed they had clawed back an extra five or ten minutes duration or about forty to eighty miles of range. It looked as though the cruise climb to 43,000ft had helped but then the drag from the open hatch wouldn’t have assisted much. Now, unbeknown to the crew until well after they had landed, the Brazilian air defence commander had scrambled two Northrop F-5s to intercept 597. They never did learn what their intention was or what action they would have taken had they found them. Fortunately, the duty fighter controller vectored the pair to the wrong location and so the nearest they got to 597 was when it was short finals to land. To catch it up they had to turnabout and accelerate to Mach one plus, which resulted in one F-5 delivering a supersonic boom over Copacabana beach and the bay of Rio.

Fortunately, the visibility was superb that day and there was no cloud cover whatsoever. Provided the fuel held out 597 should be able to spiral down almost in the overhead with the throttles at idle. It still did not have authority to land but the crew was going in anyway. They were talking to a controller and they were squawking emergency on the IFF. XM 597 now had a radar service. The controller could provide safe separation and de-confliction for civil airliners in their vicinity. XM 597 crossed the coastline at 16,000ft and commenced a corkscrew descent, a full thirteen and a half hours after departing Ascension Island. The controller finally gave the crew permission to land on the duty runway but that would have required a risky, downwind over-flight of the city to reach the runway threshold. They could not afford the engines to flame out over a highly populated area. Neil McDougall elected to land on the reciprocal runway, downwind, rather than into a light, five to ten knot breeze.

Neil eased back on the throttles, extended the airbrakes and bled the speed off. He then stood the bomber on its port wing-tip and pulled it into a tighter two to three G turn with sixty-five degrees of bank. His concentration was now entirely focused on getting the gear down and making sure he would nail the parameters as he approached the high and low-key positions from an approach that did not feature in the aircrew manual or flight reference cards. This was the only way Neil could trade off height against speed without exceeding the incipient stall. He needed to get the big bomber on to short finals with about 130-135 knots of airspeed. Neil was right on the money. A superb piece of skilful flying and airmanship ensured he was able to roll out on the extended centre line of the runway at three hundred feet with about one mile to run.

Now the minimum landing fuel in peacetime after diversion for a Vulcan was 8,000lbs and for operational flying 4,000lbs; the fuel gauges were notoriously unreliable. A full visual circuit required 1,700lbs of fuel. XM 597 cleared the runway, stopped short and the Nav Rad and AEO slid out down the escape hatch door onto the taxiway to disable the Shrike missile, just in case! As it taxied onto a hard standing on the military side of Galeăo airfield with only fifteen hundred pounds of fuel remaining, one of the four Rolls Royce Olympus 301 engines flamed out! For his skilful flying and the part he played in Black Buck 6, Neil McDougall was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

At Galeăo the crew were greeted by forty to fifty armed guards along with their base commander and were held under open arrest in the Officers Mess for a period of seven days. They were well treated and cared for. The remaining Shrike missile was confiscated by the Brazilian Air Force and taken to an armoury.

The day after their eventual release on the 10th July 1982, Pope John Paul II was travelling to visit Buenos Aires. On his way to Argentina, arrangements were rapidly being made for him to fly into Rio Galeăo Airport where he was expected to say Mass to an invited congregation of nearly a hundred thousand followers. The altar for Mass was to be located on the hard standing next to where the Vulcan bomber was parked. The base commander requested that Neil taxied 597 to the other side of the airfield so that it would be out of sight. He politely declined but suggested that if he filled the tanks to full with AVTUR the crew would get out of his hair and fly back to Ascension forthwith. Our request was eventually granted, probably to save embarrassing the Pope or the President – or both.

That afternoon the Brazilian Chief of Air Staff visited the crew to wish them well before their planned departure the following day. He asked what they thought of Rio but they replied that they had not been afforded the opportunity to taste or experience the delights it had to offer. He was shocked to hear this and so immediately ordered the base commander to task one of his Super Pumas to take them on an aerial sight-seeing trip of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the beautiful coastline of Rio. He then ordered their colonel escort to arrange for a taxi to take the crew down-town to a cabaret show and a few farewell beers. They were aircrew. How could they possibly refuse his invitation? Neil the Captain though correctly elected to stay with his bomber.

The crew, less Neil, arrived at a bar to the rear of Copacabana beach. Two girls in particular showed an interest in them and proved difficult to shrug off. One had an Australian accent but claimed to be Argentinian. The crew was naturally very suspicious and tried to keep her at arm’s length. It wasn’t until thirty years after this event that the crew learned who this girl and her colleague really were. When the Foreign Office had learned that the crew of Black Buck 6 was about to hit the town before being released back to Ascension Island, someone in the Ministry of Defence must have had a fit. He was probably ex-aircrew himself and knew of the potential pitfalls that could await unsuspecting aircrew after being arrested and incarcerated in an overseas mess for a whole week. After all this was a foreign country some five thousand miles from the UK. Britain did not have any MI6 operatives in the area at the time and so a request was made to the CIA to put a tail on them, mainly for their own safety as who knows what could have happened to them that night as they sauntered around town from one cocktail bar to the next. The crew arrived back at base in the small hours of the morning and by 0930 local were airborne on their way back to Ascension Island. They had a story to tell and the debrief, as you will guess, took quite a while.

That completes this abridged account of the Black Buck SEAD missions. A full account can be seen at Chapter 14 of Tony Blackman’s book, ‘Vulcan Boys’ (http://www.blackmanbooks.co.uk/vulca...apter%2014.pdf)
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Old 31st May 2022, 17:10
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Awesome post. Those were indeed 'interesting times' for all those involved ... as i sat back in my office at XW with a marked lack of local aircraft for my team to control!
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