Blue Steel


Blue Steel

Hawker Siddeley Dynamics Blue Steel

This rocket-propelled air to surface stand off cruise missile formed a vital part of Britain’s V-Force nuclear deterrent.

Avro began slow initial development in 1955. Following successful low-level test firings at the Australian Woomera range in early 1961, the inertial-navigation unit guided Blue Steel became fully operational on the Hawker Siddeley Vulcan B.2As of No 617 Squadron in February 1963, somewhat later than planned. The first Handley Page Victor unit – No. 139 squadron – was operational in September 1963 with Victor B Mk.2s. Blue Steel-equipped aircraft were maintained as part of Bomber Command’s Quick Reaction Alert Force, one aircraft from each V-Force squadron being held at that state.

Over fifty Blue Steel Mk 1s entered service, and were all modified for low-level delivery below 305m (1000ft) - ‘under the radar’ following cancellation of the American Skybolt programme in December 1962. Forty-eight live operational rounds were deployed on an equal number of Victors and Vulcans, with a further five live rounds as operational spares. There were four non-nuclear rounds produced for RAF use, and 16 unspecified ‘training rounds’.

It was a highly accurate weapon, and could strike within 91m (300ft) of the target. Fuelling before launch was slow taking around half an hour and the fuel dangerous to handle. RAF Wittering maintained its fleet of white-painted Blue Steels in a hangar known as the ‘piggery’.

The projected replacement Blue Steel Mk.2, with its ramjet engine and greater speed (Mach 3) and 1287km (800-mile) range, was cancelled in 1960 to minimise delays to development of the Mk.1.

The two Blue Steel Victor squadrons relinquished their QRA role in late 1968 but the Vulcan squadrons retained theirs until June 1969 when the Royal Navy took over the nuclear strategic deterrent role.

Although the last flight with Blue Steel was 21 December 1969 and the last two Vulcan units (27 and 617 Squadrons) gave up their Blue Steels at the end of 1969 it was not until 31 December 1970 that Blue Steel was officially retired.

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