The Avro Vulcan (later Hawker Siddeley Vulcan from July 1963) is a jet-powered tailless delta wing high-altitude strategic bomber, which was operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) from 1956 until 1984. The Vulcan was prominently featured in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball, where such an aircraft was hijacked by the criminal organisation SPECTRE.
As part of his work, NATO pilot François Derval is slated to fly as an additional flight crewmember aboard an RAF Avro Vulcan loaded with two atomic bombs for a training mission. However, prior to the flight, Derval is murdered by Angelo Palazzi, a SPECTRE henchman qualified to pilot military jet aircraft and surgically altered to match Derval's appearance. Angelo takes Derval's place on the flight, sabotaging the plane and killing its RAF crew through poison gas introduced into the aircraft's oxygen system. He then executes a controlled water landing, ditching the Vulcan in water landing area SPECTRE has prepared near the Bahamas. After ditching, once the aircraft comes to a stop, Angelo lowers the jet's landing gear, sinking it to a depth readily accessible by SCUBA-equipped SPECTRE operatives and mini-submersibles. While still strapped into the jet's cockpit, Angelo is then killed by Emilio Largo for trying to extort more money than offered to him. Largo and his henchmen retrieve the stolen atomic bombs from the plane and cover it with camouflage netting. Later, as part of Operation Thunderball, James Bond is assigned to investigate the plane's disappearance and travels to the Bahamas. Overflying the Golden Grotto in a Bell 47J Ranger piloted by Felix Leiter, 007 discovers the Vulcan and dives underwater to inspect the wreckage.
Behind the scenes
For the film Thunderball a full size replica of the Avro Vulcan was constructed by the production crew on location in the Bahamas. In addition miniature models were also employed to achieve the effect of the Vulcan ditching in the Golden Grotto. Challenging sequences to film, the first to be shot underwater was at a depth of 50 feet where SPECTRE divers remove the atomic bombs from the sunken bomber. Following filming, in a bid to prevent others using their creation, production crews blew-up the full-sized replica with dynamite (its barely-recognisable remains are now a popular dive spot near Nassau). Two real Vulcans were also utilised during filming; aircraft XA913 was used in ground sequences and XH506 for flying sequences. Both were early B.1A models that were withdrawn from service and scrapped by 1968 – three years after Thunderball was released. Notably, Peter Lamont had previously visited a Royal Air Force bomber station carrying a concealed camera which he used to get close-up shots of secret missiles (those appearing in the film were not actually present). Most of the underwater scenes had to be done at lower tides due to the sharks in the Bahamian sea.
- Moran, Tom (14 June 2012). Rare Photographs Show Vulcan Bomber Mock-up from Bond Film Thunderball (English) (Blog). Urban Ghosts. Retrieved on 2016-08-23.
- (1995). The Making of Thunderball: Thunderball Ultimate Edition, Region 2, Disc 2 [DVD]. MGM/UA Home Entertainment.
- Commentary 1: Thunderball Ultimate Edition, Region 2.