Updated Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Blue Steel



Reunion 2001 Activities

South   Australian  Flight Trials

In 1954 the Air Staff issued an operational requirement for a propelled nuclear bomb capable of being launched by a V-bomber flying well clear of ground defences.
It was to carry the Blue Danube nuclear weapon payload that had been tested at Maralinga around 1956. Later the Yellow Sun thermonuclear weapon was carried
AV Roe were awarded a development contract and three British missions were sent to South Australia to investigate and prepare for the flight trials.
Henceforth (from 1957 to 1965) AV Roe personnel and those of Elliotts, EMI, Handley Page, Hunting, WRE  and No4 Joint Services Trials Unit of the Royal Air Force (4JSTU) combined in flight trials of this leading edge 'stand off' missile of its day.
Initially, two-fifths scale models were carried by RAF Valiant aircraft to test the aerodynamics of the missile.

The missile was shown to 'top brass' and then the  public at the SBAC Show at Farnborough

Ultimately over 50 of the full size rounds were shipped to RAAF Edinburgh Field where a long series of flight trials see here and here got underway over the Woomera Rocket range.
Originally the missiles were designed to be released at
 high altitude (see diagram)
and 'cruise' to the target area  some 200 miles away. Thus the carrying aircraft (although appearing on radar) would escape unfriendly attention and return unharmed.

Following the revelations after the shooting down of the U2 carrying Gary Powers in 1960 the Air Ministry determined (June 1963) that a changed delivery method was required as clearly a new ground to air missile (SAM 2) capable of high altitude interception was now in service .

Since the previous year the intended release aircraft had been based at Edinburgh Field. An Avro Vulcan (XH 539) and a Handley Page Victor (XL161) were flying regular sorties as rounds became ready for testing.

Thus a new series of trials were scheduled from 26 Nov 1963 (starting with round 059)  with a
 'low level' (see diagram)
release of the missile down to 200 feet with the missile zooming after 17secs to 40,000ft+  altitude ( the 'bunt' ) and then diving for the remaining 12 miles  of its 40 mile journey.


Many tales can be told of the adventures of the trials team, not the least that of  the trial of 17 Aug 1962  when, at 1338hrs, the Victor bomber XL161  entered an uncontrolled spin from 40,000ft near Kangaroo lsland and was only able to recover control by streaming the brake 'chute.
The trial that day was a 'carryover trial' designed to test the Victor/Missile/Range compatibility and provide training to trials personnel and testing of all of the facilities( telemetry,.
Standard safety procedures for emergencies required the jettisoning of the W. 100A Blue Steel missile round (048) at the Weapons Proof Range at Port Wakefield 2,000 yds offshore. This was achieved and the propellant started a localized fire. (see pics)

The aircraft returned to  RAAF Edinburgh (shepherded by a RAAF Canberra) and circuited for 1.5hrs to release excess fuel till it landed about 16.30hrs.
Radio station 5DN reported on its News Bulletin at 6.15pm that ' a WRE aircraft had been in distress but it had jettisoned its load and landed safely.

This caused a flurry of signals with the Air Ministry in London as the trials were 'Top Secret' and, as the missile was designed to carry (but not carrying) a nuclear weapon, news of the adventure was to be contained. But it wasn't!

A report of the incident by reporter Kennedy was published in the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper on 23rd August and that evening the News made it its 'Front Page' story.

The story's theme wove the missile hazard, the inland flight path and the unstable aircraft into a scenario which was likely to cause political embarrassment in Australia.  

This forced a  Ministerial statement to be broadcast that evening on the National Radio Network on the 'PM' program

Read a survivor's story here

The SA Aviation Museum has been given the fuselage of a Blue Steel missile and hopefully will restore it to its original shape for display in the Museum as at Woomera.



The links below tell more of the Blue Steel story and the aircraft that carried them.

Pictures of Blue Steel in flight trials

SA Trials - log of rounds/launches

Blue Steel Reunion Oct 2001

4JSTU - RAF 1957-1965

Blue Steel remembered 1999 reunion

Where are they now?

SA Aviation Museum Home page


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More Links to BlueSteel and Vulcan Pages

Bryan Wetton's Genealogy Portal