Breaking new ground always carries with it a certain peril. Whether you’re adding iron to the outside of wooden ships, trying to deliver mail by rocket or create an airplane that can barely be seen on radar, big jumps in technology usually entail the chance for equally big failure. Sure, if it works, it’ll be awesome. But if it doesn’t… well, that’s where you have to be careful. Often times, a Plan B is required. Sometimes, there is a Plan B, and sometimes there isn’t. One only has to look at the development of jet technology and the airframes that housed these engines in the immediate post-WWII era to see examples of both success and failures, not to mention some cases of people hedging their bets.
A perfect example of this was the British Royal Air Force (RAF). During WWII, their Lancaster bomber gave them a tool of nearly-unequalled strategic power. (Don’t forget, it could carry a 22,000lb bomb, and was considered by the US for carrying the Atomic Bomb to Japan.) However, with the end of the war came a drawdown in capacity and the advent of the jet engine. These two things conspired to make the Lancaster, and its progeny the Lincoln, nearly obsolete overnight. To stay on top, Britain needed something new. Something cutting edge. The answer was the “V” bomber project. This ended up consisting of three separate aircraft. The first was very pedestrian “Plan B”; the Vickers Valiant. It was quite conventional other than being a jet, but represented the least risk. Then there was the oddly shaped, crescent winged Handley-Page Victor. Far more ambitious than the Valiant, it lived a long life, serving through Desert Storm as a tanker! The final corner of the triangle was, perhaps, the most sensational of them all: the Avro Vulcan.
The Vulcan broke all kinds of new ground as an aircraft, especially in the RAF’s rather more conservative traditions. For one thing, it looked like no other bomber before it. Whereas all the others had normal wings and tailplanes, the Vulcan was simply an arrowhead with a vertical tail and a small nose section. In many ways, the Vulcan was more of a “flying wing with extras” than a delta-winged aircraft, since most of the plane was, in fact, wing! This unusual design was not without its issues, of course, and the shape was changed to more of a cranked arrow throughout the bomber’s life. However, the combination of buried engines, a huge nose radar, and maneuverability that made even a lot of the fighters of the day seem sluggish was certainly something to capture the imagination.
The Vulcan was, in many ways, one of Post-War Britain’s greatest successes. While other planes have served longer or with more export countries, the Vulcan is as much a symbol of Cold War Britain as the Lancaster is of WWII Britain. Given that, then, it should come as no surprise that there would be a lot of replicas available of it. Airplane-hungry boys, especially, would want them to play with, and in England, a toy Vulcan should have been a licence to print money. So, with this in mind, the Dinky corporation set its sights on making a Dinky Toy of this newest symbol of British pride and achievement.
Into the Unknown:
Dinky airplanes are not at all like Dinky Army toys. While the army trucks and tanks are all very heavy and somewhat detailed, the Dinky planes are… not. They are much smaller, lighter affairs, more the size of Matchbox cars in some cases, and not overly detailed at all. Why there is this dichotomy I’m not sure, but it was clear that there was a philosophical difference at the plane and car divisions of Dinky. In fact, while the Dinky Army and Car collections continued to expand in the early ‘50s, the airplane line grew largely stagnant. However, there was a conscious effort on the part of Dinky to reverse this trend.
It was decided to modernize the Dinky aircraft lineup and a new line of modern (largely British, of course) planes were promised. Chief among these were the DeHavilland Comet, which, despite having a tendency to break up in the air, was still a source of great pride for Britain. It was the first jet airliner in the world to cross the Atlantic (in fact, it was the first in the world to go into service PERIOD), and as such was issued in the new line. It was only natural that company executives would want to add a Vulcan to their mix; what patriotic boy or aviation-minded collector could resist?
So, the moulds for the early, straight-leading-edged Vulcan Mk. 1 were built. However, there was a bit of a problem. For one thing, Dinky had decided to make the Vulcan the size of a Dinky Supertoy. This meant it was big, at least as big as the Comet. However, the blended wing/body of the Vulcan meant that the internal volume of the toy was very large. While useful for fuel and weapons on the real plane, such a volume meant trouble for the Vulcan toy. It was really a two-pronged issue, as it turned out.
The first problem was one of cost and materials. The zinc alloy that most Dinky planes were made out of (Zamac) was in short supply as a result of the Korean war. This meant that some other material that was more common was needed. The second problem was one of weight. If you’ve ever handled a Dinky Army toy, you know they’re very solid-feeling, despite being largely hollow. If the Vulcan was made as a solid block of Zamac, then it would be prohibitively heavy. This would impact shipping, of course, and make the Vulcan a bit too heavy for younger hands to play with. Also, while I know safety was most definitely not a watchword used in the ‘50s, a solid Zamac Vulcan would be potentially deadly. Given the “pointy” nature of the design (not to mention the thinness of the trailing edges and tailfin) a solid Zamac Vulcan, pitched in the heat of a tantrum by a petulant child, could likely do a lot of damage. It would be like the illegitimate love-child of a shuriken and a sledgehammer. I’m sure Dinky didn’t want literal blood on its hands, so a change of material was likely a bit of a relief to the legal team as well.
To cure the Vulcan’s weight issue aluminum was chosen for the mould. Unfortunately, aluminum was not a material that Lesney was all that familiar with. Apparently, the normal moulding temperature for other Dinkys was about 400°F. However, at that temperature, aluminum really isn’t doing much in the way of melting and flowing. Instead, the aluminum needed to be taken to almost double that temperature. The moulds were not designed for this temperature, nor were they designed for the pressures needed to make aluminum flow, and thus were quickly degraded. This can be seen in the Dinky Vulcans themselves. They have “pockets” or “voids” in them, where the aluminum didn’t flow properly, and the wingtips, which were originally quite square, quickly became rounded off as the edges of the mould filled up with aluminum that wasn’t sticking to the plane, but rather the edges of the mould itself.
After a run that is generally regarded to be around 500 (some say it could be as high as 750) the moulds were done. It wasn’t what Dinky wanted or expected, but rather than spend the money on aluminum-specific moulds, they just decided to chalk it all up to experience and the “Vulcan episode” came to an end. The few toys produced weren’t even advertised in the Meccano magazine of the time, nor was the Vulcan in the British Dinky catalogue. Rather, the few orphaned V-bombers were crated up and shipped, like so many other “undesirables” in British history, to “the colonies”. In this case, Canada was the recipient of the motherland’s “cast offs”, much to the future delight of Canadian collectors, such as myself!
An Aluminum Dorito – Not your traditional Christmas snack:
I am very lucky, for very many reasons. One of those reasons is my brother, who not only is awesome to start with, but has the uncanny ability to dig the most amazing things out of the corners of the internet. As you know, most of my Dinky Army toys come through him. You can see from the few entries I’ve already got on my Dinky page that he has a fantastic eye for condition and quality, and my Dinky Army has been steadily getting bigger with passing birthdays and Christmases. However, there are few things that, as far as I thought, would always be out of reach. The Dinky Vulcan was one of them.
Imagine my surprise and amazement then, when for Christmas 2018, my brother gave me a rather light, moderately sized square box. I really didn’t know what it could be. It wasn’t a Dinky, though, I was sure. It was too flat and far too light. Even other Dinky Planes would have weighed much more than this box. Excited and perplexed, I undid the paper and opened the box. Oddly, for me, I was actually struck dumb by what I saw….
Sitting there, in a little nest, was a silver triangle with British roundels nearthe ends of two of the apexes. The object was clearly old, despite being clean, it had a certain patina to it, and there were a few paint chips on it. My “airplane brain” instantly recognized the distinctive shape of Avro’s delta-winged deterrent, but my conscious brain couldn’t immediately put two and two together. I knew it was a Vulcan, that it was old and that it was light. It was that “Dinky Plane Silver” that seems to have been used on EVERY non-camouflaged Dinky aircraft, but yet… how could it be?
I finally realized (after a few seconds that seemed like an hour) that yes, this certainly seemed to be a.) really happening and b.) a Dinky Vulcan! I had never seen one, or even been in the presence of one, before. It was alien and familiar all at once, a lot like the real plane. Yet, there was no arguing with what was now gingerly removed from the box and allowed to perch lightly in the palm of my hand. It was real, and it wasn’t a knock off… it was, perhaps, the most incredible example of the toymaker’s greedy-eyed rushed to ignominy that has ever existed. It was like a fallen angel that someone had lovingly preserved for all time, and despite some mild wear, it was nearly as good as it could ever likely have been.
How cool is that? If you can’t answer that on your own, well… there’s not much I can do for you!
Dinky’s Own “Aluminum Overcast”:
While the real Boeing 747 might claim ownership of the above-mentioned sobriquet, there is no doubt that Dinky’s Vulcan is just as rightful a wearer of this crown. The sheer area occupied by the Vulcan is impressive, just as in the real thing! Even more amazing is the one thing I can’t adequately show in a photo, and that’s how incredibly light it is. While the tech may have caused them headaches, Dinky was certainly on to something here; the Vulcan weighs less than other Dinky planes half its size!
The Vulcan, like so many other Dinky planes, is silver. Also like other Dinky planes, the insignia are decals, not paint. That’s right, they are water decals, just like you’d find on a model! Of course, they’re also from the mid ‘50s, so that makes them almost 65 years old when I got them! It’s not a surprise that they’re not in perfect shape – the fact that they’re on there at all is a testament to how gingerly this example was handled. Further evidence of that the general condition of the paint. Sure, there are chips, but the silver paint is known for being delicate. However, it’s the subtle “glow” that’s still slightly visible on the paint that is amazing. British paints tend to have this almost “sub-visible” iridescence to them when new; Matchboxes from the ‘70s have it, and Dinky Silver does the same thing. You can just make out what I mean in the photos.
In terms of shape and outline, the Dinky Vulcan is a very nice replica. The gaping wing root intakes, the severe, straight edge of the wing and the protruding jet nozzles are well done. Add to this the little cockpit “bump” on top and you have a convincing, but simple reproduction. Where the Vulcan shines is not details, though. Dinky planes are notoriously short on detail compared with Dinky Army toys. No, it’s in the subtle, odd curvatures of the plane that the attention originally paid to the design of the toy comes through. The Vulcan is not just a triangle with a nose. Far from it; the real Vulcan is a mix of odd curves and has an almost hunched-back, vulture-like appearance (think the vultures in the old animated Jungle Book). The Dinky captures this perfectly and in fact may be a little bit TOO extreme when it comes to the “aerodynamic slouch” sported by the Vulcan. When seen from the side, this “bent in the middle” shape is made even more manifest by the curvature of the undernose contours as they join the rest of the plane.
As I’ve mentioned, Dinky planes were not kings of detail. In fact, the only real ‘detail’ on this casting’s top side are some control surface lines (which are raised) on the trailing edge of the wing, and the same on the vertical tail. On the underside, the dearth continues, with only the trailing edge and bomb bay getting any detail of note. The engine bulges are nicely raises and faired in, but they are not paragons of high-resolution moulding. The size and position of the bomb bay is more or less right, and the only other raised detail to be seen on the underside are panels at the nose gear that are, I suppose, there to emulate the gear doors.
Looking at the underside, though, there are a few more important details that don’t spring immediately to the eye. One is that the number is 749. However, all Dinky Vulcans were issued in Dinky Supertoys boxes, and numbered 992! This was only decided upon after the casting was made, and quite possibly after the disastrous initial run blew up the dies! Thus, the Vulcans are all numbered wrongly. More interesting, though, are the cracks and large injection pin marks. If you’re looking at the pictures of my Vulcan and asking “When did someone try to fold it?”, then you see what I mean. This kind of shoddy-looking workmanship is not usual for Dinky planes, army vehicles or cars. It is, however, a function of the Aluminum having trouble getting through the moulds designed for Zamac, and actually folding over or voiding in places. You can also see on mine that the wing tips are not pointed, but they’re not massively rounded-off or even chopped back, like some of the last iterations of the toy.
Another feature of the use of aluminum is the tendency to break. Yes, like pre-war Dinkys that suffer from “Zinc Pest”, the Vulcan has a tendency to be missing parts. Usually, this involves broken landing gear legs; the rather flexible aluminum can’t quite take the strain of repeated hard landings or even being used as a handle. It’s not uncommon to find a Vulcan that is either bipedal (or even one-legged) or has bent gear. In some cases, the large, thin vertical fin also succumbs to the stresses of play or improper storage, and the result is a Vulcan that only has a small bit of the base of the fin left! Thus, when I saw mine with all legs, wheels and fin intact, I was pretty bloody excited!
The real Vulcan represented a great leap in technology, design and tactical thinking; it represented the hopes of the British aircraft industry and the RAF for a strong, home-grown deterrent force that would be both admired and feared abroad. While the real Vulcan (thankfully) was never called on to perform its nuclear strike role, it did remain in service long enough to drop bombs on the Falklands in 1982. Sadly, while Dinky was clearly inspired to new heights of technology and design by Avro’s futuristic delta, the Dinky Vulcan did not have anywhere near the same career as the real thing.
Instead, the Dinky Vulcan stands as an almost R-101-esque example of trying to do too much, too fast, without really understanding the principles involved. The use of aluminum for a mass-produced toy airplane was a really interesting idea, and was no less progressive than the use of the same metal by the aerospace industry proper. However, the poor Dinky Vulcan didn’t have the weight of massive defence budgets behind it, and so the first failure of its advanced manufacturing processs was also its last.
One Dinky employee was quoted elsewhere as saying that while they made about 500, they should have (meaning they intended to) made 50, 000. He’s right; a toy Vulcan would have sold extremely well in the UK (and abroad, too) to jet-minded youngsters for a good number of years. However, thanks to fate and a lack of metallurgical knowledge, the Dinky Vulcan has become something of a Holy Grail, rather than an “Oh, I have one of those too”-type of toy.
With delicate components, fragile decals and less-than-durable paint, finding a good Dinky Vulcan can be very, very difficult. Finding one with decent wingtips is even harder, and given the wings’ tendency to bend and warp, you can see that even though only 500 were produced, the number of really good examples is even smaller. I am beyond lucky to have this one, and to be able to look at one on my display shelf.
If you are a fan of Cold War aviation, or even novel approaches to toy making, the Dinky Vulcan is certainly an item that I can recommend. Heck, even its storied genesis and eventual near-dismissal as a failure by Dinky makes it interesting from a collecting standpoint. Sadly, it’s not one that many who want one will ever be able to have. With fewer than 500 on the planet, the chances of finding one are low; however, if you look you can still find them once in a while. It really is an awesome toy and display piece, if you can get one!