JET Starter!
Classic & Vintage Commercials|March 2017

Peter Simpson tells the fascinating story of a low mileage Commer Superpoise and its rather special ‘load’…

As many readers may be aware, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust are custodians of Avro Vulcan XH558 which, until the end of 2015, was the last remaining airworthy Vulcan. Alongside the Vulcan, the Trust also owns a 1962 Commer Superpoise, a vehicle of similar age to the aircraft. The Superpoise – or more accurately its load – is actually a vital part of the whole Vulcan setup.

The Superpoise carries a Blackburn turbo jet starter device. This, as the name implies, was needed to start the engines of jet aircraft like the Vulcan, and similar devices – albeit more usually mounted on trailers – were regularly used at all RAF bases with jet allocations. The main part of the starter plant is a smaller jet engine, in this case a Rolls-Royce Palouste unit. This generates a hot air supply which is blown into the aircraft engine via a flexible hose. This then causes the jet engine to start turning, and once it reaches a certain speed the pilot presses a start button in the cockpit, starting the engine.

This was the standard way in which early jet engines were started. Nowadays, most jets are self-starters as modern technology enable a means of starting modern engines to be incorporated within the engine without adding unnecessary weight. However for planes like the Vulcan, on which weight-reduction, speed and manoeverability were paramount, external starting was normal.

Little-used Lorry

The Superpoise has almost certainly been a ‘jet starter’ for its entire life. Until acquired by the Trust in 2012, it had also been used exclusively on an airfield, meaning the 13,000 miles currently showing on the speedometer is almost certainly correct. It hadn’t even been registered for the road, meaning its year of manufacture was uncertain, though as we’ll see later, it’s now been dated to 1962.

It was supplied new to A V Roe of Woodford, Manchester. Military jets were made at Woodford – principally for the RAF – and the Superpoise was used to start newly-built aircraft for testing purposes and for their delivery flight from factory to operational base.

In time Woodford became a British Aerospace site, before finally closing in 2012. It’s now being redeveloped as housing. Anyway, when the site was being cleared, the Superpoise was discovered, parked up at the back of the base’s fire station where it had, apparently, been out of use for at least 14 years. It was then offered to the Trust, for preservation, with a quantity of spares, as an ‘if you want it, come and get it’ deal. The Trust accepted on the basis that the starter was of similar vintage to the Vulcan bomber and would therefore be an appropriate ‘accessory’ to display alongside it.

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