If like me you have a background in the Classics, you will know that Vulcan was the Roman equivalent of the Greek God Hephaestus, God of Fires and Smithing. In this latter role he crafted the weapons and armour used by the Greek pantheon including the bow used by Eros, the god of love, and the winged helmet and sandals of Hermes, messenger of the gods. It’s a shame that the armour he crafted for Achilles didn’t protect his feet! In his Roman guise, he was the God of Fire and Volcanoes, the word of course is derived from Vulcan, though he is still depicted with a blacksmith’s hammer. With more volcanoes in Italy than in Greece, this perhaps explains the change of emphasis, though the citizens of Herculaneum and Pompeii mustn’t have been giving him enough attention in AD79.
For those who grew up through the sixties and seventies, the word Vulcan will probably create a vision of an alien showing signs of Aspergers with pointed ears and a strange salute, for the humanoids who originated from the planet that gave them their name were key characters in Star Trek and it’s spin-offs. Spock of course is the most notable of these, though technically he is only half Vulcan, having a human mother.
A different entertainment provided iconic imagery featuring a different Vulcan. In 1965, Sean Connery slipped from the float of a marine helicopter into the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas to find a camouflaged bomber on the seabed, stripped of its nuclear weapons. Inevitably he found sharks too. This was Thunderball, which marked the beginning of what became the Bond formula of global threats from a maniacal villain (though Blofeld was very much in the shadows here). The bomber on the seabed was a Vulcan, and in a great piece of serendipity was not only accurate, in so far as the Vulcan was designed to carry part of our nuclear arsenal, but also aesthetic as its vast swept back wings gave it the look of a giant ray nestled in the sand.
Working this week at Carlisle airport I had the opportunity to photograph this big beast (the Vulcan was withdrawn from service about 30 years ago) and regardless of its purpose it is a lovely piece of design, which of course hints at the shape of the world’s first supersonic passenger aircraft, Concord. The Vulcan didn’t operate from here of course (the airport ceasing to be used by the RAF after WWII) it is a museum exhibit.
The airport does however still operate, and there is a constant stream of light aircraft and helicopters coming and going, either carrying visitors to Cumbria and the Lake District or simply stopping for a refuelling break. One of these arrived as I was shooting the Vulcan and with the addition of a line of cloud perfectly lit by the setting sun I got this image which I rather like, the helicopter seeming frail and insect-like after the brute force that carried the destructive power of gods.