Last Flying Vulcan Returns to Cold War Home
Photos courtesy: Vulcan to the Sky Trust
The last flying Vulcan, XH558, is to spend the summer based at the airfield where she once stood on Quick Reaction Alert during the Cold War. Doncaster Sheffield – the United Kingdom’s newest commercial airport – is the former Royal Air Force Station (RAF) Finningley, once “the home of the Vulcans.”
The agreement to base XH558 at Doncaster for the summer could be the first stage in the development of a visitor center that will eventually be linked to a facility to inspire the next generation of engineers and technicians. “We are thrilled that the last flying Vulcan has come home,” says Vulcan to the Sky Trust CEO Dr. Robert Pleming. “We all feel that something very special could be created here, but I must emphasize that these are early days in the discussions.”
Widely recognized as an iconic example of British technical innovation and an important educational focus for engineering and Cold War education, XH558 was returned to airworthy condition by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust following a mammoth 10-year struggle. Today she is the world’s only flying Vulcan and the most complex all-British historic aircraft to be operated outside the Royal Air Force. She costs around £2 million a year to operate and receives no government funding, making her entirely reliant on public support.
Avro Vulcan XH558 was built at Woodford, near Manchester, painted in “anti-flash white,” and delivered to RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, in July 1960. A year later she moved to Finningley where she was based for the next eight years. Vulcan to the Sky chief pilot, Squadron Leader Martin Withers Dinstinguished Flying Cross, flew Vulcans (including XH558) from the site between 1972 and 1982 but is best known as Black Buck One, captain of the famous first 1982 Vulcan mission to the Falkland Islands. At the climax of an 8,000-mile round-trip that required refueling from 11 Victor tankers, Withers and his crew released the bombs that signaled the beginning of the end of the Falklands War.
Last Flight From Lyneham
“Finningley is her home now, but we will miss RAF Lyneham,” says Dr. Pleming. “I’d like to thank the RAF for allowing us to operate from their airfield and especially for allowing us to welcome so many of XH558’s supporters onto the site.” During the winter of November 2010, more than 1,500 people visited XH558 at Lyneham, ranging from school groups learning about aircraft, engineering, and the Cold War to Chelsea pensioners with vivid memories of this terrifying period in world history.
Earlier in March, XH558 completed her £120,000 winter service at Lyneham and comfortably passed all the vital safety checks that will allow her to embark on her ambitious 2011 display season.
As previous stated, operating the last flying Vulcan – to aviation safety standards that are among the highest in the world – costs around £2 million a year. To hit the 2011 season with stable finances, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust must raise £75,000 before the end of March, £125,000 during April, and a further £150,000 by the end of May: a total of £350,000.
According to Dr. Pleming, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust has been hit by increased fuel costs and changes in regulations that can’t be covered by its growing commercial income. “We receive no money from government or the RAF,” he says. “Even with growing trading income, we are still dependent on the generosity of her supporters. If we can’t raise this money quickly, the last flying Vulcan will not take off for the 2011 display season.”
The organization’s efforts to spread awareness include a new e-newsletter with fascinating pictures, news, competitions, and technical updates; a Facebook page; and an online shop which has an extensive range of merchandise. Supporters are encouraged to visit her whenever group access can be granted. “We are exceedingly grateful to the small band of visionary supporters who have generously donated so that we can get this far,” says Dr. Pleming.
But he concludes with a serious warning. “I have to tell you that however exciting the future looks, due to factors beyond our control we risk running out of money ahead of the air show season. Despite the hugely positive reaction from the millions of people who see the Vulcan in flight every year, it remains a mystery why so few are then motivated to contribute to keeping her flying.”
How to Help
To raise the money, a package of supporter benefits is being launched that includes a special Summer Season Plaque carrying the names of campaign supporters on the famous bomb-bay doors. Supporters can also buy insurance coverage for the Vulcan, earning them a specially commissioned umbrella with the legend “I helped cover the last flying Vulcan.”