Its ear-piercing howl and iconic triangular silhouette has thrilled thousands down the years – but aircraft enthusiasts are preparing to wave a tearful farewell to a British institution later this year.
The world’s last remaining flying Vulcan bomber is entering her final flying days, bringing to an end a momentous career in the skies.
But when the wheels of XH558 touch down at Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport after one long summer of flypasts and displays, she is set to begin a new chapter of her illustrious story, remaining in the town where she was based during her Cold War days.
Dr Robert Pleming, chief executive of the Vulcan To The Sky Trust, which maintains the aircraft and which first returned her to flight in 2007, said: “If you don’t see her this season, there will be no more opportunities to hear a Vulcan’s spine-tingling howl as she climbs high into the sky for another memorable display or to see her rolling onto her side to reveal her giant delta silhouette.”
But while Vulcan XH558 may no longer be soaring gracefully through the skies, she will stay in Doncaster – as the centrepiece of a new museum celebrating her heritage as well as her life and times, in the former RAF Finningley hangar where she sat in readiness for fighting and bombing during the 1960s and 70s.
Dr Pleming said: “We have set out from the start to create a lasting legacy for the Vulcan by planning for the day when the aircraft will have to cease flying.”
As well as the Vulcan becoming a museum piece, the centre will also operate as a new base to encourage aviation and engineering skills, helping a new, young generation pick up the mantle of XH558 which served with the RAF between 1960 and 1985.
From 1986-1992 she operated as a display aircraft, until budget cuts forced her retirement.
A massive fundraising drive began in 2001 and with more than £7 million of funding, she took off for the first time again in 2007 and has now been seen by millions worldwide.
However, Vulcan To The Sky chiefs have now had to make the tough decision that this year will be her last - for safety and technical reasons.
Dr Pleming, who gathered in front of media crews as the bomber took off for the first time to kickstart its summer swansong, said: “The Trust has worked hard to see if another year may be possible. Unfortunately, following extensive discussion with the technical authorities, some of the challenges have proven to be insurmountable.”
He said that while the aircraft, affectionately dubbed the ‘tin triangle’ was still safe, the age of her airframe, engines and a growing difficulty to source skilled engineers to keep her airborne were all factors taken into account when deciding her fate. It also costs £2 million a year to keep the plane in the air.
However, she won’t be going quietly and air crew, including Martin Withers, who captained Vulcan XM607 on the famed Black Buck bombing raid on Port Stanley during the Falklands War in 1982, are planning to bow out in spectacular style with a packed calendar of flypasts and airshows.
Martin, who was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the 8,000 mile raid, said: “If I had been ordered to press the button that releases the nuclear payload over our enemy, there would almost certainly have been no Britain left to fly home to. The Vulcan is the most powerful symbol of a remarkable period in global history that we must never forget.”
A national tour is planned to celebrate British engineering achievements and to salute the heroes of Britain’s legendary V-Force, the unit poised at a moment’s notice to deal with any Soviet attack on the UK.
The new display will be revealed for the first time at the Throgmorton Airshow on June 6 with her last scheduled appearance at Dunsfold on August 30 - although its expected her final farewell flight could come later in the year.
Dr Pleming added: “I would like to thank everyone who has donated their time and money to help XH558 fly. The pleasure she brings to millions of people each year would not have been possible without you all.”
But even when she stops flying, it won’t mean she will gather dust in the hangar.
“We will be maintaining her so she can still do fast taxi runs along the runway delivering that famous Vulcan howl,” he said. “It certainly won’t be the last we see of XH558 and visitors will be able to come to Doncaster and learn more about her.”
* Full details about the project are available at www.vulcantothesky.org where donations can also be made.
WHERE TO SEE XH558 IN 2015
June 6 Throckmorton (Display)
June 14 Cholmondeley (Flypast)
June 14 Welshpool (Display)
June 14 RAF Cosford (Display)
June 21 Weston-super-Mare (Display)
June 27 V-Force Southern Tour
June 28 V-Force Northern Tour
July 5 Shuttleworth Collection (Display)
July 11 RNAS Yeovilton (Display)
July 16 RIAT (Arrival)
July 17 RIAT (Static)
July 18 RIAT (Display)
July 19 RIAT (Display)
August 15 Herne Bay (Flypast)
August 15 Headcorn Aerodrome (Display)
August 15 Eastbourne (Display)
August 23 Bournemouth (Display)
August 24 Shoreham (Display)
August 29 Dunsfold (Display)
August 30 Dunsfold (Display)