The Vulcan To The Sky Trust has announced "with considerable sadness" that this summer will be the public's last chance to catch Avro Vulcan XH558 thundering through British skies, as the legendary V-bomber will be permanently grounded at the end of this flying season.
The trust explains that the axe will fall because "three expert companies on whom we depend – known as the 'technical authorities' – have together decided to cease their support at the end of this flying season".
At the heart of their decision are two factors. First, although we are all confident that XH558 is currently as safe as any aircraft flying today, her structure and systems are already more than ten percent beyond the flying hours of any other Vulcan, so knowing where to look for any possible failure is becoming more difficult. These can be thought of as the ‘unknown unknown’ issues, which can be impossible to predict with any accuracy. Second, maintaining her superb safety record requires expertise that is increasingly difficult to find.
Keeping XH558 in the air has been an epic undertaking, and not without wing-and-a-prayer moments involving last-minute injections of cash.
As we reported back in 2006, just as the then owner of Wolverhampton Wanderers – the late Sir Jack Hayward – had bailed the project out with a £500k donation, design work on the Avro Vulcan began in 1947.
The first full-scale prototype took to the air in 1952. The RAF received its first example in 1956, and took delivery of the last of 134 aircraft in 1965.
Powered by four Bristol-Siddeley Olympus 301 turbojets, and boasting a range of 2,000 nautical miles at a cruise speed of 540 knots, the Vulcan carried a crew of five for its primary role as a nuclear weapon delivery platform.
The Vulcan's most famous payload, however, was strictly conventional when, between 30 April and 12 June 1982, the RAF carried out the "Black Buck" missions against Port Stanley airfield and Argentinian installations on the Falklands. The raids are remembered less for their effectiveness (the 21 1000lb bombs dropped during the 30 April strike against Port Stanley airfield caused little damage) than for the 8,000 mile round-trip from Ascension Island required to carry them out.
The Vulcan was due for retirement after the Falklands war, but six aircraft continued in service as air-to-air refuelling tankers until 1984.
XH558, delivered to the RAF in July 1960, also battled on, serving as a display aircraft from 1986 to 1993. She returned to the air in October 2007, following a £7m restoration.
The Vulcan To The Sky Trust has a 2015 display schedule here, currently with 15 planned appearances around the UK. Once XH558 touches down for the last time, it's hoped she'll find a home at the proposed Vulcan Aviation Academy and Heritage Centre at Robin Hood Airport, also known as Doncaster Sheffield Airport. ®