Last flying Vulcan completes her most successful season ever

More people, more places and 100 % technical serviceability for the classic aircraft as she completes the 2014 flying season, dedicated to the heroes of the Cold War

Interviews with V-Force pilots available for November 9th Berlin Wall 25th anniversary

Vulcan XH558, the last flying example of Great Britain’s famous V-Force, has completed her most successful season ever, delivering dramatic displays to around two million people. She made welcome returns to Scotland and Northern Ireland and was voted the most popular aircraft of the show by audiences at the Farnborough International Air Show and at the huge Bournemouth Air Festival. The 54 year old aircraft performed perfectly, with not a single engagement missed through technical issues.

“To say that she didn’t miss a single display due to serviceability doesn’t do justice to the efforts of our engineering team,” comments the charity’s chief executive, Dr. Robert Pleming. “On occasions she returned with minor faults, from weeping joints to inoperable circuit breakers, such is the nature of 1950s technologies. Our tiny team – just six people plus logistics support – always put her back in the air for the next sortie.”

For many, the season highlight was when XH558 flew alongside the last two airworthy Avro Lancasters during the visit of the second Lancaster from Canada. The year’s flying ended in spectacular style with a tour of the ten former main RAF V-Force stations, dipping her delta wings to salute the unsung heroes of the Cold War.

“This remarkable season is a huge complement to XH558’s supporters who have donated their time and money or purchased official Vulcan XH558 memorabilia to raise the £2.2 million we need each year to maintain and operate this wonderful aircraft,” concludes Pleming. “We receive no funding from government or the RAF, so she would not fly without these people. On behalf of the millions who enjoyed seeing her fly this year, I would like to thank each one of them.”

Preparations for Winter Service
Vulcan XH558 is now back in her hangar at Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield, formerly RAF Finningley, where she was based for a period in the 1960s. As soon as the doors closed, the charity’s ex-RAF engineering team began to prepare her for the winter service, which will be completed to rigorously controlled procedures starting in the new year. On the run-up to Christmas, panels will be removed to allow a comprehensive inspection and lubrication programme, the cockpit canopy will be removed and the two ejection seats will be carefully lifted out and sent to a specialist for maintenance.

“This is a fascinating time to visit XH558,” says chief engineer Taff Stone. “Guests on our guided tours often see parts of the aircraft that are usually hidden. Our technicians are always happy to explain what they are doing.” Tours must be booked in advance (for security reasons there is no access without pre-booking) and can be chosen at

Hangar visits have also had their most successful year ever, with around 15,000 people making the journey to Doncaster so far this year. Visitors enjoyed their Vulcan visit so much that the charity’s tours programme, which is mainly staffed by knowledgeable, highly-trained volunteers, won a 2014 Trip Advisor Award of Excellence.

For more information on Vulcan memorabilia and to sign-up for regular email news about Vulcan XH558 and where to see her, visit There is also a popular Facebook community at  and a Twitter feed at @XH558. 

Why is the Vulcan Important?

The Avro Vulcan is an iconic example of British aerospace engineering at its world-beating best. The design brief was issued by the MoD in 1946 and the aircraft flew for the first time on August 30th1952, just eleven years after the first flight of its predecessor, the Avro Lancaster. Its impressive list of technical achievements includes being the first successful large delta wing aircraft (leading directly to Concorde), innovations such as electrically-powered flying controls, one of the first applications of anti-lock brakes (similar to those on the Jensen FF) and a speed and agility that was so close to a jet fighter’s that it was given a fighter-style control column in place of the traditional bomber pilot’s yoke.

Success as a Cold War peacekeeper meant that the Vulcan might have flown its entire service life without ever entering combat if it hadn’t been for the Falklands Conflict in 1982. During a marathon 8,000 mile flight supported by eleven Victor tankers, Martin Withers and his crew released the bombs over Port Stanley Airport that prevented Argentina operating its Mirage III fighters from the island and initiated the campaign that recaptured the Falklands. Two years later, the last Vulcans were withdrawn from service. Martin earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in this action.

Today, only one Vulcan is left flying: XH558, owned by Vulcan To The Sky Trust, a registered charity. Returned to the air in 2007 following one of the world’s most challenging restoration programmes, she has become an airshow phenomenon. “People forget that airshows attract seven million people annually. As a spectator activity, that’s second only to football,” says Dr Pleming.

Martin Withers DFC, now Vulcan to the Sky Trust’s operations director and chief pilot, is a passionate supporter of the educational role of the aircraft. “Part of our mission is to ensure that young people learn about the knife-edge fear of the Cold War,” he explains. “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.”

Withers is also highlights the aircraft’s growing role in technical education. “The Vulcan is one of the most significant steps forward in aerospace technology, and it is thoroughly British. She fires young people with a passion for engineering and innovation, which we can build on using the extraordinary energy and expertise needed to restore and operate the UK’s only flying ‘complex’ heritage aircraft to world-class safety standards.” When the combination of age and complexity of the aircraft eventually prevents further renewal of her Permit to Fly, it is hoped that she will form the heart of a new type of engineering education initiative that will continue to inspire young people with a passion for science and technology.

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Press enquiries
Richard Gotch at Market Engineering                      +44 (0) 1295 277050 / +44 (0)7831 569732
(further information and interviews)            


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