Last flying Vulcan embarks on spectacular V-Force Tour, dipping its delta wings to Cold War heroes
Dramatic new display over 17 locations part of XH558’s last flying season
An iconic and instantly recognisable piece of British heritage, the last flying Vulcan, XH558, continues its final flying season with a spectacular two-day V-Force Tour of the UK on June 27-28. As one of the last opportunities to witness the delta wing silhouette overhead, XH558 bids farewell to the 17 locations where the remaining complete V-Force aircraft now reside. The last flying example of the V-Force, which protected Britain’s shores throughout the Cold War, will dip her wings for a final time in salute to the men and women who were prepared to give their lives for their country during a period of remarkable tension, inspiring courage and technical innovation.
“A few months ago, the Secretary of the British Aviation Preservation Council (BAPC), Brian Dixon, approached me with an idea,” says Vulcan to the Sky chief executive Dr. Robert Pleming. “He proposed that XH558 should visit all the surviving V-Force aircraft in the UK and if possible perform a short display during our final year of flying as a special ‘goodbye’. He also suggested that each of these Museums could also get involved by holding special events or talks in the week leading up to this final tribute.”
XH558’s final season has already begun, with around 15,000 people selling-out the Throckmorton Airshow on June 6th, demonstrating that the aircraft continues to inspire. The spectacular early season curtain raiser kicked off a packed final year, during which the Vulcan will help celebrate great British engineering, salute the country’s legendary V-Force heroes and be viewed by more supporters than ever before.
“When she lands towards the end of the year, the opportunity to experience the visceral roar of an overhead Vulcan will be lost forever: the V-Force Tour provides an opportunity to maximise its exposure to loyal supporters who have helped keep her flying since 2007, and acts as a fitting salute to those involved in the Cold War,” says Pleming. “We will also be flying selected items in the aircraft so that as many of her supporters as possible can purchase something that has taken part in this incredible adventure, with proceeds going to help look after her during the next stage of her life, when she will continue to thrill and inspire audiences on the ground.”
The V-Force name comes from the three aircraft that carried Britain’s first nuclear deterrent - Vulcan, Victor and Valiant – and the tour spans the length and breadth of the UK across the two days. Simply because it’s the right thing to do, no fees for this tour will be levied by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, which supports the aircraft, however £50,000 needs to be raised to cover costs. The Vulcan V-Force Share entitles up to only 1000 supporters a unique, limited edition commemorative route map and a Share certificate in return for a £30 donation.
Alternatively, a £5 donation is a welcome contribution towards the substantial costs involved with the V-Force Tour, and can be made via designated mobile phone text codes depending on the area in which you are viewing. The free Vulcan newsletter provides updates on where to see XH558 fly during the Tour, details of the rest of her final season and information regarding donations and the relevant JustGiving pages. New readers can sign up at www.vulcantothesky.org.
“We are enormously thankful to the loyal XH558 supporters, and inspired by the growing number of people of all generations who are enthused by this legendary piece of British engineering,” continues Pleming. “This is one of the many reasons that we are committed to making XH558’s final season one to remember, and are excited by the next steps in her career.”
A Valuable Future for XH558
When XH558 lands for the last time at the end of a spectacular Farewell to Flight season, she will be to become the centre of a new type of education initiative. “XH558 is an iconic example of that remarkable period of intense post-war innovation that made British aviation technology the envy of the world,” concludes Pleming. “In her new life, still able to accelerate dramatically along the runway, XH558 will build on this exciting provenance to inspire and educate new generations of young people, helping to deliver the technical and aviation skills that Britain so badly needs.”
Alongside the Vulcan Aviation Academy, there will also be a heritage centre so that enthusiasts can continue to visit the aircraft and learn about the engineering innovation and Cold War politics that brought her into existence. XH558 will be maintained to a high standard and will regularly thrill audiences with her famous Vulcan howl as she accelerates along the runway.
Already around 15,000 people a year visit XH558 at her hangar. The award-winning tours must be booked in advance (for security reasons there is no access without pre-booking) and can be chosen by visiting www.vulcantothesky.org and clicking on displays/tours. Regular updates and other news is provided by a popular free email newsletter and the Trust also has an active Facebook community (Vulcan XH558) and Twitter feed @XH558.
Why is the Vulcan Important?
The Avro Vulcan is a powerful 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, a field that will become her focus when she can no longer fly. “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, 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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Read about XH558 and how to keep her flying at: www.vulcantothesky.org where you can also sign-up for the free email newsletter and find out how to own an item flown in her final flying season.
Christopher Foster at Market Engineering (further information, aircraft history, interviews)
+44 (0) 1295 277050
Richard Clarke at Vulcan To The Sky Trust (airshows, Supporters Club, aviation publications)
+44 (0) 7541 133683