MPs to pay tribute to XH558, the last Flying Vulcan

Briefing to include exciting plans for XH558 to focus on inspiring new generations of engineers to help solve UK technology skills shortage

Tuesday, July 21st at 16:00; Defence Minister Philip Dunne will respond to a debate in Westminster Hall initiated by Sir Gerald Howarth MP to mark the final display flights of Vulcan bomber XH558, which was restored to flight in 2007. Sir Gerald will set out the history of the restoration, the massive public support for the project and exciting future plans to put XH558 at the heart of a new type of visitor attraction and engineering education centre that will inspire future generations to study technical disciplines. He will also request that the aircraft be permitted to fly for a further year.

“It is unprecedented to have such passionate support for an aircraft,” commented Dr Robert Pleming, chief executive of the charity that owns and operates Vulcan XH558. “This is the second time that she has been discussed at Westminster; the importance of a flying Vulcan was subject of an Early Day Motion signed by 128 MPs in April 2002 at the start of efforts to restore her to flight.

”Pleming emphasises that the debate will not change the planned future for the aircraft. “When we lose the support of the companies who act as our technical authorities later this year, we will no longer be permitted to fly. This is not because of any question over her safety; she is currently as safe as any aircraft flying and is certificated to amongst the world’s highest aviation standards.

”Sir Gerald Howarth, a Trustee of Vulcan to the Sky Trust, has been a passionate supporter of the project – which started with the world’s most complex engineering heritage restoration – since the initial plans to return a Vulcan to the skies. “XH558 is an iconic example of that remarkable period of intense post-war innovation that made British technology the envy of the world,” he says. “Today, we struggle to attract enough young people into the disciplines needed to support high-technology British engineering companies. Robert and his team have impressive plans to use this remarkable aircraft to help solve this challenge by inspiring new generations with the excitement of engineering. XH558 may be reaching the end of her flying life, but she has a valuable future ahead of her.”

Dr Pleming will be available for interviews in Westminster around the event.Sign-up for the latest news on XH558 and where to see her fly: www.vulcantothesky.orgFind out how XH558 will continue to inspire new generations of engineers and aviators: out why this will be XH558’s last flying season:

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 30th 1952, 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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