The world’s most popular aircraft, Vulcan XH558, touched down for the final time this year after her busiest season ever. The final flight closed a remarkable year in which she starred in numerous television programmes, was discussed passionately by MPs and Government Ministers in a Westminster debate and flew for more than 75 hours, taking her across the four countries of the United Kingdom to say farewell to flight with her millions of friends and supporters. The charity that operates XH558, Vulcan to the Sky Trust, estimates that around five million people watched her fly this year.
“The level of press coverage and social media activity has been astonishing, showing how deeply this remarkable aircraft has touched the British people,” commented Dr. Robert Pleming, chief executive of Vulcan to the Sky Trust. “There is a tremendous swell of emotion from those who feel that there will never be anything like this again. It’s the end of a remarkable era.”
Channel 4’s 90 minute programme with XH558 and Guy Martin (November 29, Last Flight of the Vulcan ) was seen by more than 2.8 million viewers; around twice that expected for the time slot. The Vulcan XH558 Facebook page has 258,000 ‘likes’, often reaching more than a million people, and the popular tours of the aircraft have won yet another Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence. “XH558 means something special to so many people, not only aviation enthusiasts,” says Dr. Pleming. “She is not just a beautiful and dramatic aircraft; she stirs tremendous pride in our Country and our nation’s achievements.”
Designed to a brief issued in 1947 for a new type of high-altitude, long-range peace keeper, Avro Vulcans come from a time when British aircraft engineering led the world and Cold War politics was balanced on a knife-edge. This particular aircraft has led a charmed life, twice being rescued and returned to flight, once by the RAF who recognised the remarkable public appeal of the Vulcan, and then in 2007 in an award-winning restoration that is widely regarded as the most ambitious engineering heritage restoration programme ever undertaken.
Paying tribute to those who made it possible for a Vulcan to keep flying, Robert Pleming said; “I can’t thank enough all those who have donated and volunteered because they shared one remarkable vision.” He also paid compliments to the professional team working for the charity, and to the many companies who have provided support, often without any commercial return. “The breadth of expertise applied to this challenge has been staggering, from the more public skills of engineering and aviation to the backroom skills of marketing, fundraising and sensitive negotiation, to name just a few.”
Inspiring New Generations
In the new year, Vulcan XH558 will begin a new life. No longer allowed to fly but still able to accelerate dramatically along the runway, the Trust will build on this exciting provenance to inspire and educate new generations of young people, helping to deliver the technical skills that Britain so badly needs. Based in a purpose-built, multi-million pound building at Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield, adjacent to her current home in an original Cold War hangar, she will be at the heart of four activities: an Aviation Skills Academy to train young people for careers in aviation; a Heritage Centre to bring enthusiasts close to XH558 and other aircraft in an environment that can also be used for wedding and conferences; a world-leading centre of expertise in the operation and maintenance of vintage aircraft; and a new national technology centre that will engage with schools, families and other groups to help address the shortage of young people entering engineering careers at all levels.
Future Aviation Projects
Vulcan to the Sky Trust intends to find new challenges for this remarkable team. “It has taken almost two decades to learn how to do this really well, both technically and commercially,” concludes Dr. Pleming. “Those skills are now available to other aviation heritage projects. We anticipate several exciting announcements during 2016.”
Find out why Vulcan XH558 is no longer allowed to fly: