Avro Vulcan XH558

XH558 performs her display at Cosford Airshow 2009

XH558—presently carrying civil registration G-VLCN— is an Avro Vulcan B2 originally built in 1960. Between then and 1992 it served variously in bomber, maritime reconnaissance and air-to-air refuelling roles.

XH558 is notable for being the only remaining airworthy example of the Avro Vulcan. It is presently operated by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust as a display aircraft, funded entirely by charitable donations and the UK Lottery's Heritage Fund.

Royal Air Force

XH558 was the twelfth Vulcan B2 built and first flew in 1960 and was delivered to No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit RAF at RAF Waddington on 1 July 1960. Almost immediately the aircraft moved with 230 OCU to RAF Finningley where the aircraft spent some 8 years before returning to Lincolnshire in 1968. The aircraft was converted to a B2 Maritime Radar Reconnaissance in 1973 and subsequently to the air-to-air refuelling variant K2 in 1982. It was returned to standard B2 configuration in 1985 and was the last Vulcan in service. From 1986 to 1992, it was the RAF's display aircraft.

Installing a refurbished engine fire-bottle onto XH558

After service with the Royal Air Force, the aircraft was sold to C.Walton Limited and delivered by air to Bruntingthorpe on the 23 March 1993. The aircraft was kept in a serviceable condition and would undertake fast taxi runs along Bruntingthorpe's main runway.

Restoration to flight

The engineering staff of the Vulcan Operating Company the engineering arm of Vulcan to the Sky Trust, owners of XH558, worked to return Vulcan XH558 to flight, with the first test flight taking place 18 October 2007. They were supported by the "Vulcan to the Sky" club, a supporters and fund raising organisation. Though the website carried an announcement on 1 August 2006 that the project was in danger of being abandoned due to lack of finance, the target of raising the remaining £1.2m was achieved on 31 August 2006, thanks to a high-profile publicity campaign orchestrated by the supporters club, Vulcan to the Sky Club (formerly Vulcan 558 Club). Time had almost run out for XH558 when Sir Jack Hayward, a British philanthropist, donated £500,000, which topped off the £860,000 already raised by Vulcan to the Sky Club and Friends. Although the aircraft restoration was nearly complete, the aircraft was not ready for the flypast down the Mall in London for the 25th Anniversary of the Falklands conflict on 17 June 2007 or the RAF Waddington Airshow and the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT).

Farnborough Airshow 2008

It was originally intended for the Vulcan to fly during at least one UK airshow during the 2007 season. But due to delays in returning the aircraft to flight, mainly down to delays in the return of refurbished flight-critical components, the aircraft was not ready for the display season.

On 16 August 2007, the aircraft started engine testing on the airfield at Bruntingthorpe. On the next day, XH558's No.3 Rolls-Royce Olympus 202 jet engine was run for the first time in over 20 years. This is a different engine to that used by XH558 during its final seasons with the RAF's Vulcan Display Flight in 1992. All four of the Vulcan's old Olympus 202 engines have been replaced with Zero hour units which had been stored since 1982, thereby getting the maximum future life span from each engine. The VTS Team also has another four fully inhibited engines in stock. The removed engines were either scrapped, sectioned for display or passed on to VRT's XL426 at Southend.

Another milestone in the restoration project was achieved on 22 August 2007, when all four of XH558's Olympus engines were run at nearly full power settings, for short intervals. So far, all engine testing has been fault-free.

The first post-restoration flight, which lasted 34 minutes, took place on 18 October 2007.

Landing during Farnborough Airshow 2008

Two further three-hour test flights are to be carried out from Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground to prove that the aircraft has been restored to an airworthy condition. After raising the necessary £150,000 the Vulcan to the Sky Trust resumed the test flight program but still requires £50,000 each month after March 2008 in order for the return to flight project to continue. The software company Aerobytes donated an undisclosed sum to the Vulcan to the Sky Trust in July 2008, which will provide sufficient funding to ensure the operation of XH558 throughout the 2008 display season.

On 14 April 2008, the Vulcan flew from Bruntingthorpe to RAF Cottesmore to have a Compass swing and test flights. Whilst in mid air the plane called Mayday after believing the Auxiliary power unit (APU) was on fire. It landed safely at Cottesmore and the scare was later discovered to be an electrical fault.

On 16 April, a further two-hour test flight was planned to perform "straight line testing" of avionics. The flight was scheduled to go between Cambridge and Marham, however, this was abandoned when one of XH558's undercarriage doors failed to close due to an electrical micro-switch malfunction and the aircraft made a safe return to Bruntingthorpe Airfield.

During part of May 2008, XH558 resided at RAF Conningsby where it underwent further testing and while she was there took part in a Photo-call with the Lancaster and a Typhoon.

On 9 June 2008, XH558 flew its final test flight and was granted on 3 July, by the CAA, its Permit to Fly at 1605. At 1705, she launched for RAF Waddington where she flew her airshow routine, in front of CAA examiners who then issued her DA (Display Authorisation) for the RAF Waddington airshow in the first week of July.

Farnborough Airshow 2008

Funding Concerns

On 9 September 2008, the Chief Executive of the Vulcan To The Sky Trust, Dr Robert Pleming announced on XH558's site; http://www.vulcantothesky.org that there are serious short falls in the aircraft's funds suggesting that "...it looks as if the door may now be closing on the future of the Vulcan in flight. I think that anyone wishing to see a Vulcan in flight should do so as soon as possible." and that "If we don’t achieve a significant change of circumstances soon, we won’t be able to carry out our role of ‘Honouring the Past, Inspiring the Future’, providing the once-seen, never-forgotten sight of XH558 in flight to a new generation; stimulating interest in design and engineering; and telling people about an important period in our Nation’s history".

XH558 still has no commercial sponsors and relies on public donations and fundraising events organised by the Vulcan To The Sky Club members and supporters. In December 2008, the Vulcan To The Sky Trust set up a pledge scheme in order to raise £1 million by early 2009 to pay debts and cover servicing and operating costs for the 2009 display season. On March 6 the appeal reached its target.