Vulcan makes last public appearance during air show at Old Warden

Shuttleworth Collection, Old warden.
Shuttleworth Collection, Old warden.

One of the world’s most popular aircraft, the Vulcan XH558, the last airworthy example of Great Britain’s famous V-Force, makes her last public appearance when it she flies over Old Warden this weekend.

The aircraft is now at the very end her last flying season and will sadly be retiring at the end of this year. Her appearance at the Shuttleworth Uncovered Airshow on Sunday, October 4 will mark her very final display in front of the public. As has happened with the vast of the majority of events that XH558 has appeared at during the season this event is now a total sellout.

Vulcan XH558

Vulcan XH558

Among other aircraft to be seen will be a Dakota (BBMF), Bleriot from ‘Friends of Saint-Hippolyte’ (static), Aerobility Yak 52, Muscle Biplane (Static), Bristol Scout and the Red Devils (parachute team).

Returned to the skies in 2007 following what is now believed to be the most ambitious technical restoration programme ever undertaken, Vulcan XH558 is operated to amongst the world’s most demanding safety standards.

Each year, the charity which owns and operates her, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust (VTST) raises more than £2 million to service and operate the aircraft, which is based at the former RAF Finningley, now Robin Hood Airport.

VTST Chief Executive, Dr Robert Pleming, said: “XH558 is now sadly nearing the very end of her flying life and there will now be no further opportunities to hear a Vulcan’s spine-tingling howl as she climbs high into the sky for another dramatic display, or to see her rolling onto her side to reveal her giant delta silhouette.

“It is highly gratifying, but at the same time very sad, that we are making our final appearance at Old Warden where the Shuttleworth Collection has one of the finest collection of vintage aircraft to be seen in the UK today. XH558 has bought so much pleasure to so many in the past eight years since her restoration and we believe that she has been seen by some 22 million people throughout the UK during this time. She has of course attracted another sell-out crowd to Old Warden and I am sure that she will receive an amazing welcome as the crowd savour and enjoy her spectacular display.”

XH558 has undertaken a packed calendar of appearances throughout the UK that has taken her to more people than ever before and earlier this year she carried out a country-wide Tour to salute the heroes of Britain’s legendary V-Force in which she played a vital role during the knife-edge tension of the Cold War.

Dr Pleming added: “During the season we have flown 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. I would like to thank everyone who has donated their time and/or money to help XH558 fly; including of course the many specialist companies whose expertise has been invaluable. The pleasure she brings to millions of people each year would not have been possible without you all.”

All money raised during the season has been used to operate XH558 this summer and further funding will be required to maintain XH558 in fast-taxi condition when she stops flying this month.

The public can find out more about XH558, including the many ways that there are to support her and obtain information about the National Farewell Tours which is taking place on the 10 and 11 October by visiting Regular updates and other news are provided by a popular free email newsletter and the Trust also has an active Facebook community (Vulcan XH558) and Twitter feed @XH558.

When XH558 lands for the last time at the end of a spectacular Farwell to Flight season, it 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,”

Dr Pleming said: “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.”

There will also be a heritage centre so that the public can continue to visit the aircraft and learn about the engineering innovation and Cold War politics that brought her into existence. XH558 will also be maintained to a high standard and will regularly thrill audiences with her famous Vulcan howl as she accelerates along the runway.

Around 15,000 people a year already 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 and clicking displays/tours.

Having evaluated a great many factors, the three expert companies on whom XH558 depends – known as the ‘technical authorities’ - have together decided to cease their support at the end of this flying season. Without that support, under Civil Aviation Authority regulations, she is not permitted to fly.

“This is for entirely pragmatic and well-argued reasons related to the age of her airframe and engines and the growing difficulty sourcing otherwise redundant skills,” explains engineering director Andrew Edmondson. “I cannot emphasise highly enough that this is not in any way a comment on XH558’s safety this year. She has proven to be as reliable as most modern military jets and is maintained to the CAA’s rigorous standards which are amongst the highest in the world.”

At the heart of their decision are two factors. First, although XH558 is currently as safe as any aircraft flying today, her structure and systems are already more than ten percent beyond the flying hours of any other Vulcan, so knowing where to look for any possible failure will become more difficult. Second, maintaining her superb safety record requires expertise that is increasingly difficult to find.

“Our technical partners already bring specialists out of retirement specifically to work on XH558; a solution that is increasingly impractical for those businesses as the necessary skills become distant in their collective memories,” explains Andrew. “We have recently been made aware that the skills issue is particularly acute as our engines age and will require a considerable amount of additional (and costly) inspection and assessment.”

The Trust has worked hard to see if another year may be possible. Unfortunately, following extensive discussion with the technical authorities, some of the challenges have proven to be insurmountable.

Follow XH558 on twitter @XH558

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Read about XH558 and how to keep her flying at: 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.