back to article Last flying Avro Vulcan, XH558, prepares for her swan song

The Vulcan To The Sky Trust has announced "with considerable sadness" that this summer will be the public's last chance to catch Avro Vulcan XH558 thundering through British skies, as the legendary V-bomber will be permanently grounded at the end of this flying season. The trust explains that the axe will fall because "three …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    What a shame

    This has to be the best aircraft to watch at an airshow, if you have never witnessed this beauty in the air don't miss this last opportunity to see it fly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What a shame

      ... and hear it fly, those engines roar out a sweet tune.

      1. stucs201

        Re: What a shame

        Not just a roar, although that is very impressive. The really distinctive thing is the howl.

        1. Small Furry Animal

          Re: What a shame

          "Not just a roar, although that is very impressive. The really distinctive thing is the howl."

          ... which only started when the Olympusses (Olympoi?) were at or above 92%. A beautiful sound.

          1. Stuart 22

            Re: What a shame

            in 1970 I climbed a mountain in South Wales. I got the greatest reward ever. As I stood on the peak two Vulcans in white livery flew up the valley and passed below me - presumably on low level training exercises. If you think the Vulcan looks good from underneath - you ain't seen it from above. So if there is a God, it will be a sad day for him/her too despite its intended payload.

            Oh, and the memory of Concorde flying over my back garden on Heathrow approach each evening was always a pleasant pause in whatever one was doing to look up and showing that loud aircraft noise can sometimes be welcome. Aviation is just so boring these days.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: What a shame

              My school lay under the flight path Concordes being built at Filton used to take on their test flights.

              Sadly another sight/sound which will never be seen again :((

              1. VinceH Silver badge

                Re: What a shame

                [Concorde]

                When I was very young, my mother and I lived with my grandparents in Brentry - close enough to Filton to get a good view of it on test flights.

                I wish I'd taken a trip on it before it was grounded.

                1. big_D Silver badge

                  Re: What a shame

                  A friend of mine was a stewardess on the London - New York run of the Concorde. I saw it a few times, even went on board, but I never got to fly in it.

                2. iranu

                  Re: What a shame

                  I watched the one that is now at Filton make it's final approach and landing when I was working for Rolls across the road. Half the workforce must have been out watching it for the final time that day.

                  Towards the railway line at the back were some of the Olympus 593 system test buildings which were pretty run down, but they still had those old signs with the name of each facility on.

                  All gone now, the whole site on that side of the road, including 1 to 4 shop, which built engines during the war and had fields and cows painted on the roof as camouflage, has been bulldozed.

                  I think the two 593 engine test beds on the other side of Gipsy Patch Lane are still there.

                3. Bleu

                  Re: What a shame

                  I agree with you VinceH, I had just enough money to consider going to the UK or USA and buying a Concorde flight at the time it was being shut down (sure was not cheap).

                  Work conditions, forgot the idea, suddenly the last flight was in the news. Probably the closest I (or you, perhaps) could have been to space.

                  I do think about the ballistic flights on fighter jets in Russia at times, it's little more than twice the price of a Concorde ticket.

                  Not the same as a flight from one place to another, but certainly better value than Branson's brain-fart (more than an order of magnitude above the price of a Concorde ticket, and still lands at the same place it took off, if it ever does).

        2. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: What a shame

          Seconded. It's the howl of banshees! Angry banshees. Banshees that are about to bring a lot of hurt down on you. It's bloody fabulous!

      2. thesykes

        Re: What a shame

        Hear it? You can feel it! I remember watching one fly low over the car park at RAF Finningley and hearing a chorus of alarms go off as the ground shook.

        Definitely something you have to experience in person.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What a shame

      Spent many a holiday in Cornwall near enough to RAF St Mawgan to have the house shake when the Vulcans flew over.

      It will be a great shame when the last one is retired.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        Re: What a shame

        As a kid I spotted these thundering over in Cornwall. I also spotted one while fossil hunting in Yorkshire. One of the most iconic British planes ever. Sad moment to see it grounded.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What a shame

        I remember going to a RNAS Culdrose (Cornwall) air day back in the late 70's bleedy loud as was the Starfighter

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: What a shame

      I saw it when I was still living in Fareham, the did a fly-past at the Lee on Solent Air Show.

      My father was a technician on the Vs during his sting in the RAF in the late 50s, early 60s.

    4. Peter Simpson 1
      Thumb Up

      Re: What a shame

      Chiming in from the US here - I was working a summer job at DEC's Westfield, MA plant. Got to the parking lot early enough to have two F4 Phantoms take off from the adjacent Air Reserve Base, right over my head. In formation, on afterburners.

      It was a good day.

    5. ntevanza

      Re: What a shame

      Go and stand under the one in the RAF museum. Your mind will seep full of the idea of Death. It remains easily the most ominous object I have ever seen.

    6. Efros

      Re: What a shame

      As a kid in Singapore I was at RAF Seletar primary school, and I remember the day that a Vulcan flew low over the school, low enough to read the notices on the underside of the plane. Bloody deafening and awe inspiring.

      1. Bleu

        Re: What a shame

        Efros,

        I was trying to work out last night if my (very young) childhood memory of seeing one flying and on the runway in Singapore (yes, living in Seletar) was cooked up from later reading Look and Learn and being taken to see Thunderball by my father, or real.

        So didn't mention it.

        Not RAF, Singaporean school at the time. but seems it was not imaginary.

        Thanks.

        1. Efros

          Re: What a shame

          @Bleu

          I believe they were based at Tengah in the early 60s, in my 6 months in Seletar I only saw one the one time and that seems to correspond with the Bersatu Padu Exercise.

    7. Champ

      Re: What a shame

      I was a boy growing up in the 70s in Gloucester. In those days the tiny airfield 2 miles up the road, Staverton, had a real airshow, which included the Vulcan. I watched the show from my back garden, and the majesty and noise of the Vulcan will live with me forever.

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: What a shame

        My memories are from Finningley. I grew up about twelve miles as the Vulcan flies from the base. One of my earliest memories is going the airshow and seeing/hearing a mock scramble of two (I think). There were English Electric Lightnings too - I wonder if that's why I have tinnitus :-)

        I was at X558s first display at Waddington a few years ago - wonderful, just wonderful. As the Olympi spooled up, I briefly saw a lot of grown men tear up - briefly, because I did too. Unfortunately, I've just looked at the show schedule for the summer, and I don't know that I'm going to be able to get to any of them - all a bit far South. But I'm going to try, dammit!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: English Electric

          English Electric. The company that brought you not just the Lightning, but the Deltic as well???? Wtf?

          Where's the modern equivalent in the UK?

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: English Electric

            You ask who the modern English Electric is? I give you Bombardier. Gives you the Pendolino as well as the Global Challenger, the Learjet and the Q400. :-)

  2. nsld
    Thumb Up

    had the joy

    Of this flying over the house when it was heading over to Duxford last summer.

    Rather than just turning casually he cranked it round and gave it some serious throttle and the house shook.

    Simply awesome and a real shame it's the last year of flight.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: had the joy

      There is no other sight like that great delta shape pulling up for a wing over followed by the roll of thunder when the four engines are turned towards you. Neck-hair-stander.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I saw it fly over the Shambala festival in Northamptonshire last August bank holiday. I can only assume it was on its way to a bank holiday airshow somewhere. Any idea which show that might have been?

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Pint

      It'd had been displaying with one of the two Lancasters that were flying that weekend. I was also at Shambala last year, and almost persuaded my friends to drive an extra hour to watch both Lancs and the Vulcan take off together. Sadly they weren't up for it, but seeing her on the sunday was a nice surprise.

      Shambala is pretty close to the Battle of Britain memorial flight's airfield, and there's nothing better than sitting in a field with a beer and ting while Lancs, Spits and Hurri's fly over :)

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      XH558 would make an appearance at more than one event on a busy summer bank holiday, perhaps five. I am sure it was at Goodwood Festival of Speed that day as one of its bookings, would have pass Northampton going either way from Doncaster way.

    3. jonamvc@hotmail.co.uk

      http://www.littlegransdenshow.co.uk/

      Went last year just for the Vulcan and Lancaster flypasts.

      Awsome

  4. MJI Silver badge

    Seen it a few times

    Just flying over

    First time recently we saw this large aircraft in the distance, after some thought, I worked out it HAD to be a Vulcan.

    Then more recently it overflew my house 5 times with some small airliners.

    Yes just sat in garden and watched

    1. Small Furry Animal
      Happy

      Re: Seen it a few times

      The first time I saw one was way back in '62. A pair of them overflew my school whilst we were all out on the playing fields. They seemed to be so low that I felt that I could reach out and touch them. The next time was on a visit to RAF Waddington (or was it Scampton?) in 1966. We were lucky enough to witness a QRA Scramble - three of them on the runway together and 12 Olympus engines at 100% thrust, the sound was awe-inspiring. On that day, I swore that I would fly one too - and I did. I entered Cranwell in 1969, and was eventually commissioned in Bomber Command.

      Oh happy days.

    2. Tim 49

      Re: Seen it a few times

      Minor nitpick, but the Vulcan didn't have afterburners (reheat). It used either Olympus 201 (the ones in XH558, & the ones that can make the howl), and the more powerful 301 (which seemed never to howl), and were used in the Falklands missions. The two types were not interchangeable.

      It's mostly lack of available engine hours that's going to ground 558, however like the other two live vulcans (and the two live Victors), she'll still be able to do fast taxi ground runs.

  5. DJO Silver badge

    Saw it years ago at Biggin Hill Airshow, flying low with the afterburners on, warmed everybody up a treat.

    Superb aircraft, shame to see it go.

    1. Hairy Spod

      Afterburners on eh! I doubt it.

      I think your memory is playing tricks on you sir

      Apart from a few test bed flights (and I think those planes were long since destroyed or decommisioned) the only afterburning versions of the powerplant that the Vulcan used were for the TSR2.

      1. Dan delaMare-Lyon

        I believe one of the first ones used as the test-bed bought it when a turbine failure went through the wing and the fuel on the Vulcan creating a rather substantial and plane-ending fire too....

        1. bristolmoose

          Absolutely true. My Grandad worked at RR and witnessed the destruction of the Vulcan and also a fire tender that got too close!

      2. Conrad Longmore
        Thumb Up

        Ah.. the TSR2. There's a whole other story..

      3. anothercynic Silver badge

        And those power plants were developed into the Olympus 593 for Concorde. The TSR.2 used the 591. :-)

    2. iranu

      We don't use the Americanism "Afterburner", we use the proper term "Reheat".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I don't think the arcade game would have quite received the attention it did if it were called "Reheat" instead of "Afterburner" :)

      2. Dagg
        Pint

        Americanism "Afterburner"

        We don't use the Americanism "Afterburner", we use the proper term "Reheat".

        Oh yes you do! When I lived in the UK I had quite a few afterburner curries (at least in Leicester) no one ever called them a reheat. That was what you did with the remains in microwave next day.

  6. Dan 10
    Pint

    I always used to smile when the Vulcan passed overhead at the airshows, leaving a series of blaring car alarms on the first couple of rows of parking. There would be people scrambling all over the place looking for car keys...

    Also, XH558, thanks for keeping me dry while I ate my sandwiches under your starboard wing. Hat well and truly tipped.

  7. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    It's wonderful, but...

    Why on earth are they grounding it? I appreciate that relying on elderly technicians isn't an option, but have they never heard of 'apprentices'? Perhaps get the elderly experts to train their successors? If they can keep the Lanc, Hurricane and Spitfire flying, which ar a lot older, why not train new technicians to keep the Vulcan flying?

    The Vulcan is one of the most impressive aircraft ever built, in Britain or anywhere. Is it really 'The Spirit of Britain' to ground it without trying to train a new generation of people to maintain it?

    (Actually, I rather fear that it IS the 'Spririt of Modern Britain' Pooh!)

    1. Tim Russell

      Re: It's wonderful, but...

      Metal Fatigue and the unknown unknown... It is sad but what would we think if the last Vulcan crashed because of an unknown metal fatigue issue....

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Metal fatigue

        Can't we xray scan things these days and detect the cracks that are the issue?

        Shuttleworth has planes from the beginning of the 1900's still flying so there must be some way we can manage.

    2. AndyS

      Re: It's wonderful, but...

      > If they can keep the Lanc, Hurricane and Spitfire flying, which ar a lot older, why not train new technicians to keep the Vulcan flying?

      Lanc, Hurricane and Spitfire are much, much simpler aircraft than the Vulcan, and quite similar in construction and use to the many thousands of light aircraft dotted all over the world. And training a whole crew of people to maintain a single aircraft of this complexity, used only for displays, would be totally impractical and cost prohibitive.

      Both issues ignore the second problem - they don't know where to look for problems. Where I work, we have a full aircraft rig simulating flight on a full airframe of a Tucano. That Tucano is kept ahead of the fleet in "flight hours," so that cracks, fatigue damage, etc can be found on it rather than a real, flying aircraft. If you have an aircraft as complex as the Vulcan, where the only remaining flying example is as far ahead of the fleet as this, you are likely to face very serious issues sooner rather than later.

      As gutted as I am to see it going (and being in NI, as unlikely as I am to see it again), I completely understand the reasons behind why it is being retired.

    3. Tim 49

      Re: It's wonderful, but...

      It's not just the people. The rules around 'complex'-class aircraft are akin to modern airliners: there must be a full paper audit trail of every nut, bolt & widget, bonded-warehouses etc. There are no more zero-hour Olympyses, and RR no longer have the tooling or the processes to make them. As a commercial organisation, you can imagine the publicity if anything did happen to these 30+ year-old engines. Then there's the other critical systems and airframe fatigue - same applies.

      People cite the marine Olympus, but it's a different beast: similar design, but non-aerospace components (weight doesn't matter in a ship, and aircraft generally don't eat salty air). 558's restoration only flew (ahem) because there were 8 zero-timed, bagged & audited Olympus 201s available from the old stock. Similar story with Concorde: without the approval of the Design Authority organisations, there would be no hope whatsoever of return to flight.

      1. Brian Morrison

        Re: It's wonderful, but...

        Yes, it was always going to be difficult with a small stock of engines, particularly since 2 of them were effectively written off when some non-standard moisture absorbing packs in the inlet ducts got left in before a departure and were ingested.

        It's for the best that 558 is retired now, if you read the accident report on the Lightning T5 that crashed in South Africa then you will see the effect of insufficient experienced ground engineering staff leading to in flight failure and the death of the pilot.

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