back to article Goodbye Vulcan: Blighty's nuclear bomber retires for the last time

Visit a British air show before September and it's possible you’ll get the opportunity to witness the last Vulcan bomber in flight - and this is definitely the last year you'll get the chance, this time. Alongside the staple leather-clad wing-walking ladies, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, simulated Apache attack- …


  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Until about 5 years ago...

    ...there was plenty to see in the skies, here, at RIAT time. B-52s and Lancers, at low level over the town. Spits and Hurricanes, and Mustangs having fun. Then one year the Lanc came, at low level, directly over my house. You know, I heard - and felt - it coming, went out into the garden, and just, wow! And it did it again the next year! The US bombers weren't coming over anymore though. Nearly a decade ago, at my previous address, a Lancer had come low over that house - afterburners lit - and later or maybe the next day, I was riding my motorbike and it came low over the road just in front. Saw a Spit following the road - towards me, as though I was about to be strafed. Had the Red Arrows turn outside my window, in formation, heading back to Kemble. After RIAT that year lots of stuff flew home past my house, notably the Greek Phantoms. A decade ago, when I lived in London, I stepped out the back at the exact moment that a Canberra came, again, directly over the house, at low level. And until relatively recently - two years back? - the VC-10s flew back and forth on a daily basis (with those fabulous Conway engines from the days when airliners still made a hell of a noise!). Since then, nothing. I am bereft. I've been waiting to see XH558 go over since they got it back's hoping. Haven't seen one flying since I lived near Farnborough in the '80s. Obviously I could actually go to RIAT - but I don't really care for the airshow environment. Hendon and Cosford are like seeing animals in the Natural History Museum; airshows are like seeing them at the zoo. Seeing them in the wild is where it's at.

    (With all the billions our Gov. wastes, though, I think they ought to use a little bit of it to build maybe half a dozen Lightnings! I'm sure today's technology could fix the fuel leak issues. Just use them for displays.

    Oh well, just a fantasy for my dotage).

  2. MJI Silver badge

    Seen it a few times, a wonderful sight.

    Got to see the tail end of an airshow last month, saw it climbing, wow

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I worked at Woodford during the Falklands campaign, converting Vulcans into Tankers - 36 hour shifts (36 on - 36 off) - from the RAF asking if we could do it, it was 51 days until the first one flew, an exhausting time but some fond memories. At the end of it all our manager got an OBE, we got a tie (which I still have). My superintendent said to us the day the last one flew the coop that as long as he worked there he would make sure we all had a job - he took redundancy 6 months later and quite a few of us were out the door soon after.

    Im sad I missed the fly past over the remains of the Woodford factory Saturday, Id have loved to have seen the old girl go over one last time.

  4. Stevie Silver badge


    Blue Danube a "Heath Robinson affair"?

    I think you meant to say "was designed with a surprisingly modern 'maker' methodology front and center that repurposed off-the-shelf components for a cold-war-era deterrent at an affordable price".

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    (Drifting OT) Teller-Ulam configuration

    (That'll guarantee this page is scraped by the NSA/CIA/MI5 and FBI)

    Recently read about the Skybolt fiasco (basically how the UK strongarmed the US into sharing nuclear weapons). However, more interesting, was the fact that as a result, the US developed a weird legal concept of born secret which basically says that even if you arrived at the knowledge independently, you are going to chokey.

    I'd be curious as to what El Reggers know about Teller-Ulam ....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: (Drifting OT) Teller-Ulam configuration

      "I'd be curious as to what El Reggers know about Teller-Ulam"

      Wikipedia. Whether or not you believe a word of it is up to you.

    2. kmac499

      Re: (Drifting OT) Teller-Ulam configuration

      My late Father in Law worked at AV Roe on the Vulcans and on the Blue Steel 'cruise missile'. He was a test engineer and got shipped out to woomera for some of the live testing.

      For his 80th birthday as I surprise I took him to the east midlands air musuem at Coventry where there was a Vulcan and a Blue Steel, it's huge. He said it was bloody dangerous and slow to operate (Peroxide oxidant.) and to load it on to the Victor they had to be jacked up because of the low ground clearance, not exactly a quick response weapon.

      1. Ian Prickett

        Re: (Drifting OT) Teller-Ulam configuration

        My father worked on the same project at AV Roe and was also sent to Woomera for the test firings, maybe they worked together (he was on the autopilot side)? He still remembers how the Vulcan jumped when they dropped the full sized ones (most were 1/3rd scale).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: (Drifting OT) Teller-Ulam configuration

      Similar one in the MoD, you can have invent something which you aren't cleared to know.

      Used to be a joke that you weren't allowed to listen to Radio Moscow because you might hear something about Nato that was above your clearance.

    4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: (Drifting OT) Teller-Ulam configuration

      I thought we got the 1958 weapons treaty with the yanks because we went from non nukes to having a better design of H-Bomb than the yanks had managed.

      And the yanks wanted our H-bomb designs because ours were smaller and lighter for the same yield.


    5. Bloakey1

      Re: (Drifting OT) Teller-Ulam configuration


      "I'd be curious as to what El Reggers know about Teller-Ulam ...."

      A concept that is yet to be proven and yet to undergo peer review. Were it true my mobile phone would have a million years of battery life.

  6. Joey

    They have the nose of a Vulcan at the Air Museum by Bournemouth Airport. You can climb up into the cockpit and wiggle the switches. Yes, it is claustrophobic!

  7. James Hughes 1

    All 3 V-bombers

    Can be seen at Duxford as static displays. Saw a Vulcan do a show there in the late 70's. Turned away from crowd and let the engines rip. Quite impressive.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: All 3 V-bombers

      Correction:- Duxford has two, Cosford has all three. Both also have a TSR2 and are great to visit. Cosford is free to enter - you choose.

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    If you want to lose an afternoon... and then some...

  9. Morrie Wyatt

    I can only hope

    That someone can film one of these final flights with special attention paid to audio quality.

    There are many clips on youtube that lose out due to all of the wind noise recorded because the mic was unprotected.

    I really want that howl stored in highest possible quality for future generations to experience.

    Unfortunately, living in Australia I am unlikely to be able to ever hear it first hand.

    1. Davie Dee

      Re: I can only hope

      I believe the Vulcan to the sky group are aware and are doing something about it, she should be immortalised in HD and multiple sound channels before she's finished flying.

      Not that it will ever compare to the real thing but its better than nothing, least we have memories

      edit, just read your post again, so ok you wont have memories, but we do, sorry about that!

  10. Davie Dee

    A Sad day...

    Not ashamed to say but this old girl brings a tear to the eye, when she opens up and lifts off at near vertical, ground shaking, ears bursting, car alarms going off all over the place the howl is like nothing else on earth, there is really nothing quite like it.

    This plane continued to beat the Americans in war games long after she should have, she showed them that flying a bomber at tree top level whilst evading was possible and this was something they couldn't really believe.

    Shame on the RAF for not keeping this girl flying we are about to lose one of the finest examples of British engineering in history

  11. Giles C

    One of the best places to see it will be at little gransden air show. Last year they had both lancasters followed by a Vulcan not bad for a little local air show.

    Unfortunately the plane came in over a chicken shed which upset the local farmer (a few hundred hens had heart attacks due to the noise) and the organisers are pushing for a full display this year.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Definitely a sad day..

    Seeing it this Sunday at Old Warden (along with some WW1 replica planes).

    I'm a tad confused by some of the dates quoted in the piece. I left Scampton in December 1970 and I'm convinced we still had Blue Steels hanging underneath the QRA planes when I left.

    The Blue Steel had four fins at the back - making it look like the typical children's drawing rocket, but due to ground clearance issues, the bottom fin was folded sideways into a horizontal position for take-off and landing. I remember one instance when a Vulcan came back and either due to forgetfulness or malfunction, the bottom fin was ground away in a shower of sparks as the plane landed.

    I also remember the HTP.

    Beside each QRA pan was a large fibreglass horsetrough filled with heated water and covered with a layer of floating tabletennis balls. HTP was such a dangerous liquid that it would burst into flames on contact with anything organic. The idea was that should a spillage or a leak occur and you 'got any on you' , you should jump into the nearest trough and submerge yourself before you turned into a fireball.

    I also remember a regular solo activity which I think we called "Lone Ranger' where one V would go off alone at around 2300 and return around 0700 the next morning. Rumour was that they were penetration testing on the Arctic Ocean coast of the USSR. I was quite friendly with an AEO at the time and remember asking him after he had been on one of these trips if it worried him at all. His respones was to the effect that he was no more worried than eny normal training sortie as they had notthing that could reach them 'up there'. I'm not sure if he was referring to altitude or 'up north'.

    I also remember something major happening during June or July in either 1969 or 1970.

    We did exercises regularly when we had to get planes ready at short notice.

    There were two exercises, one more intensive than the other, and they normally called them at about 0400. Exercise X meant you had to get aircraft onto the ERA pans at the end of the runway and all the other serviceable aircraft armed up and ready. Exercise XY where you had to get as many aircraft as possible arned up and ready to go even if the were in the hanger on jacks with a motor missing or undergoing a fix for a hydraulic problem etc.

    That particular summer they called an 'Operation' XY on a Thursday or Friday afternoon and all leave was cancelled. I remember it lasting several days but had no idea what it was about but there were rumours that we had lost a Polaris submarine.

    This Easter I was socialising with retired nuclear sub commander who had spent most of his time under the ice but he couldn't (or wouldn't) recall anything happening then.

  13. imanidiot Silver badge

    Allas, I won't see it fly

    I've been trying, but I just can't swing a visit to a UK airshow this year. Sucks.....

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: Allas, I won't see it fly

      Shame. A beautiful aircraft. Was it the one that used to be on the right of the road at Gibraltar airport (on way in).

      When Gary Powers was shot down their was a quantum shift in bombing techniques and they eventually decided that if Russian missiles could get him at that height they would shift to low level. The only plane in the Vforce fleet that could do that without stress and instability was the Vulcan.

      Lovely plane, gorgeous girl with lovely curves and figure.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cuban Missile Crisis. A story from an insider

    I've been delaying telling this story up till now, because it could have got someone into serious trouble.

    A friend of mine was a Vulcan pilot in the early '60s. Once, after a few too many beers, he "forgot" about the Official Secrets Act, and told me a few things he should not have about Britain's role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Well, my friend died last year (the RAF gave him a good send off, by the way) and I am, I think, beyond the reach of UK authorities, so it's probably safe to tell this story now.

    Please remember that we were both well "lubricated" when he told this tale, so it's possible he got some details wrong, or I may have mis-heard him.

    One morning, at the height of the Crisis, he was summoned to a secret meeting, to be told that his aircraft was being prepared for a mission. This was not an exercise and, sorry, but it was going to be a one-way trip. They wouldn't have enough fuel to get home, and there probably wouldn't be a "home" to come back to anyway. He didn't say exactly what his "cargo" was. Only that it was nuclear missile of some kind, (presumably a Blue Danube or Blue Streak).

    My understanding of his account was that they were actually airborne, on their way to Moscow (or wherever), when they got the orders to turn back.

    As I said, I may have got some of the details wrong, and I can no longer check them, but it appears that we were much closed to Armageddon than we realised.

    I'm using the (probably thin) veil of anonymity for obvious reasons.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "...never really understood what the American thing was about."

    You've obviously never been in the British Armed Forces

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fond farewell

    These were most definitely part of the soundtrack to my childhood, teenage years and beyond, but were always a welcome sight + sound however often you saw them. Nothing really prepares you for the sheer bloody racket and pressure on the sternum on take off, as my girlfriend found out at Farnborough a few years ago. A real shame XH558 is retiring; nothing modern really compares to the jets of that era for the combination of visceral experience and in the case of the Vulcan, a graceful beauty.

  17. Alphabet Soup 1
    Thumb Up

    Christmas greetings

    In the middle 60's my dad received a christmas card from an RAF colleague which had a picture of a Vulcan on the front, bomb-bay doors open showing a Blue Steel air-launched nuclear missile.

    Inside the card was the message "Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men".

    The Airfix kit was the biggest piece of plastic I owned for many years.

    1. Ivan Headache

      Re: Christmas greetings

      Just a correction. When the Vulcan had a blue steel underneath it had special doors that were shaped to fit around the top surface of the missile. The doors were closed all the time and the missile effectily 'hung' underneath the bomb doors. I seem to remember that there was a lot of missile related gubbins inside the bomb bay - and extra fuel tanks.

  18. Johndoe888

    This article should have been run last week, prior to the V force tour !

    The article should have fully explained why XH558 will be grounded after this final flying season !

  19. Bloakey1


    "In the real world the Vulcan's only combat action came in 1982, as part of the Falklands War."


    Not my real world. That used to be the English spy plane well before Nimrods with bags of cement in the pod etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Not just them, see The "Blue Circle" airline

  20. Citizen99

    An anecdote from an ex-RAF (Armourer) colleague when we were at BAC Bristol in the 70s ...

    In the Mess at Singapore base, an Aussie crew were praising the climbing ability of their Super Sabres.

    The Vulcan crew got up, walked out, took off, and climbed ... vertically.

  21. Lunatik

    Stayed with me for over 30 years

    Similar to many, my first and abiding memory of the Vulcan was in the 1980s, queuing to get into Leuchars when one took off directly over my dad's Cortina, only about 350m from the end of the runway according to Google Maps. All the superlatives, as many in this thread can confirm.

    Because of such memories I wanted to see it fly at least once more and managed to time a trip back from Milton Keynes on Sunday to be able to stop off near RAF Halton to see it fly in low, loop round the airfield then shoot off towards Hendon. Shame it wasn't doing much more as the howl was only briefly evident as it set off again, but it was still amazing to see in the sky, even more so since the retirement of Concorde and the effective disappearance of such shapes from our skies.

  22. Ian Watkinson

    The Vulcan Aviation Academy

    next to the Vulcan Science Academy?


  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    this is surreal...

    ....down vote me if you want to but what an incredible piece of engineering that was put together for the 1960's, its a shame the short sightedness of the governemnt at the time couldnt get a program together to keep the knowledge and industries building better craft so that 20 years later its a "mothball" fleet that is their best chance in the Falklands as an early response. You have to put this in context to whats happening with the rest of the world I suppose... Russia and the US were sending people into space whilst the the engineers were rooting around car boot sales for spare parts.

    If something is costing more to maintain than it was to develop then its time to get rid of it, law of diminishing returns - same rules apply to IT!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I was nobbut a lad

    I used to see the odd Vulcan turn the corner around Driffield in the E Riding from my back garden, you could see right through the cockpit from the side

  25. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    A couple of thoughts, or are they?

    Is anyone else reminded of Oliver Reed's turn in "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen"?

    The USAF somewhat later had its own delta-winged bomber, the B-58 Hustler. I never saw one, but in the early 1960s the SAC was doing tactical exercises near American cities, and one night we heard the B-58's sonic boom. My grandmother, accustomed to a quieter life, nearly achieved liftoff.

  26. Buttons

    I live next to the XM655 in Warwickshire, not airborne yet but they're hopeful it may be one day.

    For the last two weekends running both XM655 could be seen an the ground with the XH558 flying over head! brilliant! and a once in a lifetime experience I fear.

    We have often had flypasts from not only XH558 but also other wartime aircraft, Now andd again I've seen old bi-planes, a Hurricane, Spitfire, Mustang and a Lancaster, Wellesbourne Airfield where the XM655 stands used to be used an old training airfield for Canadian bomber crews.

  27. x 7 Silver badge

    everyone keeps talking about the noise, but in many ways more impressive was the quietness with which they could fly

    As a kid I lived near Yeovil, and the Vulcans were often see on low-level flight profiles in the area, presumably dummy attacks on Yeovilton / Westlands and other strategic targets

    It was quite common to be able to look down on them from Ham Hill, and see them quietly gliding along. Often the only sound was in passing, as you experienced a "hum" something like the blue note of the Hawker Hunter, presumably caused by aerodynamics. One unforgettable sight was when one popped up around 100 feet over my head as it traversed a ridge-line road leading up to the hilltop, before dropping down again on the other side, down the next valley with me looking down on it. Sounds simple until you realise the valley was only around 150 metres wide, with a depth of 50 metres - and I was looking down on it from behind. The Vulcan wingspan was around 34 metres, the height just over 8 metres .Not a lot of room. And it was totally quiet. How the heck a pilot could keep a thing like that in the air, for so long, at low level is amazing

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They did have a rather nifty

      Terrain Following Radar that allowed them to do the scary low-level stuff.

      It was in the little black nipple on the nose. Coupled of course with a rather nifty (if memory serves - it's a long time now) FM radar altimeter. It had 2 radar altimeters, the FM one for the accurate low-level measuring and a convention pulse radar on for the high level stuff were single digits didn't really matter.

      What I can't remember though is whether the TFR actually flew the plane or just gave the pilot instructions. (may still have my course notes somewhere in the loft.)

  28. ecofeco Silver badge

    Gorgeous fucking aircraft

    Just fucking gorgeous. Truly transcendent. Way ahead of its time in style.

  29. SteveastroUk

    I now live and work in the USA, and I was very surprised when I told one of my US colleagues that this was to be the last year of the Vulcan - I saw him wipe away a tear - he was a US MP serving somehow on a British base, and the Vulcan was his favourite plane of all-time.

  30. Kevin Reilly

    operation skyshield

    I once saw them scramble a whole flight of Vulcans at Finningiey many moons liquidised your bowels. If you need conformation check out what they did to the septics @ Norad. egg on Yank faces

  31. I Like Heckling

    I remember them from my childhood

    I have very strong memories of seeing them at an airshow my folks used to take us to every year... I know it started with an H... possibly Hendon in the mid to late 70's and maybe even early 80's.

    The noise these planes made was the flew past was incredible, and I fell in love with the sleek looks.

    Back then, aircraft were able to do supersonic flybys and I remember several sonic booms from aircraft as they passed, but I cannot recall which ones as I was only a kid. I just remember all the different planes, the Red Arrows display, parachutists landing on a little target and motorcycle display teams... and the smell of jet fuel mixed with freshly made doughnuts.

    In fact my strongest memory of those airshows is not the aircraft, but the ferris wheel we went on... My older brother, younger sister and I went on it together... and it was going far to fast and all of us were in tears... according to my folks, huge sparks and that were coming from some of the machinery and electrics... and my mum was screaming at them to stop it. I used to love ferris wheels until that day and didn't go on another one for around 20yrs after.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not that anybody cares...

    But I saw it this afternoon on its way to Yeovilton, made up for a boring morning in the Somerset backwoods.

    1. x 7 Silver badge

      Re: Not that anybody cares...

      and I saw it AT Yeovilton..........

  33. GrumpyOldMan

    I was in the Mall for Her Maj's Silver Jubilee in the 70's when one flew overhead accompanied by the Red Arrows. Absolutely gorgeous.

  34. Robevan

    Operation Skyshield

    They did embarrassingly well against US defences in 1960 and 1961. Flying from Bermuda and Lossiemouth at very high altitude they penetrated US defences, evading radar and interceptors using ECM, in one case reportedly outflying a supersonic delta dagger at altitude. I believe they only had a single "loss" and "hit" all targets, returning to bases in Newfoundland, or in one case landing at Plattsburgh Air Force Base

    1. x 7 Silver badge

      Re: Operation Skyshield

      "supersonic delta dagger at altitude"

      at altitude it wouldn't be supersonic..............or at least not for very long. A few minutes max before running out of fuel


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