Final season announced for last flying Vulcan
Vulcan to the Sky Trust, the charity that operates the last flying Vulcan bomber, has announced that 2013 will be the aircraft's final flying season.
Following an award-winning restoration, Vulcan XH558 was granted a technically-determined number of flying hours. At the end of next year’s display season, six years after the return-to-flight, XH558’s current cleared flying life will have been almost completely consumed.
Since the restoration in 2007, Vulcan XH558 has been seen by more than 10 million people at over 60 locations, with a remarkable three million turning out to see her during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee season. Through school visits and other educational projects, she has helped to inspire new generations to enter careers in engineering and aviation.
Trust chief executive Dr. Robert Pleming explained the decision to supporters: “We are sure you are aware that all Vulcans have a finite safe flying life and that XH558 is already well beyond the hours flown by any other aircraft of her type.
“At the end of next year, she will need a £200,000 modification to her wings to increase her flying life. We know that you would do your upmost to fund this work, but for a number of reasons we have decided not to ask you to take this risk.”
The decision is based on a combination of factors. First is the challenging wing modification, as engineering director Andrew Edmondson explained: “It is a demanding procedure that can no longer call upon the original manufacturing jigs and there is no possibility of rectification if an error is made. We are not saying we cannot do it, just that it is risky so other factors must be taken into account.”
Top of the list is the limited life of XH558’s engines. “From the start of the 2014 season, it is unlikely that we could accommodate any engine failures and that even without any technical problems, soon our set of engines would be out of life,” said Edmondson. “There are no more airworthy engines available, and refurbishment would be so difficult and costly that there is no possibility that it will happen.”
There are also challenges with other areas of the aircraft as every component, however small, was designed and manufactured to agreed specifications by approved suppliers. “When those suppliers close or lose the ability to remanufacture or refurbish those components, it can be prohibitively expensive to re-source them,” explained Edmondson. “We know, for example, that the set-up costs to remanufacture a main wheel are more than £70,000. If the approved engineering drawings are no longer available, it can be practically impossible given any amount of money.”
Pleming said: “It is therefore with great sadness that we have told XH558’s supporters that we are planning for next year to be the last opportunity anyone will have, anywhere in the world, to see a Vulcan in the air. I’d like to thank everyone who by the end of 2013 will have contributed to achieving six fantastic years of Vulcan displays since the restoration; it’s a remarkable achievement that many people said would be impossible. With the passionate and generous support of the British people, we returned an all-British icon to the sky and brought the excitement of engineering and aviation to new generations.”
The Vulcan to the Sky Trust’s aspiration is that when XH558’s flying life is over, she will become the centrepiece of a new project that will inspire and train young people, helping to solve the UK’s significant shortfall in the number of talented new candidates entering technical careers. “XH558 will be maintained in excellent running order and will continue to delight her supporters with fast taxi runs while developing further her role in education as the centrepiece of an exciting new type of inspirational engineering education centre,” added Trust director Michael Trotter.