The serial number or ‘registration’ XH558 was first reserved back in 1954 when a further order of 35 Vulcan B Mk. 1s was placed with Avro by the Ministry of Supply (MoS). This was before taking up the title of Ministry of Defence and the well-known acronym ‘MoD’.
Developments were happening quickly and change to the design mid-production cycle was quite common. Increasing engine power needed greater volumes of airflow, so an increased intake size in deeper wing roots were accommodated by way of the phase 2C wing re-design, whilst at the same time increasing the wingspan to 111 feet. This would offer great improvement in performance – particularly in allowing greater range and operating heights.
XH558 was actually the twelfth airframe on the B.2 production line, but by the time this improved modification arrived, all built aircraft to XH556 had already been made with a shallower intake, so it was XH557 that would receive the first modification of this type. That aircraft was immediately taken to Boscombe Down for engine and performance trials by Avro and Bristol Siddeley.
XH558 was therefore allocated to be the first B.2 aircraft ready for service delivery and made her maiden flight at Woodford on 25 May 1960. The following month saw a series of short test flights before Avro’s Chief Test Pilot Tony Blackman, climbed aboard to make a 1hr 40 minute delivery flight to RAF Waddington.
Delivery and early life at RAF Waddington
XH558 arrived on 1 July 1960 to join 230 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), that would train the pilots of the day on the new aircraft type. Like the existing B Mk.1s operating with the OCU, the tail fin was decorated with the City of Lincoln coat of arms. On Saturday 17 September that year, she made what was undoubtedly the first ever full public display by a B Mk.2 at the Battle of Britain Open Day, held at its home base – RAF Waddington. As can be seen from the pictures, like the rest of the Vulcan fleet at that time, they were painted in ‘Anti-flash’ white, a scheme designed to help reflect the heat from a nuclear blast.
Over the next 12 months, XH558 would be used heavily in training three new squadrons, which were to be established as the Scampton Wing. Indeed, the aircraft was positioned at RAF Scampton to participate in a Bomber Command dispersal exercise ‘Mayflight’, giving an insight into how the aircraft could be quickly deployed to a number of other locations to protect from the perceived threats to their own operating base.
This was to prove the concept of rapid dispersal to see how the aircraft and their personnel could cope with remote operations and additional airfields were allocated to the crews as alternatives in the time of rising tension.
During June 1961, 230 OCU transferred to RAF Finningley in Yorkshire, so at this time XH558’s tail fin was decorated with a ‘Yorkshire Rose’ sitting in the centre of a light blue shield. On Saturday 16 September 1961, XH558 was placed on static display for the Battle of Britain Open Day held at the base. This would remain her home for the foreseeable future.