It started with a wink

It was a bright, sunny day at the Wroughton Airshow, the day Dr Robert Pleming first laid eyes on Vulcan XH558 in the late 1980s.

Robert saw XH558’s airshow displays with the RAF Vulcan Display Flight (VDF) for many years. On 19 September 1992 he was back at the Wroughton Airshow watching XH558 make her penultimate public display with the VDF. Raising his camera to photograph the iconic aircraft as the sunlight poured across her, the light glinted sharply on the cockpit window, sending Robert a signal that would change both his and XH558’s life forever.

She had winked at him, he would later say, sparking a lifelong determination to preserve her legacy for generations to come.

To the sky

In 1993 Robert watched Vulcan XH558’s last flight in RAF Service.

Watching the magnificent aircraft that had captured his heart at Wroughton roaring overhead, he vowed to his family that he would “do his damndest” to ensure she flew again.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

In early 1997 Robert began to explore the feasibility of returning Vulcan to flight and, in 1999, the project received the positive support of BAE Systems, who had inherited the design responsibility from A.V. Roe.

By 2000, Robert had assumed the full-time, unpaid role of leading the charge to return Vulcan XH558 to the skies of Great Britain.

It was to be the most complex return to flight project ever attempted – returning an ex-military, heavy, powerful and complex aircraft to flight, under civilian ownership.

On Thursday 18 October 2007, Robert’s determination, enthusiasm and drive was rewarded as he and his team saw XH558 take to the air for her first flight after restoration and for the first time in 14 years.

The aircraft wowed and entertained millions of people at UK airshows for eight years.

Preserving her legacy

Sadly, in 2015, after Robert had led the project to restore her to flight, Vulcan XH558 was grounded and she is now kept in full ground-running order, maintained by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust team in Doncaster.

But Robert’s mission to preserve XH558’s legacy didn’t end there. Robert’s determination to keep XH558’s spirit alive continued with plans to build her a new and exciting home where she will be shown off to her supporters.

Robert wanted generations from all walks of life to be engaged by the sight and sound of the Vulcan, just as he was years ago at Wroughton.

He was passionate about creating a place to inspire young people into a career in engineering and to celebrate XH558’s legacy for all to see.

In 2020, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust launched the Operation Safeguard campaign, spearheaded by Robert, to realise this ambition.

However, in February 2021, Robert sadly passed away, meaning he will never get to see his vision and decades of work and devotion become reality.

“Robert was a true visionary whose determination to restore Vulcan XH558 to flight captured the hearts and minds of millions of people. His determination was an inspiration and an exemplar of how to bring a difficult project to fruition.

We will continue our work on his vision for the future of XH558 as an inspiration for green technology as well as an aeronautical milestone. His mission was to engage young people in the possibilities that a career in engineering can create to tackle the challenges facing the world today.” – John Sharman, Chair of the VTST

Robert’s passing has been a huge loss to Vulcan to the Sky Trust and all of XH558’s loyal followers, as well as the generations of aviation enthusiasts and engineers to come. But, at the Trust, we know he would want work to continue in his name.

And so, the Operation Safeguard campaign continues. We are determined to not only create a new home for XH558, but to honour Robert’s own incredible legacy, too.

From the earliest days of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust’s work, the charity has always had two guiding principles, to honour those who served us in the past and to inspire future generations to help maintain the United Kingdom’s historic role at the forefront of innovation in aviation.

You can help to complete Robert’s vision to tell the story of the famous Avro Vulcan XH558 and the V-Force, the RAF and its people, the Cold War, and to inspire future generations to help maintain the UK’s historic role at the forefront of innovation in aviation.

Dear Reader

Thank you for taking an interest in this article.
Did you know that Vulcan to the Sky is a charity? We rely on merchandise sales and donations from you, the supporter, to enable us to look after XH558 and tell her story.
Please help us to keep delivering articles of interest to you by donating below, or alternatively visit our Shop or see what projects we currently have on.

Related Articles

Avro Apprentice

Whilst Mr Ewans was hard at work in the design office, a certain David Thirlby was equally hard at it on the factory floor! The Following is an account of the ‘other end’ of the ladder in Avro’s Woodford complex,…

Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent Development – Part Eight

1949 – While Britain raced towards their first nuclear weapon, Russia was also advanced in their building of a nuclear device. The Soviet design was an implosion-type bomb, based on the ‘Fat Man’ device which was detonated by the US…

Falklands War 1982 – Operation Black Buck

Operation Black Buck was a series of seven ambitious long-distance bombing missions conducted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Falklands War in 1982. It was the RAF’s most daring attack since Operation Chastise – the Dambusters raid in…

First Flight of the First Production Vulcan B.1, XA889

On 4 February 1955, the first production Vulcan B.1, XA889, made its maiden flight, flying with the original Vulcan wing design. In September 1955, Avro test pilot, Wing Commander ‘Roly’ Falk flew the second production Vulcan B.1, XA890, at the…

Cold War Stories: Red Steer – The Firebar Affair

An espionage story from 1966 – by Jim Debenham, VTST Volunteer If this were a fictional story it would have been written by none other than Ian Fleming, with James Bond as the lead character. During the heady days of…

Black Buck Memories

Barry Masefield, former XH558 Air Electronics Officer, relives his experiences back in 1982.  This article first appeared in a special 20th Anniversary edition of ‘The Vulcan’ Magazine in May 2002.  The Build-up It was 04.30 hours on 2nd April 1982, when 150…

JOIN US

Stay up to date with all of the latest news and updates

Vulcan to the Sky swoosh