Operating a Four-engine Jet Aircraft is an Expensive Business

The Vulcan to the Sky Trust (VTST) is often asked “where has all the money gone?” The simple answer is “Operating a four-engine jet aircraft is an expensive business and all money donated and generated through sales of merchandise at events and through our online channels goes towards the work of the Trust, with looking after XH558 and telling her story being our number one priority”.

To elaborate on that; a restored Vulcan XH558 was ready to fly again on Thursday 18 October 2007, after 26 months, over 100,000 man-hours and £7million spent. That wasn’t the end of the need to fundraise.

Over the following eight years of her second flying career, millions more pounds in donations were required to enable XH558 to be kept in flightworthy condition so many millions of us could see her at airshows up and down the UK. Dr Robert Pleming was effectively the CEO of a “one aircraft airline”, an airline that required around £2million per annum to operate for 40-50 flying hours.

Taxy Test and First Flight – 18 October 2007

Since 2015, despite no longer being allowed to fly, there remains a cost to maintaining XH558. We aim to keep her to the RAF standards that she has been kept at through her flying years and after. In keeping her at these high standards we are able to show her off at Airside Tours during the year and we still operate her as a live aircraft on Engine Ground-Run events, during which she taxys to and from the running-bay and visitors get to hear the famous Vulcan ‘howl’. XH558 uses 2,300 litres of fuel at each of these events.

While there are other successful ground-running Vulcans, such as XL426 at Southend and XM655 at Wellesbourne, the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) means VTST has a unique contractual obligation in the heritage jet world: it is responsible for giving XH558 the best chance it can of being an operational heritage asset until at least 2085.

Due to the HLF grant we have some unavoidable costs, such as insurance and the cost of storing the many tons of spares that were bought with XH558 from the MoD in 1993, to note just two. These spares are also made available for other Vulcan operators, to support keeping as many Vulcans live in the UK as possible.

Our responsibility is not only to maintain and demonstrate the aircraft as other Vulcan operators do. The scope of the grant from the HLF also included the provision of public access to XH558 on the ground, and the setup of educational activities to tell the story of the Cold War and to provide lessons for schoolchildren in technology, engineering and maths based on the aircraft and her operation.

To enable the charity to consistently and professionally achieve these objects we require a team of paid employees for the fundraising and legally required administration of the Trust’s work. This team manages our volunteers, runs the merchandise business, carries out charitable fundraising, collaborates with regional educational facilities as part of our outreach programme, promotes the Trust’s activities, liaises with supporters and administers the database of supporters, supports the maintenance of XH558, complies with mandatory governance requirements and manages the Trust’s activities.

XH558 on display in hangar 3 at DSA.

In January 2017 the loss of the ability to trade in DSA’s hangar required a radical restructure of the Trust. The Trust went from 22 full-time employees to just eight with a few part-time contracted consultants to contribute in specialist areas such as fundraising. Since then the team has reduced even further.

Despite moving out of the hangar facility and the necessity of the team being massively reduced, our commitment to the care and protection of Vulcan XH558 remains, along with providing access to the aircraft and delivering educational activities. Since August last year, when we were able to recommence visits after the Covid-19 lockdown, our team have run 32 event sessions, giving access to many hundreds of visitors to the aircraft.

An example of our outreach programme includes a pop-up exhibition that we operated in the local Lakeside Village Outlet where we were able to tell visitors the story of the Vulcan and the Cold War. The exhibition also provided opportunity for “An Evening with Vulcan People”, which saw Wing Commander (Ret) Adrian Sumner, Squadron leader (Ret) Malcolm Stainforth and XH558 Chief Engineer Kevin ‘Taff’ Stone give presentations to guests on their time with the Vulcan.

In March 2021 we launched a competition inviting secondary schools to design an interactive exhibition to display one of the Bomb Bay Fuel Tanks from Vulcan XH558. We received applications from 16 schools to take part, with a total of 72 students from a variety of backgrounds being engaged in the programme from start to finish. The winning team of students from Newfield School are now working with CBE+ to make their design idea a reality with the design being displayed at Get up to Speed with STEM on 23rd March 2022 allowing the students to showcase all their hard work to 4,500 visitors on the day alongside the Vulcan to the Sky Trust stand.

In recent months we have worked with Doncaster UTC on their employer-led engineering project, which has seen students using the original plans and sketches of the Vulcan, an iconic example of British aeronautical design excellence. They were tasked with redesigning the wing of the aircraft using modern materials and manufacturing processes.

In November 2021, Doncaster UTC was awarded the title New Educational Institution of the Year – UK. While this was extraordinary enough, the citation said, “Our judges were impressed with the initiatives to inspire young people- in particular the Vulcan XH558 project. “We appreciate how important things like this are to help the engineers of tomorrow visualise where their education could take them”.

During 2022 we have more education outreach activities planned, such as Dr Pleming’s Delta Wings Project. This is due to be launched in March 2022 and will ask both Primary and Secondary schools from the Delta Academies Trust to get involved in creating displays to showcase the Delta Wing Tips from a Vulcan. Delta Academy covers 30 primary schools, 15 secondary schools and 2 alternative provision centres, all of whom have expressed an interest in taking part. In September 2022 there will be two days of hands-on activity days to fully brief and engage students on the project. These launch days will also include historical information on Vulcan XH558 to compliment curriculum learning.

Flying Futures is a collaboration between Vulcan to the Sky Trust, The Work-wise Foundation and The University of Sheffield makerspace project. This project takes a look back at excellence in engineering through the lens of the Avro Vulcan and explores the future of a more environmentally sustainable aerospace industry with the help of local engineers from The University of Sheffield and industry partners. The year-long project will run from summer 2022 and engage with 18 venues including local primary schools and visitors to the airport and shopping centre. The programme will be aimed at participants from under-represented groups in engineering with a particular focus on the high levels of social and economic deprivation in areas served by the airport including North East Lincolnshire, Doncaster, Worksop and Sheffield.

Flying Futures will be an interactive tinkering workshop roadshow that will support relationship building between local schools, the general public, the airport, STEM education providers, local aerospace research and development organisations and industry based engineers. The activities designed in partnership with engineers will form part of the permanent public engagement offer. 

Our ability to provide access for XH558’s supporters and continue to deliver our outreach programme is helped in large part to the commitment and devotion from our amazing volunteer team. As a registered charity, the Trust is governed by a Board of eight Trustees – the Directors of the Trust – all of whom are also volunteers and are not remunerated. But, the roles of a small team of paid employees are also vital in continuing the work of the Trust. While our business model includes a successful retail operation which helps to provide funds towards all that we do, we also still require donations and specific fundraising campaigns for large-scale plans such as we have recently done for the new hangar facility – The Vulcan Experience.

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Thank you for taking an interest in this article.
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