What an incredible year it has been! In our newsletter at this time last year, we wrote about Operation Safeguard, the campaign to build a new home for XH558 at Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA). Raising funds during two years of a global pandemic was already proving to be a challenging task and the sudden death of Dr Robert Pleming that year made for an exceptionally tough challenge. Disappointingly the Operation Safeguard campaign failed as we did not raise the required funds to build the new hangar.
Since that time, Peel Group, owners of DSA, informed us that our agreement to keep XH558 at the airport would run out in June 2023 and we were required to leave the airfield by that time. They subsequently announced the closure of the airport. A large part of this year has been exploring every possibility to move XH558 to potential new locations.
As has always been the case with XH558’s story, triumph often follows adversity. After No. 50 Sqn was disbanded March 1984, XH558 was marked for disposal. The aircraft was flown to RAF Marham, with the prospect of being stripped down for spares before taking up position on the station’s fire dump! It was then discovered that another aircraft selected for the Vulcan Display Flight (VDF), showed only 160 hours remained before a Major service was due. XH558 had 600 hours remaining, so the decision was taken to make her airworthy and eventually become the main VDF aircraft. She made her RAF display debut at the TVS Airshow in Bournemouth, in May 1986.
When she landed after her final flight in RAF service in 1993, many people believed that would be the last time they saw a Vulcan fly. However, Dr Robert Pleming had another idea and set about returning Vulcan XH558 to the sky. The restoration of XH558 required what the RAF classed as a Major Service with first estimates of over £3.5m to complete the work; the eventual cost was more than £7 million. On many occasions during the restoration years, the project almost ceased to be, but generous donors – the many, many Vulcan fans who are the lifeblood of this project – saved it from collapse. It’s this support for the aircraft that saw her returned to flight in 2007.
It’s the support of Vulcan fans that enabled VTST to keep XH558 flying for eight seasons. It’s this amazing support that has kept XH558 in the public eye since she stopped flying in 2015. And, it’s this support that is helping to deliver her new home.
Nearly two years on from Robert’s death, we are pleased to announce that we are making positive progress to deliver his legacy of a home for Vulcan XH558. A home where thousands of people each year can visit this iconic aircraft and where she will be a centerpiece that tells the story of the V-Force through her extraordinary life and become a catalyst for STEM learning. It will be a space where supporters will be able to visit the Vulcan, learn about her history and be inspired by the innovative thinking and STEM skills that went into making her fly.
We continue to maintain good communication with the National Heritage Lottery Fund on the options available to us and our conversations have been with landlords who not only want XH558 on their site but are willing to work with us and share their knowledge of being an established visitor attraction.
We hope to be able to share good news with you in early 2023, of the location for The Vulcan Experience.
Work of the charity
During the year we have continued our work on a number of projects with our education partner, The Work-wise foundation.
In January, the winning team for the Bomb-Bay Fuel Tank Exhibit Project were invited to CBE+ to start work on making their design a reality. The winning design was displayed at Get up to Speed with STEM later in the year.
Doncaster UTC received an award in November 2021, where the Vulcan XH558 project was cited in the judges’ comments. 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”. The employer-led engineering project saw the students using original plans and sketches of the Vulcan, to achieve the task of redesigning the wing using modern materials and manufacturing processes. In March this year, we were privileged to welcome the UTC students on a visit to see XH588.
Also in March, we attended Get Up To Speed with STEM to talk about the Vulcan and the technological achievements of the all British four-jet engine aircraft which was ahead of its time. The event was a perfect example of the power of Vulcan XH558 to inspire young engineers. Newfield Secondary School were set-up next to the bomb-bay fuel tank to show off their winning design for a fuel tank exhibit.
In June we were proud to be celebrating the success of the students at Doncaster UTC and sharing their Celebration Evening with them. We had been asked if we could produce a trophy for one of the awards and were only too pleased to be part of their evening. The trophy for the first recipient of The Avro Vulcan XH558 Award for Excellence in Engineering was presented to Milly Barnes.
In July, we had a guest engineer working with our engineering team for the day, Marcus Cordran. Marcus is the owner of a Buccaneer cockpit section based at South Yorkshire Air Museum which he is in the process of renovating. Marcus’ mum Carolyn said “He is very passionate and enthusiastic about aircraft and has been fortunate enough to grow up watching XH558 flying, and since retirement. Indeed, his big sister Alana and he used to bake gingerbread Vulcans to raise funds during the fantastic 8 years of flying!”. As the VTS education projects continue to move forward we will be able to offer many more opportunities for young people to spend time up close to Vulcan XH558.
In October we reported on the launch of Dr Pleming’s Delta Wing Design Project, which will see primary and secondary children from the Delta Academy Trust, which has 46 schools across Yorkshire and Humber, take part. Year 6 children were asked to create models of Vulcan XH558 to form part of a display at the new Vulcan Experience building and Year 8 were tasked with creating a design for a sculpture which incorporates the Vulcan’s wing tips that can be displayed in the new home of the aircraft. These designs will then be judged by an expert panel and the winning design will be built at CBE+ by expert engineers and the students who win.
Michael Trotter, from VTST, said: “We, along with all the partners involved, have been so excited about this project and the launch days did not disappoint! What a way to get the engineers of the future engaged in the design and building of aircraft and at the same time learn more about the historic importance of the Vulcan which is on display here in Yorkshire. We can’t wait to see all the entries as they develop and wish all the school children involved the best with their planning and creating.”
After a recent judging day for the secondary school entries, Mrs Noble, Head of Department Key Stage 3 Technology, at Rossington All Saints Academy said, “It’s been a great learning experience, a great opportunity to work collaboratively in groups and a really good way to get STEM into the classroom. I’m hopeful that this will now open the door for our Academies to take part in future competitions and enjoy a different way of learning.”
Throughout 2023, we’ll continue to keep you up-to-date with the Dr Robert Pleming’s Delta Wing design project and all education projects that XH558 is involved with.