It was great to see supporters at our first event of the year in January. The talk on Sir Frank Whittle and Power Jets in Stratford-upon-Avon was a real hit. We continued our events program in February and saw our first visits of the year to see the iconic Vulcan XH558.
While Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA) is no longer an active airport, we have had positive discussions with Peel Group, the owners of DSA, who have allowed us to continue our events while we remain onsite. On Sunday 12 February we held sold out tours in the morning and afternoon to see Vulcan XH558, with a further two tours to take place this weekend. Due to the popularity of these events, we have more Vulcan XH558 tours and engine ground-runs taking place in the coming months – these are also sold out!
Tomorrow, Dr. Stephen Liddle, Vulcan to the Sky Trustee, will be holding a talk on The Aerodynamic Challenge of the V-Bombers at our Stratford-upon-Avon Central Stores. Steve will pose the question “The striking designs of the V-bombers still look futuristic today, but how was it that they came to be and were made to work?” Then, using archival technical sources from the period, Steve will explore where the technology came from, explain how their designs evolved from the initial concepts to their familiar forms, and finally where it went afterwards. It promises to be an engrossing talk which is open to all ages and you do not need to be an aerospace engineer to enjoy.
We will be planning more speaker events during the year and, if possible, we will be holding more events to see Vulcan XH558. All events sell out very quickly. We will share new events with supporters via email when planning is complete, so please keep an eye on your email inbox and be sure to book quickly.
We know that you are all waiting to hear news of XH558’s new home and we are sorry that we’re not yet in a position to announce this. We understand there are many questions supporters have that we aren’t able to answer due to the ongoing discussions with the two locations that are both still live. The potential sites that we are working on will allow us to protect XH558 for decades to come. The delay in an announcement has been while we ensure that we make the best decision possible for the new home of this iconic aircraft, while also ensuring that we retain as much functionality as possible so she doesn’t become an inactive aircraft.
In the space of less than a year so much has been achieved in the planning to relocate an iconic and historic, four-engine jet bomber, that can weigh up to 100 tonnes when fully loaded and has a wing span of 111 feet.
In August 2022, we told supporters that our lease at DSA would not be renewed and that we would have to leave the site by the end of June 2023. Subsequently, Peel Group announced the airport would close. Since being told that our agreement for parking our aircraft at DSA would not be renewed, we have been exploring every potential option for XH558 to leave Doncaster.
The first stage of investigation was how XH558 would leave site. When Vulcan XH558 flew, it was as a Complex category ex-military aircraft through a Permit to Fly (PtF) from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and to date remains the only ‘complex’ one to be returned to the Civil Aviation register. A condition of the Complex category is that the aircraft’s original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are contracted to provide ongoing airworthiness design support as the Design Authority (DA). Back in 2015, the input of the OEM’s was very limited as the engineering capability of the Trust had developed, however their support remained a legal requirement. The acknowledged reason for this is that in the case of a serious incident, the CAA wanted the OEMs to shoulder the airworthiness responsibility. Unfortunately, at the start of the 2015 display season the OEMs notified the Trust that this support was to be withdrawn at the end of that year, as they felt that they could not find people with sufficient expertise to help. Despite the best efforts of the Trust to address this, in the end it was reluctantly accepted that the OEM’s minds would not be changed, and so, XH558 is no longer legally allowed to fly.
Discussions have been had with the CAA over whether a ferry flight to another location is possible. In October’s newsletter we let supporters know that it is not. Since her final flight in 2015, XH558 now has a number of time-expired critical components. The fundamental reason though, is the condition of the Complex category; the aircraft’s OEMs are contracted to provide ongoing airworthiness design support. The advice from the CAA was that legally, we would need to appoint a Design Authority to assess and then oversee the restoration to flight work and without a DA, no application could be considered. We approached three companies to look at feasibility, timeline and costs and one declined to support and the other two organisations did not respond to contract for this work.
As supporters would expect, we have made the appropriate enquiries to determine if less severe restrictions could be applied to a one-off flight. The outcome of these discussions was that they could not be. Today, the lack of Design Authority still remains a legal reason that any flight, including a ferry flight, will not be possible.
The second stage of investigation was how we now move this national heritage asset from DSA. Many suggestions were made, including strapping her beneath two chinooks and flying her to a new location. All options were looked at, but for many different reasons none were feasible. The only option we have is to sympathetically dismantle her, move her by road, and rebuild her at her new home. We have engaged with a professional, experienced company who will partner us in the relocation and who understands the significance of this work. They will be reinstating power to as many of the functionals as they possibly can – e.g. enabling the swinging of the bomb-bay doors, elevons and rudders – through the sympathetic dismantle and reassemble work they will carry out. This will ensure that XH558 can still be shown off at her new location and not just be an inactive exhibit.
The stage of investigation to complete the relocation planning was finding a new home where we would be able protect Avro Vulcan XH558 for the long-term future. Everyone at Vulcan to the Sky Trust adores the aircraft and we all want her to remain in the best possible condition for many years to come. Our Trustees fully understand the weight of the responsibility on their shoulders to ensure that XH558 is cared for and can continue to be shown off to her many, many supporters. Since DSA asked us to leave the airfield our team has been exploring every possibility to move XH558 to potential new locations. We are in discussion with the owners of two sites. Working with The National Heritage Lottery Fund we will ensure we that we deliver the best future we can for this important heritage asset, ultimately preserving her as the centerpiece of the new visitor attraction centre – The Vulcan Experience – where she will be able to inform, educate and inspire future generations of engineers.
While the lack of a running commentary and the absence of detailed and precise information may be frustrating for supporters, it is important that at this stage of the discussions nothing causes the negotiations to falter. When we are able to, we will be very happy to announce XH558’s new home.