In August, we advised that our lease at Doncaster Sheffield Airport would not be renewed and that we would have to leave the site by the end of June 2023. Since early Spring this year, we have been exploring options for XH558 to leave Doncaster.
XH558 flew into the airport in March 2011 and we believed that the old RAF Finningley would be her permanent home as defined in our plans for the Vulcan Experience. Sadly, the funding appeal failed and we had to work hard to secure a new and permanent home for both XH558 and English Electric Canberra WK163
We also advised that we were working on potential sites where we know we can protect XH558 for decades to come and deliver on Robert Pleming’s vision of telling the Cold War story, the role of the V-Force and inspiring youngsters to pursue meaningful and productive careers in engineering.
Clearly, as the sites will be away from Doncaster, this relocation will bring significant challenges but outcomes we believe the VTST can deliver. We talked to the CAA about the possibility of a short ferry flight for XH558 but we now believe that this is not possible. The advice 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 have approached three companies to look at feasibility, timeline and costs and, to date, one has declined to support and the other two organisations have not responded to contract for this work. Informal research has also indicated that insurance for such a flight would be prohibitively expensive. While we acknowledge that it is extremely sad to dismantle XH558 it will mean that ultimately, she will be preserved and will still be able to inform, educate and inspire future generations of engineers. The process will be handled by professional, experienced partners who are sympathetic to our aims and understand the significance of this work, all with the intention of retaining as much functionality as possible.
We now have two potential locations in negotiation and we are in conversation with The National Heritage Lottery Fund on an options appraisal to ensure we ultimately deliver the best future for this important heritage asset aligning our aims with the original Heritage Fund contract. Although she will no longer be running her engines, in both cases we will once again be able to offer the opportunity to be close to XH558 in an exciting, undercover facility that her thousands of supporters can enjoy.
As you would expect, we have also considered the possibility of remaining at DSA if a new owner were to be found. Because the future of the site is so uncertain, we cannot robustly plan for this in a way that would provide security for XH558, or guarantee access to her for our supporters. Our thoughts remain with the staff of the airport, with whom we have worked for so many years, at this challenging time. Nonetheless, we must recognise that the owners of DSA have stated their intention to close the site.
As soon as a decision has been made regarding the final destination for XH558 we’ll be able to get started with the move and we’ll keep our supporters updated throughout this process.
Between now and the end of June 2023, we are investigating what access we can offer to supporters given we understand the airfield will be closed from mid-November. We have asked for clarification from DSAL and are awaiting their feedback. Many supporters have their names or those of their loved ones under the wing of XH558 and clearly want to see them in place.
Whilst visiting in the short term is currently outside of our control we will up-date everyone when we have further news. We can give an assurance though that once she is safe in her permanent home, we will prepare her for the public to visit and we plan to replace all donors’ names on new plaques ahead of this time; everyone’s name is mapped and will be easy to find.
The VTST Board took a decision when we lost our hangar at DSA to focus all efforts on securing a permanent home for XH558 and that is what we continue to do. The Board are also committed to restoring the Canberra to flight when funds and time permit. To this end we have a fees quotation to remove the airframe to a live airfield with the technical organisations in place including a Design Authority to legally do the work and we hope this move will be in the Spring next year.
We also can then repatriate WT327, the Canberra we purchased in 2021 that is in California and this has the advantages of the original WK163 full cockpit intact, enabling a more faithful restoration.. Indeed, we believe that this original nose is in much better condition than that currently fitted to WK163, and that this will give us huge reduction in the subsequent restoration costs. All the spares purchased with WK163 are in the UK and in safe storage; we believe that the combination of these two airframes and our stock of viable Rolls-Royce Avon engines will give an excellent chance of returning an example of this classic and important jet to UK skies.