Avro Vulcan XH558

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Avro Vulcan XH558
XH558 Planform.JPG
XH558 performs its display at Cosford Airshow 2009.
Type Avro Vulcan B2
Manufacturer Avro
Construction number Set 12
Registration G-VLCN
Serial XH558
First flight 25 May 1960
Owners and operators Royal Air Force
Vulcan To The Sky Trust
In service Military: 1960-1993
Civilian: 1993-present
Total hours 7387 (31 December 2007)
Preserved at Doncaster Airport (Robin Hood)

Avro Vulcan XH558 (civil aircraft registration G-VLCN) The Spirit Of Great Britain is the only airworthy example of the 134 Avro Vulcan V bombers that were operated by the Royal Air Force from 1953 until 1985. Vulcan XH558 served with the RAF between 1960 and 1985 in the bomber, maritime reconnaissance and air-to-air refuelling roles. The RAF operated XH558 as a display aircraft from 1986 until 1992, when budget cuts forced its retirement.

It is operated by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust as a display aircraft, funded entirely by charitable donations and the UK Heritage Lottery Fund.[1] It is registered with the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority as G-VLCN but has an exemption to fly in Royal Air Force markings as XH558.[2] On 15 May 2015 it was confirmed that 2015 would be XH558's last flying season.

Royal Air Force[edit]

XH558, the twelfth Vulcan B2 built, first flew in 1960 and was delivered to No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit RAF at RAF Waddington on 1 July 1960. Almost immediately the aircraft moved with 230 OCU to RAF Finningley where the aircraft spent some eight years before returning to Lincolnshire in 1968. Most of its operational service was with the units of the Waddington Wing including No. 50 Squadron RAF.

The aircraft was one of nine converted to a SR2 Maritime Radar Reconnaissance configuration in 1973 and flew with 27 Sqn. For the maritime reconnaissance role the terrain-following radar (TFR) was removed and replaced by LORAN C equipment. XH558 was subsequently one of six Vulcans converted to the aerial refuelling variant K2 in 1982. The aerial refuelling variant was assessed on 1 May 1982. Go-ahead for modification was given three days later and the first aircraft (XH561) made its maiden flight on 18 June 1982 and flew to Waddington five days later.

XH558 was returned to standard B2 configuration in 1985 and was the last Vulcan in service, largely due to the fact that it had seen little service as a low-level bomber and had spent considerable time grounded due to an engine explosion during a routine preflight start around 1970, which damaged the airframe, taking many years to repair. From 1986 to 1992, XH558 was the RAF's display aircraft, until budget cuts forced it to be grounded again.

After service with the Royal Air Force, the aircraft and most of the RAF spare parts for the Vulcan were sold to C. Walton Limited and delivered by air to Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome on 23 March 1993. The aircraft was kept in a serviceable condition and would undertake fast taxi runs along Bruntingthorpe's main runway.

Restoration to flight[edit]

The engineering staff of the Vulcan Operating Company (the engineering arm of Vulcan to the Sky Trust, owners of XH558)[3] worked to return Vulcan XH558 to flight, with the first test flight taking place on 18 October 2007. They were supported by the "Vulcan to the Sky" club, a supporters and fundraising organisation. Though the website carried an announcement on 1 August 2006 that the project was in danger of being abandoned due to lack of finance,[4] the target of raising the remaining £1.2m was achieved on 31 August 2006, thanks to a high-profile publicity campaign orchestrated by the supporters club, Vulcan to the Sky Club (formerly Vulcan 558 Club).

Time had almost run out for XH558 when Sir Jack Hayward, a British philanthropist, donated £500,000, which topped off the £860,000 already raised by Vulcan to the Sky Club and Friends. Although the aircraft restoration was nearly complete, the aircraft was not ready for the flypast down The Mall in London for the 25th Anniversary of the Falklands conflict on 17 June 2007 or the RAF Waddington Airshow and the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT).[5]

Installing a refurbished engine fire-bottle onto XH558

It was intended that the Vulcan would fly during at least one UK airshow during the 2007 season,[6] but due to delays in returning the aircraft to flight, mainly down to delays in the return of refurbished flight-critical components, the aircraft was not ready for the display season.

On 16 August 2007, the aircraft started engine testing on the airfield at Bruntingthorpe. On the next day, XH558's No.3 Rolls-Royce Olympus 202 jet engine was run for the first time in over 20 years. This is a different engine from that used by XH558 during its final season with the RAF's Vulcan Display Flight in 1992, with all four of the Vulcan's original Olympus 202 engines having been replaced by zero-hour units which had been stored since 1982. The VTS Team also has another four fully inhibited engines in stock. The removed engines were either scrapped, sectioned for display or passed on to VRT's XL426 at Southend. Another milestone in the restoration project was achieved on 22 August 2007, when all four of XH558's Olympus engines were run at nearly full power settings, for short intervals.

The first post-restoration flight, which lasted 34 minutes, took place on 18 October 2007.[7][8]

On 14 April 2008, the Vulcan flew from Bruntingthorpe to RAF Cottesmore to have a compass swing and test flights.[9] Whilst in mid air the plane called Mayday after believing the auxiliary power unit (APU) was on fire. It landed safely at Cottesmore and the cause was later discovered to be an electrical fault.[10]

On 16 April, a further two-hour test flight was planned to perform "straight line testing" of avionics. The flight was scheduled to go between Cambridge and Marham, but this was abandoned when one of XH558's undercarriage doors failed to close due to an electrical micro-switch malfunction and the aircraft made a safe return to Bruntingthorpe Airfield.

During part of May 2008, XH558 resided at RAF Coningsby where it underwent further testing, and while there took part in a photo-call with the Lancaster and a Typhoon .[11]

On 9 June 2008, XH558 flew its final test flight and was granted on 3 July, by the CAA, its Permit to Fly at 1605. At 1705, it launched for RAF Waddington where it flew its airshow routine, in front of Civil Aviation Authority of the United Kingdom examiners who then issued its DA (Display Authorisation) for the RAF Waddington airshow in the first week of July.[12][13]

On 29 March 2011, XH558 landed at its new home Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield.[14] This location is the former RAF Finningley airbase where XH558 was previously based for 8 years during the 1960s. The aircraft will be stored and maintained in the hangar that previously provided the same maintenance workshop nearly 50 years earlier.

The longer-term aim is to make the authorised modifications that will allow fatigue life to match expected engine life, with both expiring at about the same time in the period 2013 to 2015, depending on Fatigue Index usage and engine cycle usage.

The "Vulcan Howl"[edit]

A serendipitous arrangement in air intakes causes some Vulcan airframes to emit a distinctive "howl" when the engines are at approximately ninety percent power.[15] This noise is produced by XH558, and is a popular feature of its flypasts at public airshows.[16][17]

Display seasons[edit]

Landing during Farnborough Airshow 2008


On 5 July 2008, XH558 performed the first post-restoration display at RAF Waddington with a flypast with the Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and then a solo display. Due to engine life restrictions (in cycles) plus a fuel bill of £3200 per hour, the yearly flying hours for XH558 are limited to approximately 70.[18] In 2008, three appearances were cancelled due to technical problems, two due to bad weather and three due to a fault in No. 2 engine.

Date Display/Location Notes
5 July RAF Waddington International Airshow Did not fly on the second day due to technical failure
30–31 August Shoreham Airshow
4 September RAF Wyton Sunset Parade Private event
6–7 September Duxford Airshow
8 September Southport Sea Front Airshow "Vulcan roars in to thrill"[19]
11 September Jersey International Air Display
11 September Guernsey Battle of Britain Air Display
13 September RAF Leuchars Airshow Taxi runs only due to bad weather


Windermere Airshow 2009
On the ground at Leuchars 2009
Date Display/Location Notes
14 June DCAE Cosford
19–20 June RNLAF Volkel - Netherlands First display in mainland Europe
21 June Kemble Displayed after flight from Volkel
27–28 June Biggin Hill
4–5 July Waddington Cancelled[20]
11 July Yeovilton Grounded due to hydraulic fluid and weather problems
11 July Lasham Planned flypast cancelled, see above
18 July Cosford model show Flypast
18–19 July Fairford - RIAT Took off from Fairford, flew to Cosford for a flypast before displaying, successful displays on both days
23–24 July Lowestoft Appearance on second day cancelled after an inspection found a landing gear door bracket needed replacing
25 July Sunderland
25 July East Fortune
25 July Windermere
8 August RAF Lyneham families day Displayed and landed for a static display
9 August Whitehaven
9 August Blackpool
20 August Dawlish Air Show Flypast at Bournemouth before displaying with The Red Arrows
22–23 August Shoreham
22–23 August Bournemouth Cancelled due to fuel leak [1]
29 August Silverstone Circuit BTCC/WAC
30 August Dunsfold
5 September Cosby-Leicestershire & Airbus Family Day - Hawarden
12 September Leuchars Was given a Eurofighter escort into RAF Leuchars on arrival on 11/09/2009; Formed part of the static display in the morning of the show, before taking off and performing a full display before landing again; Returned to Brize Norton on 13 September, via Yorkshire Air Museum Elvington and Hull
20 September Sanicole - Belgium
20 September Goodwood Revival
20 September Cambridge Private event
26 September Woodford


Lining up for departure from RAF Fairford at the end of the 2010 Royal International Air Tattoo

As the aircraft operates under visual flight rules (VFR) it cannot fly through cloud to higher altitudes where turbulence is lower, as this would require instrument flight rules (IFR) certification. Flying VFR in lower, often turbulent, air adds to airframe fatigue and this increases fatigue-index (FI) consumption. In 2010 the aircraft was therefore limited to between 30 and 40 hours flight-time, to help reduce FI usage and preserve the airframe. As a result, the number of air show appearances were fewer than in 2009. Some two-day fly-in shows were limited to just one appearance, with the first day being given preference to allow the second day to act as a reserve in case of technical or weather difficulties.

Date Display/Location Notes
3–4 July RAF Waddington International Airshow Displayed
4 July Goodwood Festival of Speed Displayed
10 July RNAS Yeovilton Airshow Displayed
17–18 July RAF Fairford RIAT Displayed
19–25 July Farnborough Airshow Flew in formation with Red Arrows display team; Only performed up to the 24th; Grounded on 25th due to fault in brake system
28 July RNAS Culdrose Airshow Displayed
7 August RAF Lyneham Families Day (Private Event) Displayed
12–13 August Lowestoft Sea Front Airshow Displayed
21 August Silverstone Cancelled due to weather
21–22 August Bournemouth Air Festival Cancelled due to weather
21–22 August Shoreham Airshow Cancelled due to weather
25 August RAF Benson Families Day (Private Event) Cancelled due to weather
30 August Wings and Wheels, Dunsfold Aerodrome Displayed
9 September Jersey International Air Display Displayed
11 September RAF Leuchars Airshow Displayed
18 September Filton Families Day (Private Event) Displayed
26 September Coventry Airport Fly in (11am Arrival 3 pm Departure. No Display) Static display and departure completed


The schedule of appearances for the 2011 season, which was subject to weather and serviceability; they were:[21]

Date Display/Location Notes
8 May Abingdon Air & Country Show Displayed
28 May Southend Airshow Displayed
29 May CWJ - Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome Static exhibition and departure completed
10 June Douglas Bay - Isle of Man Displayed
12 June RAF Cosford Cancelled due to weather
18 June Kemble Static exhibition and display completed
18 June Margate Displayed
2–3 July RAF Waddington Display and static exhibition completed
3 July Goodwood Festival of Speed Display completed[22]
9 July RNAS Yeovilton Display and static exhibition completed
16–17 July RIAT Fairford Static exhibition and display completed
23 July Southport Display completed
23 July Windermere Display completed
30–31 July Sunderland Display completed
18 August Dawlish Carnival Display cancelled due to fuel tank problem
20–21 August Shoreham Airshow Display cancelled due to fuel tank problem
20–21 August Bournemouth Airshow Display cancelled due to fuel tank problem
20–21 August Wings and Wheels-Dunsfold No display on Sunday due to emergency landing at RAF Coningsby following a hydraulic fault; Display cancelled on the Monday for same reason. Aircraft remained at Coningsby
4 September Portrush Display cancelled due to weather
4 September Cosby Display
10 September RAF Leuchars Display


After extensive servicing over the 2011-2012 winter, XH558 had its CAA certificate renewed in April 2012, in time to perform a flypast at the dedication of the Falklands Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum on 21 May.

During take off from Robin Hood airport for a practice flight on 28 May, both port engines failed. The failure was attributed to ingestion of silica gel desiccant bags. Damage sustained was limited to the engines and no structural damage was found. Both port engines were deemed beyond repair and replaced with engines in the trust's stocks.[23] The aircraft was returned to flight for the 2012 Farnborough International Airshow,[24][25] and has subsequently displayed throughout the 2012 season.


On 12 October 2012, it was announced by Vulcan To The Sky that 2013 was likely to be the last flying season for the Vulcan, six years after her first post restoration flight. Reasons cited for the decision to end flight are due to the Vulcan requiring complex wing leading edge skin reinforcement, and a lack of spare engines after the incident in May 2012 when two engines were damaged beyond repair and the last working spares were used to replace them.[26] However, on 25 January 2013, it was announced that wing modification investigations have begun after having contracted Cranfield Aerospace, who would extend her flying period beyond 2013.[27] It was featured at the RNAS Yeovilton's Air Day in July 2013.[28] Later on in the year, it was confirmed that the wing modification was viable and a fundraising campaign referred to as Operation 2015 was launched. With sufficient funding raised, the modification was enacted, and in March 2014 the necessary modification was completed, extending XH558's flying hours.[29]


XH558 is confirmed as the highlight of the Armed Forces Day celebrations, taking place at Scarborough on 28 June 2014.[30]

XH558 performed at the Goodwood Festival of Speed at 1300hrs on Saturday 28 June 2014.[31]

XH558 performed at the Waddington International Airshow.

XH558 flew in the last available time slot of the Friday 18 July Farnborough International Airshow 2014,[32] as well as on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th earlier on the day.

XH558 performed at the Newcastle Airshow in Newcastle, Co. Down, Ireland on Saturday 9 August 2014.

XH558 flew together with the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers on 21 August 2014 to mark the turf-cutting ceremony of the new Bomber Command Memorial at Canwick Hill.[33]

XH558 performed at the Bournemouth Air Festival on Saturday 30 August and (in a last minute update to the schedule) Sunday 31 August 2014.

XH558 performed at the Shoreham Air Show over Shoreham Airport on Saturday 30 August 2014.

XH558 performed at the Scottish Air Show over Ayr on Saturday 6 September 2014.

XH558 performed at the Duxford Air Show on Saturday 13 September 2014.

XH558 performed at the Southport Air Show on Sunday 21 September 2014. It was listed on the Saturday line-up but had to be rescheduled to the Sunday due to poor weather at home airfield.


United Kingdom

Funding concerns[edit]

On 9 September 2008, the Chief Executive of the Vulcan To The Sky Trust, Dr Robert Pleming, announced on XH558's site that there were serious shortfalls in the aircraft's funds suggesting that "...it looks as if the door may now be closing on the future of the Vulcan in flight. I think that anyone wishing to see a Vulcan in flight should do so as soon as possible." and that "If we don’t achieve a significant change of circumstances soon, we won’t be able to carry out our role of ‘Honouring the Past, Inspiring the Future’, providing the once-seen, never-forgotten sight of XH558 in flight to a new generation; stimulating interest in design and engineering; and telling people about an important period in our nation’s history".[35]

XH558 still has no commercial sponsors and relies on public donations and fundraising events organised by the Vulcan To The Sky Club members and supporters. In December 2008, the Vulcan To The Sky Trust set up a pledge scheme to raise £1 million by early 2009 to pay debts and cover servicing and operating costs for the 2009 display season. On 6 March the appeal reached its target.[36]

To fund maintenance work on XH558 that had to be brought forward from 2011, the Vulcan To The Sky Trust conducted a fresh campaign to raise further donations from the public. The Vulcan 50th Birthday appeal sought to raise an additional £800,000 ($1,280,000) by the end of March 2010, of which £500,000 ($800,000) was needed by the end of February 2010 to enable work to begin. On 24 February more than £400,000 was donated by an anonymous benefactor, passing the "survival level" target for necessary engineering maintenance to begin.

The VTST continues to run its 50th Anniversary Appeal for donations with the aim of building a sizeable cushion of additional donations as a prudent contingency. In the absence of a major ongoing sponsor, the Trust now aims to keep raising funds from public donations year-round.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Where has the majority of funding come from?". Retrieved 28 June 2009. [dead link]
  2. ^ United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority - G-VLCN
  3. ^ Restoration Pictures, In the Hangar[dead link]
  4. ^ Vulcan to the Sky Club
  5. ^ Donor saves Vulcan bomber project
  6. ^ TV News[dead link]
  7. ^ "The Vulcan Bomber returns to the sky"
  8. ^ "First Takeoff Video" at youtube
  9. ^ Test flights for restored bomber bbc.co.uk, 14 April 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  10. ^ Vulcan bomber suffers fire alert bbc.co.uk, 14 April 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  11. ^ Avro Vulcan XH558 Returns to RAF Conningsby[dead link] "TVOC", 9 May 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2008
  12. ^ "Clear skies give Vulcan chance to shine". Harborough Mail. 9 June 2008. Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. Retrieved 9 June 2008. 
  13. ^ "Tests completed for Vulcan bomber". BBC. 9 June 2008. Retrieved 9 June 2008. 
  14. ^ "Welcome Home - XH558 returns to Doncaster". Global Aviation Resource. 5 April 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "We all love the howl" Vulcan To The Sky Trust, 13 December 2013.
  16. ^ "Will 'howl' of the Vulcan bomber be heard over Bournemouth again?" The Daily Echo, 30 December 2009.
  17. ^ "Vulcan XH558 Awesome Howl Sounds" Youtube, 28 October 2012.
  18. ^ "Five more air show appearances by Vulcan". 12 July 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  19. ^ "Vulcan roars in to thrill". Liverpool Echo. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 9 September 2008. 
  20. ^ "Vulcan bomber grounded at display". BBC. 4 July 2009. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  21. ^ XH558 appearances
  22. ^ Goodwood (dead link)
  23. ^ Latest Update 30 May 2012
  24. ^ Farnborough International Airshow
  25. ^ Flying Display Aircraft (dead link)
  26. ^ Final season announced for last flying Vulcan
  27. ^ News from XH558, the last flying Vulcan
  28. ^ "Crowds thrilled at spectacular air day at Yeovilton". royalnavy.mod.uk. 15 July 2013. 
  29. ^ "Thank you to all involved". vulcantothesky.org. 7 March 2014. 
  30. ^ Discover Yorkshire Coast - "Scarborough Armed Forces Day", Accessed 26 June 2014
  31. ^ http://grrc.goodwood.com/festival-of-speed/info/event-itinerary#/0
  32. ^ http://www.farnborough.com/Content/Dates-and-Times/6/
  33. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-28873614
  34. ^ Darling, Kev (2012). RAF Strike Command 1968 -2007: Aircraft, Men and Action. Pen & Sword Aviation. p. 155. ISBN 1848848986. 
  35. ^ official website
  36. ^ "Vulcan appeal reaches fund target". BBC News. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
  37. ^ Latest Press Release 25 February 2010

External links[edit]