Thunder & Lightnings

Avro Vulcan - Survivor XH558 (G-VLCN)

B.2 XH558 - Vulcan to the Sky Trust (runner), Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster, Yorkshire

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Vulcan B.2 XH558 at Robin Hood Airport, 22nd September 2023; Jake Wallace

Starting with what was the last flying Vulcan - everybody's favourite - XH558!

Flying with the Vulcan Display Flight until replaced by XL426, XH558 soon came back into the limelight with the VDF when XL426 was retired. Several years of airshow appearances later, a massive public campaign to keep her flying was ignored by the MoD's bean-counters, and XH558 was bought by the Walton family at Bruntingthorpe airfield. For a while, she regularly carried out fast taxi runs, but living outside was doing her no good, and eventually, the financial effort became too much and so the aircraft was sold to a company formed with the intent of returning her to the sky.

After over two years of engineering work and the raising of over £6 million - both from donations and lottery funding - she took to the air once more and began a programme of test flights on 18th October 2007. From June 2008 she was on the airshow circuit each year and mammoth fund-raising efforts kept her going. A full report on the restoration to flight can be found here.

Leaving her home at Bruntingthorpe in June 2009, she led a nomadic existence at various RAF airfields for a while but as of early 2011 found a new base at the former RAF Finningley (now Robin Hood Airport). Unfortunately, late August 2011 saw the start run of bad luck with a fuel tank leak forcing the cancellation of several appearances and needing urgent rectification. The very next flight after this work (enroute to Dunsfold to display) ended up with another cancellation - experiencing a hydraulic failure followed by an emergency landing at RAF Coningsby. The fault was fixed by the following Sunday but the weather caused the cancellation of that day's flying which left just one more show that year (Leuchars).

With a partial repaint of the topside of the aircraft completed in May 2012, the run of bad luck continued with the loss of two engines to FOD ingestion at the beginning of a take-off roll for a display practice. After replacing the two engines, VTST was apparently down to only one serviceable spare engine, and only just managed to afford the wing strengthening mods to extend her life beyond 2013. With the withdrawal of manufacturer support from BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, it was finally time to say goodbye to XH558 in October 2015.

Her last public display was at the tiny grass airfield of Old Warden on 4th October; her final private display at another small aerodrome - Sywell on 13th October, after a couple of 'UK tour' goodbye flights on 10th/11th October. Shamefully, VTST then kept the final flight a secret, so her last few minutes of air time were only witnessed by a few hundred people at most. Since retirement, the airframe has been kept in ground running condition but has only ever stretched her legs on the runway since 2015. VTST held the occasional anti-deterioration run event and tours of the aircraft, and still do today, but the ticket prices are reportedly out of most people's reach.

VTST was then asked to vacate their hangar at Doncaster after a year or so of her final flight, leaving XH558 out in the cold and battling the elements. Her future was in doubt. Fundraising efforts continued with the proposal to build a Vulcan Experience building that would allow XH558 and their Canberra WK163 to live inside on display for people to enjoy. Sadly, due to the public seeing a lack of effort with a new hangar, even the die-hard fans seemed to have lost hope. The airport gave VTST until the end of 2021 to hit their target of £2.2 million to build the Vulcan Experience hangar.

Sadly, in early 2022, VTST announced that they did not reach their £2.2 million target to build the hangar for their Vulcan and Canberra. A huge shame for both Vulcan fans and the VTST. Unfortunately, more bad luck came their way soon after when Robin Hood airport was closed down later that same year, which ceased the Vulcan's operations for the foreseeable. It still remains uncertain (at the time of writing) as to whether XH558 is safe at Doncaster or if she'll have to be removed from the site. Since the airport's closure, the trust has been looking into a few possible locations the aircraft could move to if the need to move arose and funding became available.

However, in the meantime, the volunteers of VTST still look after XH558 by dry spinning the engines over once every now and again and towing her back and forth. Fingers crossed, the trust will be able to stay at the airport where they can continue their operations of preserving the aircraft in full working order.

Information on this page current as of 24/09/2023, last updated by Jake

Find other photos of XH558 on the following sites:

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