Thunder & Lightnings

Avro Vulcan - Survivor XH558 (G-VLCN)

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

No previous entrySurvivor imageClick for next survivor

Vulcan B.2 XH558 at Robin Hood Airport, 20th May 2024; Damien Burke

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 Doncaster Sheffield' - seriously). 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. After retirement from flying, the airframe was kept in ground running condition but has performed very few taxi runs, with mostly static ground runs carried out - with VTST charging high prices for tickets.

Peel Holdings, ultimate owners of Finningly, kicked VTST out of their hangar at Finningley in 2016, leaving XH558 out in the cold and battling the elements. Her future was now seriously 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, albeit the site chosen was the sewage farm on the edge of the airport. Peel 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. Unfortunately, and predictably for those of us who know of Peel's record with heritage assets, the next step was that the airport wanted XH558 removed from the site - and then Peel closed the airport entirely citing high costs.

This, at a stroke, put an end to any taxi runs, and once again 'Vulcan to the skip' was on the horizon. VTST began working on relocation plans, but even a short ferry flight is out of the question so it would have meant dismantling and transport by road, then reassembly at the new home - and probably never running again. Despite VTST news stories of two possible new homes being looked at, by mid-2023 it was clear she wasn't going anywhere in a hurry, and thankfully an agreement was reached with Peel to extend their stay on site.

Meanwhile, the City of Doncaster Council (CDC) clearly weren't happy with Peel's closure of the site, and made noises about a compulsory purchase order if Peel would not lease the site to them. In March 2024, a 125-year lease was duly signed, and CDC hope to re-open the airport later in the year. Thankfully, CDC appear very receptive to keeping XH558 on site as an attraction, so fingers crossed that XH558 can finally see some positive progress this year.

Since that 2012 repaint, XH558's years outside have seen her topsides fade almost to a monochrome appearance, but engineering work has continued and hopefully it won't be long before we see her roaring down Finningley's runway once more.

Information on this page current as of 21/05/2024, last updated by Damien

Find other photos of XH558 on the following sites:

Air-Britain - - - - - -