The End of the Beginning for Vulcan XH558

If, as expected, Vulcan XH558 returns to the sky today, it will mark an historic day for aviation. This will be the first time an aircraft of this complexity has been given an ‘extended overhaul’ on such a scale that it is returned to operational capability, meeting all current aviation standards. For the past ten years the Vulcan team has worked tirelessly with one aim, to get XH558 back in the air. And now that goal has been achieved its focus must switch to keeping her there. To get this far the multi-million pound project has needed thousands of man hours and caused more than a few sleepless nights. Each operating year from now on will cost an estimated £1.6 million. This figure includes airshow appearances, a full educational programme, public access and other activities with most of this money expected to be raised through commercial sponsorship. Although the unique appeal of the show-stopping bomber should attract substantial corporate interest, however, it is also expected that the flying fund will have to be boosted by more public donations, at least in the interim, until sponsorship deals are signed.

Take-off today will bring to an end what will hopefully be just the prelude of XH558’s new story, with many more chapters yet to come. The iconic Cold War bomber will now go on to be rigorously tested before being awarded its “Permit to Fly” by the Civil Aviation Authority. It is hoped that once this has been achieved, the aircraft, once the UK’s deadliest weapon, will be used to entertain and educate crowds up and down the country by showcasing its amazing grace, power and manoeuvrability.

Flown by a crew made up of ex-RAF Vulcan display pilots, veterans of the Falklands Conflict and other experienced aircrew, XH558’s initial public appearance is planned to be for the Vulcan to the Sky Club members, project Friends and supporters that have donated funds to make today possible. The project was kick-started with a £2.7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2004. In return for the funding, which had to be matched by money raised from public donations and commercial arrangements, Vulcan to the Sky will deliver an inspirational educational programme highlighting engineering and design to a new generation, and explaining the history and importance of the Cold War era. This will be done both in classrooms and on-site, where students will be able to hear the story in the presence of one of its key players.

More recently, the Vulcan to the Sky project has benefited from the support of Subaru, in the form of vehicles to transport men and equipment, and Air BP, which has donated a substantial amount of fuel to keep XH558 airborne. Now the project is seeking commercial sponsors to help generate the estimated £1.6 million a year it will take to keep the Vulcan flying.

At the end of her second life, expected to be between 10 and 15 years, XH558 will be retired to a national aerospace museum.


To the Sky Club Happy To Have Helped
For the past ten years the Vulcan to the Sky Club has worked tirelessly to raise money to make it possible for Vulcan XH558 to fly again. The Club, which now boasts over 3,500 members, through its membership organises a wide variety of fundraising activities and events, not just in the UK but throughout the world in the Falklands, Australia and Canada to name but a few. The Club has played a major role in keeping the project alive during its darker hours, not just with cash, but with essential support and manpower to keep the cause of XH558 in the public eye. The commitment and loyalty of Club Members is now set to be rewarded with XH558’s imminent return to public life.

The Vulcan is eternally loved by the aviation public not only for her advanced delta design (which is returning to favour), but also for her incredible flying capabilities and grace in the sky. Vulcan to the Sky Club Acting Chairman Richard Clarke, says that he is proud of the immense contribution that the Club members have made to the unique project so far, and explains that their passion and loyal support for the aircraft will remain throughout her flying life and long into her retirement. “The Club has always been 100% behind the campaign to bring the Vulcan back to full flight capability and for me, and for our many thousands of members, the first test flight will signal the success of all our work over the past few years. It will give us a great sense of satisfaction and pride to know that we have played an integral part in putting XH558 back into the sky. The chance to be involved in such a large scale undertaking rarely comes along in anyone’s life, so to have been able to contribute to such an historic project is very exciting.”

The Club was joined 7 years ago, in its efforts to assist in funding the project, by the Trust formation of a ‘Friends of the Vulcan’ organisation, to allow direct donations to be made to the Charity. This combined supporter base now numbers over 22,000. Richard continues: “After many years of fundraising, events and promotions, it will be fantastic to see the Vulcan airborne again but, regrettably for regulatory reasons, it is just not possible for all 29,000 plus of our Members and Friends to witness the first test flight at Bruntingthorpe. Instead we all look forward to the special ‘invitation only’ closed event that will be organised by the Trust to say thank you and to showcase XH558 to this loyal and dedicated army of supporters.

“We have had a long and fruitful relationship with the Trust and have every intention of continuing, and indeed increasing our support, now that the engineering project is nearing completion and the aircraft is returned to flying status. In the next stage of the project, which will be even more exciting than the first, we will continue to raise cash, promote the project, promote membership and show our passion for the Vulcan as much as possible. We are eager and determined to see XH558 flying for many more years to come and will give our ongoing full support and commitment to this end.”


Vulcan to the Sky background
Following RAF service spanning more than three decades, Avro Vulcan XH558 finally retired from active service in 1992. Designed in 1948 by Roy Chadwick, and capable of reaching speeds of up to 645mph, the Vulcan was a key part of Great Britain’s nuclear deterrent in the Cold War era, and also served as maritime reconnaissance, air-to-air refueller and, finally, as the Vulcan Display Aircraft for six years from 1986. The aircraft left its RAF Waddington base in 1993, bound for Leicestershire where she was immediately hangared, after having being saved from destruction by the Walton family who own Bruntingthorpe Airfield.

However, that was not the end of the Vulcan. Taking shape from an initial idea put forward by Robert Pleming, the Vulcan to the Sky project was born. Robert gained his Doctorate at the Department of Nuclear Physics at Oxford University and after a successful career in IT with IBM, he moved to become the UK Technical Director for Cisco Systems in 1994.

As an air cadet in 1968, Robert gained an RAF Flying Scholarship, and soloed in a Cessna 152 at Luton Airport . In the mid-’90s, a conversation with David Walton, owner of the recently grounded Avro Vulcan XH558, sparked the idea of putting together a formal proposal for the return of the awesome Vulcan to flight. Robert then built a team of expert advisors to investigate what needed to be done, and to guide the project’s direction. This approach established sufficient credibility with British Aerospace and the Civil Aviation Authority for the decision to be taken to proceed with the activities necessary to start the return to flight process.

In April 2000, with technical feasibility proved and the decision from British Aerospace to support the project, Robert moved on voluntarily from his Cisco career to the full-time unpaid role of Project Director for what was then the Avro Vulcan XH558 Plan-to-Flight Project.

Since that time Robert has worked to bring the Vulcan to the Sky engineering project to the position in which it stands today, and his experience and lifelong enthusiasm for aviation contribute to ensuring the successful return-to-flight for this historic aircraft.

Take-off for XH558 will be the culmination of two and a half years worth of hard work, and around six million pounds worth of investment. Over half of this funding has come from the general public in the form of donations, the fund-raising activities of the Vulcan to the Sky Club, and the ongoing support of over 22,000 Friends of the Trust. Fully behind the vision to see the Vulcan airworthy again, the Club regularly spearheads numerous initiatives to bring in cash to cover the cost of the ongoing engineering work, and led a very successful appeal to save the project from collapse in August 2006, when spiralling costs threatened to halt it. After a massive media drive, the necessary total of £1.2 million was raised through public donations and an astounding £500,000 contribution from Sir Jack Hayward, ex-owner of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club.

A further £2.7 million came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which subsequently led to the development of the Vulcan education programme, aimed at telling the story of the Cold War in the presence of one of the period’s most definitive icons.

With support from BAE Systems (formally British Aerospace), many other aerospace companies and the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the Vulcan to the Sky Project was born, and engineering work began in earnest with a dedicated team of 30 engineers in August 2005.

Now, as the last Vulcan in the world capable of being restored to full flight status, XH558 has become the focus of one of the largest and most complex aircraft restoration projects ever undertaken. Restoration work on the aircraft has included a total overhaul including the rewiring of the electric cabling (over 12 miles and weighing over one ton), installation of refurbished flying controls and new piping for its pneumatic and hydraulics systems. Corrosion has been removed from the aircraft’s structure, and the rear spar strengthened - as it was this lack of “Modification 2222” that led to the aircraft’s retirement from active RAF service. Fourteen fuel tanks have also been re-installed along with four Rolls-Royce Olympus 202 engines, and a modern new avionics suite and modern navigation aids such as GPS.

Recent project work has seen both fuel system and successful engine testing when the four Rolls-Royce engines were cranked up to the max to produce eight-and-a-half tons of thrust each. Highlights of the project have included a visit from former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Vulcan crews who carried out the successful “Black Buck One” mission to bomb Port Stanley airfield during the Falklands War. More recently, the project has also benefited from the support of Subaru, in the form of vehicles to transport men and equipment, and Air BP, which has donated a substantial amount of fuel to keep XH558 airborne.

Into the future, the Vulcan will be the centrepiece in a travelling education programme, taking the Cold War story all over the country and after 10 to 15 years of display flying, it will finally retire to a national aerospace museum. In terms of running costs, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust is seeking commercial sponsors to help generate the estimated £1.6 million a year it will take to keep the Vulcan flying, deliver the educational programme and other such commitments, and as a charity, still remains in need of continuing public donations.

Now, with the first flight goal in sight, it is hoped that the Vulcan to the Sky project will proudly be remembered as more than just a momentous engineering success. The efforts of the Vulcan to the Sky team have promoted the Avro Vulcan as an inspirational part of British aviation history, giving her the increased recognition that she rightfully deserves.


Thanks to Supporters, Friends and Sponsors
To the Vulcan to the Sky Supporters

“The Vulcan to the Sky Club has always been instrumental in raising funds for the project, whether that be from grand draws, recruiting new members at airshows around the country, or from the regular events and open days it organises. The Vulcan to the Sky campaign is eternally grateful for the Club’s enthusiasm, creative thinking and commitment, which has consistently raised much needed funds and subsequently helped finance the ongoing engineering work on XH558. We are so thankful to all the thousands of people who have supported the project and who have made our dream a reality. For the members of the Club too, it’s great that they’ll soon be able to see their efforts come to fruition when they see the Vulcan fly again. As well as our own Vulcan club members and supporters we must also thank the heritage lottery fund, without whom none of this would be possible. Their backing made returning XH558 to the sky possible, and they have therefore played a major role in restoring a national treasure back to full working order.”
- Dr. Robert Pleming, Chief Executive of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust

To Aerospace Manufacturers and Support Companies

"On behalf of the Trust and the Vulcan Operating Company, I would like to thank all of the aerospace companies that have helped so much to making the return to flight of the Vulcan possible. Right from the start of the project, the enthusiasm and support for the goal of seeing the Vulcan fly again has been evident from junior engineer to Chairman in all of the companies that originally manufactured components for the Avro Vulcan, and those who have subsequently been involved in overhauling them. The names of the companies involved reads like a "Who’s Who" of the British Aerospace Industry, including Beagle Aerospace, Chesterfield Cylinders, Dunlop Aircraft Tyres, GKN Aerospace, Irvin-GQ, Kearsley Airways, Martin Baker, Meggitt, Midland Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, Ultra Electronics and many more. Importantly, vital contributions have come from some major international aerospace companies including Akzo Nobel, Eaton Aerospace (FR-HiTemp), General Electric (Smiths Aerospace), Goodrich (Lucas Aerospace), Hamilton Sunstrand (Kidde Graviner)."
- Dr. Robert Pleming, Chief Executive of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust

To the Vulcan to the Sky Partners and Sponsors
"On behalf of the Trust and the Vulcan Operating Company I’d like to thank all of the companies and organisations that have helped us make today possible. Air BP has supplied us with a very generous amount of fuel to get the Vulcan moving, and Subaru’s supply of a fleet of excellent Tribeccas will help us move everything else. I would also like to thanks EADS, Jeppesen, Eastern Airways, MASS and Distinctive Doors for all of their generosity.”
- Dr. Robert Pleming, Chief Executive of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust


Statements from VTS partners and sponsors
Heritage Lottery Fund
“We’re delighted to hear this excellent news. The Vulcan Bomber is a truly unique example of our outstanding aviation heritage.

"The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the Trust over £2.7million for their restoration work but we always require applicants to raise additional funding too. It’s great that all their hard work has now paid off and so many people will get to see this magnificent machine restored to its full glory.”
- Emma Sale, Heritage Lottery Fund Regional Manager for the East Midlands


  • The Vulcan to the Sky Trust was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £2.73million in June 2004.
  • This grant is for the restoration of the Avro Vulcan Bomber XH558, plans for it to fly for another 10-15 years and for it to be kept at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. An accompanying education programme is also planned which will tell the story of the Cold War.
  • To date, HLF has awarded more than £13million to projects across the UK that are dedicated to remembering, learning about and commemorating people’s wartime experiences.

HLF Notes to editors
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) enables communities to celebrate, look after and learn more about our diverse heritage. From our great museums and historic buildings to local parks and beauty spots or recording and celebrating traditions, customs and history, HLF grants open up our nation’s heritage for everyone to enjoy. They have supported more than 18,000 projects, allocating £3.5billion across the UK. Website:

Further information
For the Heritage Lottery Fund, please contact Katie Owen or Sarah Barnwell, HLF Press Office on tel: 020 7591 6036/6046 mobile: 07973 613820.

Air BP

"We are delighted to be supporting the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, having provided Jet A1 fuel throughout the testing programme and for the first flight. We have been impressed by the Trust’s dedication, passion and determination to get the iconic Vulcan aircraft back into the sky, and would like to congratulate them on their achievement. Air BP are proud to have participated in the realisation of this exciting aviation event."
- Alex Murphy, UK Business Development and General Aviation Manager Air BP

Marshall Aerospace
"The team at Marshall Aerospace is delighted to have reached the ‘First Flight’ stage of Vulcan XH558. Our engineers have been working since 2005 to get her in the air again. "The partnership with the ‘Vulcan to the Sky’ project goes back to 1999 and we have been happy to support the determination of all involved with this exciting endeavour. "We hope this First Flight will give the encouragement needed to raise the necessary additional funds to allow the project to achieve a Permit to Fly from the Civil Aviation Authority."
- Martin Broadhurst, Chief Executive of Marshall Aerospace


"Subaru (UK) Ltd is proud to be associated with The Vulcan to the Sky project. This is a unique opportunity for us, as a British company to be involved in the restoration of such a historically significant aircraft. Subaru’s parent company is also an aircraft manufacturer and many of the design features of our cars draw on the inspiration of their aviation experts. Subaru is also very much an engineering-first business and we recognise and support this in the VTST project. The Subaru Tribecas provided as part of our sponsorship are ideal for the transport of ground, engineering and aviation crews. Their All-wheel Drive system means that they are as at home on the runway as they are off it, and their high specification and safety pedigree ensures that VTST’s personnel are kept safe on the ground."
– Lawrence Good, Managing Director, Subaru (UK) Ltd

A statement from a friend

When Robert Pleming and I first discussed the funding, we came to the conclusion that this huge restoration programme could never be financed by corporate sponsorship, and that a ThrustSSC type funding model involving public participation was needed. Because of the huge costs and the expense of continuing the organisation while waiting for traditionally safe slow moving British institutions to change their views , a huge number of people and their donations were going to be needed . Discounting the big sponsorships it looks as though £2.8m was raised from 22,000 people – that’s £127 a head and one Hell of an achievement.

The Vulcan bomber is a typical example of British innovation and gritty determination with minimal resources. Designed immediately after WW2 , it was a huge technical, financial and defence risk, typical of that tremendous WW2 British culture which could achieve almost anything it set its mind to. The Vulcan outperformed all contemporary bombers – and I often wonder if asked to design and build another Vulcan today - whether we could actually do this in such a short time .

The Vulcan was last seen at the British airshows in the early 1990’s –that’s nearly 20 years ago. This means that there is a generation of Britons that have never seen the Vulcan – the star of any and every airshow. Now that XH558 is back in the air, the airshow display circuits are never going to be the same again.

One important element of the achievement of the Vulcan to the Sky project has been the quiet determination to change British culture. As a nation, we are bad at innovation and we often tend to have a negative and authoritative mind set – partly to discourage innovation and to minimise risk exposure to our institutions. What the Vulcan to the Sky people have done is to overturn this dogma and to show everyone that as a nation, we can still do these huge projects. A lot of people in authority will learn a great deal from what the Vulcan to the Sky Team have just achieved.
- Richard Noble, the fastest man on earth – holder of the land speed record

Source: Vulcan To the Sky Trust - a Registered Charity - Bruntingthorpe Airfield - Damien Burke
Picture provided and copyrighted by Vulcan To the Sky Trust - Dr Robert Pleming

For further information about Vulcan To the Sky Trust, click here


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