In 2012 the world’s last flying Avro Vulcan bomber will be making a special tour of the UK, celebrating both its and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – in a ‘Salute to Her Majesty’.
First flown almost 60 years ago in 1952, the same year as Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, the iconic Vulcan still draws the crowds at airshows and elicits emotions of awe and wonder from both young and old at this British engineering marvel which, like Concorde, still looks perpetually like it belongs in the future.
Since 2007 the last flying example of this mighty bomber which helped keep the peace in the Cold War and flew in anger in the Falklands has been operated by the privately funded Vulcan to the Sky Trust which relies on generous donations from the public to keep it airworthy. The battle to return XH558 to flying status, secure funding and prove the naysayers wrong has been something of a soap opera – but Trust say that it exemplifies the British ‘Bulldog Spirit’ of stubbornness and a refusal to give in.
At a press conference on 5 October in London, the Trust announced plans to take the Vulcan to the people of the UK, with a nationwide flying programme in2012, entitled ‘Salute to Her Majesty’ which will see the aircraft appear in the skies over Great Britain next year at various events, in a tribute to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Next year will also be highly significant in two extra ways for the Vulcan, as it is the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands War and the unveiling of the RAF Bomber Command memorial in London.
Though there are no plans to commit it to a starring role during the Olympics, Vulcan to the Sky Trust CEO Dr Robert Pleming says it is his hope to fly it over all four capital cities of the UK, London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. A safety case is also being presented to the CAA for a potential flypast over London and Buckingham Palace.
As part of the ‘Salute to Her Majesty’, during the tour the Vulcan will carry a book of Good Wishes from the public, with every name and message added (with a donation) helping to support this national historic aircraft. At the end of the Salute this book of congratulations will be presented to Her Majesty. The Trust also is keen to point out that as well as individuals, corporate sponsors can also help support this very high-profile and public display schedule.
The Vulcan already enjoys Royal connections with the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Prince Michael of Kent all taken to the controls at some point. The Salute has already got a Royal blessing from Prince Michael who said: “The imagination and ambition of this project is considerable. The Diamond Jubilee is a wonderful celebration for the nation and for Her Majesty. Watching the Vulcan fly stirs the blood. I defy anyone who has seen her fly not to be moved. For me, this is a spectacular and very British way to add excitement to a great British event.”
With the 2012 Olympics, 30th Falkland’s anniversary, Bomber Command memorial, Farnborough Airshow and the twin Diamond Jubilee’s of Monarch and Vulcan - it will be a historic and noteworthy year for XH558.
So beyond this – what future for this iconic aircraft? The Trust admit that the aircraft may only have two display seasons left, even if funding was no problem, because of the fatigue life of the aircraft. However, the Trust have plans to turn its current home, Hangar 3 at Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airport (formerly RAF Finningley) into a visitor centre, education and outreach facility and a ’ world leading centre for the restoration and operation of historic jet aircraft’. As the Trust notes, the Vulcan is not only helping to inspire young people in studying STEM subjects but it is also a living history exhibit from a nuclear Armageddon that did not happen – the Cold War. Though it first flew in 1952, was retired from front-line service in 1984, the Vulcan continues to serve her country and her Queen.
For more details visit www.vulcantothesky.org