back to article Software outfit keeps Vulcan airborne

It looks like Vulcan XH558 - which last year took to the skies following a 15-year, £7m restoration - will be able to wow the crowds at air shows this summer following fears that a lack of cash might keep it grounded. The Vulcan to the Sky trust was forced earlier this year to indulge in some serious tin-rattling, requiring £ …


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  1. Pete James

    Stop Professor Quatermass!

    I find it perverse that a machine created to wreak havoc on populations could be held in such high regard.

    I've also seen the Vulcan flying several times (once a bit too close for comfort!) and it really is something that catches your breath - incredibly beautiful.

    'tis most bewitching, this angel of death........

  2. Kevin Johnston


    In my youth I used to watch a Vulcan flypast each year at the Bembridge Airshow, until it broke too many windows 'down and dirty' with afterburners etc...

    Your whole body used to vibrate with the rumble and not even the ground was immune from it, or so it felt at the time. Here's hoping all goes well with the permits, would love to see one in the air again.

  3. Simon Riley


    It's true. I saw a Vulcan refuelled at an airshow in 1982 and it's an experience that'll stay with me all my life.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I can remember

    One of these beauts flying over our school in Singapore, so low we could read the warning labels on the belly of the plane. The school was sensibly placed at the end of the runway.


  5. Tim

    Long Live the Vulcan

    I used to live near RAF Woodford where they either built or repaired Vulcans, not sure which I was only a kid. They had an annual airshow at Woodford and the highlights were the RAF memorial flight (or whatever it was then) and the Vulcan flypast.

    The previous comment about your whole body resonating and the ground vibrating are quite true. In my case, even bubbles appeared in my cherryade and when the Vulcan flew past. Every hair on your body stands on end, the exhilaration cannot be described.

    Such power, such grace such a noise it is beyond anything else and yet I think those of us who have seen, heard it and even felt it also dare to do the thing we are no longer allowed which is to feel more than a little patriotic.

    Long Live The Vulcan

  6. Angus Wood

    Terrifying beauty

    The Vulcan really is quite a sight when you see it, either on the ground or flying overhead. Subsonic, low level, tasked with attacking targets deep within what was the USSR with a single 1 megaton Blue Steel missile slung underneath... Not a job I'd fancy myself.

    They scream "cold war, pre SAM" from every rivet but if you get the chance to see one I'd advise you to take it. As a grown-up seeing one close up for the first time I understood what the words "terrifying beauty" really mean.

  7. Les Matthew


    does it have pointy ears and do funny hand gestures?

    I preferred the Handley Page Victor myself.

  8. Ivan Headache


    No afterburners on a Vulcan Kevin, (just pointy ears).

    flames - 'cos if there's flames out the back - it's gonna crash!

    When I went to Scampton around 1967 There was a nice aerial photo in one of the offices (can't remember where though). It showed one end of the runway with a beautiful triangular burn mark on it.

    I forget the actual circumstances, but IIRC, one of the engines threw a turbine blade while winding-up for take-off. As it was full to the brim with gas, it burned to a cinder.

    No-one was hurt though as the crew (and the ATC cadet on an air-experience flight) all got out safely.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Simply beautiful...

    I'm with you there Pete. I remember seeing one particular Vulcans last outing at an airshow many years ago. Was quite moving really to see that particular old girl bowing out gracefully. The pilots/ground crew had painted a farewell message on the bomb bay doors which was a nice touch. I've never really been into planes but the Vulcan is just mesmerising.

    Glad to see there's still one kicking about and hopefully she'll be delighting the young and old for many years to come.

    //Dead bird? Not yet she ain't!!

  10. Phil the Geek

    Aluminium cloud

    I grew up on a big hill that was the last high ground on the approach to Woodford, where they used to work on Vulcans and also the Victor tanker conversions.

    Both were stunning as they came over our house very low, but only the Vulcans blotted out the sun and rattled the mirrors. Happy memories.

    I think I'll have a day out this summer to see '558 again. Well done Aerobytes.

  11. Wile E. Veteran

    I remember...

    ... when I was but a lad, a Vulcan on a "good-will" tour of the US and Canada crashed about a mile from my house on the East side of Detroit while trying to make a controlled crash landing in the Detroit River, nearly taking out the home of Charles Lindburg's mother. The roar as the Vulcan flew over was deafening and our whole house literally shook as it passed over. Closer to the crash site, windows were broken by its passing. The crew is now buried in a small plot of British soil in a cemetery in a Downriver community.

    My condolences to families of the crew if any happen to run across this.

  12. MrT
    Thumb Up


    The only one ever to carry an afterburner was the one that had a 5th Olympus 320 engine - testing for Concorde and TSR2 - strapped underneath - normal 202 and hi-power 302 variants ran 'dry'. That one engine alone had enough power to fly the thing and they had to be careful not to tip the plane supersonic since the airframe wasn't designed for that sort of speed. Anyone who's seen one fly will witness the 'ripple' effect in the aircraft skin as it's being chucked about - imagine that with the supersonic separation at play as well...

    Unfortunately, that single engine caused the plane to burn when it disintegrated on the runway - can't recall where, but sounds a lot like the picture Ivan Headache mentions.

    They were still loud enough to crakc windows though, plus that haunting intake howl as the jet firsts sets off down the runway - eerie and never forgotten.

  13. George

    What great avdertising and cause...

    while us geeks go all misty eyed we will remember Aerobytes much better than being some anonymous sponsor on the left hand-side of second rate F1 drivers helmet.

    And indeed the plane is a wonder, patriotism is back!

  14. Richard Mason

    Beautiful aircraft

    I remember seeing a Vulcan go near vertical at the RAF Waddington airshow a couple of years before they retired them, the whole ground shook, amazing sight.

    My favourite Vulcan story came from the last year they took part in the Red Flag exercises in Nevada. Two Vulcans on the one team were getting close to their bombing target so the other team sent a pair of F15s to intercept and stop the bombing run. As the F15s approached the pair of Vulcans, they started pulling up and round keeping their plan form towards the F15s. At the very last minute, the Vulcans pulled up sharply and a pair of Tornado GR1s popped out from under each Vulcan where they had been hiding from the other teams radar and ran in at high speed to score four perfect bombing runs.

  15. Danger Mouse

    @ All of the abive

    Spotters :)

    Only kidding, the Vulcan is f*cking marvel,the noise of one flying low with afterburners lit really gets in to the bottom of your stomach and stirs up the soon to be poop.

    Yeah, my one is the anorak.

  16. G R Goslin

    But has it got style?

    True, the Vulcan is a great looking aircraft, and having lived near Waddington, I can certainly attest to the noise, But frankly, its counterpart V-bomber the Victor beat it hands down for sheer beauty and style. Especially the white all over ones

  17. Michael J Evans

    4 min warning scramble

    I grew up around them in the 60s and 70s when my uncle was at Finningley and Waddington. We used to go to the Battle of Britain displays where four of them would do the nuclear strike 4 minute warning scramble take off. If you think one sounds good then imagine four of them closely following each other down the runway. They were given dispensation to take off on three engines should one fail to start, so as not to spoil the display.

    During the Red Flag bombing competitions in Nevada, my uncle told me that if a B52 lost an engine on take off they were in trouble, but a Vulcan could take off fully fuelled and bombed on two engines. He also said that going supersonic was not a problem and easily achieved.

  18. MrT


    @ Danger Mouse - ;¬) some things just *move* ya!

    @ G R Goslin - I hope to see XH558 alongside XL231 at Yorkshire Air Museum as one of the Vulcan's trips. Victor at least could go supersonic in a dive without buckling its airframe or going into an unrecoverable nose-dive... Nice triple-sweep constant Mach wing saw to that. Handley-Page knew what he was doing there.

    Red Flag stuff - there's another couple of tales about Vulcans in those little wargames. Vulcans and their crews excelled at flying on the deck. In one they ploughed the fields, literally - the base commander at Nellis AFB had a photo of this section of desert with the huge arc scoured by the plane's wingtip. In another frame he had the news report that telegraph wires suspended at about 60 feet off the ground had been cut by a Vulcan that was going *upwards*, as evidenced by the snag marks on the jet's tailplane.

    May I recommend 'Vulcan 607'? Brilliant book.

  19. Jon H

    Best of luck to them

    Right, now the Vulcan is sorted, anyone for Concorde?!

  20. martinn

    @ Michael J Evans

    I was at one of those Finningley air displays in the early 70s, and the Vulcan scramble take-off is still vivid in my memory. The ground literally shook. A truly awesome experience.

  21. seasider
    Thumb Up

    All of the above

    Yep all these remarks are spot on - awesome machines.

    I saw the Vulcan displayed in sunny Southend quite late in it's career.

    A big part of the wow factor was the way it was displayed - in Southend Airshow most of the displays take place just out over the estuary - the really fast jets are displayed really far out - and are as dull as dishwater. The Vulcans however were appeared to be flown about six foot above the lampposts on the seafront, and were thrown around the sky very slowly and very very noisily, often with the jet blast wafting over the crowd as the beast climbed vertically and deafeningly upwards after appearing to hover on it's tail just above the lampposts again and again.


  22. Carl Williams

    Farnborugh 2008

    As I only live around the corner I will be visiting the show for the first time if the Vulcan is flying, truely stunning piece of machinery and designed in the 50's too.

  23. Ivan Headache

    @danger mouse

    No afterburners on Vulcans.


    I can believe the low-level story from Red Flag. The Vulcan had a very clever Terrain-Following Radar system with an FM based radio-altimeter that was accurate to feet. However, I think the mark in the sand was not by a Vulcan but by a Buccaneer.

    I remember seeing footage from a red flag showing a buccaneer doing this ludicrously low-level stuff and the video clearly showed what appeared to be the wingtips touching the ground. The story was that when the B was tanking along at about 580kts at low-level (10-20 ft) the pressure wave caused by the fuselage sat under the aircraft and prevented it sinking on to the ground.

    I've just spent the last hour or so searching google and the tube to see if I could find this footage (or at least some photos) but no good. There is some good documentary stuff with RAF pilots that is worth watching on the tube though.

  24. Martin Nicholls

    Lets hope...

    Will be at Waddington this weekend (weather permitting), will be great to see it flying if it's given permission.

  25. David Sidebotham
    Jobs Halo

    Get the facts straight

    1. There are no afterburners on Vulcans.

    2. Vucans to not have pointy ears. They have bloody big noisy engines.

    3. That large round dome under the cockpit hides the ground radar and is made of GRP. Now you would not want that anywhere near supersonic, would you?

    4. One Vulcan had a Concord Olympus engine fitted in the bomb bay and was used as the flying test bed, and if I remember correctly it burned out on the end of the runway (Scampton?).

    5. There was a report that the Americans were very impressed by the Vulcan as it was difficult to track by radar and could get in really close to the target. Fully enclosed engines and low angle surfaces were said to contribute. Is this where the US got the stealth idea from?

    Personal anecdotes include:

    As a kid being woken up on Saturday morning by ground testing of Vulcan engines at Woodford, five miles away. And they used a silencer, which I believe is still there.

    My favourite encounter is driving south on the M6 going over Shap where the north and south carriageways are separated, a Vulcan was flying North towards me between the two sides of the road. I was looking down on the top of the wing; it would have been the best of reasons to have an accident.

  26. TrishaD

    Tee Hee

    My one and only Red Flag story....

    There was a television programme some years back which features a Buccaneer bombing run at Red Flag.

    Part of it was filmed from inside the control room/tower/whatever it was and in the background you could hear a (female) USAF type giving a very dispassionate commentary to someone down a voice line, while monitoring their progress on a TV monitor.

    About half way through you can distinctly hear her say: 'Oh, Jesus Christ, look at those motherf*****rs go!'

  27. Lee Fear

    The best aircraft ever made

    The vulcan truly is an amazing feat of engineering. I have read many stories of civil pilots getting a big surprise as a vulcan shot past them vertically and of vulcans out manouvering mig fighters. That thing could pull off moves that should just not be possible for a plane of it's size. I was at an airshow (fairford i think) and standing near an american f16. The pilot was letting a kid sit in the cockpit just as a B52 (another awesome plane) was powering up for takeoff. He smuggly said to the father of the kid to " watch this beast go up!" it took off rather noisely, some people stopped to watch, many were still wandering around the show. As soon as it was up and away a vulcan appeared at the end of the runway and began to power up. As it roared and groaned into the air, car alarms went off, everyone stood still and I looked around to see the American Pilots jaw on the floor!

    If I had the money I would gladly give them enough to keep the vulcan flying for as long as possible (something I think the government or lottery should be doing) to keep a unique part of our herritage for future generations to admire.

  28. Jeff Bennison

    I remember

    the memorial flight when I was stationed at RAF Marham. The pilot used to nip up tp Waddington to pick the Vulcan up and come back to Marham to test run the display. Very impressive and oh so loud. Car alarms going off all over. The display was to be for the 75th anniversary of the RAF and she had Farewell painted inside the bomb bay doors. Did her party piece of cruising along the runway at a slow nose up kind of way and then sticking her on her tail at max chat for a climb straight up through the clouds. Fantastic.

    I think I am right in saying the Vulcan has a smaller radar footprint then a Tornado F3...

  29. EvilGav


    Only word to describe them.

    Never got to see one in flight, since they were decommissioned when I was only 9, but they do have one at East Fortune, near Edinburgh, so i've seen one on the ground, sitting next to a casing for one of those bloody big nukes they were meant to carry.

    For anyone who hasn't, pick up a copy of Vulcan 607, the book that covers the Falklands raids and the headaches and heartaches of getting what was a decommissioned bomber to fly that far. Some of the red flag stories are incredible - when asked how low they would be flying - against faster, more manouverable jets, the best attack method was low level attack - the pilot answered "around 50feet". Generally they were flying lower than the wing-span of the plane, whilst manouvering.

    I hope they keep that sucker in the air, as i'd love to hear and see it in flight.

  30. Rolf Clayton

    More memories...

    I am yet another person who grew up near Woodford when the Vulcan was being developed. We lived in Poynton near the end of the Woodford runway and the plane flew over our house at a few hundred feet as it was taking off, shaking the building and deafening those on the ground below - a terrifying but beautiful sight. I also remember the two small delta prototypes which AVRO used to acquire data to develop the design, one electric blue and the other a scarlet red.

    When my grandchildren come to stay they like to visit the Vulcan (and the Spitfire) in the RAF Museum and have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most beautiful planes ever to have flown.

  31. MrT

    Red Flag etc

    @ TrishaD - nice one - is that on YouTube? The US ground crews used to cheer RAF guys for the things they did - pretty much stopped the play as they went past at zero feet. On the really dusty flat bits most jets kicked up a nice wingtip vortex trail - with the Vulcan it was more a horizontal tornado. Mind you, some of the US pilots thought the Vulcan was a big fighter because it was just as manoeuvrable.

    @ Jeff - radar footprint depends on view - the vertical tailfin was the giveaway for a Vulcan, so it was quite visible from the side (which is a feature it has in common with a Tornado), and also from below. However, from front or back it had the reputation of occasionally vanishing from radar screens - stealth indeed! Oh, and it had a longer range and bigger payload than a Tornado. Especially the ones with wing hardpoints designed for Skybolt stand-off missiles, though external weapons do muck up the stealthy design - there'd have been more RCS from a couple of Skybolts than from the rest of the plane. Give it an twin V-form tailplane (like F117) and the design is about spot on for cheap stealth.

    Terrain-following radar occasionally misread - one story (from 'Vulcan 607') of a crew where the pilot had taken the plane to paint-scrubbing level because the system was out by half of the indicated 50ft or so.

    It was known that Vulcan Mach readout was high by about 7% near transistion speed so there are reports of Vulcans reaching (in one instance) an indicated 1.04Mach but no associated sonic boom. Official rated Vmax was 0.96Mach. The controls were not designed for supersonic speeds and any pilots who took the jets there (accidental or otherwise) would have struggled to regain control - only exceptions would have been very fast level flight runs (pretty much a deliberate choice in that case). There's a known case of one tipping Mach 1 in a dive in preparation to go in fast an level on a bombing run - intention was to level at about 27000ft, but ended up fighting a vertical nose dive and regained the plane at about 8000ft - deployed airbrakes and such way beyond rated speed, buckled the bulkhead behind the cockpit and created other 'issues' with the airframe.

  32. Katie
    Thumb Up

    Fingers Crossed

    I have my fingers crossed that XH558 will be given permission to fly for Waddington at the weekend. I have tickets for Saturday and I am hoping that this will be the highlight of the weekend.

    I recently saw the Vulcan at RAF Cosford as part of the Cold War museum and it is absolutely stunning, it's a beautiful aircraft to look at and I hope that it will be saved for generations to come - rather like the BBMF has been.

    Having spoken at length to some of those involved in restoring the aircraft, I hope that the necessary permission is obtained.

  33. Jeff Bennison

    Just found this

    shows one of the farewell flights with a waggle of the wings at the end.

    Hopefully this kind of display could become a reality again this weekend.....nice

  34. Ivan Headache

    @Just found this

    Hate to say it jeff - but that wasn't a display.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vulcan is a killer

    It killed more of its own people, than it did of the enemy. You should be so proud!

  36. catbus

    Thanks for your memories

    I'm just a Yank airplane freak and never had the chance to see one of these guys in person. The closest I've come is watching a Concorde takeoff (IMHO one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built). My thanks for the Reg articles and all of your comments and stories. I hope you can keep this bird flying. It's truly a national treasure.


  37. call me scruffy
    Thumb Up

    @Anonymous dumbass

    Yes, we can all be very proud that the Vulcan killed so few of the enemy (A bunch of argies who were trying to shoot it down at the time)... I'm certainly glad Moscow, London, Leningrad, Manchester, etc are still standing.

    In the forces, people die. Might be in combat, might be in training, might be something prosaic... Might be because they were assigned to work with the w^h yanks.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Jeff Bennison

    I think that's the same event I mentioned earlier... It's something I'll never, ever forget!

  39. call me scruffy
    Thumb Up

    @Anonymous dumbass

    Yes, we can all be very proud that the Vulcan killed so few of the enemy (A bunch of argies who were trying to shoot it down at the time)... I'm certainly glad Moscow, London, Leningrad, Manchester, etc are still standing.

    In the forces, people die. Might be in combat, might be in training, might be something prosaic...

  40. alyn


    If you've never seen this thing pull aerobatics you've never lived. Pulling a high angle of attack take off at Farnborough it melted the runway!

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