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Remembering 1993

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

when XH558 retired from the RAF

Adapted from an original article by Denis Parker, first published in the Vulcan to the Sky Club magazine, "Vulcan" May 2003, Vol 1, No12.

You can see a newly developed Google Maps 'straight-line' vision

of the route flown here:

Richard Clarke, ex Club Chairman, writes with an overview of 23rd March 1993

23rd March marks a significant date in the life of Vulcan XH558 as it is the day when she left RAF service, passing into civilian hands in the care of C. Walton Ltd at Bruntingthorpe Airfield.

The day started at 10 00am, when Vulcan XH558 took off from RAF Waddington for the final time - or so it was thought - huge crowds had gathered both inside the base and along the perimeter fence - all keen to see the last take off of the iconic and much loved Vulcan in RAF service. Once airborne and having carried out two emotional flypasts over Waddington, in extremely blustery and inhospitable conditions, she headed South to look at her new home at Bruntingthorpe Airfield and when she arrived overhead the few early arrivals were treated to a preview of what was to follow later in the day. After a cursory inspection of the area the crew turned the aircraft South again for the real purpose of the flight - a tour of her old haunts.

The first port of call was to bid farewell to her leaders at Strike Command at RAF High Wycombe and Uxbridge. From there she headed for South Wales to RAF St Athan, where she had been serviced a number of times in her 33 year existence. She also flew over RAF Benson where Robert Pleming, who was eventually to be VTST Chief Executive, stood amongst the crowd with his son to see XH558 in flight for what they thought would be the final time - the rest as they say, is history.

Northward now, over the hills and valleys heading for the place of her birth, BAe Woodford, just south of Manchester, only to receive a request for a flypast from Manchester International Airport! The crew were only too pleased to agree to this request but as they were inbound the flypast was cancelled by Air Traffic Control. So it was then next stop Woodford, home of the very first Vulcan flight back in 1952, and where she was greeted by one of her sisters - Vulcan XM603 - and some of the engineers who had built her back in 1960.

XH558 then headed Eastward to her next destination - Lincolnshire, well known as 'Bomber County' of course, and her old homes of Waddington, where The Falklands Conflict aircraft Black Buck 1 - Vulcan XM607 - was preserved, then onwards to Coningsby and Scampton. Pressing on, she then headed to Cottesmore and further East to Marham, her penultimate desination on this her very last tour in RAF employ and where the Victor Tankers of 55 Squadron were based and which was also the home base where the majority of the last flight crew were stationed. With one last wing wave to the families on the ground she turned away on the final leg of the journey to her new home.......

Onward she went to overfly Bruntingthorpe, the airfield that was to become famous as the new home of the very last Vulcan - a slow, steady and quiet approach with a left hand circuit behind the huge crowd who had gathered to witness this emotional and historic sight. She then climbed away to the East to line up with the runway, lower this time she swept over the boundary fence at around 500 feet, throttling back with her enormous bomb bay opened to reveal one simple word - FAREWELL - and many a lump appeared in many a throat along with a large number of tear filled eyes.

Then, with a deafening roar from the four Rolls Royce Olympus 202 engines, she climbed away once again to pass once more behind the ever increasing crowd. And then the final landing - barely clearing the runway threshold, nose proudly held high as she slowly descended until the tyres of her main undercarriage bogies kissed the tarmac with two small puffs of smoke - a perfect landing and then a moment of sadness as she continued her landing roll and appeared to suffer a bird strike on her port wing. As the speed bled off, and almost with a sigh of resignation, the nose wheel was gently lowered to the ground and the giant brake parachute was deployed like a great white flower thus bringing her last flight to a final end.....

XH558 then taxied around the perimeter track to pan 3 which was to become her future home during the Summer. Obediently, she followed a 1950's Standard Vanguard truck into the pan where, with a little bow to her devoted audience as the brakes were applied this mighty aircraft finally came to a halt with the engines still running as the crew finished their shutdown checks.

Then suddenly, their note changed as they began to slow down and as they wound down to a final stop there was a still and heavy silence - it really was over now with a final flight time of 3 hours and 25 minutes.

The crowd now surged forward, some to surround the aircraft and congratulate and herald the crew as others gazed at the enormous bulk of the aircraft. As the crew exited the aircraft they were surrounded by well wishers and those wishing to have their souvenirs signed by this the final ever RAF Vulcan aircrew of David Thomas, Paul Millikin, Barry Masefield, Al Slack, Graham O'Connor and Dave Thorpe.

And so here we are 20 years on and such a lot has happened in the meantime to this iconic and much loved aircraft; kept in superb running condition by the volunteers at Bruntingthorpe Airfield, restored to flying status by Dr Robert Pleming and his dedicated team from the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, with the first flight of the aircraft for over 14 years taking place in October 2007.

Finally XH558 was returned triumphantly to the public domain at the Waddington International Airshow in July 2008 and has been seen by many millions of people since that incredible first year in what has been the archetypal rollercoaster ride and indeed what was termed the 'Vulcan Effect' by members of the media, this being used to describe the amazing impact the aircraft has on the public when she appears at Airshows and other events.

That allure and appeal will most certainly continue for many years to come.


All pictures are courtesy of David Walton and are from his own private collection.

Out on the pan at Waddington, XH558 prepares in front of the gathered media. This was the end of an era.

Take-off with and a nice steep rotation

....into a power climb to low circuit height.

Low level flypast in front of the gathered crowds. Leaving Waddington now for the last time. (or was it!)?

The first signs at Bruntingthorpe were those smokey trails....

leading to a flypast with the doors open and into a mini-display. (Note the word FAREWELL written inside).

Approach in a strong cross-wind .......

Coming in for what would be her last landing whilst still part of the RAF.

Streaming the chute for one last time. Perhaps more for effect than a necessity, with 2 miles of runway available.

Specators rush in for a close-up view.

Not that you can get this close these days while on the landing roll.

Guiding her onto the pan.

Once parked, the crowds rush forwards...

to greet the crew, here led down the ladder by David Thomas.


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