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Final Flight report

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

Ryan Hart reports from Doncaster

“They said it would never happen, well you can put that in your pipe and smoke it.” A memorable quote that started what has become an unforgettable 8 years of flight for Avro Vulcan XH558. She rose into the air for the first time on 18th October 2007 from Bruntingthorpe Airfield, an unbeatable achievement of engineering that was meant to be impossible. In that time she has stunned the crowds both nationally and internationally, with displays over Britain, Belgium and Holland. Her popularity has been beyond prediction, the Vulcan Effect spreading in ever increasing waves in the last few years, both the young and the old determined to see her in the air as many times as possible. The Spirit of Great Britain has performed at a huge number of venues during this era of flight, performed flypasts with the Lancaster, Red Arrows, F-15 Eagle, Tornado and many more, giving the public hundreds of unique and memorable moments, never to be seen again in our skies.

Inevitably, with such a complex project, there have been issues, but mechanically XH558 has performed admirably, an impressive achievement for a 55 year-old icon of the Cold War, that has an ability and performance to stun crowds in ways that more modern aircraft can’t even hope to achieve.

XH558’s final season has been a culmination of all 7 previous years of flight. She has recorded more flying hours than in any other year, giving her fans unbeatable opportunities to see her where she belongs. Her displays have included here famous 'howl' and her most famous manoeuvres like the Spiral Climb, Bomb-bay turn and Wing-over to name but a few. However, the final season has always had a feeling of inevitability about it. Every take off, every display, has had a sense of sadness, as XH558’s final appearance at each venue has drawn to a close and been ticked-off. But now we really have reached the end, Avro Vulcan XH558 has completed her final flight.

Gloomy skies greet XH558 as the team prepares XH558 for her last flight.

The morning of Wednesday 28th October dawned wet and miserable, the weather matching the mood of every person at Robin Hood Airport. Visibility was awful and the opportunity of a final flight seemed to be disappearing rapidly. A morning flight was planned, but a generous window was provided during the afternoon, to see if the weather changed for the better. The hangar was filled with the Trustees, Press, Crew, and some of the volunteers that have made the last 8 years possible. Once again her guardian angel was watching over XH558 and the sun broke through the clouds with perfect timing, as she slowly left her hangar. Emotions were hard to keep hidden as she lined up on the runway for take-off one last time, engines roaring as she sped past and leapt into the skies, climbing high and steep into the clouds.

It was only a short flight, but that was enough for XH558 to say her final farewell to the sky. She completed several flypasts, with a touch and go on the runway before circling around for her final landing. Her wheels touched the ground in perfect fashion, and her chute billowed as it was released from the back of the aircraft. The airport went quiet as the roar of her 4 Olympus engines was reduced to a rumble, and XH558 completed a slow and depressing taxi back to the hangar. A final salute was made by the firemen of the airport, shooting water in high arcs over XH558 in salute as she came to a standstill in front of the volunteers and press.

The Spirit of Great Britain is an old girl that can certainly make grown men cry, as tears flowed freely from many eyes. The realisation that the big Delta Lady will never leave the ground again hit everybody hard. The silence in the sky is deafening now the howl has disappeared. The sight of XH558 displaying at air shows will become a memory. We will no longer see an Avro Vulcan bomber, an icon of British engineering, a beacon of aviation heritage, flying in the skies above Britain. It is without doubt a heart-breaking thought, but inevitable, and for those that have felt the emotion and tears over the last year of flight, I leave you with this:

Don’t cry because it’s over,
Smile because it happened,
And if that’s not enough,
Then smile through the tears!!”

The era of flight for Avro Vulcan B2 XH558, The Spirit of Great Britain, The Delta Lady, has come to an end.

A new exciting chapter is about to begin…

All words and pictures by Ryan Hart.

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Vulcan is a registered trademark of BAE Systems plc. Vulcan to the Sky and XH558 are trademarks of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust.

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