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#TheXH558Story - Part 9

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

through the 60s

Part 9 of our serialisation looks at the changes made to XH558 through the 60s.

Craig Bulman picks up the story …..

On Friday 10th August 1962, XH558 was unfortunately involved in a ‘flying accident’, which necessitated further repairs by a team from Avro. The aircraft was eventually returned to flying duties with 230 OCU some six months later on Tuesday 5th March 1963.

Later that same year XH558 was once again on display to the public at Finningley during the 1963 Battle of Britain Open Day held on 14th September and at this point in time had been equipped with a flight-refuelling probe.

During 1963, a retrofit program was introduced into the Vulcan B Mk.2 force. This would involve all of the originally allocated Olympus 200 series aircraft with the exception of three; therefore 51 aircraft in total would receive appropriate modifications and updates.

XH558 became the 14th aircraft to enter the retrofit program, commencing 11th February 1964, which took place at the manufacturer’s Woodford facilities. The retrofit was finally completed some 16 months later and XH558 was then returned on Wednesday 30th June 1965 to 230 OCU at RAF Finningley.

Due to the changes in the attack profile of the V-bombers, from high to low-level, a two-tone green and grey disruptive camouflage pattern was applied to the aircraft’s upper surface whilst undergoing the retrofit. The free-fall bombing force of Vulcan BMk.2s, which included XH558, also received additional wing strengthening together with the fitting of twin forward attachment points located under the aircraft’s wings.

XH558 at Biggin Hill in September 1965 - Courtesy of Robert Davies. 

XH558 continued in service throughout the remainder of 1965 and 1966 with 230 OCU at Finningley. Looking resplendent in her new camouflage scheme, XH558 was flown by one of the Units qualified flying instructors, on Friday 17th September 1965 to RAF Biggin Hill, namely Flt Lt Les Bates, where the aircraft formed part of the static display for the Battle of Britain Open Day.

During the following year’s Battle of Britain display held at RAF Finningley on 17th September 1966, XH558 performed the flying display, with the OCU’s CFI (chief flying instructor), Sqn Ldr Peter Odling, as Captain whilst QFI Les Bates on that occasion occupied the Co-Pilots seat.

In January 1966, XH558 had been earmarked to become the recipient of two bomb-bay overload fuel tanks. These were designed to increase the range of the Vulcan, whilst also increasing the ‘target’ coverage available to Bomber Command; therefore increasing the ‘threat’ to the perceived enemy!

XH558 became one of the earliest of the 200 series aircraft to be returned to the manufacturers and receive the appropriate modifications and fitting of two ‘cylindrical’ bomb-bay fuel tanks: 15th December 1966 - 23rd February 1967. The aircraft had been collected from Woodford and returned to Finningley for 230 OCU the previous day by QFI, Flt Lt Les Bates.

A further three months of service was performed before XH558 was flown to RAF St Athan in Wales by CFI, Sqn Ldr Peter Odling on Tuesday 6th June 1967. It was at this location that No. 32 MU (Maintenance Unit) commenced a Major service, which also included re-painting the aircraft, which now had a defined ‘sharp’ edge to the green camouflage (previously soft, feathered edge). The Major service was completed during August and the aircraft was then returned to 230 OCU at Finningley.

XH558 with the sharper edged camoflage pattern of the later 60s paint scheme.

The following month, on Saturday 16th September 1967, XH558 was flown to RAF Leuchars in Scotland and was placed on static display for the Battle of Britain Open Day.

On Thursday 14th December 1967, personnel from No. 60 MU commenced necessary repairs to XH558 following a further Cat 3 R incident. Following the repairs the aircraft was returned to service on Monday 19th January 1968. It was during the previously mentioned time span that No. 12 Sqn at RAF Cottesmore was disbanded, which resulted in an exchange of aircraft between the three Waddington Wing squadrons and the remaining two at Cottesmore; therefore allowing the remaining B Mk.1As to be phased out of service.

Additional resources were required at Waddington, and as a direct result of the fitting of the cylindrical bomb-bay fuel tanks, XH558 was returned to her original home station at RAF Waddington on Monday 26th February 1968 and allocated to the free-fall bomber squadrons.

The fitting of ‘terrain following radar’ then followed, as this became a standard fit to all aircraft equipped with bomb-bay fuel tanks. A contractor working party was required between 10th October and 8th November 1968 to carry out further repairs following a Cat 3 incident, before routine flying could recommence.

During the course of 1969 the Royal Navy, armed with Polaris missile equipped submarines was to take over the nuclear deterrent responsibility from the Royal Air Force. The Vulcan bombers were fortunately earmarked to remain in service in a low-level tactical strike-bombing role. As a result of the extension of service the Vulcans were to enter a further factory program, this time at Hawker Siddeley’s Bitteswell facilities, where the airframe would be ‘beefed-up’ with numerous strengthening plates being fitted around the weakest parts and areas prone to fatigue. On 4th June 1969, XH558 became the first aircraft to enter the program, which was to take four months to complete, before returning to the Waddington Wing squadrons on 15th October 1969.

Prior to entering the factory refurbishment program XH558 was utilised during May 1969 to perform a flying display at Sleap airfield, Shropshire. With an effective ‘zero’ fatigue rating, XH558 became a firm favourite with the resident crews and was therefore frequently utilised to conduct ‘lone ranger’ flights to Goose Bay in Canada. It was from this location that numerous low-level training sorties could be flown over the vast open expanse of the Canadian tundra.

On Monday 3rd December 1969, XH558 was involved in a further flying accident. A contractor working party carried out the necessary repairs and the aircraft was returned to service on Tuesday 28th April 1970.

More of XH558's life during the 1970s in the next instalment. 

We have a wide range of books available in our Book Store that will give you a wealth of information on the life of Vulcan aircraft and XH558. 

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