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XH558's Road to Restoration

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

Part 3

Continuing our series on the return of Vulcan XH558 to the air, we look at the formative years of the restoration team and the struggles for funding, particularly before the award of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant that would kick-start the restoration proper. 


Two early pictures of the Bruntngthorpe team preparing to launch the restoration project.

Engineers moved into the ‘soft start’ phase, stripping down the aircraft to give access deep into the airframe, and by early 2002, all engineering activity on the aircraft had been suspended, awaiting the approvals and funding for the next stage of the Major: the Inspection phase. The aircraft was on jacks, without her engines, wheels, undercarriage units, canopy, radome, avionics systems, fuel tanks and with all of her inspection panels removed.

As the Trust’s website put it, “XH558 is in the most deeply stripped state that she has been in since manufacture: there is no going back - the only way now is forward”. With Marshall Aerospace applying to the CAA for formal approval to proceed, now was the point that the VTST would have to show they could afford their services, but a body blow awaited. 

Vulcan XH558 in the Bruntingthorpe Hangar in 2002 in the most stripped down condition she had been in since construction at Avro in Woodford. 

All images above courtesy and copyright Charles Toop.

In November 2002 the bid for Lottery money was turned down. A shocked Dr Pleming said: “We are aghast at the decision. We are not just enthusiastic about this amazing aircraft, we are professionals that recognise her engineering and heritage value”. Supporters protested, and eventually the VTST was invited to re-apply, with guidance offered on improving the bid by stressing the Vulcan’s role in the Cold War, (a subject that formed part of the state schools’ history curriculum), and emphasising the Vulcan’s excellence as a piece of engineering, at the forefront of aircraft design in its time. 2003 was a nail-biting year as the VTST refined the bid and made a second application, until in December a ‘Stage One Pass’ was announced, with a grant of £2.7million for XH558’s restoration.

The HLF’s Chair, Liz Forgan, said: “In the normal way of things we do not restore aircraft to flight but the HLF was really impressed with the imaginative way in which the Trust’s new proposal will let as many people as possible learn about this important part of their heritage.” Sir Michael Knight thanked the Heritage Lottery Fund for “their vision in seeing the significance of the restoration to flight of the last remaining Vulcan and the telling of the Cold War story. ‘Victory for Vulcan’ is so apt as the V-force played such a vital part in the Cold War, which was a global influence from 1945 until 1991. We are delighted and as custodians of this awesome part of British Heritage we feel the responsibility of our role. Thank you to everyone who has played a part in this project and has made today possible.”

A fresh appeal was launched in March 2004 to reach the Trust’s commitment of 29% of the funding total, required before the HLF would issue a ‘Stage 2 Pass’ and release the grant. Finally, Dr Pleming and Felicity Irwin were able to announce that “this is indeed history in the making. Although we have thought that this day would come it seems to have taken forever and it is hard to really believe that at last we can commence the work on XH558 to return her to her rightful place in the sky. Emotions are running high but we will soon come back to earth and begin the very serious work of recreating an airworthy Vulcan.”

In early 2005, Andrew Edmondson decided to rejoin the Vulcan to the Sky team as Engineering Manager after a 3-year absence in more conventional employment. Andrew’s contribution to defining, planning and directing the technical activities in a unique environment proved vital to success. On the 28th April 2005 the Trust and Marshall Aerospace (as the Engineering Authority) signed the contract that formalised the start of work.

Robert Pleming shakes hands after signing the agreement with (the late) Mick Milne (Marshall Aerospace), while Andrew Edmondson (VTTST Engineering Manager) and Steve Rogers (Marshall Aerospace), look on.

The Trust had purchased XH558 from the Waltons, and the Bruntingthorpe hangar underwent the work necessary to gain M5 (maintenance) approvals from the CAA. Several months later, thanks to a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, the hangar was audited by the CAA and declared ‘fit for purpose’.

Read Part 4 of this story here:

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