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XH558's Road to Restoration

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

Part 5

Continuing our 7 part series on the return of Vulcan XH558 to the air, we arrive at mid-2006, a funding crisis that needed over £1milion pounds to be raised in only a month and then the eventual roll-out to the public with the project still very much still in the balance ….

Work had also started on the wing spar modification (Mod 2222) at the shackle joint. The outer wing of the Vulcan is held to the fuselage at the rear spar by a figure-of-eight shackle plate, fixed by two bolts. As each wing is held by only eight bolts, the removal of two could result in movement of the wing, so supports were put in place to take the strain off the remaining six. The shackle plate and bolts could then be removed to access the strengthening plate beneath, and replace it with a longer one.

 The wing spar modification (Mod 2222)

XH558 with lower radome removed, showing where the H2S scanner would shortly be re-fitted to level up the aircrafts Centre of Gravity. Photograph - David Petrie.

By May 2006, with rectification work continuing, the recovery phase was underway. Economic resources were being stretched to breaking point though, with cost increases due to unforeseen extra work being required and the absence of anticipated commercial sponsorship given the worsening economic situation. A review of costs and liabilities in July left the Trustees no option; on 1st August the full-time staff were placed on a month’s notice, and a figure in excess of £1.2 million was needed to avoid closure of the project. It had been planned to roll the aircraft out of the hangar for the first time since 1999 at the end of the month (to show supporters and media the progress made), and preparations continued for this, even though there was a very real possibility it could mark the end of the restoration attempt.

Skins in the fuel tank and engine bays were refitted, not just for looks but also because they are an integral part of the aircraft’s structural strength when the aircraft came off jacks. For aesthetics the fin cap was returned to its place on the tail, and an iron plate was fitted in the nose in place of the H2S scanner to maintain the aircraft’s centre of gravity in the correct place.


Work continued at various contractors with one of the new fuel bladders, being pumped with compressed air for leak testing at FPT Industries at Portsmouth, part of GKN Aerospace, with work on-going on the elevons at Beagle Aerospace at Christchurch.

Despite the short time available, the Trust, with the drive, energy and enthusiasm of XH558’s supporters in the Vulcan to the Sky Club, galvanised media coverage, and the response to it was dramatic. Donations and pledges poured in, and in just 21 days the total was achieved, with a magnificent donation of £500,000 coming from British philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward.

On 31st August 2006, XH558 rolled out of the hangar for the first time in 7 years. In front of an admiring crowd of a several hundred supporters the hangar doors opened just before 2pm, and the Vulcan slowly emerged from a cloud of simulated smoke. As she drew to a halt the sound of four Rolls- Royce Merlin engines heralded the arrival of the BBMF Lancaster, making several emotional flypasts in salute. Trust Chairman Sir Michael Knight thanked all those who had made the occasion possible and announced that for the staff, while this was their last day of work, it was also to be their first! Tribute also came from the office of the Prince of Wales conveying Charles’ warmest good wishes: “His Royal Highness has fond recollections of his flight in Vulcan XL392 at RAF Waddington, and was thrilled to hear that XH558 is to be rolled out of its hangar.” Paying tribute to the Club, pilot David Thomas said: “I’m not going to call them club members anymore, I’m going to call them all friends, because they’ve all contributed a fantastic amount of money.” Dr Pleming added: “It confirms what we’d always believed, that this is a People’s Aeroplane, and there are so many people out there who want it to fly.”

Overhead view from the rear turret of the BBMF Avro Lancaster which overflew in salute. Pic: Steve Buckby.

 Next week, the aircraft begins to come back together - but a discovery creates extra delay and cost - how long before she flies?

Extracts in this series are from various Vulcan to the Sky Trust publications available in our Book Store.

Missed earlier instalments of this story?

Catch-up from the beginning here: 

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