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Farewell to Flight Tour


by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

remembering 10th/11th October 2015

We look back on the final few weeks of XH558’s flying career, with an overview on how she would say ‘goodbye’ to the nation.

 

With the final public display complete, attention focused on what was now being called the ‘Farewell to Flight’ Tour.

Our newsletter of Friday 25 September detailed an initial route guide that showed two routes; one more to the north and then another that was more central and to the south.

The idea was to overfly places where people could congregate and not have too far to travel. It would be impossible to cover every single area of the country and unfortunately, the Devon and Cornwall peninsula was perhaps the most isolated part of the country, as people would need to travel to Bristol to catch a glimpse of XH558.

Likewise, Northern Scotland and West Wales would be tricky to cover due to the high ground and likely low-level cloud that would be about at the time of year. Sadly, initial planning had to be amended. However, this still gave possible flight times of over 3.5 hours each day – some of the longest flights the crews would complete in the post-restoration period.

Due to the nature of the flights, the uncertainties of weather over the weekend, or of any last minute planning changes, it was impossible to give early indication of a take-off time.

This was where the live Twitter and Facebook feeds could help, as well as the XH558 app that could be viewed on smartphones or tablets. By the Friday newsletter, the expected route times were published which gave the ‘plus’ minutes away from take-off, something which had worked well on previous tours of this nature.

 

Taff signs-off and prepares to release the aircraft for departure.  © Andy Hellen

 

At least if departure  was delayed, it would be a relatively easy task to add that time to the take-off, rather than change a whole list of expected timings.

On the morning of the first day, the forecast looked good and it was announced that the planned departure time would be 1300 hrs (1pm). This helped everyone with a few hours’ notice of the time over their preferred location, so they could then set-off ready to enjoy the day.

As the team came to ‘Crew-In’ there was a sudden surge in download requests from the audience and both the website and XH558 app fell-over within minutes, trying to protect themselves from over 660,000 data requests - the figure recorded in that first hour.

 

Take off. Saturday 10th October 2015 © Andy Hellen

Thankfully, with resources far more capable of handling the huge numbers, the Twitter and Facebook feeds were able to remain broadcasting the latest news from Doncaster.

Then, in a well-rehearsed communications plan, the media team were able to monitor not only texts from the rear crew, but other sightings and posts from across the internet and the latest simulated radar tracking systems, enabling ‘live updates’ to be populated on the aircraft’s progress along the route.

 

Crowds gather at RAF Cosford ©Ryan Hart and Staverton, Gloucester © Donald Spiers.

 

With a quick overflight or straight flypast, one-by-one the destinations were ticked off as XH558 made her way around the route, with social media feeds giving updates every few minutes.

Down on the ground at every location, hundreds and sometimes thousands had gathered well in advance, making sure they had what they thought were the best vantage points and talking friendly banter to fellow enthusiasts, there for exactly the same reason. The atmosphere everywhere was convivial, a meeting of people with common interests, with food and hot drinks being passed around by people who had never actually met before. All were joining in with this celebration of what so many pulling together had been able to achieve.

As it was natural to pass the time of day, conversations were started and memories of events or airshows of the past discussed. It all helped add to the sense of occasion.

Then when the moment arrived, they enjoyed the sight of XH558 together, reflecting on her departure and the significance of what they had witnessed. Many were seeing an airborne Vulcan for the last time. Even grown men were not afraid to show their emotions, tears freely flowing down cheeks. Once again, XH558 had shown how she had woven herself into the hearts and souls of so many people.

Low level in the Lake District!  ©Ashley Hewitt

Wellesbourne and Vulcan XM655 ©

Woodford, birthplace of XH558 © Dave Scott

Sunday came - day two - more of the same. Overloaded servers, excitement, camaraderie, emotions and heartache. Once XH558 was back on the ground, the whole team could breathe a huge sigh of relief. Not only had the aircraft performed flawlessly, but, even if she was unable to fly ever again, they all felt it had been a truly remarkable season - extended flying hours 50% up on any other year, taking the aircraft to the ones that made it all possible.

 

Overhead Filton and Concorde. © James Coombe

 

East Fortune. © Colin McCloud

 

During the weekend over 1.5 million map views were recorded, 750,000 watched the Facebook feeds; whilst a staggering 10 million Twitter impressions were made on the XH558 posts. It was estimated the tour had a viewing audience well in excess of 300,000 on the ground across over 40 locations. it was probably many, many more.

This was the real evidence of ‘The Vulcan Effect!’

 

Here are some reader memories.

“I remember the final southern tour...I had to be at home and was relying on the Vulcan app and social media updates including periscope to track her progress....I was also acting as “Air Traffic Advisor” to friends in The Sportsman Pub in Goddards Green...we had plotted that Delta Lady was going to pass close by......as the time drew near I plotted when she was going to pass by....advised the Pub via social media and as always, bang on time, XH558 passed right over the pub....job done!”  David Hannom.

 

“Three years ago, I decided to go to Gravesend to see XH558 on the final flight over the south of England.  Living in Reading, I headed for London and took the Paddle Steamer Waverley from Tower Pier to Gravesend – my first trip on this old vessel.  It got me to Gravesend around an hour before XH558 was due to pass.  Sure enough, the unmistakable shape of a Vulcan came into view right on time over the Cruise ship ‘Marco Polo’ which was moored across the Thames at Tilbury, before sweeping around to come up the river across the piers and on its way back north for the last time.  A fantastic sight and sound but tinged with sadness to think it was the last time.” Derek Morgan.

 

“My wife and I were lucky enough to see XH558 on the southern tour on Sunday the 11th October with our good friends Andrew and Joy. Andrew works for Fleur who’s office border Farnborough. We saw the flypast from the roof of the company car park. I hope you will agree the attached photo is rather interesting. XH558 can be seen over the airship hanger skeleton trailing smoke with a flock of birds either frightened out of their wits or trying to form up in formation.”  Ian Harper

Some of the crowd waiting back at Doncaster © Sam Scrimshaw

Touchdown!  © Steve Comber

A tracer map showing XH558's coverage of the country during the 2015 season.

Keep updated with all the latest news on XH558, together with features on historical aviation and inspiring engineering ....

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