Q and A based on reactions to the repositioning statement
Aug 30, 2019
Thank you for all of the positive responses to our update about the current position of VTST and our ambitions for a new hangar for XH558. We received many kind emails and reassurances from our core supporters following our newsletter.
On social media the response was mixed and as promised in our statement we said that we would respond to any questions raised. There were three key questions:
1. Why don’t you move XH558 to Bruntingthorpe?
2. Why don’t you send XH558 abroad with the possibility of a return to flight?
3. Can you walk away from the Canberra to protect the Vulcan?
We’ve answered these below
Why don’t you move XH558 to Bruntingthorpe?
We considered several sites, all around the country, as a permanent home for XH558. Our conclusion was that a site with commercial aviation as a central part of its business offered the best chance of an active runway for the long term, together with opportunities to work with training organisations to build a facility that inspires the young.
When we it became clear that 2015 would be XH558’s final flying season, the question naturally occurred of where her final landing should be. Whilst VTST and XH558 had been based at DSA for four years, we reviewed all of the alternative sites that had a runway.
We were obviously aware of the attraction of Bruntingthorpe and Elvington with their collections of live aircraft. These sites were widely discussed both internally and with the teams there. The outcome, as you all know was that DSA was selected as the home for XH558. This site not only wanted to have the Vulcan there but also has a top-quality runway with emergency support so we can taxi XH558 for her supporters to see.
To reiterate - Why did the Trust base the aircraft at Doncaster Sheffield Airport?
The Trust has a unique contractual obligation in the heritage jet world: it is responsible for giving XH558 the best chance it can of being an operational heritage asset for the next sixty-six years. There are other successful ground taxying operations of similar aircraft, for example the Cold War collection at Bruntingthorpe. However it is understood that Vulcan XM655 at Wellesbourne and the collections at Elvington are no longer permitted to taxi on the runway due to airfield-imposed restrictions. Our obligation for a considerably long time period meant we thought it vital to look for a location where the runway is an intrinsic part of the business, and where there is no other Vulcan in residence. Many private airfields are at risk of development, so we could easily have landed in somewhere only to see the runway built on in a few years. It also opened up the possibility of piggybacking onto other revenue earning aviation projects, such as MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) training, that would cut down in the funding required to keep her safe. There is huge potential at Doncaster Sheffield Airport for that to happen and it forms the basis of our long term vision.
A second reason for looking for a location with an operational runway was the ease of operating other heritage aircraft and of inviting guest heritage aircraft to visit, which are also key to our plan for XH558’s future security and funding. The Trust had experience in conducting display flights from Bruntingthorpe, Brize Norton and Lyneham prior to moving to Doncaster; it was clear that it was much more practical and convenient to use an operational civilian airport than either a non-operational runway requiring special fire cover or a military base with its security implications.
The third reason is that RAF Finningley, which became Doncaster Sheffield Airport, was a V-bomber base, was home to XH558 from 1961 to 1968, and was the only RAF station to operate all three V-bombers. Local support for XH558 is a significant factor.
Why don’t you send XH558 abroad with the possibility of a return to flight?
How we would all love to see the Vulcan fly again! However, operating the Vulcan in the UK on anything other than a CAA permit would have been illegal. Although it has been proposed that the aircraft could be reclassified from ‘Complex’ to ‘Intermediate’, it was the judgement of the Trust that this would not be possible, as it is the CAA’s legal right to establish the category.
The Vulcan’s design contained many aspects justifying the Complex category, including no manual reversion for its powered flying controls (unlike Concorde), automatic stabilisation systems such as the yaw damper and auto Mach trimmer, and requiring specialised knowledge and/or equipment for its maintenance.
The possibility that XH558 could fly on under the Experimental Aircraft category in the United States, assuming the funding and maintenance support was available, exists. There are other countries that have less rigorous regulatory requirements than the UK where flight could be possible. However, as a registered charity, the Trust could not relinquish XH558, as a heritage asset purchased for the Nation, to such a venture, nor would we think that supporters of the Vulcan would want to see this happen. In addition, shortly after XH558's Permit to Fly was withdrawn, the Trust approached the CAA to explore whether there would ever be an option to move the aircraft from Doncaster on a one-off flight basis. The Authority was clear the it would only be considered if it was supported by the design authorities (BAe and Rolls Royce). Both Companies have repeatedly made it clear that they will not support any further flying of XH558
Why did you buy a Canberra?
When it became apparent that flying XH558 would have to end, the Trust considered that it should use its expertise (in which its supporters had invested) to further the cause of similar aircraft. Another reason to look to continue flying another aircraft was the need to keep the Vulcan in the public eye to help keep her safe in grounded preservation; a flying aircraft at airshows is a way of doing this.
In early 2016, Mike Collett of Classic Air Force at Coventry approached us with an offer to sell us the entire Classic Air Force fleet. After some negotiation, we concluded that to purchase the whole fleet was beyond our capabilities, but agreed to purchase Canberra WK163, given its exciting history, and the fact that once it had been returned to flight, it was highly likely to be the only Canberra - the RAF's first jet bomber – to be flying in the UK. She will be the largest heritage jet aircraft still flying in the UK, bringing a remarkable spectacle back to British airshows.
The Canberra represents a great opportunity in terms of being a uniquely successful British Cold War jet type, and also that this specific aircraft (WK163) was an FAI record holder.
It will take a separately-funded project, possibly including a Heritage Lottery Fund grant application, to return WK163 to flight, but given this aircraft's uniqueness and importance, we are confident that we will be successful. After all, we have done this before…
Why did we buy the Canberra?
We need to be very clear here - no money has been diverted from XH558 to WK163.
VTST understands that there are many supporters who support both aircraft but also many that don’t. Our involvement with the Canberra would never had happened if it could in any way affect our custodianship of the Vulcan.
We purchased Canberra WK163, given its exciting history, and the fact that once it had been returned to flight, it was highly likely to be the only Canberra - the RAF’s first jet bomber – to be flying in the UK. She will be the largest heritage jet aircraft still flying in the UK, bringing a remarkable spectacle back to British airshows.
Following the Shoreham tragedy, there have been few heritage jets flying in the UK: the sector is awaiting the outcome from the Coroner’s inquest that is due to start in 2020. It is possible that there will be further changes to the regulations relating to heritage jets operating on a Permit to Fly basis as a result of these actions. We cannot yet know the extent of these changes.
The Trust has decided not to invest heavily in a return-to-flight programme of work on the Canberra until it is clear that the aircraft will indeed be allowed to fly. We will keep supporters informed of progress.