Reflecting on XH558's final flight

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

28th October 2015

Reflecting on XH558's final flight - 28th October 2015

An emotive image of XH558 over the sea near Eastbourne captured earlier in the 2015 season. © Steve Comber

A special photo-feature of the day no-one wished to arrive.

It is really hard to imagine that on Sunday, three years will have passed since XH558 made her final flight.
After a career spanning 55 years, XH558 was prevented from flying into 2016 by the companies who had to support her airworthiness. She had completed a further eight display seasons beyond her RAF career, ones that many never ever expected to see.
They followed the most complex and demanding Heritage Aviation restoration project, supported by thousands of people, allowing millions more to enjoy the sight and sound of the Avro Vulcan. 
Of all the people who should have been there to witness the final flight, project leader Dr Robert Pleming was absent, having been admitted to hospital that day to have a heart valve replaced. Subsequently he noted "At least I can share the pain of missing XH558's final flight with all those who wished they could have been there too."
We feature a selection of images exclusively taken for us by professional photographer Steve Comber, capturing the essence of the day that was certainly filled with mixed emotions for everyone involved with XH558.
She is sorely missed, but it was a period in time that many will remember for their lifetimes.
An emotional roller-coaster, but well worth it!
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!”
Our sincere thanks to Steve Comber for providing all the images in this article.

XH558’s volunteer tour guide team in Hangar 3 on the morning of the flight. Low cloud on the day risked a full cancellation and a suspension of plans for a weather check in the afternoon just added to the tension.

The weather delay meant there was plenty of time for video interviews with Martin Withers and Bill Ramsey.
Just after 2pm, as a break in the clouds came, XH558 was readied and slowly taxied out to the hold of Runway 02 at Doncaster.
The spray from an earlier downpour just adds to the effect as a slight glimpse of sunlight appears.

XH558 lifts and keeps low across the runway. 

After a change in direction and a few circuits of the airfield, XH558 carries out a low pass, then a touch and go!

Do the crew really wish to make the final landing?

Rising up in the air again, moisture vortex trails coming from her wing-tips.

Finally, after just 15 minutes in the air, a landing on Runway 20 is followed by the deployment of the braking parachute, signalling the end of XH558’s flying career.

With ‘chute released, speed decayed to a fast taxi and the crew began the journey back to parking. It is not unfair to say, that many tears were shed at that time within the watching crowd. 

The airport Fire crews give XH558 a traditional water cannon salute.
The air and ground crews caught in a reflective moment, just after last flight on 28th October 2015.

All images © Steve Comber

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