AFTER being lovingly restored just five years ago, the last Vulcan bomber is set to take its final flight next year.
The Vulcan to the Sky Trust, the charity which oversaw the ambitious restoration of the iconic aircraft, has revealed that 2013 will be its last ever flying season.
It already costs an estimated £2m a year to keep the Vulcan XH558 airbone.
And, as it will need a £200,000 improvement in 2013, the charity said it had decided not to ask its supporters to take the risk of funding yet another expensive restoration.
Confirming the news to supporters, trust chief executive Dr Robert Pleming said: “We are sure you are aware that all Vulcans have a finite safe flying life and that XH558 is already well beyond the hours flown by any other aircraft of her type.
“At the end of next year, she will need a £200,000 modification to her wings.
“We know that you would do your upmost to fund this work, but for a number of reasons we have decided not to ask you to take this risk.”
At the height of its fame, the Vulcan bomber was one of the most fearsome aircraft in the world and became a symbol of Britain’s defence of the Falkland Islands in the 1980s.
Instantly recognisable because of the delta wing shape, the planes were first delivered to the RAF by maker Avro painted white against nuclear blasts.
The aircraft were based at RAF Finningley, in Doncaster, until 1982 and the XH558 returned to the former air base – now Robin Hood Airport – from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire last year.
In the past five years, it is estimated that the last remaining Vulcan has been seen by more than 10 million people at more than 60 locations, with three million people turning out to see the aircraft during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee season alone.
Engineering director at Vulcan To The Sky, Andrew Edmondson, said that ongoing refurbishment of the aircraft had become increasingly difficult.
He said: “From the start of the 2014 season, it is unlikely that we could accommodate any engine failures and that even without any technical problems, soon our set of engines would be out of life.
“There are no more airworthy engines available, and refurbishment would be so difficult and costly that there is no possibility that it will happen.”
He added that, as every component of the aircraft had been designed and manufactured to agreed specifications by approved suppliers, sourcing those components once the suppliers had closed down was “prohibitively expensive”.
“The set-up costs to remanufacture a main wheel are more than £70,000. If the approved engineering drawings are no longer available, it can be practically impossible given any amount of money.”
Dr Pleming added: “It is therefore with great sadness that we have told XH558’s supporters that we are planning for next year to be the last opportunity anyone will have, anywhere in the world, to see a Vulcan in the air.
“I’d like to thank everyone who by the end of 2013 will have contributed to achieving six fantastic years of Vulcan displays since the restoration.
“It’s a remarkable achievement that many people said would be impossible. With the passionate and generous support of the British people, we returned an all-British icon to the sky and brought the excitement of engineering and aviation to new generations.”
It is hoped that, when next year’s flying season is over, the XH558 will become “the centrepiece of a new project that will inspire and train young people”.
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