XH558 touches down for the final time; looking forward to an exciting new life

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News from XH558, the last flying Vulcan
Final emotional touch-down for Vulcan XH558

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Final emotional touch-down for Vulcan XH558
A remarkable display season that took her to supporters across the country, and a remarkable chapter in British aviation history, closed when XH558 touched down for the last time on Wednesday. It was a tense morning as rain lashed the hangar with the agreed take-off time fast approaching, but thanks to the flexibility of the airport, a later slot was provided and the final flight of one of the world’s most magnificent aircraft was given the green light.

After a morning waiting patiently, press and Trust Volunteers gathered in the drizzle as her engines started, waiting for the sun to burst through the clouds. Just before 3:00, the throttles were opened, the stick pulled back and she climbed into the air for the last time. Ten minutes later she was back on the runway, chute deployed, her flying career over.

We are very grateful to the airport and to the police for their flexibility, without which the final flight would have been cancelled due to weather. We are also immensely grateful to XH558’s supporters for understanding the very difficult position that the popularity of XH558 placed us in as concern about crowds overwhelming the local infrastructure grew. It’s thanks to your understanding that she was able to fly for one last time, allowing this remarkable moment to be captured in stills and video for Vulcan enthusiasts now and into the future.

See the edited highlights in the PlanesTV footage here:

It’s been a remarkable season, with the Trust doing everything possible to take XH558 to her supporters where you are, across the country, in a greatly extended flying season. We sought (and were granted) additional flying hours, allowing her to fly for 50 percent longer than any previous season, with two major Farewell to Flight tours, both of which were amongst her longest sorties since the return-to-flight in 2007. We were also proud to fly at a special Farewell to Flight event for the Vulcan to the Sky Club in September.

And of course the last eight years of remarkable Vulcan displays would not have happened without the remarkable generosity of so many. In front of the press, before closing down after her final flight, XH558 dipped her nose to salute you all.

We must also thank one remarkable man without whose vision and leadership we would not have enjoyed eight more years of fabulous Vulcan displays. Having dedicated close to 20 years of his life to keeping a Vulcan in the skies, Dr. Robert Pleming was not able to be there to see her final touch-down. Later in this newsletter we explain why.

Ryan Hart was at Doncaster for Vulcan News and sent in this report

We follow on with a photographic feature from the day.

XH558 lifts off on her final flight, leaving spray from the wet runway behind her. Steve Comber

Vapour trails form from the moisture as XH558 cuts through the damp conditions. Steve Comber.

Coming in for her final landing just ahead of touch down – caught by Charles Toop.

Brake parachute deployed to slow down from her final flight. Courtesy of Charles Toop

Coming in to the hangar after a highly emotional day – late-afternoon sun glinting off her surfaces. Charles Toop.

At rest at the end of the day and a 55-year flying life – a patriotic picture to close – taken by Sam Scrimshaw.

Robert Pleming is recovering after a major heart operation

We are delighted to report that Robert Pleming is now recovering, after undergoing major heart surgery yesterday at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London.

Following the diagnosis of a chronic condition in July, his cardiac surgeon agreed that the operation could be delayed until the end of October, allowing Robert to see out the remaining weeks of XH558’s flying life.

Sadly for Robert, his admission to hospital was arranged for last Wednesday 28th, so he never got to see the final sortie of the aircraft he had done so much to return to flight. Robert has been told to plan for some three months away from work, after which he is looking forward to being involved with all of the new projects surrounding XH558 for her post-flying life.

He has asked us to share his favourite cardiac joke with you all:

A Jaguar mechanic was removing the cylinder head from the engine of an E-Type when he spotted a well-known cardiac surgeon in the garage. The cardiac surgeon was there waiting for the service manager to come and take a look at his car when the mechanic shouted across the garage, “Hey Doc, want to take a look at this?”

The surgeon, a bit surprised, walked over to where the mechanic was working. The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and asked, “So Doc, look at this engine. I opened its heart, took the valves out, repaired or replaced anything damaged, and then put everything back in, and when I finished, it worked just like new. So how is it that I make £30,000 a year and you make £600,000, when you and I are doing basically the same work?”

The cardiac surgeon paused, leaned over and whispered to the mechanic:

“Try doing it with the engine running.”

Click poem to enlarge

 Robert Pleming – a profile.
Robert Pleming
Chief Executive of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, Robert was the driving force to return Vulcan XH558 to the skies. He approached then owner, David Walton in 1997, and together agreed that he could carry out a feasibility study of a return to flight project based on sound management practice and a professional approach.

In the evenings and weekends released to him in 1997 following the loss of the ability to practice his favourite sport, Robert built a team to guide the project’s direction, and established sufficient credibility with the Vulcan’s Design Authority, BAE Systems (British Aerospace at the time), for the formal decision to be taken to proceed with the activities necessary to achieve the return to flight.

The rest is history after she returned to flight on 18th October 2007. Eight years and 10 days later, it was unfortunate that due to continued extension of the ‘Farewell to Flight’ season, his doctors would not allow his treatment to be delayed any further, meaning he missed the final landing.

We are sure you will join us in wishing Robert a speedy and complete recovery to full health.

A message from the Chair of Trustees
After XH558 had landed, the Chair of the board of Trustees, John Sharman, sent this letter to all the staff and volunteers at the Vulcan to the Sky Trust. As there are so many volunteers all over the country who have each made such a valuable contribution of their time, we thought it apt we share this letter with our readers, many of you who will have also helped in some way.

You all count in that success!

Dear Colleague,

Now that 558 has performed her last flight my first task is to thank you on behalf of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, the Trustees, myself as Chairman and the vast number of people who have had so much pleasure in seeing her fly for your contribution to the huge success of the restoration to flight and display of XH558.The success of the project is self-evident in the plaudits received at displays; the coverage in the media and the very real affection of the public. None of this would have been possible without your dedicated contribution to the aircraft and very real hard work in making her such a star. Thank you on behalf of all of us.

We must now build on the successes we have all achieved together. At a Trustees meeting held on 23rd October the Trustees confirmed their determination that we are now at the end of the beginning of the 558 journey rather than the reverse. The Trust has a duty to preserve and protect 558 for the benefit of the Nation and has adopted in principle the ETNA Project as the next stage of her journey. As the centrepiece of the Project, 558 will be kept in live taxi condition as part of the Vulcan Experience and Heritage Centre. The skills you and your colleagues possess in operating heritage aircraft, engineering, display operations, safety, fundraising and managing a Heritage centre can be harnessed to assist other unique Heritage aircraft to continue to fly and to be preserved for the Nation. The Trust will endeavour to bring this about by cooperation with the Owners of these aircraft in the development of a heritage flying centre based principally at Robin Hood. Further the Trust intends that 558 be a catalyst to inspire young people into engineering through both the Vulcan Experience and the creation of a Vulcan Academy. Whilst these plans are ambitious the Trustees believe the human resources needed are clearly present and the financial ones will follow.

Once again thank you for your contribution in bringing the Trust to the position where it can plan for the future with confidence.
John Sharman
Chairman

With those words and obvious commitment from the Trustees, do please keep watching our newsletters over the coming weeks as we hope to bring you news on the first stage in writing the next chapter.

In memoriam – Sir Michael Beetham
Marshal of the RAF Sir Michael Beetham, has died aged 92. With the exception of the RAF’s founder, MRAF the Lord Trenchard, he was the longest serving Chief of the Air Staff.

He was nearing retirement when the Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands on April 2 1982. Believing the important role his knowledge of air-to-air refuelling could play; he instigated plans for the RAF to make an important contribution in their recapture.

“Operation Corporate and the Black Buck raids would simply not have happened if not for his vision and drive” said Vulcan to the Sky chief pilot Martin Withers, who was captain of Vulcan XM607 for the famous first Black Buck mission.

Martin continued, “He features heavily in the events of that time, and in the book Vulcan 607 that tells the story. I had no hesitation in suggesting to author Roland White that he was the man to talk to when first researching the book – a great man, and a sad loss.”

A few months after the end of the Falklands conflict, Beetham handed over the reins to his successor and retired from the service.

You can read more on his life in this excellent article from The Telegraph.

Special hangar events for ‘Final Flight’ share supporters
Those who supported our recent share issues at Gold and Platinum levels will know that part of their rewards package will be an event organised especially for them in the hangar. Here is an update message for those that qualify and are waiting for further news.

Platinum level – Gala event – This will take place before Christmas and a personal invite will be sent to the email we have on record for you next week. This will set the date and give clear instructions on how you can confirm your place. Do look out for an email from the same address as this newsletter.

Gold level- VIP event – This will take place early in 2016. We will email in the New Year with a proposed date and then detail how you can make suitable arrangements.

Thank you once again to all those who supported these shares at whatever level.
It enabled us to deliver additional flying hours away from the air show circuit that included the two-day National Tour earlier in October.

Commemorative merchandise to mark XH558’s ‘farewell to flight’
We have over 375 items in our webstore, but we feature here four that will mark XH558’s ‘farewell to flight’ in what has been a remarkable story – one that will go on to a great new chapter! These are PRE-ORDER items with delivery to be made ahead of Christmas.
VULCAN XH558 – ‘Farewell to Flight’ – DVD
VULCAN XH558 - 'Farewell to Flight' - DVD
£18.00
PRE-ORDER
Vulcan XH558 – Fifty Five Years, Eight Seasons
Vulcan XH558 - Fifty Five Years, Eight Seasons
£20.00
PRE-ORDER
‘Farewell to Flight’ Commemorative Medal
£25.00
PRE-ORDER
VULCAN XH558 – ‘Farewell to Flight’ – BluRay
VULCAN XH558 - 'Farewell to Flight' - BluRay
£25.00
PRE-ORDER
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