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13 November 2014

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You are in: Dorset > Bournemouth Air Festival > Restoring the Vulcan

Vulcan bomber and rocket

The Vulcan - a most beautiful aircraft.

Restoring the Vulcan

When it was retired from flight in 1993, it was thought that the unmistakable sight and sound of the Avro Vulcan would be lost from the skies forever. However, thanks to the work of a Dorset-based trust, the bomber is making a return.

The Avro Vulcan is one of the Royal Air Force's most popular aircraft, ranking alongside the Spitfire and Harrier as flying machines most popularly known by laymen.

However, while the Spitfire and Harrier can still be seen flying, for years the Vulcan was grounded - but many of the remaining examples that did exist were in an unfit state to fly anyway.

But one of them, Vulcan XH558, remained impeccably maintained in a hangar in Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire; and in conjunction with the Vulcan To The Sky trust, was lovingly restored so it can now fly again.

After a test flight at Farnborough Air Show in July 2008 and a last minute cancellation of its planed appearance at the inaugural Bournemouth Air Festival last year, the plane is scheduled to appear at the festival for 2009. For many spectators, it will be the highlight.

Felicity Irwin

Felicity has worked hard on publicity

Why restore this aircraft?

Vulcans were always a crowd favourite at airshows, and its service life saw it offer much to the Royal Air Force in times of conflict such as the Falklands and during the Cold War era.

Felicity Irwin is the Campaign Director and Trustee of the Vulcan To The Sky trust, which is based in Wimborne.

At the time the restoration work began, she explained to BBC Dorset why the trust  made the decision to restore the aircraft to flight:

She said: "She's the last of one hundred and thirty four Vulcans built. She was the last of two Vulcans to fly with the Vulcan Display Flight, and the last to fly before she was hangared in 1993."

Despite being designed to carry a nuclear threat, Felicity believes that the Vulcan should be recognised for being more than just a 'weapon of war'.

"It shows that by having a nuclear deterrent, actually she was the power of peace. She wasn't actually aggressive. Yes perhaps her role was aggressive but she was never used in aggression. By actually being there she created the peace that we know in Europe."

Vulcan To The Sky is also putting in place an educational programme to help raise awareness of the event of the Cold War, and what role the Vulcan played in stemming its tide:

Felicity said: "The period that she represents, which is the Cold War era, is little-known really, and although it's in the National Curriculum we're very much aware that it hasn't had as much attention as the First or Second World War, or indeed many of the aspects of conflict in history so we've been charged by the Heritage Lottery to make this part of our programme."

Vulcan XH558 being restored in the hangar

Credit: Vulcan To The Sky Website

The physical task of bringing the aircraft back to life was given to Marshall Aerospace, who along with a dedicated team of volunteers from the Vulcan To The Sky trust,  maintained the bomber at the hangar in Bruntingthorpe.


The Vulcan To The Sky trust has generated most of its money for the restoration (in excess of £6m) through extensive publicity campaigns, as well as receiving a £2.7m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The group also devised some novel ways of raising money to help the scheme as Felicity explains:

"A lot of people gave a lot of money to start with in £1 pieces. I went out to the country with little slips of paper asking people to give a pound, just to indicate whether this was a good idea. In about three months we raised about £80,000!

"It was an administrative nightmare, if you think about eighty thousand one pound coins, but it proved a point and gave us a database."

The trust also made pieces of the aircraft available to sponsor - and everything from the pilot's flying suit to a start selector switch is open to offer!

The plan for XH558 is for her to complete the 600 hours flying time left in her engines, a time period which the trust believes to be around 10-15 years.

Vulcan Display Flight

XH558 in its days with the display team

Her final destination is likely to be the Imperial War Museum at RAF Duxford, where she will retire as the finest example of her type.


One of the main reasons that the trust was so successful in drumming up support was down to the passion for the aircraft of the people involved.

Felicity first encountered a Vulcan as a young girl, and the recollection of that sighting is still vivid in her mind:

"She kind of defies the eye. She's so large, she's got a 111 foot wingspan, she moves so slowly, that one hardly believes it is happening. The word awesome comes to mind.

"Everybody remembers when they first saw a Vulcan."

last updated: 18/08/2009 at 13:24
created: 01/03/2006

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