Diamond Anniversary of the first test flight of The Spirit of Great Britain
This month (May) marks the Diamond Anniversary of the first test flight of the last airworthy Vulcan bomber.
XH558, famous for being the last Vulcan to fly (and the last all-British four-engined jet to fly), took her first test flight on May 25 1960, exactly 14 months after work started on her.
Dr Robert Pleming, from The Vulcan to the Sky Trust, said:
“This year marks two significant Diamond Anniversaries for XH558: this month we celebrate 60 years since her first test flight and in July we will celebrate 60 years since she became the first Vulcan B.Mk2 to enter RAF service when she joined the No.230 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Waddington.
“Sadly we don’t know for certain who piloted XH558 for her test flight but we’re convinced that it would have been Jimmy Harrison, Avro’s Chief Test Pilot, who flew her, with Flight Test Engineer Bob Pogson as AEO, but unfortunately no formal record of the flight appears to exist.
“The Captain for her flight into RAF service was Avro Test Pilot Tony Blackman, with the Officer Commanding 230 OCU, Wing Commander Calder, in the right-hand seat.
“It is important for us to commemorate these significant anniversaries and recognise the important role that the Vulcan bombers played in our history.”
The RAF’s Vulcan bombers carried Britain’s strategic nuclear deterrent during much of the Cold War. Whilst the Vulcan fleet’s operational service ceased in 1984, XH558 flew on in the display role until finally retiring from RAF service in 1993.
In 1997, Dr Robert Pleming and a small team started to investigate the possibility of returning Vulcan XH558 to flight. Ten years and £7million later, she made her first post-restoration test flight in October 2007. It was an incredible triumph of British engineering, public support and determination. XH558 flew for eight further display seasons that no-one thought they would ever see, thrilling an estimated 20million people across the UK.
It was in 2010, XH558’s Golden Anniversary year that, in recognition of all the effort and determination by so many people in returning XH558 to flight and keeping her flying, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, acknowledged this unique attitude and contribution by adding the inscription “The Spirit of Great Britain” to her livery, summing up the feelings of so many people.
Sadly, XH558 took her final flight in 2015 but supporters of the Vulcan are celebrating the 60th anniversary by being a part of her history and having their names placed on her wing.
The charity responsible for XH558, the Vulcan To the Sky Trust, is asking for donations of £30 per name to celebrate the Diamond Anniversary of the remarkable aircraft.
Dr Robert Pleming, who leads the charity, said:
“As we celebrate the Diamond Anniversary of the first flight of XH558, it is great to see our supporters taking up the chance to have their name under the wing and become a part of her history.
“We are working on developing our plans to build a new hangar for XH558 where supporters can admire this magnificent aircraft close up once again, can hear about her story, and where we can excite and inspire youngsters in aviation and engineering.
“When XH558’s supporters had the opportunity to see the aircraft, more than 1000 people visited each month. We want to give people that opportunity again and her own dedicated hangar space will enable us to do this.”
Image: XH558’s last season of flight in 2015 – copyright John Dibbs