Leeds nostalgia: Sky’s no limit for Vulcan prokect

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IT might be a relic of the Cold War but one of the original Vulcan war planes is still being flown from its base in Yorkshire.

The Vulcan to the Skies experience is based in Doncaster and costs £2.2m a year to maintain - money which is raised through sponsorship and charitable donations.

Business development director Michael Trotter said by the end of the year, some £24m will have been spent on the project, which began in the early 2000s - money, he said, which was well worth it.

“The moment our bank balance gets to zero, that’s the moment this project is over but we have managed to keep it going so far. We stand and fall by people digging into their pockets.”

Staff at the centre help maintain and, indeed, fly what is the UK’s single remaining airworthy Vulcan. But while its main purpose today is to wow crowds at air shows and be the centre of attention during hanger tours, it’s original purpose was much more serious.

Michael explained: “Back in the 1940s and 1950s, when the US and UK believed Russia to be building an atomic bomb, it was decided the UK had to have its own deterrent - because nuclear bombs were so large in those days, they needed a plane capable of delivering it and three were built - the Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan.

“People tend to remember aircraft like the Lancaster Bomber and the Spitfire but the Vulcan played a pivotal role - this aircraft and the people who flew it and maintained it 24 hours a day seven days a week, kept us all safe.”

The role of the Vulcan was scaled back significantly when Britain switched its nuclear weapon deployment capability to Polaris submarines, however, interestingly, during the Falklands War, when the Vulcans were in the process of being scrapped altogether, the long-range bomber, capable of flying for almost eight hours on its own fuel tanks, was given a reprieve.

“They needed something which would be able to take out the airport at Port Stanley and stop the Argentinians using it to deploy fighter aircraft.

“A Vulcan set off from Ascension Island, accompanied by 16 Victor Tanker aircraft and flew for 16 hours - its mission was to bomb Port Stanley Airport.”

The man who led that mission, Martin Withers DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) is now operations director and chief pilot at the Vulcan to the Skies project.

The remaining Vulcan - known as XH588 - is now 54 years old and needs a lot of looking after.

Last year, a necessary modification to its wings cost £200,000.

And if you think your car service costs a lot, consider how much it costs to keep the XH588 insured - a not insubstantial £164,000.

Michael added: “This is not a small aircraft, it’s the size of a 727 passenger plane. It takes three to four months to give it a full service.

“People have been telling us it’s worth it by putting their hands in their pockets.

“The reason we do this is firstly to tell the story of the Cold War but we also have a legacy programme, which is about encouraging youngsters to go into engineering.

“Our education programme is very much about honouring the past [and] creating an atmosphere of learning and discovery to explore the history of Vulcan XH558, its extraordinarily advanced British design and technology, and its importance in the context of The Cold War.

“But, most importantly, it’s about looking forward [and] inspiring the future with much emphasis on science, engineering, design, technology and innovation.

“Our mission is to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, designers and aviators.”

XH588 was bought by a family of collectors following its retirement from the RAF and acquired by the project in the early 2000s. Original estimates said it would cost around £2.7m to restore - in fact, it cost £7.2m.

However, since being brought back to the point where it is now capably once again of flying, which it does at air shows up and down the UK from May to September, it has garnered a large following, not least on social media.

It has 132,000 likes on facebook and over 43,000 followers on twitter. It also sends out 56,000 emails twice a week and has more than 25,000 people on its mailing list

The Vulcan is now back in its hanger and about to undergo its winter service.

Tours of the Vulcan must be organised in advance.

Contact details are as follows: telephone: 0845 5046 558 or email: enquiries@vulcantothesky.org

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