In his latest editorial, Aeroplane editor Ben Dunnell weighs up the future prospects for what was the last flying ‘V-bomber’ — and asks whether the fate of Canberra WK163 isn’t more important
In the event, the announcement came more rapidly than many had expected. Irrespective of what happens to Doncaster Sheffield Airport — which, as mentioned on this page last month, remains under threat of closure — Vulcan XH558 is to leave. The Vulcan to the Sky Trust has, as reported previously on Key.Aero, been told by the airport that its rental agreement will not be renewed beyond next June, meaning the Avro bomber can no longer be kept there.
It begs the question: what now for XH558? In its statement, the trust said it is exploring two potential future homes, and different ways of moving the airframe. Being realistic, the idea of a one-off ferry flight must be considered, at best, improbable. It would require approvals from the Civil Aviation Authority and the Vulcan’s original equipment manufacturers — whose withdrawal of support, let’s recall, led to XH558 being grounded at the end of the 2015 display season — which seem unlikely to be received. So, that leaves dismantling and road transport, a far more plausible but still highly complex and expensive operation.
I must say I was never filled with enthusiasm for Vulcan to the Sky’s plans for a dedicated facility at Doncaster. They struck me as too high a concept to gain popular appeal — a rather uncomfortable, nebulous mixture of Vulcan Experience, Green Technology Hub and ‘V-force’ memorial that may have looked exciting and innovative on paper as a means of meeting the trust’s objectives, but in practice felt doubtful to be the hoped-for public draw. And that’s before considering the location, at a less-than-heavily used, rather out-of-the-way airport. Perhaps a move to another site, combined with a more grounded approach, will offer better potential.
But this isn’t just about XH558. No mention was made of Vulcan to the Sky’s other aircraft, Canberra WK163, yet its future is absolutely bound up with this news. The world altitude record-breaking aeroplane likewise sits outside at Doncaster, with no prospect of the hoped-for return to flight on the immediate horizon. If it becomes a non-live exhibit, there is a risk of XH558 — for all its popularity as the last flying example — being rendered ‘just another static Vulcan’. Given its history, the same will never be true of WK163. To some, this may seem sacrilegious, but its future arguably needs assuring even more than XH558’s.