11 December was a milestone date in the long and arduous process of the former Vulcan Operating Company's attempts to get Vulcan B2 XH558 back where she belongs - in the air. The news that the Heritage Lottery Fund has approved the first step in funding for the project is a massive boost - although there are still hurdles to overcome, the concession of the HLF to agree to potential support is a shift change from its stance of a year ago, and proof of the determination of Vulcan to the Sky - Save Our Heritage (VTS-SOH), as the project is now known.
HLF first considered an application from the Vulcan To the Sky Trust back in November 2002, but was unable to support it due to concerns about value for money. Since then, the Trust has completely rethought its application, resulting in considerably stronger long-term public benefits, an improved education programme, and a significant extension to the use of the aircraft during its flying life.
A 'Stage One Pass', as the project has been approved, means that HLF has earmarked money for the project in question. Competition at this stage is tough, and while a Stage One Pass does not guarantee funding, it is an indication of positive support, and money for the scheme is set aside. The applicant can then progress to Stage Two and submit a further, fully developed application to secure the full grant.
Vulcan reaching for the sky - press release from the HLF
The campaign to save an important part of Britain's aviation heritage took a major step forward today, with news that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded a Stage One Pass of £2.5 million towards the purchase and restoration to full flying condition of the Avro Vulcan XH558. Whilst this is not a guarantee of funding from HLF, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust now has the go-ahead to pursue its second stage application to the Fund.
This particular aircraft was the first Mark II Vulcan to be built, and the last to see active service with the RAF. The Trust plans to purchase the aircraft together with spare parts, and undertake a major programme of maintenance to return it to flight. The Vulcan will be based at Bruntingthorpe near Market Harborough, Leicestershire. Over the next 10 to 15 years it will then be flown at selected displays around the UK, allowing members of the public to appreciate fully its splendour, and learn more about its construction and operational uses.
In light of HLF's advice, an impressive programme has now been developed for the Vulcan. When not flying, the aircraft will be on display at its operational base. An education programme and mobile exhibition display will be developed for use at air shows, and as part of outreach to schools and other audiences. This will focus on the Vulcan's role during the 'Cold War', and its influence as the forerunner of supersonic aircraft such as Concorde. At the end of its flying life, the aircraft will be transferred to the Imperial War Museum`s collection at Duxford in Cambridgeshire - a partnership encouraged by HLF (HLF has also funded the Duxford Collection to the tune of £9 million). It will be the main Vulcan on display there, and will undertake regular fast taxiing demonstrations which are very popular with the public.
The Heritage Lottery Fund does not normally help restore aircraft to flying condition. But Trustees took their exceptional decision because this is the only example of the Vulcan suitable for restoration to flight. They were also assured that the aircraft would be properly safeguarded for the future, with the potential risks of flying minimised according to regulations from the Civil Aviation Authority and BAE Systems. Trustees acknowledged the special place of the Vulcan in the history of British aviation, the considerable public support for the project, and the fact that innovative proposals were being developed to help people appreciate it and learn about its history.
Liz Forgan, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "In the normal way of things we do not restore aircraft to flight, but the Heritage Lottery Fund was really impressed with the imaginative way in which the Trust`s new proposal will let as many people as possible learn about this important part of their heritage. The Vulcan could soon take to the skies again, thanks to this exceptional award made possible by lottery players` money. Now a whole new generation will be able to see this unique and much loved aircraft restored and in action, before it retires to the nationally important Imperial War Museum, Duxford."
BAE Systems Customer Solutions & Support, as design authority, will be endorsing the engineering work of the Vulcan to the Skies Trust so that they can gain certification from the CAA (Marshall Aerospace will be carrying out the work at Bruntingthorpe).
This would be the first so-called 'complex' military aircraft to be refurbished so that it can fly displays under CAA approval - all others so far have been classified as 'simple' aircraft. The endorsement work will be carried out by engineers based at Chadderton. One of the guys working on this will be Dave Naden, who was involved on Vulcan the first time round, 48 years ago. If all goes well, work on the aircraft will start in April and XH558 could be flying as early as 2005.
VTS-SOH still requires to find funding from other sources, as it needs a further £600,000 to complete its full commitment of 29% of the funding total. £1.3 million has been raised through donations, support in kind and pledges to date and VTS-SOH will continue to seek pledges and funding for the Stage Two Pass decision. Pledges can be made at the website - click on the banner below.
Read our year 2000 feature on TVOC's plans here