Vulcan To The Sky Trust Ve³ Project

Friday 19th October 2012

We've had a week to digest the news that, apparently, the 2013 airshow season will be Vulcan XH558's last. Firstly, as someone who was witness to the first post-restoration flight five years ago, the whole Vulcan To The Sky team deserve enormous credit for operating her continuously, and barring an errant silica gel bag or two, safely for such an extended period of time. The fate of the airframe once the flying ends is where we now turn our attention.

UKAR's Dan O'Hagan states the case for sending her "home" to Bruntingthorpe. Photography from the UKAR Team as credited.

It appears that the VTTS plan is to erect, at great cost, a most-impressive glass, Vulcan-shaped building at Doncaster Robin Hood Airport to house the jet, which would be maintained in ground-running condition. Effectively this would be a one-exhibit museum, paying homage to Britain's engineering legacy, and it is claimed, inspiring the next generation of would-be designers and scientists. We quote the outline of the planned centre below, and you can read the complete VTTS consultation document on the so-called "Ve³" project here.

Ve³ will be designed to align the needs of industry and academia with an approach that delivers enjoyment for the visitors and students. Our thoughts for content currently include:

  • An engineering education centre in which the Vulcan and other inspiring examples of British engineering are used to deliver knowledge through passion and hands-on experience, from craft skills to thermodynamics and project management.

  • A museum and tourist centre focussing on 'the engineer as hero'. The emphasis will be largely on post-war innovation to illustrate how engineering touches all our lives and also because this era is often overlooked by other major heritage organisations. The journey will finish by challenging the visitors to consider the issues that will be faced by engineers in the future and how their solutions will affect our lives.

  • A building designed to illustrate green architecture, showing diverse aspects of how engineering contributes to protecting our environment.

  • An outreach programme to visit and support educators, providing the materials & training required to extend the work of Ve³ into schools & colleges."

For me, this really doesn't add up. For a start, Doncaster's hardly on the tourist trail, and with static Vulcans available to view at both Newark and Waddington in the vicinity, how many people would be willing to pay to see another example, albeit one living in a shiny new building? And is engineering really the stuff of a family day out?

Reaction from the enthusiast community has been almost totally negative. Some excellent and valid points have been made by our forum members, among them the notion that a Vulcan inspires engineers only when it is flying, not sitting in a hangar. And there are "live" examples of the type at both Wellesbourne (XM655) and Southend (XL426), not to mention the mighty Victors at Elvington and Bruntingthorpe.

There's no question that '558 should be preserved, in as close to flying condition as possible, and for as long as possible. The aircraft is genuinely loved by much of the aviation community (though I'd question the notion that the wider public embrace the type in quite the way some would have us believe). And this is another reason why Doncaster is a non-starter.

This is an airport with big ideas for its future. An airport which is commercially-run, and where every square foot of real estate needs to be maximised for best profit. How long do you think a profit-hungry airport would tolerate a loss-making museum on it's turf? And what would become of XH558 then? The options would be to either scrap her, or chop her up for road transport, almost certainly prohibiting future ground running of the machine.

And that is why I feel she has to go to an airfield or museum where she can stretch her legs without the need to be a constant cash-generator. For this, surely her former home at Bruntingthorpe is the only viable solution. There she can be looked after (almost certainly outside) at an airfield rich in a pool of volunteer talent, already expert in keeping a Victor, Comet, Lightnings, Buccaneers and Canberra "alive" and taxying.

Imagine that, a Vulcan and Victor screaming down Bruntingthorpe's runway at near full power? Would that inspire Johnny Would-Be-Grease-Monkey more than a Vulcan in a greenhouse? Or a Vulcan chopped up after a well-intentioned project went bust and became homeless?

Enthusiasts like us have funded XH558's "second life" since 2007, either via donations, by buying merchandise or through admission tickets to shows where the aircraft has displayed. How often at those shows are we told ad nauseum that we are watching "The People's Aircraft"? Now is the time for VTTS to prove that, and let those who care as much as anyone about her - we enthusiasts - decide where this iconic airframe is retired to.

Ve³ is a consultation document, and Vulcan To The Sky are actively seeking feedback, so have your say by using the contact details listed in the document, and by joining the ever-fiesty Vulcan debate on our forums.