Vulcan farewells the heavens


A glorious spectacle is gone from the skies of Britain, with the retirement of the charity-funded warbird Vulcan XH558, which made its last flight on October 28.

In eight years of display flying, the Cold War nuclear bomber was seen by an estimated 20 million people, many of whom heard its distinctive ‘Vulcan howl’ caused by a harmonic interaction of the air inlets and engines. It was supported by £7 million ($A15 million) in public donations but was retired after the organisations giving technical support (BAE Systems, Marshall Aerospace and Rolls-Royce) concluded they could no longer keep it flying in safety.

The Vulcan to the Sky Trust said there were two factors behind the decision: ‘First, although we are all confident that XH558 is currently as safe as any aircraft flying today, her structure and systems are already more than ten per cent beyond the flying hours of any other Vulcan, so knowing where to look for any possible failure will become gradually more difficult.

‘Second, maintaining her superb safety record requires expertise that is increasingly difficult to find. Our technical partners already bring specialists out of retirement specifically to work on XH558; a solution that is increasingly impractical for those businesses as the necessary skills and knowledge become distant in their collective memories.’

CASA’s principal engineer maintenance & mechanical systems Pieter van Dijk, says the Vulcan’s story illustrates the many nuances of ageing aircraft management.

‘The Vulcan was an extremely complex aircraft with intricate mechanical systems and technology from another era,’ he says.

‘It was built very sturdily and had the benefit of back-up systems. It was built to specific design goals, which have now well and truly been exceeded. The engineering justification to allow the aircraft to continue flying safely can no longer be made.

‘Most general aviation aircraft, indeed most warbirds, are not as complex as the Vulcan. Likewise, their usage profile is generally nowhere near as severe. They can continue to be operated so long as they are maintained appropriately, using approved data in a manner consistent with the manufacturer’s expectations.’

Certainly CASA takes the view that so long as an aircraft can be shown to be maintained and operated in a safe manner, we will not be grounding it simply because of its age.’

The Vulcan will be kept in taxiable condition as the centrepiece of a new museum and education centre.



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