Vital work on the Winter Service needed to return the world’s last flying Vulcan to the skies is being suspended due to a lack of cash. Dr. Robert Pleming, chief executive of the charity that operates the aircraft, told supporters that although a heartening £75,000 had been raised over the last month, a further £325,000 must be raised by the New Year to complete the first phase of the Vulcan’s winter service. “There is now a significant risk that insufficient money will be found in time to prepare the Vulcan for the first displays of the 2013 season,” he said. “To conserve funds, work on the aircraft will stop following engine tests mid-November.”

To ensure that Vulcan XH558 continues to comply with the UK’s very high standards for aviation safety, Vulcan to the Sky Trust must maintain her to the uncompromising standards defined by the RAF when Vulcans were in active service. “This gives the Civil Aviation Authority the confidence needed to renew her Permit to Fly and also helps us deliver a reliability record that is better than many modern military jets,” explained Trust chief executive Dr. Robert Pleming. “Unfortunately, working to such high standards on a complex 52 year old aircraft is very expensive.”

This year’s Winter Service has additional costs because a number of safety-critical systems have reached the end of their safe flying life, including the ejection seats, elements of the oxygen system, the brake modules and the fatigue meters that measure the stresses imposed on the airframe. These must now be replaced or sent to specialist suppliers for reconditioning.

“Our core supporters have been fantastic, funding work on the ejection seats within weeks of us launching the Winter Service campaign,” commented engineering director Andrew Edmondson. “Now we need to reach more of the three million people who enjoyed watching her fly in 2012 and who we hope will want to help her fly again in 2013.”

As a ‘thank you’ for supporters who help make the 2013 display season possible, the Vulcan engineering team is offering two unique rewards. Contribute more than £50 through the Service Sponsorship Scheme and they will send you a genuine Avro Vulcan component. Each one comes from RAF Stores kept through the Cold War and is still in its historic A V Roe packaging. For £75, they will fly your name, or that of a loved one, on the famous Vulcan bomb-bay doors. Everyone contributing through this scheme at any level will also receive a certificate, making it a super Christmas present. Click here to find out more:

Readers can follow the progress of the Winter Service from the Vulcan XH558 Facebook page, where photo reports and videos provide an insight into the work needed to look after one of Great Britain’s most famous aircraft. There is also a twice-weekly eNewsletter; sign-up from where there is also a link to the Vulcan Christmas Store.

Local schools, however, could be in for a treat as Edmondson is making his engineering team available for talks aimed at demonstrating the excitement of engineering, innovation and aviation. “We have some exceptional people with incredible experiences,” he says. “And I’m happy to make time available for them to inspire the next generation.”

Winter Service Update

XH558, the world’s last flying Vulcan, is now back in her hangar following her busiest and most spectacular season ever. Over the next five months, the Vulcan to the Sky engineering team will carefully inspect, lubricate, refurbish or replace almost every part of this complex aircraft. It’s a complicated process that has to be tightly scheduled to ensure that every stage is completed on-time.

The first major job to be completed was to remove the port-side brake unit and send it to a specialist supplier for refurbishment, replacing it on the aircraft with the only available spare set. Every month or so, XH558 must be towed onto the airfield to run the engines to keep them (and other systems) serviceable. This means the work on the brakes must be carefully coordinated so that she is safe to move for this vital operation. When the freshly overhauled set is returned, it will be put on the starboard side and a second set will be dispatched for maintenance. Similar timing challenges are faced with the ejection seats, which are also required for the engine runs but which also need maintenance by a specialist supplier.

As soon as the brake unit was dispatched, the team turned its attention to swapping engine No.4 with one that was being carefully stored at the Trust’s logistics centre. This is part of the engine management plan that ensures the life of all engines is balanced to maximise the available flying hours. The two fatigue meters, which provide the g-force data needed to calculate how much airframe life has been used, have reached the end of their installed life, so will also be taken off and sent away for reconditioning.

Interlaced with these operations, the team will be carefully lubricating vital systems and inspecting these and the aircraft’s airframe to check for damage, leaks, wear and corrosion. It’s a vital but time-consuming process. “It can take two days to remove panels and pipework to reach the most inaccessible areas of the airframe and just fifteen minutes to inspect them,” reveals chief engineer Taff Stone; “Then everything has to be carefully re-assembled.”

Another spectacular flying year

This year, the Diamond Jubilee of the Vulcan aircraft type, has been a remarkable one for XH558. She has delivered displays that have been acclaimed as amongst her best ever, she’s opened and closed one of the world’s greatest airshows, flown with The Red Arrows, honoured Cold War airmen, taken part in the dedication of a memorial to the heroes of the Falklands conflict (in which Vulcan XM607 played a famously heroic role piloted by Martin Withers) and reportedly made Her Majesty The Queen smile during a flypast to celebrate Her Diamond Jubilee. To fly in 2013, the charity that operates the aircraft must raise a total of £400,000 before the end of this year so that the first phase of the Winter Service can be completed on time. Further funding will then be required to cover overheads (such as insurance) and ground and flight testing on the run-up to the first flight of the year.

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