Battle to save grounded Vulcan
Sale fears for bomber if charity fails to raise £400,000
IT was an icon of British aviation history which helped to keep the peace when the world teetered on the brink of nuclear catastrophe – and later helped our forces to victory in the Falklands War.
But last night the sole surviving working Avro Vulcan was grounded, possibly for good – a casualty not of enemy gunfire but the recession and bad weather hitting air shows.
The aircraft, the last airworthy Vulcan, has not flown publicly since September 26 in Coventry. Yesterday’s flight was a private one for two successful bidders in Children in Need’s “Money Can’t Buy” auction and raised £25,000 for the charity.
Each winner, who asked to remain anonymous, was flown alongside the Vulcan in a commercially-licensed aerobatics plane.
When the Vulcan got home last night to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, it was placed inside a hanger – while bosses wait to see if the trust which restored it will go out of business on November 1.
Due to a substantial drop in donations during the recession and poor weather that stopped her flying at several profitable events this year, the trust must raise £400,000 by the end of October.
Fears are growing that if the trust folds the aircraft could be sold off to a private collector – ironically possibly one from behind the former Iron Curtain.
At the controls yesterday was Yorkshire Falklands hero Squadron Leader Martin Withers DFC, 64, from Easingwold, near York, who pilots the Vulcan regularly.
A captain of one of the Vulcans that attacked the airfield at Port Stanley in 1982 following a 4,000 mile marathon flight, he was the only one to drop bombs on the runway.
Yesterday, he made a personal plea to save the Vulcan as a national treasure. If it is sold on it will never fly publicly in the UK again and people will only be able to see it on loan to a museum, it is feared.
He said: “This is one of the most iconic pieces of aerospace technology ever, and it is thoroughly British.
“The Vulcan fires young people with a passion to develop and build world-beating technologies.
“And we can help give them those skills through training modules that call upon the extraordinary knowledge, rigour and precision needed to restore and maintain the UK’s only flying ‘complex’ heritage aircraft.
“If I had been ordered to press the button that released the nuclear payload, there would almost certainly have been no Britain left to fly home to.
“The Vulcan is the most powerful symbol of a remarkable period in British history that we must never forget.”
In 2010, over a million people watched the Vulcan fly but charity chief executive Dr Robert Pleming said the trust was on a shoestring compared to similar keepers of pieces of history and receives no government support.
The trust has developed a business plan that will provide substantially greater commercial revenues from 2011 from sources such as corporate hospitality and merchandising.
The hope is to fly the aircraft for at least two more display seasons, including the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, which is also the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the Vulcan and the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict.
“But if we don’t make it through October, the tremendous opportunities offered by this magnificent aircraft will be lost forever,” warned Dr Pleming.
If the trust does go into administration the most likely outcome is that the aircraft will be sold to a private collector, possibly in Russia or the US, and will never fly in the UK again, he added.
Help to keep her flying at: http://www.vulcantothesky.org/donate.html