Unique heritage jets expertise to be made available to private owners
Tuesday 31, May 2011
The last flying Vulcan has moved into Hangar 3 at Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield, the historic site of former RAF Finningley.
For the first time, this much-loved aircraft will have a dedicated home, open to the public and available for private and commercial events. Plans are also being laid down for a facility for skills development, using the inspirational nature of the Vulcan to provide training and team building for engineering companies. In the longer term, a world leading centre of expertise for the restoration and operation of heritage jet aircraft will also be developed.
“This is one of the biggest steps for Vulcan XH558 since her return to flight in 2007. It brings a new era of opportunities that will help to fund her future and provide new levels of access for her supporters,” said Vulcan to the Sky Trust CEO, Dr Robert Pleming. “These are early days in deciding exactly what facilities will be included. Developing the funding and detailed plans needed to turn our ideas into reality will take some time, but I am thrilled to be able to share our vision at this stage.”
Hangar 3 is one of the airport’s crescent of Type C hangars built in 1935 and adapted from 1955-57 to take the RAF’s new V-Bombers. All three V-Force types were based at the airfield – Valiant, Victor and Vulcan – including XH558 from 1960 to 1968. During this period, Vulcans stood on Quick Reaction Alert, ready to take off in just a couple of minutes in response to the detection of a potential nuclear attack, carrying Britain’s nuclear deterrent deep into enemy territory. The original architecture, bomb-stores and even the aircraft holding pans are all well preserved, making this the ideal location for the new visitor centre and a uniquely evocative location for education and events.
Because the Vulcan has been based at military airfields for the last two years, providing public access has been challenging. The top priority for her new home is therefore to provide visitor facilities. Initially, this will be by pre-booked tours, including visits by local schools through the educational outreach programme. The facility will be progressively developed to provide a visitor centre with a retail store and educational displays covering XH558’s technology and restoration, and an insight into the Cold War; “A critical but increasingly overlooked period in World History, with many lessons relevant to today,” according to Dr. Pleming. These facilities will continue to expand to eventually create an important new visitor attraction for Yorkshire, which is already independently recognised as one of Europe’s most successful tourist destinations.
The fabulous Hangar 3 location will also provide an outstanding new events and hospitality venue, professionally-managed by Directions Community Interest Company, which facilitates all activities associated with Hangar 3 and Hangar 2. With staging, lighting, catering, audio visual facilities and flexible seating for up to 300 around the Vulcan, it will provide an unique and powerful venue for private and corporate events, and for smaller VIP parties which can also include a tour of the aircraft. Vulcan celebrity speakers, including aircrew, can be arranged.
Ideas are also in development for an engineering skills centre that will build on the presence of XH558 and her technical team to provide inspirational training experiences for apprentices and young engineers. “Initial reaction from industry has been superb, with suggestions and offers of help in setting up courses and providing expertise,” says technical director Andrew Edmondson. “We would like to talk to any company that may find it useful to offer a truly inspiring environment for team building and basic training in areas that may include project management, audit, craft and trade skills, compliance and potentially a lot more. I’d like to understand your needs so we can evolve this unique resource to help satisfy them in an inspiring way.”
Andrew Edmondson is best known as the engineering leader who, under the guidance of Robert Pleming, successfully completed the world’s most ambitious aviation heritage project when XH558 returned to the skies in 2007. He is also playing a key role in negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority, with whom he is working to revise airworthiness requirements for the Complex category of ex-military aircraft. Pleming believes that the experience of Edmondson and his team, which today ensures that XH558 is more reliable than many military aircraft, has given Vulcan to the Sky Trust the world’s most complete expertise in the restoration, maintenance and safe operation of classic heritage jets. This knowledge, together with the workshop resources of the Vulcan to the Sky technical crew, will be made available to those who are operating the growing number of privately owned ex-military heritage jet aircraft.
“We are reaching a period where there are an increasing number of ex-military jets available for private ownership and operation, ranging from relatively simple trainers to more sophisticated multi-engined aircraft. Running them is a completely different proposition to operating say a Spitfire, or even an early jet like a Hunter,” says Edmondson. “We can help solve that challenge, advising on what is possible, developing and implementing restoration plans and providing maintenance and operational management within an approved quality system, to the world’s highest safety standards.”
”The new centre will help to keep many more of these wonderful vintage aircraft alive and safe, providing enjoyment for generations to come,” concludes Edmondson.
Engineers as Heroes
Highlighting the substantial step between the Vulcan and its immediate predecessor the Avro Lancaster, Dr. Pleming notes the contribution made by its designers. “We always think of the pilots and crew as the heroes and yes they are, their skills and bravery are an example to us all. But their achievements wouldn’t be possible without the incredible talents of the engineers whose genius, imagination and dedication allows us to do things that just a few years earlier would have been impossible,” says Dr. Pleming. “The various inspirational aspects of the new Vulcan facility will place these remarkable people alongside the aircrew as our heroes and role models, to inspire the next generation of engineers and aviators.”
Craig Richmond, CEO of Peel Airports, which operates Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airport, sees the opportunities that the Vulcan offers for the airport, for the region and for XH558’s supporters. “Having the last flying example operating from ‘the home of the V-Force’, in the town that also hosted Britain’s first airshow, is a fabulous tribute to the men and women who were based here when the airfield played a key strategic role in Britain’s defences,” he says. “Peel Airports is committed to developing all aspects of aviation activity at the airport and is delighted to be able to provide a home for this inspirational historic aircraft at what is today a modern commercial airport.”
Invest in Doncaster, part of Doncaster Council, also saw the potential opportunities more than two years ago and has been in discussions with Vulcan to the Sky Trust since. Manager of Investment Chris Dungworth said, "This is the beginning of another world-class attraction for Doncaster, not just for tourism but also for education, engineering and hospitality. The fit is perfect and we are one hundred percent behind Vulcan to the Sky Trust and Doncaster Sheffield Airport to help them make it happen.”
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