Friday, 21 September 2007

The Sound of Thunder

To have seen and heard an Avro Vulcan fly was an unforgettable experience. One hundred and eleven feet long and a hundred foot wide, with a wing area of nearly four thousand square feet, they were a jaw-dropping, brooding presence in the sky, capable of blotting out the sun. The four Rolls Royce Olympus turbojets seemed to allow the aeroplane to crawl across the sky, and their thunder shook the very ground.

Incredibly, the Vulcan was designed in 1947 and first flew in 1952. It could go faster and fly higher than the USAF's B52 Stratofortress. As the carrier for Britain's nuclear deterrent through much of the Cold War, they were a familiar presence, although they didn't see action until already earmarked for retirement. In 1982, in what were the longest bombing sorties ever flown, Vulcans flew from Britain to the Falklands via Ascension Island to drop conventional 1000lb bombs on Stanley Airfield. On those missions - a miracle of strategic planning - the refuelling tankers themselves needed refuelling tankers.

I last saw a Vulcan fly at West Malling around 1992, and the last ever flight was made on 23 March 1993 by XH558, which had been retained for display purposes. Overcoming seemingly impossible odds, and with the help of donations and a dedicated team of volunteers, after 15 years on the ground XH558 is very nearly airworthy again.

If they succeed and you have the chance to see this iconic, delta winged goddess in the sky, seize it. If you want to know more, or would like to play a small part in supporting their efforts - perhaps by taking part in their monthly draw - visit the Vulcan to the Sky Trust at

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