29 October 2015

X-ray Hotel five five eight – A New Life

The last flying example of the UK’s V-bomber force, Avro Vulcan XH558, made its final flight yesterday, 28 October 2015.

On 28 August 1945, less than three weeks after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Clement Attlee, who had become Britain’s Prime Minister in July, circulated a memorandum to a select group of his Labour fellow ministers. It stated:
1. A decision on major policy with regard to the atom bomb is imperative. Until this is taken, civil and military departments are unable to plan. It must be recognised that the emergence of this weapon has rendered most of our post-war planning out of date. 
5. We recognise, or some of us did before this war, that bombing would only be answered by counter bombing. We were right. Berlin and Magdeburg were the answer to London and Coventry. Both derive from Guernica. The answer to an atomic bomb on London is an atomic bomb on another great city (Reproduced at Reference 1, pages 36-38)
In October, the Chiefs of Staff articulated one of the earliest statements within British government on nuclear deterrence:
The best method of defence against the new weapon is likely to be the deterrent effect that the possession of the means of retaliation would have on a potential aggressor. (Reference 2, page 9/10)
The “means of retaliation” required both a weapon and a delivery system. By the end of the following year, despite its difficult economic situation, Britain had embarked on an atomic energy programme to produce a weapon and had identified high-performance long-range manned aircraft as its means of delivery. In November 1946 the Air Ministry issued the draft Air Staff Operational Requirement OR229. This would eventually lead to the V-bomber force of three aircraft types: the Vickers Valiant, Handley Page Victor and Avro Vulcan. The crescent-winged Victor (below) and the delta-winged Vulcan (above) were probably the two best-looking large aircraft ever flown by the RAF. The Victor was withdrawn in the early 1990s and the Vulcan in 1984.

From 2007 to 2015 XH558, restored by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, has been flying over the UK in the summer months and has been a popular sight at air shows. On 28 October Vulcan XH558 made its final flight as had been expected. On 21 July, a motion was put forward in Parliament at Westminster Hall by one of the Vulcan to the Sky Trustees, Sir Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Aldershot:
I beg to move, That this House has considered the end of service of the Avro Vulcan XH558.
His speech in support of this motion and remarks by other members are preserved in the Hansard record for 21 July 2015 at Column 459WH.

The very practical reasons for bringing XH558’s flying hours to an end are explained on the Trust’s website. The Trust is now engaged in establishing the Vulcan Aviation Academy and Heritage Centre at Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster where XH558 made her final flight (PlanesTV footage below).

Reference 1: Cabinets and the Bomb, Peter Hennessy, Oxford University Press, 2007. 
Reference 2: The RAF Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Forces, Humphrey Wynn, The Stationery Office London, 1994.

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