avro-vulcan-xh558 (Image: Airwolfhound; Avro Vulcan XH558 (G-VLCN), ‘The Spirit of Great Britain’)

Earlier today, behind a veil of secrecy reminiscent of her Cold War role as Britain’s nuclear deterrent, Avro Vulcan XH558 – the world’s last airworthy V-Bomber – made her final flight from Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport. The iconic delta-winged bomber, a symbol of British engineering at its best, took to the skies this afternoon with former RAF pilot Martin Withers at the controls.

avro-vulcan-xh558-2 (Image: cf38)

Details of the aircraft’s final flight were kept a closely guarded secret due to concerns that thousands of spectators would descend on Robin Hood Airport – formerly RAF Finningley – for the occasion, overwhelming the local infrastructure and disrupting scheduled flights.

XH558 entered RAF service in 1960 and, despite being the oldest surviving Vulcan, remained in use as a K2 tanker until the type’s retirement in 1984. The aircraft remained on charge as the official RAF display aircraft until September 1992 when she was retired due to budget constraints and sold to a private owner at Bruntingthorpe airfield in Leicestershire.

avro-vulcan-xh558-3 (Image: Mark Harkin)

Her fate, however, could have been very different. When the last Avro Vulcans were finally withdrawn from military service, fellow K2 XH560 was poised to take over from XL426 as the Vulcan display aircraft, while XH558 was earmarked for the Marham fire dump.

But a final glance at the paperwork revealed that 558 had more flying hours left before a major service was required, and the two Vulcan K2s switched places, with the gloss-painted XH560 ultimately heading to the scrapyard. The cockpit section survives in a private collection.

avro-vulcan-xh558-4 (Image: Alan Wilson; XH558 landing at Waddington, 2013, with XM607 in the background)

After Vulcan XH558’s “final” flight in 1992, the charity Vulcan to the Sky Trust, which owns and operates the aircraft, was formed in a bid to bring the Vulcan back to life.

avro-vulcan-xh558-7 (Image: Urban Ghosts; XH558 underground maintenance in Hangar 3, Doncaster)

Against all the odds, their efforts paid off. After an epic 15 year campaign, which saw millions of pounds raised to completely overhaul the airframe and bring together a team of highly skilled engineers, mechanics and former pilots, XH558 once again took to the skies in 2007.

avro-vulcan-xh558-6 (Image: Mark Harkin; XH558 displays the green and grey European wrap-around camouflage)

It was an emotional occasion for all involved, including the aircraft’s many supporters in the UK and around the world. For the past eight years XH558 has thrilled enthusiasts young and old. Despite receiving no financial support from the British government, she’s nevertheless proved herself to be one of the biggest draws on the airshow circuit.

But as the need for a major service loomed and the number of uniquely skilled engineers declined, a combination of prohibitive cost and lost expertise meant that the Trust was unable to operate the 55-year-old jet beyond the 2015 season.

avro-vulcan-xm607-preserved-waddington (Image: Rob Reedman; Falklands Vulcan XM607 preserved at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire)

Martin Withers, who piloted XH558 this afternoon, famously flew Vulcan XM607 in Operation Black Buck 1 during the Falklands War of 1982. The successful mission to bomb the runway at Port Stanley airfield covered 3,400 nautical miles of ocean and was at the time the longest bombing raid in history.

Withers remarked: “Everyone asks me what is so special about this aircraft and why people love it. Really the people who fly it are the wrong people to ask. It’s such a combination of grace and beauty of just seeing this thing fly.”

avro-vulcan-xh558-5 (Image: Gregdetours)

When XH558, known as The Spirit of Great Britain, touched down for the final time earlier today, the aircraft returned to Robin Hood’s Hangar 3 where she’ll be maintained as a part of the nation’s heritage, open to the public and periodically fast taxied.

avro-vulcan-xh558-8 (Image: Urban Ghosts; Vulcan XH558 in Hangar 3 at Doncaster)

The Vulcan to the Sky Trust’s chairman John Sharman said: “It’s a sad day but its also a day of optimism in many ways. We will preserve this aeroplane for the nation in working order, if not in flying order, for the future as the centrepiece of a heritage centre.”

He added: “She is very beautiful, she is very powerful, she is is totally unique, totally distinct. And that delta shape seems to inspire both young and old.”

avro-vulcan-xm655 (Image: Alec Wilson; preserved Vulcan XM655 makes a fast taxi run at Wellesbourne Mountford airfield)

Now permanently grounded, XH558 (civil registration G-VLCN) joins two other beautifully maintained Vulcan bombers capable of fast taxi runs thanks to dedicated teams of supporters and volunteers. Among them are the former Vulcan display aircraft XL426, based at Southend Airport, and XM655, the youngest of all surviving Vulcans, which is preserved at Wellesbourne Mountford in Warwickshire (above).

Related – Rare Photos of Vulcan Bomber Mockup from James Bond Film ‘Thunderball’