Witnessing the VulcanThere’s very few aircraft that quite literally strike awe into every fibre of your being. This truly massive delta-wing Cold War bomber could terrify the young, inspire generations and hail the past with just a single primeval, gruesome howl of its four engines. Spectators, already captivated at the Vulcan’s signature start of a take-off run, would then gasp at each gravity-defying pull of this ‘God of Fire’ as it revealed the true wonder of its angled delta planform, which would change shape at every degree of turn. In the hands of those skilled display pilots, it flew in a way you would never, ever forget. The Vulcan was retired from the Cold War nuclear bomber and aerial tanking role within the RAF in the mid-1980s. I was about 5 years old, so whilst I no doubt saw active-duty machines, it was the tale of XH558 that remains indelible – and for mixed reasons. I was fortunate to see this machine used on the display circuit the first time round (from 1985 to 1992) and can vividly recall those take-off runs, howling like a demon and being yanked into an astronomical pitch to reveal a heavy, thick set triangle launching skyward. The wingovers, the power climbs. Epic. I can also remember how the aircraft was withdrawn and then reborn under a newly launched Vulcan To The Sky (VTTS) trust. I saw the early days of preparing this old warrior to take on the display circuit once again, seeing it in deep, deep maintenance, stripped back to the bare bones yet, like some Hollywood dinosaur film, still breathing and an eye on the prize – an airshow encore. After something in the region of £7m and years of blood, grease and tears, XH558 met all of the stringent airworthiness conditions to be operated by VTTS as a civilian display act again from the 2008 season onwards... An entire new generation was about to be wowed.
Looking back on it now, we were just lucky to have seen it, felt it, heard it and, thank goodness, capture it on video and stills forever more. No other aircraft has had a social phenomenon attributed to it – ‘The Vulcan Effect’ was a very real thing, with huge surges in ticket sales and gathered crowds wherever the aircraft was due to appear.