A STAR of Sunderland’s airshow is taking to the skies for the last time.
Next year will be the final season for the world’s only flying Vulcan bomber, which also made a fly past during the Queen’s visit to Sunderland in July.
Supporters have been told that the much-loved aeroplane’s flying life is over, as repairs become too complex and costly.
The Vulcan XH558 underwent an award-winning restoration in 2007, believed to be the most technically complex ever undertaken and then was granted a set number of flying hours.
At the end of next year’s display season, six years after the return-to-flight, its current flying life will have been almost completely used up.
The Vulcan to the Sky Trust, the charity that operates the aircraft, said the Vulcan XH558 has been seen by more than ten million people at over 60 locations, with three million turning out to see her during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee season.
The Cold War bomber had a front-line role as part of Britain’s V-Force nuclear deterrent. A regular at Sunderland International Airshow, first appearing in 2009, an anonymous donation of £400,000 saved it from the scrapheap the following year.
Through school visits and other educational projects, the bomber helped to inspire new generations to enter careers in engineering and aviation.
Trust chief executive Dr Robert Pleming explained the decision to supporters.
He said: “We are sure you are aware all Vulcans have a finite safe flying life, and that XH558 is already well beyond the hours flown by any other aircraft of her type. At the end of next year, she will need a £200,000 modification to her wings to increase her flying life.
“We know that you would do your upmost to fund this work, but for a number of reasons we have decided not to ask you to take this risk.”
The trust’s engineering director Andrew Edmondson said the decision was based on a combination of factors, including the challenging wing modification.
He said: “It is a demanding procedure that can no longer call upon the original manufacturing jigs and there is no possibility of rectification if an error is made.
“We are not saying we cannot do it, just that it is risky so other factors must be taken into account.”
Top of the list is the limited life of XH558’s engines.
“From the start of the 2014 season, it is unlikely that we could accommodate any engine failures and that even without any technical problems, soon our set of engines would be out of life,” said Mr Edmondson.
“There are no more airworthy engines available, and refurbishment would be so difficult and costly there is no possibility it will happen.”
There are also challenges with other areas of the aircraft as every component, however small, was designed and manufactured to agreed specifications by approved suppliers.
“When those suppliers close or lose the ability to remanufacture or refurbish those components, it can be prohibitively expensive to re-source them,” he explained.