The grounding of an aircraft would be considered by many as nothing more than one less flying aircraft, it would be considered as overtly melodramatic to find it upsetting or on a par almost with the loss of a loved one. But for those who have fallen under the spell of XH558, we know different. The loss of ‘The Spirit of Great Britain’ from our skies is not simply a vehicle no longer usable, it is the end of an era, the end of the most spectacular sight and sound that I for one have ever been privileged to witness.
“it was so exciting…standing in a hedgerow with other Vulcan fans who became friends for a couple of hours…and then she appeared…I didn’t know whether to video, take photos, cry or just jump up and down with sheer excitement…I think I did all four!…an out of body experience…and a love for a beautiful British Icon…such engineering……..”
The Vulcan is the only aircraft which could elicit this emotional attachment from me, I never have before and doubt I ever will again ‘fall in love’ with an aircraft, no others could make me cry off a family gathering and traipse through a field just to get a glimpse of her on her last airshow flight.
“what are we…the thousands of Vulcan fans going to do now!!….the roads, hedges and fields are going to be empty!”
Due to the popularity of XH558, the Season finale at Shuttleworth on Sunday 4th October was sold out and as such my only chance to witness the spectacular sight of the majestic tin triangle was to stand in a field (and not even a plush green grass field where I could let my hippy side free to dance barefoot), in heels and stare at the brightly sun lit sky. I wasn’t there to see any other aircraft and from the overheard murmurs of the many other fans in attendance I wasn’t the only one. The area was almost sanctified, people spoke in hushed voices with the most prominent sound being the many shutters clicking as the aircraft circled and swooped over-head. As the time drew closer to the much-anticipated arrival of ‘Our Girl’, the star we had all given up our Sunday afternoon to see , the whispers grew more furious as people checked in to apps and twitter for her location. As a hush formed over the entire crowd, one by one all heads turned towards the sight of the incoming Vulcan flanked by an Avro Anson C19 in the distance.
“Feel gutted I may never see her again. Her performance at RIAT was spine tingling!”
There she was, with the grace of a prima ballerina, the stealth of an eagle, the beauty of a Michelangelo and the raw sex appeal of your favorite pin-up!! She began her theatrical run in along the display line with her Avro sister at close quarters as she approached Shuttleworth. We excitingly watched her immense delta profile flying low over the tree line before soaring into the air space above us. The one advantage to not attending the actual airshow was that we were positioned directly below her display line so rather than viewing her majestic control of the air from afar we were directly below her as she swept poetically above us. Gone were the balletic pirouettes of the last time I was lucky enough to see her but in its place was the closest most intimate show I think anyone had ever been a party to. She flew in low before her ascension into the sky, like a dancer on point she seemed to hover before accelerating off for another sweep around. To think that this graceful bird was originally produced to cause devastation with the release of bombs is almost shocking when one views her, dappled in brilliant sunlight, cavorting in what can only be described as a dance of the skies.
“Memories from as young as 5 years old, and now 53…….love that stomach churning feeling”
It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for her grandiose withdrawal from our skies, the sun shone throughout and there were no clouds to speak of, unfortunately this at times made viewing her hard when looking directly in the direction of the sun, it did however offer the juxtaposition between viewing her elegant silhouette and her resplendent camo at different times.
“A noise never to heard again, it’s criminal.”
The ability and talent of the pilot can not be ignored when describing the precise and graceful movements made by the Vulcan, the control and expertise he showcased must (and was) applauded, it may be the aircraft we fall for but we must also extend our adoration to the talented gentleman at the controls, the man who knows how to press her buttons to get her going. This sublime example of aviation would not be the same without the ability to push her to her limits, to stroke her in the right way, to treat her like the lady she is.
Of course the moment everyone in attendance had been waiting for was the well documented and much adored Vulcan Howl, and howl she did! Beginning with her familiar rumble whilst smoke flowed from her four Olympus engines, the pilot lined her up for her final wing over he gunned the throttle to open her up to show her full power before treating the adoring audience to the full roar and howl of her impressive engines. The floor vibrated with the deafening rumble, my insides felt like a pinball machine as the sound bounced from one organ to another and my emotions were going haywire with the enormity of the supersonic sound. With that she was away! As she flew away for the final time at an airshow the air was heavy with sadness and loss, many a tear fell as even the most hardened biker in attendance had ‘grit’ in their eyes. The applause could be heard from Shuttleworth and every single person standing, gaping in awe at the display we had just witnessed also broke into applause, as she left XH558 received the standing ovation she so rightly deserved.
“best howl this year ,well done girl”
So why do we love her so much? There are so many reasons and each avid fan has different ones! Of course there is her beauty, her elegance, her ‘Howl’ , her longevity and her position as a national treasure. She encompasses what is meant by the term ‘Best of British’. Even the truly British Aston Martin have honoured the Vulcan with the release of their new track only supercar simply named Vulcan, a sleek and expertly engineered luxury machine.
“Watched her display at Gaydon gonna miss the howl of the old girl!”
Tom Goode Snr
With previous Vulcans having been sold for scrap along with many of our other aircraft we must be grateful that although after her final farewell tour across the country next weekend she will no longer take to our skies she will at least remain ‘alive and well’. No longer adorning our skies but still visible and performing taxi runs.
The grounding of XH558 is truly the end of an era and has bought the nation together in a way usually reserved for sporting events, many people who previously had little to no aviation interest have been swept up with atmosphere surrounding the final flight season of this iconic warbird. It will be a sad day when she switches off her engines and heads back to her hanger at Robin Hood but we must continuously respect and honour her memory. I fell in love with her sound when I first heard her, I fell in love with almost 50’s prom dress look when I first saw her and I will love her still. I hope that as my son grows up he too will find the aircraft which makes him fall in love. I will never forget how I fell in love with the sound of an icon.
So with love, thanks and a heavy heart, we won’t say goodbye as that is too final, we will say farewell, until we meet again!
Good-bye may seem forever. Farewell is like the end, but in my heart’s the memory, and there you’ll always be.