Page last updated at 23:40 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 00:40 UK

'Symbol of destruction' takes to the air

By Robert Hall
BBC News, RAF Cottesmore


Vulcan bomber taking off and landing

Shrouded by early morning mist, Vulcan XH558, the last of her breed to fly, looked every inch a sinister reminder of the Cold War.

For decades, on these East of England airfields, the V bomber force stood at 15 minutes readiness to launch an attack which could so easily have resulted in mutual destruction.

Standing under the huge delta wing, I could look up into the bomb bay that once held Britain's nuclear deterrent.

Around me, the ground team still carrying out final checks included volunteers who had worked on the Vulcan whilst in active service.

Without them this aircraft, Vulcan XH558, might not have been here today.

When she was retired by the RAF in 1993, there were many who believed she would stay firmly earthbound - and during the eleven-year restoration programme, that risk loomed large on several occasions.

Huge visitor

No one had ever tried to restore such a complex machine. She not only had to fly again, but conform to the safety standards of a new century.

It was a remarkable leap in technology
Andrew Edmondson
Chief Engineer, Vulcan to the Skies project

But the team's gloom was repeatedly dispersed by public generosity - time after time the money ran low, time after time enthusiasts saved the project. Now on the runway of RAF Cottesmore, the V bomber was ready to face her final expert scrutiny.

Ian Young, chief test pilot for Cambridge-based Marshall Aerospace, had been brought in to supervise the flight; a clean bill of health would enable the old warrior to come out of retirement and face her public.

Peering through Cottesmore's perimeter fence, the die-hard plane spotters were already sipping their coffee, and peering through binoculars at the huge visitor.

By noon their numbers had increased tenfold - long lenses trained on the Vulcan as she prepared to move, and on the RAF personnel and families perched on buildings, vehicles, and even a Harrier jet, no less eager to catch a glimpse of the past.

Vulcan History
137 of the aircraft were manufactured starting in the 1950s
First Vulcan flew in 1953
Introduced to counter the threat of the Soviet Union
Took 14 years to restore
Retired from service in 1984

Andrew Edmondson, Chief Engineer for the Vulcan to the Skies project watched anxiously as the whine of the four engines became a roar; he reminded me the Vulcan was designed in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II.

"She was the first aircraft to be built by the British firm Avro since the Lancaster bomber.

"It was a remarkable leap in technology over just 15 years," he told me.

Symbol of destruction

Beyond us the Vulcan had reached the runway, paused for a few moments, and then given everyone the photo they had hoped for, climbing steeply into a scarce patch of sunshine.

A serviceman standing next to me noticed it first. The Vulcan's lines were not as sleek as they should be - one of her undercarriage doors had refused to close.

The upside, a free air display as the aircraft circled to try and solve the problem. The downside, an abrupt end to the test. The two-hour flight over East Anglia had become a 20--minute hop to her home base at Bruntingthorpe.

The debate over whether a symbol of destruction should be restored will continue; the team now planning the next flight are convinced the Vulcan is a potent piece of living history reminding today's young of how near the world came to the brink.

The thousands who have backed that ideal are now willing the old lady to leap this final hurdle to public displays, and a chance for thousands more to make up their minds.

Vulcan bomber flight lands early
16 Apr 08 |  Leicestershire
Vulcan bomber takes to the skies
16 Apr 08 |  Leicestershire
Vulcan bomber tests to continue
15 Apr 08 |  Leicestershire
Test flights for restored bomber
14 Apr 08 |  Leicestershire
Vulcan bomber suffers fire alert
14 Apr 08 |  Leicestershire
Vulcan may offer flying adverts
04 Feb 08 |  Leicestershire
Vulcan bomber returns to the sky
18 Oct 07 |  Leicestershire
Restored bomber to miss fly-past
13 Jun 07 |  Leicestershire
Cold War bomber to return to sky
24 Jun 04 |  Leicestershire

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