The delta winged Avro Vulcan, the UK’s once nuclear bomber, will take it’s last flight in October 2015. When the last airworthy Vulcan, XH558, lands at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster for the final time it will truly be the end of an era for British aviation.
Whilst we will never again hear the famous Vulcan howl as it roars overhead, wowing the crowds with its graceful moves, it is still possible to get close to these impressive bombers. XH558 will be kept in active ground running order, carrying out fast taxi runs at Robin Hood Airport and while another Vulcan, XM655, has been pulling in the crowds since 1997 with her annual fast taxi runs at Wellesbourne Mountford airfield in Warwickshire.
Vulcan XM655 is cared for by the 655 Maintenance and Preservation Society (MaPS) and is the youngest surviving Vulcan of the 136 that were produced, being the third but last off the production line in 1964. She retired from active service in 1984 and landed at Wellesbourne later that year. She remained untouched until the late 1990’s when 655 MaPs was formed with the aim of returning her to active ground running.
The volunteers of 655 MaPs give up most of their Saturdays to maintaining and preserving her for future generations and keeping her active for as long as possible, many of these volunteers are ex-RAF personnel who served on Vulcans.
XM655 is open to visitors on Saturdays between 10am and 4pm where you can take a look around the aircraft, take photos and even get a tour of the cockpit for a small donation. Cockpit tours are free for members of XM655MaPs on production of their membership card. Annual membership, at the time of writing, is £15 – more details are available on the XM655 website.
Another way of getting up close to the most powerful surviving Vulcan bomber at Wellesbourne is through special events. I attended one of these events on Saturday, organised by TimeLine Events and facilitated by 655MaPs, making the aircraft available for an afternoon and late evening photoshoot. All of the photos in this post were taken by me during this one photoshoot.
The weather forecast for Saturday afternoon was heavy rain, although it would hopefully be drying up during the evening. I arrived at Wellesbourne at 3pm with full wet weather gear, camera (including a new rain cover) and a tripod. The rain was hitting the windscreen and the cars wipers were on full, I pulled onto the airfield at Loxley Lane close to XM655’s hard standing area and onto a grass area set aside of parking, hoping that the rain would stop so that we would stand a chance of getting all the cars off the field.
It was a wet dreary autumnal October day, nevertheless the volunteers of 655MaPs had been working hard throughout the morning and in the rain preparing the aircraft and the site just for a group of people to take some photos. Not forgetting the hog roast stand from Food Yule Love selling the all important cups of coffee (and tea), jacket potatoes, pulled pork rolls complete with stuffing and apple sauce.
Wellesbourne is an active airfield and they had agreed to close the taxi way from the main runway in front of the hard standing. The Vulcan had been moved onto the taxi way, with towing arm, genuine tug along with the ground power/generator.
Following a safety briefing, an outline of the days events and with the rain easing off we set about taking our photographs.
XM655 service and access equipment was on hand to get different vantage points.
Just as I made to the top of the access stairs viewing platform the sun broke through the clouds and made an appearance, allowing me to capture the aircraft in a late afternoon golden light with the oranges, yellows and reds of autumn foliage as the backdrop.
A group of re-enactors, dressed in period clothing were on hand to make the scenes that little bit more authentic, replicating the 1960’s/70’s when the Avro Vulcan was a nuclear deterrent and maintained in a readiness state known as Quick Reaction Alert (QRA)
With the sun setting behind us the clouds started to break leaving a lovely clear sky as the new backdrop, Neil Cave and his team from TimeLine Events setup the lights illuminating XM655 from various angles.
Towards the end of the evening, XM655’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) was fired up and her navigation, anti-collision and landing lights were switched on for that unique photo opportunity, giving the impression that XM655 was again on Quick Reaction Alert and at any moment she would taxi off to the runway and off into the night skies….
Even with the rain it was an excellent day, in fact without the rain I wouldn’t have taken my best photo of the day, XM655 in the evening sun with it’s reflection in the standing water (first photo in this post). The only negative thing I can say about the whole experience was that there seemed to be too much emphasis on setting the scene with the re-enactors, whilst they do make the scene, I would have preferred the opportunity to take more shots of just the aircraft.
I would recommend this type of photoshoot/event to anyone interested in aviation photography.
A selection of my XM655 photos are on Flickr