Earlier this year, aviation buffs in England were confronted with the sad announcement that the Avro Vulcan XH558, the only flightworthy Vulcan in existence, would cease its flight operations later in the year. Just a few short weeks ago, as promised, XH558 flew for the last time before touching down at Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster Sheffield. Today, it remains as one of three Vulcans in taxiing condition (meaning that it can move under its own power on the ground). XH558 and her counterparts are simply too old to be flying anymore; their airframes thoroughly aged and replacement parts extremely scarce.
Although a few of our TACAIRNET team members have had the chance of seeing the Vulcan fly in person, I never did, and I was struck with a weirdly half-sentimental, half-curious feeling on what it was like to experience the aircraft as a spectator on the ground. So I did what any red blooded college senior with a little bit of spare time on his hands would do… and browsed through Instagram, seeking out hashtags specific to the Vulcan, while eating a cold slice of pizza. In retrospect, the pizza wasn’t the best idea, but what I came across was just awesome… actually, what I came across with regards to someone else coming across something Vulcan-related was even more awesome.
Let me explain.
A friend from mine who lives across the pond in the United Kingdom (who’s also very much into aviation) came across a Vulcan… well, a vital part of a Vulcan… out in a farmer’s field after noticing a picture of an English Electric Lightning in the Friday edition of his local newspaper. As it turns out, the paper publishes a section on Fridays that features pictures and maps of walking routes for people who wish to walk for leisure or exercise, and to explore the countryside while doing so. Paul Waugh, my buddy, who’s also a veteran Coastguardsman, quickly noticed the Lightning and decided to have a look for himself on the particular route featured in the paper. Since he was in the vicinity later on, he found the place on his own and came up to a farmhouse with a nearby barn. After knocking on the front door of the farmhouse without getting a response, he drove away, and then decided to go back and give it one more try.
This time, he got an answer. The farmer’s wife, and later the farmer himself, responded to the door and Paul was moments away from a delightful shock. Upon explaining what he was here to see and where he saw the picture of the Lightning, the farmer asked him “Do you want to see a Lightning, Vulcan, Vampire or Meteor?”, and then sent him to the other side of the barn. Even in the pouring rain, the shapes were unmistakeable. Since he had a red shirt on, and there was a bull very close to him, Paul quickly scrambled up the ladder and into the cockpit of Avro Vulcan XH563, sitting on an oversized dolly in a farmer’s field.
XH563 was completed in 1960 and delivered to service with No. 83 Squadron, RAF, that same year. The very first of the B.2 series of Vulcans with improved engines and range, she later served in a number of roles with the RAF, culminating with a short stint as a maintenance airframe, but was then pulled entirely and slated to be scrapped in the mid-1980s. Though the majority of the aircraft was taken apart and recycled, a certain Donald Milne hailing from Banchory, England, bought the nose section, replete with cockpit and flight instruments inside as a potential treehouse for his son. FATHER OF THE YEAR AWARD, ANYONE?!
Later on, the XH563 cockpit wound up in the hands of another private owner, and it rests today in that farmer’s field in the UK. Paul was brilliantly kind enough to share his pictures from his visits to the XH563 cockpit with us, so that we could share them with you! To see more of the Vulcan’s unique cockpit and for more excellent military aviation content (including awesome videos), navigate to Paul’s Instagram profile and give it a follow! Let him know we sent you, too!