Vulcan's heart should keep beating - meet the couple helping to keep the much-loved aircraft in the skies (From Bournemouth Echo)
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Vulcan's heart should keep beating - meet the couple helping to keep the much-loved aircraft in the skies
It was at the old Bournemouth airshow at Hurn airport in the 1970s that Bryan Keet first saw her; those mighty Rolls-Royce engines with their 32-tonne thrust, ripping the air as she blasted into the skies to swoop and circle her adoring fans.
“I think my main emotion was amazement,” he says.
“She still looks so futuristic even though XH558 (the last flying Vulcan anywhere) is only a year older than me.”
His wife, Maggie, understands. She’d never even seen a Vulcan fly when she fell in love with this unique piece of aviation history; she’d just travelled up to Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in Leicestershire to visit 558 when she was jacked up for repairs.
“She was in a sorry state,” remembers Maggie.
“I looked at her and thought ‘God you’re beautiful’; those lines and everything.”
Maybe it’s her classy good looks which have prompted so many people to devote so many thousands of hours and pounds to keeping her flying through the Vulcan To The Sky Trust. The original was designed by Roy Chadwick of Avro who also designed the Lancaster bomber.
“I think it’s just 11 years between the design of the Lancaster and the Vulcan but look at the difference,” says Bryan.
Whatever her secret, it’s no secret that 558 exerts an almost hypnotic influence over her admirers, at least 60 per cent of whom are women.
Maggie and Bryan have amassed a pile of Vulcanorabilia including calendars, jigsaw puzzles, pens, engraved crystal, toys, stickers, key-rings, photos, certificates and even an actual part, won in a raffle.
“When they replace parts they sell or raffle them off to raise money,” explains Maggie.
They are now part of a dedicated band who man the Trust’s stand at all manner of airshows, festivals and events throughout the country.
“You have to get up at 5am to get there, put up your stand and get everything ready,” says Maggie.
“But we love it.”
They try to spread awareness of the trust and also of the plane’s fine history. She was originally built to carry Blue Danube, our genteelly-named first nuclear bomb, although the only time she has ever dropped bombs in theatre was to destroy the runway on the Falkland Islands during the 1982 war.
She was built to fly at 60,000 feet – 20,000 higher than the average airliner – and this, and her ability to manoeuvre at that altitude, kept her out of reach from marauding enemy jets.
Bryan explains that she is, in effect, Concorde’s grandmother – Concorde’s engines were tried out in a Vulcan first and she could fly at Mach 1, roughly the speed of sound.
The Keets’ knowledge of this plane is as comprehensive as it is humbling and even more so when you realise how much money must be raised to keep her aloft. “They only plan to fly her 40 or 50 hours a year and she costs £20,000 for each hour in the air,” says Bryan.
Even her 60-foot brake parachute – used to splendid effect when she lands at Bournemouth International – costs £1,000 a pop because it has to be painstakingly re-folded by hand.
The enormous expense has meant that her appearance at this year’s Bournemouth Air Festival was in jeopardy until Maggie set up an appeal to raise the £10,000 needed for her appearance tomorrow.
Thanks to the generous sponsorship from Adrian Gunner of Merley House, the contribution from Lord Stephen Young and donations via members of Bournemouth Aviation Museum, where Maggie is a volunteer, they cracked it within two weeks.
But the most amazing and humbling thing of all about 558 is that every Trust member knows that whatever they do and whatever they raise, their beloved Vulcan will have to stop flying in 2015.
Bryan explains that because of strict and necessary safety rules, large amounts of 558’s components will have reached the end of their life by this time. Unlike the Lancaster bomber and other vintage aircraft, there are no spare parts or even the capacity to manufacture all the parts needed to replace with confidence.
“We could do it if a billionaire came up with, say, £20 million to re-tool and re-make these parts but that’s probably unrealistic.”
So what will happen to her? There are two plans, says Maggie. The first is to keep her at Finningley (now the Robin Hood Airport at Doncaster) where she’s based and allow her to ‘fast taxi’ along the runway for displays so that future generations will still hear those engines. The other is to build a conference centre round her where she can be admired by all.
“I prefer the fast taxi,” says Maggie.
“That’s where she should be, she is the People’s Plane, she was made in Britain and she should remain where people can see her and hear her and smell her. To me she has a heart and that heart should continue beating.”
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