After 55 years in service, the Vulcan XH558 took off on its brief farewell flight from Robin Hood Airport in Yorkshire.
It was a poignant day for aviation fans as the last remaining flying Vulcan bomber took to the skies for the final time.
The huge Cold War aircraft – which once carried Britain’s nuclear deterrent – took off from Doncaster Robin Hood Airport for a short final trip after the gloomy South Yorkshire skies cleared.
The pilot at the controls of XH558, Martin Withers, led the first of the now legendary raids on the Falklands by the Vulcans in 1982 – the only time the aircraft ever dropped bombs in anger in its long RAF service.
As he prepared for the flight, Withers said: “Everyone asks me what is so special about this aircraft and why people love it. Really the people who fly it are the wrong people to ask. It’s such a combination of grace and beauty of just seeing this thing fly.
“Just to see it fly along, it’s so graceful,” said Withers. “And then that combines with the sense of power and manoeuvrability you’ve got with this aircraft and the vibrations it makes. It just seems to turn people on emotionally, they really love it.”
Former pilot Angus Laird said: “I think it’s very, very sad but we all come to a time when we stop flying. She’s an old lady now and she’s stopped at the height of her popularity, which I think is brilliant.”
The XH558, which first came into RAF service in 1960, has been kept in the air by a volunteer trust since 2007.
The Vulcan To The Sky Trust, which brought the 55-year-old aircraft back to flight eight years ago, has accepted advice from supporting companies that they no longer have the expertise to keep it airworthy as engineers retire from the industry.
XH558 will stay in its Cold War hanger at Robin Hood Airport – once RAF Finningley – where the trust is planning a visitor centre and also to continue “fast taxiing” the massive bomber around the runways.
The trust had to keep details of Wednesday’s final flight under wraps until the last minute as the aircraft has become such a popular attraction. Airport officials feared news of the event could attract thousands of spectators, endangering its normal operations.
John Sharman, chairman of the trust, said: “It’s a sad day but its also a day of optimism in many ways. “Today marks the end of the beginning of this life of Vulcans because we have huge plans for the future.”
Sharman said: “She is very beautiful, she is very powerful, she is is totally unique, totally distinct. And that delta shape seems to inspire both young and old.”
And the crew walks away, leaving the Vulcan’s airborne legacy to history.