Did Vulcan XH558 Perform Unauthorized Barrel Rolls Before Retirement?

Avro Vulcan XH558 - Eric Coeckelberghs
Photo Courtesy of Vulcan to the Sky Trust

If there’s one warbird that has captivated the aviation community over the past few years, it’s been XH558: the last flying Avro Vulcan. XH558 has been flying since 2007 after retiring from service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1984. On October 28th of this year, the Vulcan made a farewell to flight at Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airport outside Doncaster, England. With a short flight and a final taxi, XH558 became the last Vulcan to fly and will be put on display and occasionally run up and taxied at the airport.

However, the Vulcan has raised some trouble with England’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) with what appears to be a pair of barrel rolls during one of it’s last flights. The BBC has published footage by BDP Aviation that appears to show XH558 executing two separate barrel rolls while flying over Grantham, Lincolnshire on October 4th. The CAA had tightened restrictions on maneuvers during aerial displays following the August 22nd crash of a Hawker Hunter T7, G-BXFI, in Shoreham that resulted in 11 fatalities.

According to the BBC article, a CAA spokesperson has said the Vulcan “may have performed a roll maneuver”. Adding: “This did not occur during an air display. Although not normally allowed under its current permissions to fly, a roll is a benign maneuver and the Vulcan’s maintenance support organisation has confirmed that the aircraft is safe to fly.”

When done correctly, a barrel roll maneuver is flown at a constant 1G, meaning the aircraft never ‘feels’ that it is inverted. Famous examples of this include the Boeing 707 airliner that was rolled on a test flight, and Bob Hoover pouring water into a glass while rolling.

The investigation by the CAA is underway, and the Vulcan to the Sky Trust that operates XH558 has yet to comment.

9 Responses

  1. martin popple

    I’m surprised by the lack of knowledge or wisdom expressed by so many pundits about the alleged barrel roll. I’m not a pilot (wish I had been) but we all agree that a properly executed barrel roll is a 1g manoeuvre. Roly Falk rolled the Vulcan back in the airshow days (50’s and 60’s) and Victors did the roll off the top as a nuclear bomb lob. I may believe that the Vulcan was stressed for 2g positive and 0g negative, and, you don’t want to rip the wings off by flying like an idiot. I take my hat off to Martin Withers, if it was him, to do what he did on Vulcan’s last flight. I’d also heard that Concorde was tested to 10g, meaning that with enough sky it could do a full Red Arrows display. So, Vulcan will never fly again, obsv, and who exactly won’t let Concorde fly again? I’m struggling with this, let me guess? Our friends across the pond who always hated the UK building such good aircraft. Oabtw, F104 Strarfighter, EE/BAC Lightening or TSR2, compare?. Have a nice evening, my son’s taking me to the pub for my 62nd birthday pint. I rest my case.

  2. chris

    I am an ex pilot (lapsed licence due to health) the Vulcan did a barrel roll twice and to perfection.

  3. G Key

    I find it hard to believe that only one person managed to film the alleged barrel roll (even basic mobile phones turn out a better quality video).
    Every time xh558 took to the skies this year, there were thousands of people watching and filming her.

  4. Sandstorm

    The Vulcan did full hammerhead stalls at Waco Texas in 1986. No surprise it is barrel roll safe. In 1968 Boeing test pilot Tex Johnston rolled the prototype 707 not once but twice. Most of these monsters have more than enough power, G-load, and control stability to do these maneuvers easily, they just need a bit more space.

  5. john sherm

    …well my Dad took me to an air show at the Naval air station at Willow Grove, Pa. in the early 60’s(.just a tad north of Philly). I was prob 14 or so. As we waited in the traffic snarl trying to get to the show..I vividly recall watching a VULCAN approach the show center at ~ 500’AGL, and executing a beautiful modified barrel roll. That was it!.. I was hooked…and enjoyed a wonderful 7 yr career as a carrier-based A-7 pilot. (those were the days!)…you never know what might spark the interest of a youngster…so air shows DO have value! (..as an aside..I chased down a VULCAN at altitude in the Med. Sea one time and got close from behind! GOD…that is a BIG and BEAUTIFUL airplane!!!…and also..everyone requires a little more than 1 G to execute this maneuver…but not much, if your nice and smooth! John Sherm, Wilmington, NC

  6. Curt Pansch

    I was at an air show summer 1971 at Offutt. On takeoff a Vulcan did a roll immediately after takeoff. He lost altitude when inverted and people were screaming, thinking they were witnessing a crash. The roll was successful. I was told later his crew (2?) refused to fly with him again.

  7. Brian Spilman

    As an Instrumentation Engineer and ex Bristol Siddeley apprentice I was lucky in working on the Vulcan that was converted to carry the Olympus 22R engine to be flight tested for the TSR2 project. What a beautiful piece of engineering as marvellous as any other item found in any painting or sculpture art gallery. Full marks to all those who were responsible for the last flight,
    Brian Spilman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *