Doncaster's historic Vulcan bomber is to be put in storage and closed to the public with more than two thirds of staff who look after it laid off amid a funding crisis.
The Vulcan To The Sky Trust, which maintains and cares for the historic Cold War aircraft, made the shock announcement, revealing that the plane, based at Robin Hood Airport now faces an uncertain future.
The plane will be towed from its hangar at the end of January with staff slimmed down from 22 to just eight as the Trust slashes costs.
A spokesman for VTTS said the plane, which flew for the final time just 15 months ago and is loved by aircraft enthusiasts worldwide, urgently needs more cash so it can be returned to public viewing.
A statement said: "When she landed for the final time just 15 months ago, she was the country’s most loved aircraft, followed by more people than the Red Arrows.
"Now she is facing an uncertain future, to be towed out of her period hangar home at the end of January to be placed in storage.“
Over the past six months, the VTTS has been working with Robin Hood Airport on plans to develop a purpose-built hangar for XH558.
The statement added: "While both parties are confident of a successful outcome, the short term challenge is that we must vacate Hangar 3 as our lease has expired.
Dr. Robert Pleming, chief executive of VTTS, said: “This creates a funding challenge because the revenue-earning businesses that are vital for her care must be temporarily suspended. We have had to make some very tough decisions.”
At a briefing for staff, followed immediately by an e-newsletter and social media briefing for the aircraft’s hundreds of thousands of supporters, Dr. Pleming announced that the Vulcan to the Sky Trust team would be slimmed down from 22 to just eight full time staff, supported by volunteers and a few part-time staff.
Both Dr Pleming and business development director Michael Trotter will be moving to part- time roles where they will continue to provide strategic direction for the Trust.
“I am very sad to lose many highly talented colleagues who have worked incredibly hard to achieve a remarkable eight years of display flying that many thought would be impossible. I cannot thank them enough,” he said.
“This is a bitter decision, but one that is necessary to ensure Vulcan XH558 continues to be protected while we rebuild the Trust around our goals for the future.”
Engineering director Andrew Edmondson, one of the world’s leading specialists in vintage jet restoration, maintenance and operation, is being retained to manage rapid progress towards a new beginning for the Trust.
Chief engineer Taff Stone will move to a freelance role responsible for the ongoing care of Vulcan XH558.
These and other cuts will slash the Trust’s monthly expenditure by 75%.
The plan explained to supporters is that the Trust’s aircraft and other assets currently in Hangar 3 will move temporarily into a storage facility that the airport is providing free-of-charge until the end of April.
During that time, the Trust and Doncaster Sheffield Airport hope to conclude an agreement to build a new hangar at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, allowing resumption of tours, events, educational visits and engineering activities by the end of 2017.
These businesses will then fund the lease of the hangar from the developers until the larger, more ambitious Etna facility is ready.
The next step, following completion of the new hangar, will be to restart the restoration of the Trust’s unique English Electric Canberra, WK163, which in 1957 was fired to a new altitude record by a prototype Napier Double Scorpion rocket motor.
These operations will eventually be at the heart of a new type of education and visitor activity, designed to inspire new generations with the excitement of engineering, innovation and aviation, with its construction funded by national and regional grants and sponsorship.
Steve Gill, Chief Executive at Doncaster Sheffield Airport said; “Housing the Vulcan, a prestigious piece of British aerospace engineering, is an honour for Doncaster Sheffield Airport.
"We have long been supportive of their vision to establish the Etna Project to meet the important objective of inspiring future generations to engineering and aviation all from a dedicated tourist centre that fully meets their needs.
"As we have for many years, we are deeply committed to working with the Trust to realise this goal and to working with them, this remains unchanged and of sincere importance to us.”
To hibernate the existing operations, re-home the vital specialist tools, displays, period artefacts and other key assets, and secure Vulcan XH558 and Canberra WK163 in the new storage location, is expected to cost around £200,000 more than the Trust can afford given the cessation of tours and events.
Half of this has been promised as matched-funding by a group of philanthropists close to Vulcan to the Sky Trust, against donations from XH558’s supporters and those who believe in retaining Jet-Age aircraft in British skies.
“Every pound donated will effectively be doubled. This is a very generous offer,” says Pleming. “The Trust needs these funds urgently to survive. I encourage everyone who shares this vision to do whatever they can to help today.”
To donate and have your funding doubled, please visit www.vulcantothesky.org/xh558-s-survival.html