THE DEMISE OF the last flying Avro Vulcan B.2 bomber was a sad but inevitable event — if not now, then certainly in ten or 12 years time. Having been ‘a total aviation person’, man and boy, for 30 years, I understand well the emotion and reaction of your correspondents.
However, let us pause for a moment and consider the state of the RAF today. Its master is Her Majesty’s Government (of whatever persuasion) and that master is elected by you, the electorate. Rightly or wrongly, the government has entered a period of contraction in defence capability, in which the RAF must bear its share.
Thus far, despite the contractions, the RAF has been able to retain an all-round capability, albeit with reductions and increased workloads. It has not, yet, totally given up any major capability which it had five years ago. To ensure this all-round capability, it has been forced to make many hard decisions — some of which are far from popular, within or without the service.
The former AOC of Strike Command, Air Marshal Sir Patrick Hine, in his acceptance speech on receiving the C P Robertson Memorial Trophy at the annual luncheon of the Air Public Relations Association in May this year, voiced one such opinion.
He questioned the wisdom, in increasingly uncertain times in a changing world, of why the government allowed the disbandment of half of the RAF’s force of Tornado GR.1 strike aircraft. Aircraft which had demonstrated their suitability and effectiveness in the Gulf War of 1991. Only after his retirement could Paddy Hine, an acknowledged supporter of RAF Air Power, have made such a statement.
I would suggest that, rather than expend their ire on ‘their Airships’ and nameless ‘Men from the Ministry’, your readers ‘have a go’ at other sources which may have allowed XH558 to remain flying. We live in a world where the accountants manage more and more of our lives and businesses.
A consortium of sponsorship from members the Society of British Aerospace Companies could have come up with the money needed. Certainly, the factors which influenced the decision to ground and dispose of XH558 COULD have been better presented. Yet, the ‘massive weight of public opinion’ noted by one of your correspondents last month was not, obviously, great enough to sway the powers-that-be. That is sad for all the supporters of XH558 and, one may argue, for the aviation heritage of the UK. At least XH558 has not gone to the scrapheap.
The RAF’s prime duty is to the present and the future. If, within its shrinking budgets it can pay tribute to the past, as with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, all well and good. The sad fact of life is that ‘their Airships’ made the best choice they could within the resources available to them. They might have opted to retain the Vulcan but at what cost? The grounding of part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight or its Lancaster perhaps?
This letter is written exactly 50 years (to the hour) when Guy Gibson was leading 617 Squadron on its maiden mission which, while providing a war-torn British Empire with a marvellous propaganda (public relations) coup, was to prove a strategically small goal. I do not seek to belittle the achievement of the Dams Raid but merely to make a point.
The Lancaster is closer to the hearts and minds of the Great British Public than the Vulcan. The RAF’s ‘bag of gold’ can only stretch so far. Do we forgo the sight of the Lancaster in the air in favour of the Vulcan or, perhaps, the effectiveness, to be provided in a few year’s time, when the Eurofighter 2000 (nee EFA) finally enters service?
Did I hear a similar, vociferous outcry to save a Lightning? Not really. Private enterprise has managed some preservation and we may, soon, see a Lightning back in the airshow circus. It may be a cliché but the impossible is achieved every day, miracles take a little longer. Let us look for a miracle but, please, can we stop giving the RAF a hard time for something it tried to prevent but, in the end, could not.
At the end of the day, a decision was made. It was a decision taken in the best interests of the RAF as a whole. We have our photographs, our books and our videos. All that remains are the memories — but, oh! What memories!
Michael J Gething