Martin Fenner looks at the recent sale of Blackpool's Vulcan
With many people now being aware of the world's largest online auction site, eBay, it's hardly surprising what comes up for auction from time to time. After sitting down for a couple of hours evening aviation forum viewing, imagine the author's surprise to see the thread "Vulcan for sale on eBay!" It can't be true can it? One of A.V. Roe's finest on eBay? Ah, they must be talking about one of those excellent Corgi diecast model Vulcans, that'll be it.
Wrong! It was indeed Avro Vulcan XL391 that's been parked at Blackpool Airport for many years. Although previous long term owner, Brian Bateson, boss of the Blackpool Air Centre flying school, had already made the aviation world aware that the Vulcan was for sale there had been no prospective buyers so he decided that eBay was the best way of selling it. It was placed on the auction site 27 October with the bidding closing by 4 November. With the starting price at £6,000, a total of 16 bids were placed for XL391; the winning bidder having to pay a total of £15,102.03 for her. Brian is reported to have said that the reason for selling was that the airport needs the land she's currently parked on for redevelopment. An all-too common story these days.
Besides a few photos and a statement that said "Aircraft de-commissioned by RAF. No armaments. Will not fly" on the auction listing the author found the additional statement "As is, where is, buyer collects!!!" Quite amusing!
The winning bidder was named in the local press as Chris Ollerenshaw, who said he'd bought the Vulcan as an attraction for visitors to his pub, The Snipe Inn at Dukinfield, just east of Manchester City centre. Although Chris's idea was to install XL391 in his beer garden, he now faces the good old planning permission issue together with an estimated additional £20,000 it'll cost to dismantle and transport the Vulcan from Blackpool. In addition, the airport has put a timescale on the aircraft being moved, so if Chris's plans don't come to fruition there are fears that XL391 will actually be scrapped with perhaps only the nose section being saved. To add to the pressure, press reports indicate that Chris is being charged £1,000 a week rent to keep the aircraft at the Blackpool Aviation Centre.
It would certainly be a shame if this happened, as XL391 was one of the Vulcans flown to Ascension Island in May 1982 to support the 'Black Buck' bombing missions during the Falklands War. XL391 never actually flew the 8,000 mile round trip to bomb the airfield at Port Stanley as she was a backup aircraft only, for use if the nominated Vulcan became unserviceable.
First flown in May 1963 from Avro's plant at Woodford, she was fitted with the highest-rated Vulcan engines, the Rolls-Royce Olympus 301. During her operational career XL391 was used for Blue Steel 'stand-off' nuclear weapons trials with the A&AEE Boscombe Down, Wiltshire before moving on to be stationed at Cottesmore, Akrotiri and Waddington.
In service with 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington she was selected along with five other Vulcans as one of the better airframes the RAF still had operational for use in the Falklands War. Following the end of hostilities in the Falklands XL391 returned to Waddington until being taken out of service and offered for tender following 44 Squadron's disbandment in December 1982. Like many other Vulcans offered for tender around this time she was successfully acquired for a reported sum of £5,000 by "The Manchester Vulcan Bomber Society" and was delivered ex-Waddington to Blackpool airport on 16 February 1983.
This group, as did many others, had the hope of operating XL391 privately and as this plan fell through, Blackpool Airport remained the home of '391 for the next 21 years with ownership passing on to Brian Bateson around the winter of 1994/5. Unfortunately during this time the Vulcan has had to suffer the ravages of a salt water atmosphere together with little maintenance and a constant attack of vandalism. On his first visit, Chris Ollerenshaw said: "I could put my finger through the panels. It's not in a good condition. It gets blasted by sand in bad weather and salt water in good weather, and it's been there for over 20 years. I've got three options; scrap it, salvage parts of it or take the risk and take it apart. I think I will just end up with parts of it, probably the front end, seats and engine."
The aviation preservation world watches with interest what happens next and sincerely hopes that Chris Ollerenshaw can keep the scrapman away! "Despite all this I still don't think it was a bad idea to buy it. People thought it was a cracking idea at first." At least Chris was prepared to put his money where no-one else had feared to tread.
This week local papers report that Chris is now demanding his money back, saying the plane is rotten and only the nose is worth saving. They also report he is refusing to pay the weekly storage costs, claiming "I have instructed my solicitors to fight this all the way." Mr Bateson has replied "Mr Ollerenshaw is getting himself into a very serious position"...
The only good news is that Tameside Council granted planning permission on 2 February for XL391 to be installed at the rear of the pub - how much will make it there remains to be seen.