Avro Vulcan and Central Valve Steam Engine honoured with Engineering Heritage Awards

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 November 2011
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A photo of a camouflage-coloured war plane flying across a blue sky above a crowd
Organisers say the Avro Vulcan is one of the most popular attractions in the UK
© Jamie Hunter
Perhaps the most high-profile of the Royal Air Force's post-1945 war planes, The Vulcan bomber, and an enormous engine responsible for most of Britain's electricity at the dawn of the industrial revolution have been awarded prestigious Engineering Heritage Awards from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The last airworthy version of the Avro Vulcan, which planners from the Vulcan in the sky Trust say is the fifth-most popular stand-still attraction in the country following a complex restoration project in 2007, was recognised in a ceremony at the listed Cold War period hangar it calls home, at Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

"This award is testament not just to the extraordinary and original engineering involved in making the Avro Vulcan, but also to the fantastic work the Trust does to maintain the aeroplane," said Professor Isobel Pollock, the head of the Institution.

"The fact that the 52-year-old Vulcan remains fully airworthy and able to take part in 30 displays next year honouring the Queen's Diamond Jubilee – as well as the 60th anniversary of the first flight of a Vulcan – is certainly worth celebrating."

Dr Robert Pleming, who received the award having been part of the team which returned the aircraft to mid-air, used the occasion to call for continued conservation efforts.

"The importance of this aircraft is far more than celebrating the technical achievements and heroes of Britain’s past," he insisted.

"A living, breathing Vulcan turning to climb almost vertically into the sky has been proven to inspire new generations to enter the engineering and manufacturing professions and to achieve excellence."

Pleming hopes to build a new engineering education centre at the Vulcan's South Yorkshire base. With no funding from the government or the military, a "winter service" of public appearances has been delayed, but a range of merchandise and a scheme allowing fans to sponsor parts of the plane have been launched.

"Airshows are the second most popular spectator activity after football, but it is far more than that," added Pleming.

"Up to 40 percent of people attending airshows with the Vulcan have come specifically to see this aircraft and would not go if she was not attending.

"She is a vital reminder of our heritage and an inspiration to the next generation of aviators and engineers."

Peter Willans' Central Valve Steam Engine, which generated the majority of electricity in 1890s Britain, was fundamental to the growth of electricity usage in homes, factories and ships, accounting for more than two-thirds of electricity generated in Britain by 1892.

Willans died at the age of just 41 following an accident in a horse and cart, a premature demise which left his legacy to mainstream electricity "largely forgotten", according to former Institution President John Wood.

"His untimely death cut short a life which was full of invention and promise," he added.

"I hope this award goes some way to recognising the importance of this impressive example of British engineering, as well as Peter Willans' achievements more generally."

The 140 horsepower, three-crank compound engine in question is on display at the Alstom Training Centre in Rugby. It was recently refurbished, having seen 57 years' of service in its heyday.


More pictures:

A black and white photo of a sleek 20th century war plane
The Vulcan served the RAF between the 1950s and 1980s
© Rolls Royce
A photo of a crowd watching an enormous RAF plane on a runway at an air show
Fundraisers believe many visitors to the airshows the Vulcan appears at visit primarily to see the aircraft
© Andrew Brown
A photo of a large red steam engine in a factory setting
The development of the Willans engine was fundamental to the growth of electricity usage© Courtesy Institution of Mechanical Engineers
A photo of large wood and metal valves on a huge old engine
The engine is on public display at the Alstom Training Centre in Rugby© Courtesy Institution of Mechanical Engineers
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