Rare, British Cold War pickup undergoes restoration

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Updated Nov 2, 2016


Some hard working trucks are off the beaten path, but have a storied pedigree nonetheless.

Such is the case for a rare, recently restored British-built Commer truck with an original Blackburn Air Starter. The truck, converted by Blackburn Engines in the 1960s, was used to start Nimrod aircraft in the Royal Air Force. But it also has a connection to one of Britain’s most important Cold War-era planes, the Vulcan XH558.

“Blackburn Engines’ design supplied air to the jet engines, such as XH558’s Rolls-Royce Olympus units, ahead of the engine ignition sequence, therefore avoiding the need for cartridge systems or, depending on aircraft type, any onboard supply systems (APUs),” states a representative with Vulcan to the Sky Trust.

The Commer truck was donated to the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, a British charity that seeks to educate and inspire the public about the decommissioned Vulcan XH558, a high altitude jet-powered bomber considered to represent some of the finest advancements in British aviation for its time.

The Vulcan flew in the RAF from 1956 to 1984. Vulcan to the Sky Trust, which took great pains to restore the Commer truck, now has the pickup inside its hangar beside the restored Vulcan.

“The Commer truck and Air Starter unit restoration has been a resounding success, and the Trust is indebted to the skills of the five committed volunteers who embarked on this arduous process with no support from existing manuals or wiring diagrams; she really is the perfect period accessory for XH558,” says Dr. Robert Pleming, chief executive of Vulcan to the Sky Trust.

It took the Trust two years to restore the truck.

“The truck cab has been painstakingly rebuilt and painted with repair panels fabricated where required, and a number of cues to its stablemate, XH558, have been included: the truck required rewiring throughout, but rather than use like-for-like cabling the team of volunteers recreated the entire loom using aircraft-grade wiring as used in the restoration of XH558,” a Trust representative reports.

A Vulcan parachute bag was used in the restoration of the interior. The material used for matting the floor is from a Vulcan cockpit. Arch liners and other items are also aviation-sourced.

The driveline and the Humber Hawk 4-cylinder gas engine required a lot of work. Parts availability was a major hurdle for the restoration team of Simon Chipman, Mark Malin, Dave Seaton, Ron Cobb and George Barton. Some parts were fully rebuilt, including the water pump.

For more information, visit www.vulcantothesky.org/how-to-help.