XA903 lived a different life to the normal operational aircraft of the era. As other aircraft coming off the production line were joining operational squadrons, XA903 flew south to Boscombe Down to start its life as a flying test bed. One of the functions that '903 performed was the testing of the Olympus 593 engine, destined to be used on Concorde. The aim of the restoration of this aircraft is to restore it back to its Olympus 593 test bed configuration
Because of the unique function that this aircraft performed, the cockpit and cabin crew consoles were heavily modified to provide instrumentation, monitoring and control of the test engine. The following is a quote from the magazine 'Warpaint' No 30: "By the time the airframe was retired it had been modified so much that a regular Vulcan crew would not have recognised much in the cockpit". Being unique makes restoration very difficult as information regarding the inside is very sparce, but this also adds to its fascination. If anyone has any information that may help to ensure that the restoration is as faithful as possible, I would love to hear from you .
XA903 arrived at Wellesbourne on July 27th 1999. By October a purpose built cradle had been made by a local engineering company and was placed in position to hold XA903. By mid October 1999 this was completed. By December a crew door was located, bought and fitted over the Christmas holiday. This was a very rare find as crew doors are hard to come by since the Vulcan type was withdrawn from service in 1984.
XA903 now stands a little lower than her original aircraft height. Over the next few years the cockpit will be restored to the best we can get. This all depends on obtaining instruments and panels. We believe we have about 95% of the pilots panels and about 40% of the rear desk panels.
The restoration of XA903 will represent the Olympus 593 Concorde test bed fit.
The white section of the second pilot's instument panel houses instruments for the
Olympus test engine, as can be seen in the photograph.
The damaged canopy has now been repaired and refitted to the bulkhead. Some 500 man-hours were ploughed in this job alone. The interior of the cockpit has been cleaned and new insulation been fitted around the walls, as just prior to XA903 moving to Wellesbourne it was home to a pair of foxes.
Restoration is continually ongoing. Both pilots ejector seats have been refitted, the
three rear crew seats have been fitted, along with a starboard jump seat, and the AOP
panel for the Olympus 593 was fitted in April 2007.
On 11 Apr 2011, 903 was moved to a location near to Stranraer, SW Scotland, where it can be stored under cover. Although the aircraft was meticulously maintained in one of the Filton hangers during its operational use, the nose section has been outdooors all its life since and to ensure its continued existance, it is now housed indoors. Prior to being moved, most of the instrumentation was removed. Now a concerted and continous effort is to be made to restore it back to, and maintain it in, a displayable condition. The photo below was taken just after a repaint in late summer 2011. It is now back on its cradle, so normal access has resumed.