Right place, right time:
BBC1 tribute to the Vulcan, November 2015
Final Flight, 28th October 2015
Final Tour, Wellesbourne, 11th October 2015
A couple of thousand people at least on the Market side of the airfield ...
... plus a lot more at XM655 and the flying school ...
... even though it was only ever going to be for a couple of minutes. A real tribute to the affection it generates across a huge number of people and a real cross-section.
Probably because it was the home of XM655 we got two passes and a circuit. Farewell, you beautiful bird.
The southern tour from XM655:
Final display flights, Gaydon 4th October 2015
Sean Maffet in the commentary box gave us a half-hour 'programme' on Vulcan history and people.
Although we had a very good position on top of the mound unfortunately due to post-Shoreham restrictions the display was rather far away, with the late afternoon sun behind it. Sadly nothing like the Cold War Tour display the previous year.
Almost total silence as XH558 made her approach, and not a little emotion on the part of Sean Maffet and the crowd watching as she departed.
A better view of the display was from the other end of the runway
After the display Sean Maffet got a well-deserved ovation, and a real bonus was Dr Robert Pleming and Sean chatting to people ...
... shaking hands ...
... and signing Vulcan memorabilia.
13th September 2015 - VTTSC Day Coventry:
Venom, such a neat aircraft, and wonderful that they were at the dawn of the jet age but are still kept flying.
Up the jet pipe, the compressor blades at the far end and in the foreground four thermocouples by which they monitor engine health
Biplane display, and passenger trips in the aircraft on the ground
DH Dove, more passenger trips
Meteor being readied for its display ...
... and a Venom
The Venom has a pretty spectacular engine start procedure. An explosive cartridge (as in Flight of the Phoenix) spins the engine up, the fuel is turned on, then a set of spark plugs in each of the combustion chamber are fired, and a great jet (appropriately) of flame shoots out the back. Very impressive.
... taxied and gave a good demonstration of full power on all four engines right by the fence.
View from the Nimrod steps, queues moved reasonably until we got in the aircraft
Sundry monitoring positions
... and finally the cockpit. By this time we had spent so much time inching along I had missed the single meteor takeoff and display, so didn't bother with the additional wait to sit in the front seats. I would have liked to have seen the Shackleton as well but had had more than enough queuing for one day. But Classic Air Force are open weekends with free admission (except for special events), so being just down the road gives plenty of opportunity.
Excellent display by the Meteor and Venom, see Blizzard the Watchers video here.
But of course nothing can beat the incredible Vulcan
Applause and a few tears as departed for Doncaster, see Blizzard the Watchers video here.
18th July 2015 - RIAT Fairford:
The most stunning flying display I have seen anywhere, and a must-see worth all the queuing to get in.
Preparing for take-off
One of the zoom-climbs
The superb tribute to the Vulcan by the Red Arrows
One of two fly-pasts
And finally the landing
Probably the best video of the display overall
With others of the flypasts with the Red Arrows, and the landing.
It took a while to book one of these as they have been so popular, getting snapped-up as soon as they appear on the calendar.
We were each one-to-one with a full-time engineer, they described what needed to be done and how to do it, then we did the actual work with them observing. 'Engine throttle controls' sounded good to me, lubricating all the linkages. This involved crawling under the main cockpit floor, then wedging myself under and behind the desk in the rear cockpit which was a tight squeeze - not good for claustrophobics.
After that the other engine bay doors were dropped ...
... and the linkages lubricated, followed by a full visual inspection of all the engines.
Replacing the engine covers.
Planned work all done, we went through the documentation, raising job cards and filling in the log. This gives full traceability both backwards and forwards of all work done and parts replaced, to original RAF standards. The engineers are all ex-RAF, so it made sense to them to keep doing what they already knew.
We sign off the job cards as having done the work, countersigned by our engineer.
That brought us to the end of a pretty busy and very interesting day, with time left to walk around the aircraft taking as many pictures as wanted, and visit the shop (fabric badge for overalls a must ...), sadly sold out of Vulcan Bomber ale.
XH558 Finningley - Power On Experience, June 2015 (Power On No.2, July 2015)
This is something we really both wanted to do but due to demand and date clashes we could only get one place ... which I donated to my wife.
Sitting in on the crew briefing (Andy Hellen)
Plenty of time to wander around the aircraft at will, no restrictions (Andy Hellen)
Volunteer Andy Hellen kindly took some photos on our camera
The four lucky participants with Toni, the organiser for the day
Toni with the three crew for the day - Bill Ramsey (centre) and Martin Withers (right) up front, and Phil Davies (left) in the back. I wonder what the leg straps on the two pilots are for ...
... it turns out they are used to pull the legs back against the seat if they have to eject, to prevent them from flailing about so reducing the chance of injury.
Crew and visitors (Andy Hellen)
Moving off ... (Andy Hellen)
Then nearly a disaster as an Army surveillance Islander declares an emergency with a blown tyre and the fire tenders are scrambled. About a three-quarter hour delay - Vulcan burning fuel all the time - while the Islander is escorted off the runway and a vehicle slowly travels the whole runway looking for debris. By this time I was on 'The Mound' on the other side of the airfield which is a perfect place to see lift-off no matter which direction that occurs.
Eventually at about 16:30 - the howl and take-off
Because of the delay on takeoff and subsequent shortage of fuel the visit to Bicester had to be cancelled, but Wellesbourne Wings and Wheels and Weston super-Mare went ahead, XH558 returning to Finningley about 18:00. (Andy Hellen)
XH558 Finningley - Power On Experience No.2, July 2015
Last minute call from the organisers to say they had a cancellation, and would I be interested! I laughed, that weekend was to be the first 'normal' weekend at home for five weeks, but I snapped her hand off. The same format of course - tight security clearance, wander round the aircraft, back to the office to meet the engineering team and listen to the crew briefing, then back to the aircraft for the pre-flight checks and start-up sequences while listening in to the conversation between crew and engineers. No spy plane emergency on the runway this time, but another 'will she, won't she' moment as the upper and lower beacons failed to come on. After several attempts one of the engineers nipped up the ladder to 'check the fuse', back down again, "Try again" and success! "What did you do?" asked the pilot - "Changed the fuse"!
Because of the other aircraft on the pan (I was assured that it's 'Oil Spill Response' function was nothing to do with 558) she had to be pushed back onto the taxiway prior to all the startup procedures ...
.... by 'Doug the Tug'!
Start-up kit - Turbomeca Palouste compressed air generator nearest the camera, and 12v DC and 200v AC generator. The Palouste generates 60psi of pressure and is used to start each engine in turn.
With the aircraft in position on the taxiway the flight and maintenance crew return to the office for introductions and the briefings. Martin Withers DFC facing the camera, Bill Ramsey facing away.
Toni the organiser (left), Bill Ramsey (centre)
My Grandson has the Vulcan story book and the flight crew and Taff Stone very kindly sign it for him.
Electrical generator plugged in by the port engines ...
... and the Palouste by the starboard
Bomb-bay doors roll of honour
One interesting thing I hadn't noticed on our visits to Wellesbourne and Coventry is that the all the jet pipes don't point straight back. The outboard ones point outwards a bit and this gives a broader thrust area. And all of them are angled downwards slightly which balances the centre of gravity of the aircraft. This avoids having to alter the flight controls as the thrust is changed.
Thermocouples in the jet pipes to monitor engine temperature, changes in which can be the first sign of problems.
Crew door ...
With the names of flight and engineering crew. Martin Withers and Bill Ramsey were up front today, with Jonathan Lazzari in the rear.
Bill Ramsey (left) and Jonathan Lazzari (centre)
Quite by chance got this picture of the downward as well as backward curve of the leading edge of the wing, no wonder the strengthening was such a complex job.
Martin Withers preparing for takeoff.
Final checks before take-off, watch out for the flaps, rudder and air-brakes being checked, air starter and power being removed, chocks away, ladder removal, the engineer closing the door, unplugging himself and a final check up where the landing gear will retract to. Only one display at Shuttleworth so just an hour later she returns. Told she comes in right over a garden centre I take myself round there to find there is about half a mile walk across fields to the flight-path, where I have to choose between approach and touch-down as there is a line of trees on an embankment along the boundary fence and railway line. I opt for the approach which is pretty spectacular, but the mound is probably the best all-round position.
All in all an excellent day.
28th June 2015 - V-Force Tour Wellesbourne:
After a glorious Saturday for the northern half of the tour the weather for Sunday was definitely iffy, but fortunately the rain cleared away in time for the scheduled departure and route. A lot of people present on the market site (and a lot more causing chaos on the other side of the airfield by the flying club) given that it was only a week after the Wings and Wheels event and a display by XM558.
Pilot apologised for a limited display as he had a large fuel load, given that Wellesbourne was only third in the sequence of locations, but we still got two passes and the howl. Video here.
Interview for PlanesTV!
May 2015 - a birthday present from my daughter:
XL360 Coventry - December 2014
Lots to see including one of Whittle's early jet engines, cockpit tours of the Vulcan and Argosy together with being able to sit in the cockpit of a Meteor, a good half-day.
Recognisable from film of Whittle's experiments
Argosy with a nose and tail that could be swung to one side, giving a 'straight through' hold.
September 25th 2014 - Vulcan Cold War Tour, Gaydon
Vulcan to the Sky merchandise tent at the Heritage Motor Centre museum entrance
Waiting on the hill in great anticipation ...
... for what was a superb display, one of many YouTube videos here.
12th August - Wellesbourne touch-and-go:
Pleasure flight in a Cessna ...
... includes a touch-and-go at Wellesbourne, and a good view of XM655
April 2014 - Saturday visit:
Bob shows us round. This is the air starter, a small jet engine that is used to spin the Vulcan engines up to ignition speed. Wellesbourne starts each engine in this way, in service once the first engine was started air pressure from that was used to start the others, but that puts more strain on the first engine.
Main undercarriage. Wheels are small at 15 inch rims, compared to typical modern-day aircraft, so they can fit entirely within the wing for streamlining. This was the first aircraft to have anti-lock brakes.
It's not until you look up inside that you realise just how thick the wing is, there would be enough room for our 10-year-old to stand up inside this part of the wing, in the fuel tank spaces.
Bomb-bay, carrying twenty-one 1000 pounders, or one Blue Steel nuclear missile.
One of the engines, having just been swapped with a spare.
Up into the cockpit area. A crew of five originally - two at the front and three at the rear, although there was a sixth man on the Black Buck Falklands missions. His job was to stand up in the cockpit during refuelling making him the only one who could see the tip of the refuelling probe. This meant he could guide the probe into the basket saving 15 minutes each time over the usual light signals from the tanker aircraft. With three refuellings that saved 45 minutes. On the return journey when they were looking for their final refuelling, they had 15 minutes of fuel remaining. Without that time saving they would have ditched, and almost certainly perished. An 18-hour trip, the question of toilet facilities was raised. A portable caravan toilet was installed, but as the crew didn't fancy the likely results if they had to fling the aircraft around during the mission, it was never used.
Left-hand side (as you look at it) of the rear cockpit. The circular screen is terrain-following radar. As the flight-deck crew can see nothing below them, the crew member in this position has a joy-stick (just below the screen) with which he is able to make small course corrections, effectively flying the aircraft to bring it onto the target.
The bomb release. No multiple-ten-digits codes for the RAF, just a push-button under a red flap.
Centre section. The white knobs hanging down are literally London Underground 'strap hangers' to help the crew get in and out. As Bob said, why reinvent something that already works? Whilst the flight-deck crew have ejection seats, the three rear crew have to exit via the main crew door underneath. This is held open - against the air pressure created by flying at typically 500mph - by compressed nitrogen. But as the seals are less than perfect and the force on the door is so high it gradually leaks away allowing the door to start closing. The crew have 35 seconds to exit the aircraft from seats all facing the 'wrong' way, and the centre man can't exit until at least one of the other two has got out of the way.
Rear cockpit right-hand (as you look at it) side. XM655 is fully equipped here including Electronic Counter Measures (ECM). XH558 has had the majority of this equipment removed, plus a lot of other stuff not required for their display flights, saving around four tons in weight. XH558 has a crew of three, the third man in the rear cockpit as the navigator, using Garmin sat-nav! The original ECM if deployed today at ground level would destroy almost all electronic systems - mobile phones, TV, vehicle ECUs etc. - for a radius of about 25 miles. They were capable of displacing the radar image of the aircraft by several miles. One of the few things we didn't give away to the USA. With the exception of a handful of transistors in the oscilloscope (yellow screen) all the electronics were achieved with valves - hence the weight.
Bomb-aimers position. However, very early in the design it was realised that at 55,000 feet, especially if cloudy, very little would be seen, hence the terrain following radar that was subsequently fitted. Presumably the windows had already been ordered, and it was easier to leave it in than design it out. Eventually it was used as a camera position, so not completely wasted.
A rare treat to sit up front, they don't usually let visitors occupy these seats.
Pilots-eye view, try this 360 degree view of the XM655 cockpit.
One of the 1000 pounders, shades of Captain Kong in Dr Strangelove.
The wingspan and overall length is similar to a Boeing 727, but the wing area is more than double. A raised platform allows you to get a view from above, and see just how big it is.
Crew door ...
... and detail of the RAF Waddington badge. Vulcan XH855 is due to display at RAF Waddington on 2014. It's due to land and take off, so an opportunity to experience the howl. The howl can occur at about 90% engine power, which XM655 Wellesbourne uses on it's fast taxi at Wings and Wheels. Given a head wind that can generate the howl as well.
An incredible aircraft, the initial design was by the same man that designed the Lancaster - Roy Chadwick - and first flew only 15 years after the first Lancaster flight. An almost unimaginable leap in appearance, technology and performance, and a truly magnificent aircraft. My grateful thanks to Bob at XM655 Maintenance and Preservation Society for a superb tour.
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