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Ramblings From The AEOs Panel No 1 – 2013

Hi folks. Here we go again. With the uncertainties of the financial situation of the winter servicing costs now virtually resolved, the likelihood of 558 making it to the start of the 2013 display season seems a little more positive. As I write this, there is a Trustees meeting taking place to determine the future of your aeroplane.

Hopefully, by the time I submit this to Richard Clarke for inclusion in the weekly Newsletter, my doubts and fears will have been all been washed away and we can all look forward to another five months of display flying. (edit: 19th April - Yes, full throttles, ... rolling!)

As most of you will know we, the aircrew, start our preparations for the flying season well in advance of the actual flying. To that end we’ve all had our heads down in the books for several weeks refreshing our minds on the various technical systems of 558. The annual aircrew migration then begins to Lincolnshire where we all gather in Timberland at Andy Marson’s house for our two days of lectures. However, the day previously the two AEOs, Phil Davies and myself, had driven up to the hangar at Doncaster where we spent the entire day refreshing ourselves with all the major electrical circuit diagrams in the company of Taff Stone our Chief Engineer who provided us with his expert knowledge should we become a little confused. (Not an unknown concept!!) It was a long day and we didn’t finish until very late in the afternoon but for all that it was a very worthwhile exercise to get the few remaining brain cells stirred into action.

AEO's Barry and Phil check over the orginal Hawker Siddeley (Avro) schematic of the elecrical systems on Vulcan B. Mk.2's with XH558's Crew Chief, Taff Stone.


The following day, all the aircrew assembled in the ‘classroom’ at Andy’s house and after all the greeting and hand-shaking was over, we settled down to the main reason for the gathering. We were delighted to have in our midst for the first time our CEO, Dr. Robert Pleming, who gave us a briefing on how he saw the future of 558. His briefing was comprehensive and encouraging, but it was all subject to the outcome of the Trustees meeting. Unfortunately, Robert had to shoot off to yet another meeting somewhere in the south of England so his time with us was all too short.

Once his briefing was over it was then time to get into the lectures/presentations proper - starting with me presenting the electrical and avionics systems to the assembled company. The guys have seen this presentation so many times they virtually know what’s coming next.  Consequently, this leaves room for quite a bit of banter and leg-pulling especially when it comes to discussing Real and Reactive loading of the alternators. I recall that about 3 years previously a question was asked by one of the pilots what the difference was between Real and Reactive electrical loads and I then foolishly launched into an explanation using the analogy of the coil of an electrical fire comparing it to the windings of an electrical motor.

After twenty minutes of ‘AEO speak’ I knew that I had lost them all when the snoring was drowning out my explanation. Each year since then there has always been some ribbing when I come to electrical loading during my presentation. If nothing else, to be an AEO with 558 you really do need to have skin like a rhinoceros. After my presentation was complete the rest of the guys gave theirs with, I’m pleased to say, equal ribbing in the right places. Although we treat these presentations with the seriousness that they justly deserve, it’s always good to have a little bit of light-hearted banter during the proceedings.

The day soon passed and before we knew it all the lectures/presentations had been given and it was beer time. Andy had organised a meal in his local pub which is only a stone’s throw from his house. It was great that the wives of several of the crew members who lived relatively locally came along as well. Having female company helps keep the high spirits in check which was good seeing as we had a 9 o’clock start the following morning. I was surprised at how chipper everyone seemed that following morning which was good because the morning session comprised of a full and frank exchange of views led by our Chief Pilot, Martin Withers, of how we perceived the previous season’s flying and how we could improve on our performance as aviators.

Every display team has a post-season wash-up and we’re no different.  To maintain the very high standards that we set ourselves we must be open and honest with how we feel each other is performing. One could be forgiven for thinking that team members might become upset when their performance is criticised by their peers, but that is never the case. None of us is ever too good not to be open to criticism and we accept this as a fact of life and having accepted the criticism, each person tries their hardest to improve. That’s one of the great things about being part of a flying team – no-one is above criticism and we all strive to be the best that we can without fear of just criticism.

As the morning drew to a close, the final presentation was by our PR man and Trustee Richard Clarke, who talked about how he saw the up-coming season from a PR perspective. He had some very interesting ideas and hopefully they’ll all come to fruition. I can’t say any more in this blog because I would be stealing his thunder should he wish to write his own blog. Once Richard had had his say it was time for Martin to wrap up the meeting. He asked us all to gather yet again in a week’s time at Wellesbourne Mountford where we would carry out our pre-season escape and emergency drills on XM655 which is being kindly being loaned to us by MaPS.

Most of you will know about them, they lovingly look after their very own Vulcan which they keep in an immaculate condition, but more importantly for us, they kindly allow us to use their aircraft to practice on by running the engines, taxiing the aircraft and finally performing emergency procedures with a live and running aircraft. MaPS have long been associated with VTTS and on many an occasion they have come to our rescue by providing spare parts for 558 in an emergency. I consider myself very fortunate that they allow me, along with David Thomas and Mike Pollitt, both of whom most of you will remember, to run their aircraft several times each year as part of their team. Saturday should be a good day and its fingers crossed for good weather.

That just about wraps it up for this first blog of 2013. By now, you will have realised that Richard Clarke in his PR capacity has asked me if I would continue writing my blogs for the duration of the 2013 season. Not being able to think quickly enough to give him a reason why I shouldn’t, I’m afraid that I agreed! Hopefully, I won’t bore you all too much with what I write and if any of you have any suggestions as to what you would like me to write about - please don’t hesitate to contact the Trust via the website so they can let me know your suggestions.

Finally, I can’t finish without thanking you all for your magnificent monetary support over the winter servicing period. Without your generous donations we wouldn’t have had a chance of getting 558 back in the air again. Unfortunately, I do have to make a plea for you to continue making your contributions over the summer months for us to continue to thrill the display crowds. It’s becoming a well-worn record now and I feel that sooner or later the record is going to crack and break. Until that fateful day though, please keep giving generously. We have a very exciting display season coming up and I with the rest of the aircrew team very much look forward to displaying your aircraft.


Meeting over the weekend, the 2013 aircrew team discussed various aspects in a refresher briefing and get together. L-R: Martin Withers, Barry Masefield, Mike Pollitt, Bill Perrins, Phill O'Dell, Bill Ramsey, Kev Rumens, Andy Marson, Paul Mulcahy (CAA Chief Test Pilot) and Phil Davies.

That’s all folks.
Happy landings.
Barry Masefield.
Please help the crew of XH558 fly for you in 2013 with a small donation.

Thank you.

©B J Masefield




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