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An overseas visitor

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

flies in especially to see XH558

A visitor from Belgium flies in especially to witness an XH558 Engine Ground-Run

Visitors arrive at XH558

XH558 has attracted visitors from abroad throughout her life.

Over the years while in service with the RAF, during her restoration period and her second display life, she continued this appeal as a hangar exhibit in ‘The Vulcan Experience’ and that continues to this day, with several recent visitors travelling long-distances to see her. It gives you some indication of the effect the aircraft has on people. 

Last Saturday’s engine ground-run attracted Etienne Everheist from Antwerp, in Belgium and earlier this week, he kindly sent us a review of his trip together with some images.

Already as a 14 year old boy I was impressed by the shape, the sound and the nearly aerobatic performance of the Vulcan during three airshows in Belgium I attended in the late sixties and seventies. The last time I caught a glimpse of a Vulcan was in September 2009 when XH558 was passing overhead south of Antwerp, probably some 4000 feet high, on her way to the Sanicole Airshow  and again, on her way back some 40 minutes later. Who could imagine that nearly nine years later, I would be in the co-pilot seat as a crew assistant during towed taxi for an engine ground-run of that XH558! 

Travelling to Doncaster from Antwerp on Friday was a half-day trip that encompassed flying with Flybe/Stobart Air ATR72’s from Antwerp to Manchester via Southend, continuing by train to Doncaster and then further on to Doncaster Sheffield Airport with the X4 airport shuttle bus. I booked a room in the Ramada Encore Hotel which offered a comfortable overnight stay. 

Etienne with Vulcan XH558

Saturday morning started with a friendly welcome from the Vulcan team and a breakfast briefing for the crew. I was equiped with an overall (of the right size!) in order to join the support  crew and we proceeded at 0900 hours by bus to the parking place of XH558 (after passing through airport security).

Preparing XH558 for the ground test run meant for me not only being present, listening to explanations, asking questions and looking around, but also some works to execute such as pumping up oil for the four engines and removing the engine exhaust coverings. I was somewhat surprised by the amount of work and checks to be executed before towing to the engine run area . It demonstrated clearly the good condition of the plane and how well she is taken care of. Each crew member had a specific place and task during the whole operation. Looking down on the Vulcan from a stairway allowed some beautifull views and pictures of the giant delta wing and the tail area. Meanwhile the other participants of the ground run experience had also arrived on the spot and will follow the plane by bus.

The ground-crew team inspect and prepare XH558 for engine ground-running.

Getting access to he cockpit is not easy when the tow bar is attached as only half of the ladder is usable. Once on board, it is another challenge to get safely  into the co-pilot seat. My first perception was that the crew area and the access is more comparable to a submarine than to a plane ….. Space is really limited for a crew of five (or even six) and you can imagine the lack of comfort for a long flight as the bomb run to the Falklands! Also, the escape route through the access door for the 3 crew members seating in the back seemed not very convincing to me ……. The basic  instrument panel and flight controls looked relatively simple and straightforward to understand.

Except in the forward direction, the visibility for the pilots is very low. You can not see  the wing tips and during taxiing the nose wheel is far behind you so that you can not even see the pulling tractor!  Guidelines and braking instructions from the ground staff are very welcome! We passed beside the Canberra (the next ambitious project with a lot of restoration work to do) and Taff towed us safely to the engine run area at the edge of the airport. 

Again, time to work for the groundcrew : removing the tow bar, connecting the generator and the air starter, getting the fire extinguishers in place, more checks to execute  …... And also work for me: assisting in removing the two large engine air intake covers and inspecting the turbine blades which includes climbing up the ladder of the engineering van and working your way on your knees for a few meters into the air intakes!

Inspecting the upper surfaces gives a great view across the huge delta wing.

When all set I was equiped with a headphone and radio and again invited on board, this time standing behind Taff, so I could see the start up, one by one, of the 4 engines. He had a very large number of switches to check and push (which he did extremely quickly) and radio communication to do for this. The start up was easy to monitor for me on the basic engine instruments. After running idle, power was raised to 50% and later to around 90% on one engine to demonstrate the famous “Vulcan howl”and then again lowered to idle.

Taff at the controls.

Time now for me to leave the cockpit to join a crew member under the wing to experience the raise of power, the resulting heat and the second howl from there. Impressive! 

After shut down there was again work for me to be done! Remaining rest fuel had to be drained and I ended up with a can filled with more than one liter of fuel in my hands. It was recuperated for the air starter.

Some group pictures ended the experience! Smiling and satisfied to have been part of a really unique experience the group returned to the Ramada Encore at 1230hours for a lunch to conclude.

A group photo-call to end the experience. 'One for the family album!'

And while the afternoon ground run was going on, I left Doncaster with a Flybe flight scheduled to leave at 1505hours, but delayed to 1550 for a short uneventful flight to Amsterdam with an Embraer 175 and than continued by high speed train to Antwerp, arriving home at 1930 hours.

I look back to a great experience with the Vulcan. Many thanks to the whole crew and all the volunteers that make these events  possible and for the outstanding quality of the organisation.


Our thanks to Etienne for his report and we are so pleased he enjoyed his day. It was great to have him as a volunteer member of the ground-crew team. 

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