Ramblings From The AEOs Panel No 2 – 2013

My blogs are just like London buses, you don’t read one for nearly 6 months and then two come along within the space of a week. You may recall reading in my blog of last week that I mentioned that all the aircrew were due to gather at Wellesbourne Mountford, the home of XM655, where we were going to continue our pre-season training. Well, last Saturday we did just that.  With fingers crossed that the weather was going to be fine we had arranged to meet in the Flying Club cafe at 11am for a cup of tea and a cake. Just turning up in the cafe with our black flying suits on generated a great amount of interest among the assembled aircrew enthusiasts who were there to enjoy the weekend’s flying in their light aircraft. Inevitably, they wanted to know what was going to happen with 558 and now that we had some fairly strong evidence from the Trustees meeting which had just been held that week that the display season was going to continue for 558 we could let them all know the good news.

As far as I know our presence at Wellesbourne was unknown to the general public and it’s amazing that when people see 655 being towed out to the disused runway, that they put two and two together and realise that something extra special is going to happen. Some of them even turned up with copies of Vulcan 607 which they asked us to sign!!  We had to set aside fifteen minutes for us all to sign books, photos, and any other things that were put in front of us by MaPS.  Not a problem with that, they’re kind enough to lend us their aircraft and it’s the least we can do in repayment for their help and generosity.

Well, with one part of the equation in place, the meeting at 11 that is, we braved the blustery wind and all drove across the airfield to meet up with the ground crew of 655 and MaPS. The weather forecast did not promise favourable conditions .There was to be heavy showers due in the early afternoon so with that in mind we were quite anxious to get on with the procedures.  Of course it’s not that easy, the ground crew are eager to chat with us about 558 and all things Vulcan and so there was a bit of a delay before we could get the show underway.  For me personally, I meet up with these guys/gals several times each year when they invite me down to run their aircraft and I know them all, so it’s a bonus to be able to spend some time chatting with friends. In fact, I shall be with them again in June when they have their Wings and Wheels day on June 16th when we run XM655 several times during the day culminating in a fast-ish run down the runway in the afternoon. It’s always a great day and full of enjoyment with lots of aircraft flying and display aircraft paying visits en-route to their other displays so I urge any of you in the area who have nothing better to do that day to come along and have a great day out.

I digress, so back to the matters in hand. The air temperature was moderately warm compared with what we’ve all been experiencing over the past few months but with the strong wind it still felt darned chilly to me and I was frozen.  Mind you, I am aircrew and used to being kept warm by whatever means there are available!!  I couldn’t wait to get into the aircraft to warm up.  I wasn’t feeling the best anyway;  I had an infection in my gum and was in some measure of discomfort despite being dosed up with pain killers and antibiotics.  I know, I know, I hear you all shouting ‘what a wimp’.  First of all he wants to be kept warm and now he wants sympathy for a toothache. Just as well it wasn’t Man Flu then you’d never hear the end of it!!

Anyway, in the warmth and ‘comfort’ of the AEOs seat I waited for the rest of the crew to come aboard. The team was to be Bill Ramsey as captain, Phill O’Dell as co pilot, Andy Marson as navigator and checker and me. Martin Withers was going to be running the exercise from the ladder between the pilots. Generating the aircraft went without any problems except for a problem with the intercom which we eventually resolved.  655 always seems to have an intercom problem when she’s first started up and I guess that at her advanced age she’s like the rest of us oldies she needs a bit more time to get going properly. However, with the intercom malfunction resolved and the crew now all being able to talk to each other, 655 started behaving herself.  I must point out here that we were never planned to taxi the aircraft and during all the simulated drills we had to make the assumption that we were either taxiing, taking off or flying. As we ‘taxied’ out to the runway Martin stated that there was a fire indication in one of the engines.  Bill Ramsey and Phill carried out the appropriated actions to shut the engine down while I was doing my thing in the back to ensure that the electrics were still running safely while informing ATC about what was going on. The fire indications went out but we still had to evacuate the aircraft and let the simulated Fire Service vehicles attend to the engine fire. Of course, this meant me going back out into the wind and cold - not a happy chappy.  Told you I was a wimp!! Seriously though, it was a good drill and successfully carried out.

Pretty sharpish, I climbed back in to start the next drill - still with the same team. This time we got to the take-off point, rolled down the runway and got airborne (all simulated of course). I don’t think the CAA would be impressed if we had done the real thing even though the locals might have enjoyed it! We had just got the wheels up when Martin called that we had an engine explosion in Number 2 engine. Yet again the drills were actioned followed very soon by a failure of the Number 1 engine. It was all now becoming very interesting but with a calm voice Bill Ramsey handled the multiple engine failure and kept us all informed of what was going on. Down the back there wasn’t much more extra work to do with handling the electrical system, just a few extra limitations I had to observe with the Auxiliary Power unit which was supplying electrical power to the failed engines electrical loads and keeping the pilots up to date on what I could see of the engines through the periscope and to whether they we still on fire or not. Bill turned the aircraft back to the airfield and soon had the aircraft back on the ground where we then all carried out an emergency egress drill and ran away into the distance.

Obviously, this was a more complex drill and there followed a comprehensive debrief of what we did and how we could improve on how we had carried out our actions. What you must all realise is that we don’t have access to a Vulcan simulator anymore and so we have to practice these vital drills on a live aircraft. Doing this on a live aircraft can be very costly seeing as we’re burning fuel running the engines. With the debrief over, the second team climbed aboard for the next couple of exercises. This time it was Bill Perrins acting as captain with Martin Withers as his co pilot and me once again down the back. The exercise was going to run by Phill O’Dell with Andy checking me down the back.

Having all settled into our seats and completed the intercom check with each other I then asked the Crew Chief to apply the main 200volt supply to the aircraft. And then it all went wrong. All indications were that the Ground Power Unit was correctly supplying power to the electrical system but nothing happened when I tried to run any of the electrical systems. The first system I tried to run was the main transformers but there was no response when I selected their power switch to ON.  Having checked all the appropriate fuses and circuit breakers and assessed that they were all ok this left me a bit puzzled.  I got the pilots to check another electrical load, the Emergency Hydraulic Power Pack in the roof of the bomb bay, but there was no response from that either.  In desperation I asked them to try and start the Powered Flying Control motors but once again there was no response from the electrical system. This was a new one on me. All indications were showing that there was electrical power onto the aircraft but it just wasn’t getting to any of the electrical loads. I’ve been operating the Vulcan for 34 years and I’ve never before experienced anything quite like this. It was obvious that we weren’t going to be able to run the engines because I didn’t have any power supply to the engine instruments to see that they were running safely.

Not to be outdone, we elected to carry out all of the exercises just using ‘touch’ drills. This means going through all the actions as if the aircraft was running successfully but without actually moving any of the switches but just simulating turning things on and off. The realism is somewhat diminished but it was the best we could do under the circumstances. Having simulated that the engines were running we once again taxied out to the runway. On the way we given yet again an engine fire which resulted in an emergency egress. That exercise complete and debriefed, we regenerated the aircraft as best as we were able and got into the take off phase. Just after the wheels had ‘left’ the ground Phill stated that there was a fire in No3 engine followed shortly by a failure of No 4 engine just running down. Bill Perrins carried out the appropriate drills and positioned the aircraft for an immediate return to the airfield runway. I was busy down the back sorting out what would have been a more complex electrical situation when it comes to using the airbrakes system and reading out all the engine fire/failure drills for the pilots to action. With the 2 pilots regaining control over what was becoming an interesting emergency situation, Bill soon had the aircraft back on the runway where we once again carried out an emergency egress once the aircraft had ‘stopped’.

Again, a comprehensive debrief was completed and Martin then declared that the days exercises were over. It had been a very valuable day. Because of the reasons I previously stated we don’t manage to carry out these exercises/drills on a live running aircraft often enough, so to have had 655 offered to us was a great bonus. Once again, our heartfelt thanks go out to Charles Brimson and his team at MaPS for their help by supplying us with their much loved 655. As I said before, if you can find the time please make the effort to go along to the Wings and Wheels Open Day on June 16th at Wellesbourne Mountford airfield about 5 miles from Stratford -on –Avon and give them your every support.  Indirectly, you’re also helping 558 too.

Well that’s about it for this blog. Hopefully the next one will be a rundown of how the post winter servicing flight test went which hopefully should be towards the end of the month or early in May. Once again, thank you all for your wonderful support in keeping XH558 airborne. It’s your aircraft and we just fly it for you - but, without your continued monetary support and enthusiasm - none of this would ever happen.

Happy landings.

Barry Masefield.

© B J Masefield

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