Ramblings From The AEOs Panel No 5 – 2013
We all thought that it was very warm for our displays at the Waddington weekend but it was nothing compared to our stay at Yeovilton last weekend. I hesitate to put an accurate figure on the temperatures experienced by all who attended the air show but the air temperature must have been in the mid to high 80s. The biggest problem which a lot of the people who attend air shows forget is that although they recognise that the air temperature might be very warm it’s the temperature of the air coupled with reflected UV rays rising from the acres of concrete which more often than not does the damage. People wisely put their sun hats on to avoid getting their heads burnt and rightly so but they forget about the reflected sunlight from the concrete which can be equally as damaging if sun block isn’t applied to exposed areas of skin under the shade of the peak of the sun hat.
I was talking to one aircrew participant whose forehead was quite tender because of this very problem and he’s a very experienced aviator and has been attending air shows for decades. He was in the aircrew crew room slapping sun block on to his forehead and face to try and recover the situation. I mentioned to him that this was potentially a dangerous thing to do because oxygen from aircraft systems reacts quite violently to grease and it’s been known for years that the two elements when exposed to each other can cause a fire. Most ex RAF aviators will remember the story that many decades ago an aviator was eating a cheese sandwich in the cockpit with his oxygen mask dangling off his face when the grease in the cheese reacted with the oxygen coming through the mask and the whole lot caught fire. A very alarming experience for the man. The conversation he and I were having about the potential for a fire caused by oxygen and sun block seemed to take hold in the aircrew crew room with lots of the aircrew offering their opinions on the matter. What was of significance was that no-one had really thought the problem through and no-one could be sure of the answer.
Saturday and XH558 was scheduled to appear not only at Yeovilton but also at the Festival Of Speed motoring event which is held annually at Goodwood. The crew for the display was Martin Withers as aircraft captain, Bill Perrins was the co-pilot and down the back were Jonathan Lazzari who was on the AEOs panel with me acting as an observer. We had all assembled the night previously after a really tortuous journey down by road from Yorkshire. Being Friday afternoon the A34 and the A303 were both manic with the traffic nose to tail heading south and west to the coast. The journey which really should have only taken us about 4 hours was taking us nearly an extra hour. We eventually arrived at our hotel in Wincanton at about 8-30pm desperate for a drink. By coincidence we arrived at exactly the same time as our ground crew engineers who had been to a welcoming party at RNAS Yeovilton held to welcome all the participants who were going to be working over the next day. A quick shake of hands between us all and then it was straight to the pub next door to the hotel for a much longed for pint. After a few drinks we all sloped off to bed to be up at 6am ready for the Royal Navy transport which was going to take us to the airfield at 7am.
Although the aircrew briefing wasn’t to be held until 0930 we had to be at the airfield before 7-30 because the police close all the access roads into the base and if we weren’t on the base by 7-30 then there would be a major problem getting in. Assembling along with all the other aircrew participants in the Briefing Room we went through all the usual procedures which are covered which make up a successful and safe air show. We could see that from the bright blue cloudless skies that it was going to be a scorcher but the Met. Man gave us his forecast for the day anyway which just served to confirm the obvious. The Display Director gave us his brief which showed that we were due to display at 1-45 after our display over at Goodwood which was timed for 1-15. Bill and Martin decided that it would be a good idea for Bill to carry out a practice display over a small airfield at Compton Abbas seeing as he was going to do the display at Yeovilton.
This meant a take off time of 1215 to ensure that we got the practice display done before transiting across the south coast via Southampton airport to Goodwood. Arriving at Goodwood we experienced a few communication problems with the Show Director who apparently had only a hand-held transmitter/receiver and transmissions between him and us were virtually impossible. The air traffic controller at Goodwood Chichester airfield came to the rescue and acted as a relay between the Show Director and us. This incurred just a few minutes delay but eventually we were called in to do our display. Martin was the display pilot on this occasion and from all accounts we’ve seen and from videos posted on YouTube the display was up to his usual high standard. By this time it was stiflingly hot in the cockpit and perspiration was dripping from all of us but especially from the 2 pilots who were working extremely hard under very arduous conditions. Jonathan and I were hot down the back too but we have the advantage of having some punkha louvres which can blow cooler air over our faces, a facility denied to the pilots. We don’t get many creature comforts operating down in the ‘coal hole’ at the back but that is one of them and very well received it is too.
The display in front of over 100,000 people complete we headed back westwards to Yeovilton to be on time for our 1-45 display slot time. Arriving a little bit early we were asked to hold in an orbit over Wincanton until it was time for us to be called in. This did have its advantages though, we could climb up to 3000’ to cool the aircraft down a little before commencing our display. With a minute to go the Display Director gave us permission to commence our run-in. Bill took control of the aircraft and we headed back towards Yeovilton and the 40,000 people who were waiting in eager anticipation for our arrival. The display was flown magnificently by Bill and before we knew it it was all over and time to land. Yeovilton is a lovely place to do a display because of many factors but chiefly because once the Vulcan display has finished the aircraft is then allowed to taxi towards the crowd and eventually end up taxiing in to a v-shaped dispersal with the crowd assembled on both sides of the dispersal and in front of us.
Once the door was opened the relatively cool air rushed in much to our delight. The pilots stepped out of the aircraft to the applause of the hundreds of enthusiasts who were pressed up against the railings. It’s become a tradition that after the display the pilots exit the aircraft first to milk the applause, after all they were the guys working hard in exhausting heat up in the ‘goldfish bowl’ of the cockpit and even though it’s a crew effort they justly deserve their applause. Taff had thoughtfully provided us with bottles of cool water for when we exited the cockpit and these went down without touching the sides.
We could see the Vulcan Village tent only 50 yards away but getting to it was going to be a long journey timewise. As always the crowd want to take photos of the crew either as individuals or as a crew, get the crew members to sign their programmes and anything else they might want a signature on so getting back to the tent was going to be a struggle. Of course there is always somebody in the crowd who we recognise and in my case it was a guy who flew with me way back in the 60s so a long conversation began of our memories of those days together. Strange isn’t it, I can’t remember what I did yesterday and yet when meet up with past friends I can remember events from 50 years ago with crystal clarity.
Eventually we managed to get back to the Vulcan Village to down a much needed cup of tea. The heat in the tent was excruciating and I don’t know how our volunteers were surviving it working as hard as they were. They never complain and they just get on with it. We took our cups of tea outside where even though the temperature was in the high 80s it was still cooler than inside the tent. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay in the tent for more than an hour because Martin, Jonathan and I had to get away and drive all the way back north to drop me off in Lincolnshire and then the two of them continue north to Yorkshire and home. In the light of the experience of the A34 and the A303 from the previous day we elected to go westwards and travel up the M5 instead which we hoped might be a bit faster flowing. The Royal Navy kindly drove us back to our hotel in Wincanton where our car was parked and after a meal in the adjacent pub we set sail for the drive homewards.
It had been a fast flowing couple of days. I say fast flowing but that is with the exception of our experience on the A34 and A303 the previous day but overall we were continually on the move. The two displays had gone well and were both well received, the Royal Navy gave us all the help that we had requested and finally we were on our way home. All this in the space of just 20 hours.
Next weekend is the Royal International Air Tattoo held at RAF Fairford. I have very little involvement in that one. My only involvement is the journey down to Yeovilton on the Friday to then fly the Vulcan from Yeovilton to Fairford. Phil Davies will be the AEO for RIAT. With the temperatures expected to be in the high 80s yet again I just hope that he has plenty of hand towels with him to dry his face when he’s in the cockpit!!
As always, it was great to meet up with and chat to all you faithful followers. Judging from the conversations I had with a lot of you I think that the message of our continuing on till the end of 2015 is now getting through. Most of you recognised that our continuance is subject to meeting the financial needs of paying for the upcoming wing modifications and for the winter servicing costs and it was really gratifying to see that the majority of you were more than willing to help us in our time of need. Please continue to do so, without your financial support the project will fail but I know in my heart of hearts you won’t let that happen. To all of you have already dug deep in your pockets in these financially hard times I’d like to say thank you for your support.
That’s it for this time. For those of you going to watch XH558 at RIAT have a wonderful time. The weather forecast is good but going to be very hot yet again. Don’t forget the sun cream and be sure to drink plenty of water when walking about on the vast expanse of sun-reflecting concrete. We don’t want any accidents to spoil your weekend.