Ramblings From The AEOs Panel No 6 – 2013
Back in 2010 when XH558 was in her 3rd display season we were still desperately seeking a corporate sponsor. Despite great efforts by our team no one company seemed to be willing or able to finance our project. The whole country and especially the industrial world were undergoing the financial constraints that were being imposed on all of us. With no one individual company willing to invest in the Vulcan To The Sky Trust as a major corporate sponsor we were always down to appealing to the public for their donations. Despite the essential, long-term sponsorship we continue to receive from Aerobytes we still always depended on the generosity of the public. With this in mind, it was imperative that we made as many of the great British public aware of who we were and what we do in the hope that the more who knew about us the more the donations would flow in.
I remember listening to BBC Radio2 early one morning in the summer of 2010 and to the appeal being made by that great broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan on behalf of Children In Need when I had what can only be described as a ‘Damascus’ moment. I thought that what better publicity would VTTS get than offer up XH558 in some role to assist the appeal. It only took a moment to realise the most obvious "money can't buy" experience - the opportunity to join the handful of folk each year that are lucky enough to fly in close formation with XH558 courtesy of The Blades aerobatic team. I thought that why don’t we offer up a seat with the Blades team to the highest bidder to fly in formation with us and that way, although we won’t get a penny from this venture and neither will the Blades, we will both get enormous publicity from the event if it gets mentioned on the BBC. We all gain from this I thought; Children In Need get their money from the highest bidder to fly and we and the Blades get massive publicity from being mentioned on national radio. Excitedly I emailed Michael Trotter, our man in charge of raising sponsorship plus the many other tasks that he undertakes, and also Dr Robert Pleming our CEO to let them both know of my idea. Michael emailed me straight back with his positive thoughts on the matter, took on the task and the rest, as they say, is history. And so that started our long and enduring relationship with Children In Need. In fact, we flew our first Children In Need trip that same year on October 13th 2010 with the Blades and the lucky person who bid the most.
So what I hear some of you say. Well, this past weekend it can’t have escaped your notice that Chris Evans who took over the BBC Radio 2 morning programme from Sir Terry and has been a very keen supporter of Children In Need (CIN) was hosting Car Fest 2013, a petrol- head event at Oulton Park race track. All the proceeds from this go to CIN. We have supported this venture of Chris Evans for a couple of years now when it has been held at various venues around the country and it has always been a fantastic success raising incredible sums of money for the charity. This year for instance all the tickets to the event were sold out 3 weeks ago. XH558 was booked to participate and fly a limited display over Oulton Park in front of what looked like well over 100,000 people on the Saturday afternoon followed by a transit eastwards to do a fly by at East Kirkby near RAF Coningsby before turning northwards for yet another fly by at Winterton near the Humber Bridge.
The weekend for me started on Friday afternoon when I had to do some work to up at Doncaster in the aircrew office. All the maps that we use had been updated a week or so earlier and so I needed to get our map library sorted out plus the fact that some of the documents that we use for our planning purposes had also been updated recently and they needed changing. It’s imperative that we fly using the most up-to-date maps and documents. Not to do so can lead to potential disaster of colliding with other aviators if we’re working on different criteria. It was just as well I went up on the Friday afternoon. The A17 trunk road between King’s Lynn and Newark was being closed in 3 separate sections each night between 8pm and 6am for road works and this had been the case for the past week. Because of the newly laid gravel the speed limitations of 20 mph were in force and it took me nearly 3 hours to travel 30 miles. The usual Friday afternoon traffic of lorries, caravans and coaches were all desperately trying to get up the A17 before it closed and because of the volume of traffic we were all slowed down to a crawl. The A17 is the most frustrating of roads to drive anyway but to have this increased volume of traffic in addition driving at a snail’s pace just added to the frustration. It was just as well I hadn’t decided to drive up to Doncaster the following morning; it would have been doubtful whether I would have made the briefing on time.
Anyway, the crew consisting of Martin Withers who was captain for the trip, Bill Ramsey who was the co-pilot and me as the AEO all assembled at 10am at the office at Robin Hood. The weather was looking good for the route and I set about contacting all the various air traffic control agencies I was likely to be using along the route. Oulton Park, for those of you who don’t know its location, is to the south west of Manchester by about 15 miles as the crow flies and is right in an area of an extremely busy air traffic zone. As you can well imagine there is an awful lot of civilian traffic arriving and departing at both Manchester and Liverpool airports and it all has to be very closely controlled by both of the relevant air traffic control authorities. To achieve this close control of these large aircraft between the 2 relevant ATC authorities aircraft must be under positive radar control to avoid any chance of collisions. As with all authorised air show events there is a ‘no-fly’ zone set up around the display venue into which no other aircraft should fly.
This information is published to all aviators and it is their responsibility to check along their route to see whether they might inadvertently stray into this restricted area and to adjust their flight path accordingly. If all aircraft obey this rule then any possibility of a mid-air collision is avoided. Oulton Park race circuit is a couple of miles to the south of the closely controlled air traffic zone I previously mentioned and provided we remained within the display no-fly zone and we didn’t fly any higher than a couple of thousand feet then we would be safe from any other aircraft that may be flying in the area on their way into either Manchester or Liverpool. Flying any higher than this would infringe the radar environment I mentioned earlier likewise flying to the north more than 3 miles would also infringe the air traffic control zone. It called for really accurate flying by the guys up the front to remain within the confines of the race circuit and for me to monitor our exact position using the new Runway HD navigation system we had been using on our Ipads for the past couple of months. Despite an incursion by a light aircraft into the ‘no-fly’ zone in the north of our display area Martin flew an exciting display much to the delight of the crowd. I heard from our contact on the ground who was monitoring the display and he said that the crowd were in absolute awe of what they were witnessing. Whether we got any mention on the BBC I am not aware but hopefully Chris Evans gave us a mention on his radio programme on Monday morning.
With the display complete we set course eastwards to head over to RAF Waddington which was to be our next turning point before the short leg down to RAF Coningsby and then on to East Kirkby. When I eventually started talking to the air traffic controller at Waddington he mentioned that they were having a Families Day and that if we had the time would we do a fly down the runway to add a bit of enjoyment to their afternoon. Seeing as we were overflying the airfield anyway it was easy to descend from 2000’ down to a suitable height for a fly through for them. This we did and it seemed to have been well received so the controller said over the radio. By now Bill Ramsey was flying the aircraft seeing as he was to fly the event at East Kirkby. Time was now pressing and we progressed on towards RAF Coningsby who took control of us from Waddington and they cleared us in to the event at East Kirkby which was only another 5 miles or so further on. East Kirkby as a lot of you will know is the home to ‘Just Jane’ the WW2 Lancaster bomber that has been lovingly restored and used to taxi enthusiasts up and down the runway there. She doesn’t have clearance to fly of course but the owners are hopeful that one day they will achieve this.
After a few flybys flown by Bill it was time to set course for our final event at Winterton up near the Humber Bridge. Humberside airport was en route and inevitably the air traffic controller there asked us to fly down the runway before continuing north bound. I ensured that this would be a ‘no cost approach’ so that we wouldn’t be hit with having to pay a fee for the use of the airport and having been assured by the controller that this was to be the case we continued on and flew down their runway. We continued due north out over the Humber estuary to a position about a mile to the east of the bridge before turning westwards over the bridge towards Winterton. I’m sure that those with their cameras at hand would have got some superb shots as we overflew the bridge. With the bridge now behind us it was soon time to turn southwards towards the Winterton area. There was a large model aircraft show taking place there with models so large and realistic one can be forgiven for thinking that they are the real thing when one sees them in the air. Next weekend there is another large model display taking place at Elvington, home of the Yorkshire Air Museum, and the person running the event, Dave Johnson, will also be one of the exhibitors. Some of you may already know Dave, he is the gentleman who has built a 20’ wing span model of XH558. If any of you have seen this model flying, and I have been fortunate to do so, it is absolutely awesome. When it’s in the air one can be forgiven for thinking it could be the real thing. It’s only when you see it in relation to the trees it is passing that you realise that it is indeed a large scale model. Dave displays his aircraft at various venues around the country and he and the Large Model Association make significant contributions to the VTTS from the proceeds they receive. All of us are extremely grateful for their contributions so if you see his model Vulcan flying at any of the shows that he and the Large Model Association put on please go up to him and if you feel so inclined make a contribution in the knowledge that it will be used to keep XH558 flying. As a way of saying thank you to Dave and members of the Large Model Association for their financial contributions XH558 will be visiting the show at Elvington to do a flyby or two when on her way to Northern Ireland so for those of you who will be going to the event you have the benefit of see both Vulcan aircraft flying but not at the same time I must add!
After yet another couple of flybys at Winterton it was time to turn for home. It was such a beautiful day the pilots could see Robin Hood airport from miles away. I called up Doncaster Radar and told them that we were on our way home and they gave us clearance that, with the airfield in sight, we could make a straight-in visual approach to land. Normally we have to do as we’re told by the radar controller because all of the airspace around the Doncaster airfield area is what’s known as Controlled Airspace and we can’t just fly wherever we wish without his permission to do so. Every turn we make is normally done with his prior clearance so this was a luxury to be able to fly straight to the airfield. Here’s a bit of useless information for you - the radar controller strangely enough isn’t actually at Doncaster. He’s located, would you believe, at Liverpool airport and controls us from a remote radar setup in the air traffic control tower at Liverpool. Strange, but true.
Landing after 1 hour 35 minutes flying we taxied in to our usual dispersal and there in front of us in the car park in front of our hangar were about 30 Ferraris. Apparently Toni Hunter had organised with the Ferrari Club that they should bring their cars up to Doncaster for a Ferrari picnic with the opportunity that some of the cars would be allowed on to the dispersal after Taff and his engineers had made the Vulcan safe and thence to have their photos taken with XH558 as a backdrop. How on earth Toni thinks these things up never ceases to amaze me. We taxied to a stop and shut down the aircraft and handed her back to Taff and his crew before we drove off to the office for our usual post-flight debrief on the events of the flight. We always have a post-flight debrief, this ensures that we identify anything that might have not gone to plan and we discuss how we can rectify this for future trips. Fortunately on this occasion there wasn’t much to say so after a well-earned cup of tea we all dispersed to wend our way homewards.
It had been a good day I thought. Looking out of my small window when we were overflying Oulton Park the crowd looked to be enormous. It’s always difficult to judge exactly what the numbers are but I’ve seen crowds at air shows which have been in the order of 100,000 and this crowd looked to be about that size. I thought that if just a fraction of them make a donation to the VTTS and if we get a mention on BBC Radio 2 then it will have all been worthwhile. Whether that happened or not I’m not too sure but for me it was a wonderful day anyway. I now have another couple of weeks off before my next flight which is the seaside show at Clacton on the 23rd August. East Anglia is my home patch so I’m really looking forward to flying that one. XH558 flies on Saturday this coming weekend when she flies ‘overseas’ to Newcastle in Co. Down in Northern Ireland where she will stay overnight before flying back to the mainland taking in a display on the Sunday at Blackpool. I know that we have a lot of supporters over there in NI so this will be an ideal opportunity for them all to get up close and personal with their aircraft. I do so hope that the weather remains fair for the weekend; the Met Man implies that the weather should be good so let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Finally, it was with great sadness that we all read on Monday of the passing of Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward. For those of us who were directly involved in the Falklands conflict we are especially saddened. Admiral Sandy Woodward was the Task Force commander for the duration of the conflict and it was he who steered the combat forces to a great victory which ensured that the Falkland Islands were returned to British rule. Admiral Woodward always spoke highly of the Vulcan’s participation in the conflict and has always said that the success of the bombing and missile attacks made a significant contribution to shortening the conflict and ensuring a victorious outcome for the Task Force. Admiral Woodward was subsequently knighted for his leadership of such a bold venture.
Well, that’s it. As always may I say a big thank you to you all for your support. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, this is your aircraft and without your generous donations XH558 would never be up in the air where she belongs.
© Barry Masefield