Ramblings from the AEO panel. No5
It’s been some little while since I wrote my last blog. Even so, 558 has been very busy even though I haven’t been flying on the AEO panel. On Friday 10th June the aircraft went ‘overseas’ to display at the Isle of Man TT races venue. The week’s racing was completed with an evening display by the Vulcan. From what I hear from those who were there, it was a very impressive display flown by Kevin Rumens with Bill Perrins as his co-pilot. Phil Davies was the AEO on that trip accompanied by Martin Andrews, our new AEO, for whom this was his first trip in a Vulcan. According to our ground crew Martin was grinning like a Cheshire cat when he stepped off the aircraft and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. His next flight was to be with me a couple of days later when we were planned to fly to the RAF Cosford Open day display. As most of you will know, the weather on that day was atrocious and it was well below our limits for flying. Consequently we had no option but to cancel. As I’ve said before, when that happens we, as aircrew, get very dejected for two reasons. Firstly, we feel disappointment for the many thousands of people who had spent their hard earned cash to watch us fly and secondly, we lose the income from the airshow which can jeopardise the VTTS’s survival.
It was to be another 5 days before 558 got airborne again when, on Friday 17th June, she completed her transit down to Kemble to be ready for her display the following day. I was sort of involved in that, in as far as I was acting as the crew driver for the day. Some of the crew who flew 558 down to Kemble had to return to Doncaster the same day; they weren’t flying that weekend and so had to get back to Robin Hood to collect their cars to drive home. I had volunteered to act as their driver for the day and so after driving myself up to Doncaster to pick up the crew car, I then set off for Kemble in Gloucestershire to meet up with them after they had landed. As it happened, I arrived about 20 minutes after they had arrived. After a break and a well earned cup of tea, the two returning crew members jumped into the car and we set off back to Doncaster. It was a tortuous drive back up the M1 with nose-to-nose traffic jams. Should have expected that seeing as it was a Friday afternoon. Anyway, I digress. Martin Andrews had his second trip that day and I’m told that his grin hadn’t lessened when he stepped off the aircraft. The following day 558 successfully flew the Kemble and Margate displays with Phil Davies as the AEO minus Martin Andrews this time. The crew tried to fly over Eddie Forrester’s house near Dunsfold. Eddie, as a lot of you will be aware, is our long time benefactor and when he asks if we can fly over his house we always try to oblige. However, the weather that day had cloud cover so low in his area it prevented the crew from obliging him. Disappointing, but couldn’t be helped.
Away from the flying side of things now. Some many months ago a charity called Aerobility, previously known as the British Disabled Flying Association, held a charity dinner during which an auction was held. The proceeds from the sale of the tickets to the dinner and from the auction bids were to go to further the aim of the charity which is to enable the less well able in our society to experience the thrill of flying. VTTS was invited to attend and several of our management team went along to offer up a once-in-a-lifetime prize. That prize was to travel in the co-pilot seat while taxiing around Robin Hood airport.
This was a first and we had never done this sort of thing before. It required a lot of organising and involved getting clearance from our insurers to carry out the exercise. Andrew Edmondson, our Engineering Director, did his research and got all the various permissions in place before finally, clearance was given for him to offer up the prize at the auction. Needless to say the bidding was brisk until the final bid of some considerable size was made before the hammer fell. The winner came up to Robin Hood with his partner on Wednesday 29th June and had dinner with Robert Pleming our CEO, Michael Trotter our Commercial Director, Andrew Edmondson our Engineering Director, Taff Stone our crew chief, Martin Withers our chief pilot, and myself. It was a good evening with lots of banter. The following day our guests were introduced to our ground crew and then taken around the aircraft. They were then given the all important safety brief on what to do if something goes wrong with the aircraft when they are riding in it. Once those formalities were completed they were to meet up with Martin Withers and me before boarding the aircraft for the taxi trip. The day’s events were a golden opportunity for me to continue Martin Andrew’s training and so he and I arranged to meet up to carry out a training exercise on the aircraft before the prize taxi trip later that day.
Martin had now flown as an observer several times with Phil Davies but had never been given the opportunity to operate any of the equipment. As a new comer to the aircraft, it was now time to allow him to get some ‘hands on’ experience. I showed him how we complete our external pre-flight checks before then giving him instruction on handling the satellite navigation equipment we have in the AE compartment. Having spent an hour in the cockpit with some very valuable training completed, we rejoined Martin Withers and our guests for the brief on what the taxi trip would involve. I had decided that Martin Andrews was proficient enough to act as the AEO for the taxi trip with me talking him through all the switch actions and indications as the aircraft was started up. All went well and we even managed to apply full power to the engines for a very short while when on the runway before releasing the brakes. This would show our guests just how powerful 558 is when released from the shackles of terra firma. It was patently obvious from their faces they had both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Needless to say Martin Andrews was still wearing his, what was now becoming a permanent fixture, grin. We bid farewell to our guests as they went off to have lunch with the ground crew.
We meanwhile, went back to our Operations Room where Martin A and I had our own thorough debrief of his handling of the aircraft before he then joined Kev Rumens, Bill Ramsay and Phil Davies to fly 558 to RAF Waddington that afternoon. It was a very busy day for him but one which would have been tremendous value.
The trip to Waddington was to be a successful final handling check for Bill Ramsay. This involved doing some aircraft handling with runway approaches and overshoots before finally touching down at Waddington. It was the Press day for the airshow and the TV and newspaper reporters were there to interview the crew. That weekend saw wonderful weather and enabled Waddington to provide the public with yet another unforgettable air show. Call me biased if you wish, but once again 558 was the talking point of the punters there and she seems to be able to do no wrong in their eyes. Certainly from what I heard from them all - the ‘Vulcan Effect’ is still very much alive and well.
I must digress once again from the aircraft side of matters to inform you that my fellow AEO, Phil Davies, has recently become a grand dad. Our congratulations go out to him and his wife Hazel on the new addition to their family. This event has had some spin-off effects however. As some of you may already be aware, Taff Stone and his ground crew have always kindly referred to me as ‘Dad’. Now that Phil has had an addition to his family he has been nicknamed ‘Grand Dad’. This of course presented its own problems of what they should call Martin Andrews. They have elected to call him ‘Junior’. At 53 years of age he was chuffed to bits to be called ‘Junior’ and it served only to widen his already permanently fixed grin!!!
Next week is the Yeovilton show shortly followed by RIAT at Fairford. My next blog will be after that. Thank you all for taking the time and patience to read this. I hope that it has been of interest.
That’s all folks.
© Barry Masefield