Final Ramblings From The AEO Panel For 2012

(Part 2!!)

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought that I might just put pen to paper and dash off my final blog for the year. My last blog back in September was entitled ‘Final Ramblings From The AEO Panel For 2012’ and being under the illusion that I wouldn’t be writing another one, I have had to add the suffix this time of (Part 2!!). It won’t have escaped you loyal readers that since we finished flying back in September, the VTTS has been living on something of a financial knife-edge. When our Chief Executive, Dr Pleming, announced that we needed to have £400,000 in the coffers by Christmas to enable the winter servicing to be completed, I’m sure that like me, a lot of you must have groaned and thought that this was going to be mission impossible.

Every autumn we step into this financial minefield and go yet again cap-in-hand to you, our faithful followers, and ask you to dig deep into your pockets, bank accounts, mattresses and anywhere else you keep your money and to come riding to the rescue of 558. The first month looked as if you had all had enough of continually being asked to stump up with the ‘readies’ and the contributions were too slow in coming in.  This was to be expected really and all that Head Office could do was to wait patiently for the inflow of money to increase.

Unfortunately, our worst fears were being realised and it was becoming increasingly apparent that donor fatigue had set in. Pleas had gone out via the weekly email Newsletter and via mail shots to ask for more donations but to no avail, until that fateful day when our Engineering Director, Andrew Edmondson, felt that he had to bite the bullet and declare that due to the lack of finance to continue the winter servicing, he was being forced to tell the engineers to stop what work they were doing and take enforced leave until the coffers would allow them to continue working again. I remember that awful day when he went public with his intentions and I really thought to myself that we had finally come to the end of the road. Was I worried? Of course I was worried, but I had forgotten that you all saw things were not final just yet and from that day onwards, you have all been donating in your thousands to the cause.

When I looked at the total last we had somewhere in the region of £355,000, which is a staggering amount, leaving us just over £40,000 to raise before the end of the year. I say ‘just’ because I now feel really confident that between us all we will get to the magic total of £400,000 by the 31st December if we can all dig just that little bit deeper and send what extra we can. We can see the finishing line so tantalisingly close ahead of us and in this year of Olympic success, let’s continue that spirit and breach that finishing tape in fine style. It doesn’t matter how you send it, just please send it.

I had an email from a friend who said that he wasn’t sending Christmas cards this year but was going to make a donation to a charity. I thought that was a brilliant thing to do especially in the light of the postal charges for sending cards and so I couldn’t resist suggesting that he make his charity of choice the Vulcan to the Sky Trust. Hopefully, he and anyone else who has followed that same route have done the same. Such a simple thing to do, but the result could be awesome. Anyway, thank you all for your donations to date. We’re all aware of the massive financial constraints on each and every one of us and to see how you have stepped up to the plate is so very humbling. Even I, a born sceptic, feel confident that there will be sufficient funding for Taff and his team of engineers to continue on with their servicing and with a bit of luck and a fair wind, XH558 will be ready for the start of the next display season in 2013.

Those of you who have read the V³ document which illustrates how XH558 will be employed when she comes to the end of her flying life, will, like me, be more than just a bit disappointed that she will no longer be seen in the air. However, if we turn this on its head and view it from a different perspective, then we can all be proud of the fact that we have all been a part of what has turned out to be period in our lives that we never really thought that we would see.  Although 558’s wheels will no longer leave terra ferma after her final flight, she will continue to provide an inspiration to all who will see her when she is brought out of her hangar to taxi, both slowly and swiftly, on the days that the public will be invited to see her in action again.

As we approach what might be 558’s final flying year, I am reminded that there is a bit of déjà vu going on here and my memory is dragged back to the final flying season of XH558 in 1992.  There are some similarities between now and then. Even back then, finances were playing a major part in 558’s life. The government of the day were of the opinion that the cost of flying 558 was too high to justify, especially when the MOD was going through a major re-evaluation of its defence strategy. Just like now, thousands of servicemen and women were then being made redundant to help streamline the defence capability of the country, and it was unfortunate that 558 was deemed to be surplus to requirements. At the stroke of a pen, some civil servant in Whitehall who had probably never seen or heard of the Vulcan, crossed XH558 off the books and put her up for sale to the civilian world. Such a simple act, but an act that would affect the spectacle of aviation displays for over a decade and a half. From 1993 until 2007, air displays somehow lost their ‘wow’ factor.

There were a lot of jets strutting their stuff in front of the crowds, but there was never really anything on the air display circuit which would cause everyone in unison to gaze skywards during a particular display. And then 2007 happened. We all know the story of XH558 and how she, under the leadership of Dr Robert Pleming, rose like a phoenix from the ashes to yet again become the aviation icon of the display circuit. Once again, the beer tents would be emptied at the air shows as the mighty Vulcan would fly her displays in front of millions, whose eyes never left her as she turned and climbed with such grace and power yet never leaving the perimeter of the airfield. World renowned aviation photographers would clammer to fly alongside 558 to take their unique photos and even enthusiastic semi-professional photographers would pay their hard-earned cash to hire aircraft to fly alongside us. Such is the status of the Vulcan and XH558 in particular.

We have just flown one of our most successful display seasons and despite a bit of a mishap at the start of our season’s journey, the Vulcan flew every time she was asked to fly. When she/I landed from her final trip of this year on 29th September that déjà vu kicked in yet again and I couldn’t help thinking back to 23rd March 1993, when XH558 had flown an almost identical sortie profile, visiting various airfields and aviation establishments around the country. Only this time, XH558 wouldn’t be returning home to RAF Waddington, but was being delivered to Bruntingthorpe into retirement and a very uncertain future. I couldn’t get the feeling out of my mind as we walked away from the aircraft back in September this year that this might just be another re-run of that final day in 2003. Fortunately, with your generous donations, it now looks as if my fears were unfounded and I and the rest of your aircrew can look forward with a more positive attitude to commencing our training in February/March next year. We all know that 2013 might be be our final hoorah, but I’m certain that if we all maintain a positive attitude, then we can together, finances permitting, make it the best season of all and ensure that XH558 bows out gracefully from the air show circuit with her magnificence as an aviation icon remaining in the memory forever.

Well that’s just about it. As ever, thank you for taking the time to read this blog. May I take this opportunity on behalf of myself and all the aircrew, to wish each and every one of you a very happy New Year and let us all look forward with great enthusiasm to 2013, which has all the promise of being a momentous year for us all and for the one thing that brings us all together - XH558.

Fly safe.

Barry Masefield

©Barry Masefield