Vulcan’s commentator, Seán Maffett, experiences XH558 as a spectator.
Saturday 29th September 2012 is an unforgettable day for me. A few days earlier, I’d had a call from Bill Ramsey, the captain for that day, saying that their route from Ross-on-Wye to RAF Halton would come very close to Maffett Towers in Bourton-on-the-Water. Can I have your exact lat and long please? No problem, I say! Being an ex-navigator, indeed a founder member of SoDCAT, the Society of Directional Consultants and Allied Trades, I’m comfortable with latitude and longitude. I quickly send mine off. We’ll be there about five o’clock, he says - be ready. Wow!
Part of my job as Vulcan’s commentator has always involved me in geeing up local broadcasters wherever our lovely old gal is due to appear. So I set about doing the same again. For once, it doesn’t work. Gloucestershire Airport (Staverton, if you’re old enough to remember), is an official flyover point on the route, and I think they managed to hijack the media’s interest. Good luck to them - I gather they had a very successful day.
Come Saturday morning, I decide that local publicity in the village is probably best anyway! If you don’t know BotWat - Bourton-on-the-Water’s inelegant nickname - it’s a mega tourist trap. This sunny September Saturday sees it seething with sightseers. I make up some small posters that say ‘Vulcan will be here today’.
Vulcan is competing with duck races, among other excitements.
I also put posters on the parish notice board. Not sure if that’s allowed, but there’s no one to ask anyway. Some popular shops and pubs agree to help. Everyone’s eyes light up when they see the magic V-word.
No time to hang around - Dave, my local publican, has invited me and another mate to the Camra (Campaign for Real Ale) beer festival at Moreton-in-Marsh. My stipulation is that we’re back in BotWat by five. Which we manage, after a jolly afternoon.
Standing on our road, at the bottom of our drive. Looking out to the West, across the ancient Fosse Way. Nervous now, like a first date. Will she come? Then a message pings in from my scanner on the radio frequency I'm monitoring... I hear, 'enroute Bourton 1712’.
OMG, she’s really going to fly down my road. Looking for her, we’re staring straight into sun. I’m reminded of something I often say to spectators at shows - for God’s sake don’t point your binoculars at the sun, it’ll bore a hole in the back of your head.
Then, creeping up on us, we hear the gentle rising murmur of four Rolls Royce Bristol Olympus engines at low power. Still can’t see her, through the sun.
Suddenly, there she is, our gorgeous 70-ton babe. We know all that stuff about brilliant engineering, astonishingly far-sighted design, and the rest. But now, she’s just heart-stoppingly, drop-dead beautiful.
See, although I’m present at as many of her displays as I can manage - 13 this year - I’m always busy then. I’m concentrating on making the commentary words fit round the display and the occasion, and most importantly, raising money. So I don’t get to enjoy her for herself.
This time, I find myself running down the road, arms in the air, shouting in wordless ecstasy.
In commentaries, I sometimes talk about 558's ability to make grown men cry - something about beery tears coursing their way down seamed old cheeks. Well, courtesy of Camra and Dave, that’s me today.
As soon as she’s past us, and I’m desperately trying to keep her in sight as long as possible, Bill Ramsey, or it may have been his co-captain Kev Rumens, makes a sharpish right turn. They’d planned it so as to keep clear of the gliders at Little Rissington on the hill above us, as they head for Brize Norton. The turn takes them right over the village green and the Windrush river with its racing ducks, and of course the hundreds of people. Like me, they’re entranced.
Reports come in from all over the village. Everyone thinks she’s flown right over them - and a friend at Great Rissington is probably right about that, because the serendipitous turn could hardly have been planned better.
What a day. What an aeroplane. What a team that makes this all happen. For once in my life, I’m rendered speechless.