It was announced earlier in 2015 that this year would be the last time anyone would see a flying Vulcan again. Let’s face it, that’s still eight more years than many expected, although we all hoped otherwise. I decided I would, without putting myself out TOO much, try and see XH558 as much as possible. With my local airshow being off this year (Waddington having the runway rebuilt), I made plans to go to one I always wanted to go to: Yeovilton. I also kept an eye out for other local participation: local to wherever I happened to be at the time! This has led me to seeing three different Vulcans in eight days.
Day One: Sunday 21st June, Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield, Warwickshire.
Wellesbourne is an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Nottingham, so I thought it would be daft not to go and see another Vulcan doing a fast-taxi followed by a flypast. Especially for the measly sum of £5. The weather was due good so I got up reasonably early and set off for Wellesbourne Wings and Wheels.
For a small event at a small airfield, there were plenty of vehicles and aircraft around. I was surprised by the business of the airport: it being under threat from housing construction, I was expecting a quiet airfield with a few coming-and-going flights for the day, but much of the traffic seemed to be normal, everyday movements! There was also a huge line-up of TVRs: I’ve never seen so many! The event also attracted two DeLoreans, a beautiful motorbike and sidecar, some fire engines and a floatplane!
The main reason for going was to see XM655 have a bit of exercise: she’s the one (fully) powered Vulcan I’ve never seen move. She’s also the most powerful Vulcan, with bigger engines, and it does make a difference to the sound! I’m no expert on Vulcan engines, but I’ve seen XL426 fast-taxi many times at Southend and XH558 both fast-taxi at Waddington and take-off from a few places, and the initial whine is completely different: a shriller sound with more whistle, I thought. She paraded up and down for photographs both times before full power-on and then a nosewheel lift to slow down (wing drag). It was beautiful. There were two full-power runs and then ‘558 put on a mini-display in wonderful sunshine at the end of the day.
That led to the other ‘Vulcan Effect’, where everyone leaves once they’ve seen the Vulcan. This was compounded by the fact that it was over anyway so there wasn’t anything else to do. I aired the car out and sat with Russian power metal on full blast, singing my lungs out, until things started moving and then it was a smooth if sometimes slow trip home. All in daylight, mostly on known roads. A great day!
Day Two: Sunday 28th June, London Southend Airport, Essex
Essex is my home county and London Southend Airport is home to my original ‘local’ Vulcan, XL426. The occasion this time was twofold: I was back in Essex for a best mate’s birthday, and the Salute to the V Force Tour was happening across the country, where XH558 visited all the complete airframes of Vulcans, Victors and Valiants. If I had not been in Essex, I don’t know whether I would have seen XH558 at East Midlands Airport (Vulcan XM575) or Newark Air Museum (Vulcan XM594) on the Saturday and no idea what I would have done for the Sunday: maybe even travelled to Essex for the day!
I was actually staying at my mate’s house in Braintree rather than my parents’ in Shenfield. Logistically, it was a complicated affair: my parents were invited to the afternoon do at my mate’s house, so they went by train the Southend Airport (so much easier than when I used to go!) where I met them and then took them back with me afterwards. It was wet at Southend: I arrived at the ‘426 end of the airport with about 5mins remaining, having not really struggled through traffic until it was very busy at the retail park! I managed to get a space in the retail park, having smiled at all the cars parked round the airfield boundary, but I wanted to get close to ‘426 as she really started me off on my Cold War Jets interest. Also, I knew there would be people with radios and so be well-prepared.
And there she was, coming up from the South through the classic gloom: I attended many a Southend Airshow (seafront and airport) that was wet and grey and drizzly, and this was a real dose of nostalgia. She came round, heading over the railway to fly down the runway. A whistle, a howl and she was past, before turning a looping circle to return back up the runway and then out and away to the West, on her way to Norwich. It was all too brief, but all the best things are ethereal.