A Personal Farewell Tour, Part Five: Farewell, My Friend.

I watched the PlanesTV recording of the live-broadcast from Avro Vulcan B2 XH558’s final flight: the final flight of any Vulcan, anywhere.  Of any V-bomber, anywhere.  Of any four-jet-engined aircraft of all-British design, anywhere.

Firstly, thanks to PlanesTV for allowing a 24hr window of free viewing: this is very much appreciated by those of us in seminars yesterday afternoon at 14:30!

Sean Maffett commentated.  I love listening to the emotion in Sean Maffett’s voice: it was even more evident yesterday.  He is the perfect commentator: he knows when to be quiet (throughout that particular flight), and when he talks it’s all relevant, informative and delivered in a clear but not emotionless voice.  And 99 Vulcan commentaries later, he was still clear, if slightly broken in places.  Thankyou Sean: you made Vulcan an emotive subject for much more than anyone else ever did.

Watching the video, I was struck by Taff Stone’s face as he removes the cables for starting her for the last (flying) time.  The guy behind Sean Maffett was wiping his eyes: Sean did too, later on, as did someone else just before a TV crew interviewed him.

Sadly, Robert Pleming (Trust Chief Executive) had to be admitted for surgery: he’s had his fair share of ups and down with both his health and Vulcan, and it was a cruel twist of fate that meant he could not see her fly for one last time.  I’m sure we all remember him appearing in front of TV cameras with his neck brace for what seems now like years!  Such a committed individual.

With the flight itself, connection problems meant the landing could not be broadcast live (classic!), but some speedy re-editing meant people didn’t have to wait long.  Vulcan was cleared by airport control to take off, climb to 5,000ft and descend for landing: a fitting height to be far enough to touch the heavens, but not too far to lose her adoring fans.

Flight crew were Martin Withers (how could it not be?!), Bill Ramsey, Phil Davies and Johnathan Lazzari.  As she powered up for takeoff, the sun came out and shone off the QRA hanger at former RAF Finningley, now Robin Hood Doncaster-Sheffield Airport, a fitting weather change for this autumnal flight.

The take-off was rather sedate, followed by a powerful climb into the classic wingover.  She disappeared into the clouds a few times and made her own, as Sean said, vortices and diffuse water droplets streaming from the wings at various points.  As ever, she was Queen of the Skies, defying the weather by taking control.

The tower cleared her for a run in and break, a fitting farewell to her flying home for the past few years, and a fitting thankyou for the ongoing support.

And then it was over.  She had only a few flying hours left on this year’s certificates and she used them wisely.  The parachute deployed like a lost ‘kerchief in the wind.  She whined her way around the airfield and back home, through a water cannon salute which Sean said was probably symbolic of the many tears shed.

Without the classic commentary ending “Bye-bye” from Sean, I don’t think I would have welled-up.  Though the water salute, and Sean’s words about it, started it.

But I didn’t cry: it’s not really over.  £23m over 346hrs during 228 flights has got her this far, and that’s better than all but two other Vulcans in the world.  Her 18 wheels may leave the ground again (for checks!), her parachute will probably stream forth again, because she will not sleep.  She might be the grand old lady now late of the skies (paraphrasing Sean), but she will likely be lost in the clouds again, when she fast-taxies on a wet day!

And with it not being over, I would to mention the hard work of other Vulcan preservers: my ‘home’ Vulcan, XL426 at Southend, has been under restoration to keep her in fast-taxi condition for as long as possible, but she has not yet returned to fast-taxi condition.  I saw her last fast-taxi, and have visited her once since, and she will forever hold that special place in my heart as the ‘first’ Vulcan I knew and loved, the one who got me into Cold War Jets, the one who inspired me to follow XH558 back to flight.  When I saw her howl down the runway the first time, I knew she was special.

XM655 at Wellesbourne is under threat from housing development: she would be incredibly hard to move anywhere, not just the transport costs themselves but the costs involved in painstakingly taking her to pieces for road transport.  She is unique, powered by more-powerful engines than the other two powered Vulcans.  I hope that, should the airfield close, the public would come together in much the same way they always have for XH558 to help her find a new home.

A number of other Vulcans preserved around the country and in North America are ‘live’ in their own way: I would like to mention here XM594 at Newark, electrically-live and so sleeping, but dreaming.  She is a beautiful Vulcan inside too: never have I seen such a complete cockpit so lovingly maintained.

So, when you are thinking of where your pennies can go (now XH558’s running costs are somewhat reduced), you can support your local Vulcan.  Or any number of other worthy aero-engineering causes, including Coventry’s Shackleton and the People’s Mosquito.  There are many deserving causes we can turn to now Our Lady doesn’t need us quite as much.

I would like to end by saying I was there for XH558’s first public flight at Waddington in 2008, and her last, latterly at Newark, in 2015; even my other half managed the first and the second-last (true love, eh?!). It was a shame we couldn’t all have seen the very last flight, but hopefully we are all aware of the (very important) reasons why, and I for one was glad of the TV coverage (even if I didn’t see it) last night.

I will miss the Smoky Moth, like I miss the RAF Harrier: now the only flyer I’ll see at airshows from my four favourite aircraft will be the Hurricane, at least until that Mosquito gets going…!

Farewell, My Friend: I hope to visit you one day soon.


My First Month (Back)

I have been attending University as a postgraduate researcher for four weeks now, so I feel an update on progress is in order.

Things have not really settled down yet: it was my birthday Monday and prior to that there were many other interruptions to contend with: Vulcan tours, my parents visiting, friends visiting…  On top of only discovering at the last minute there’s a whole raft of seminars and workshops to attend, rather than the half-dozen I’d been led to expect by everyone and everything (not erroneously, either!), things have been rather busy.

It was quite useful, then, to ‘attend’ the second ECR Chat of the academic year on ‘Dealing with Competing Demands’, during which I was notably multitasking on watching Twitter and playing in Matt’s roleplaying game.  This week’s training workshop also touched on multitasking and time-management, two things I have become very proficient in recently: I have created a timetable of my entire life until the start of January!  And only that far because I don’t know yet what’s really happening beyond.

Things will settle better from this weekend onwards: less visitors, less touring, less nights out.  Yes, nights out: RusSoc and RPGSoc have had a few events I’ve attended which have been out in town, with a few more this week.  At least the RusSoc ones involved a considerable amount of Russian practice.

Another large chunk of Russian practice came when I had to go to London to have my fingerprints digitally (ha ha!) taken for my Russian visa.  Sitting in the waiting area of the Russian National Tourist Office meant I was exposed to Russian (at a level I could understand), and mine and Matt’s trip to the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum straight after involved a lot of trying to work out not only what words meant, but also semi-obscured handwriting.  At least it was all post-revolution Cyrillic this time!

With all this gallivanting about, I don’t feel like I’ve really done much.  I have, though: part of my ‘research’ is preparing for this research trip to Russia, so those hours spent writing interview requests and emailing them (or, in some cases, messaging on Facebook) are ‘counted’, as are at least some of those spent going to London, applying for my visa etc.  And I have had time to squeeze in a little bit (maybe a half-hour?) of ‘real’ research preparation.  Which is nothing, but I also know that won’t last: I’m only four weeks in, and week six sees the start of the time I have time.

I think I’ve mostly been semi-demoralised by the lack of progress as compared to other times: even my second undergraduate degree, which was similar to this in that it was part-time and I was working otherwise full-time, but being taught meant I ‘progressed’ much quicker.

Another similarity between my BSc and this MA is the feeling of isolation, which is not entirely anyone’s fault.  I might have kept in contact with the Department since 2006, but things have undeniably changed, not least the format of what I’m doing.  I have tried to make friends, mostly outside of the Department because I think it’s easier to make friends within, but even within the Department and my peer group I find it hard because we’re all working on our own projects, I’m not often in the Department or on the same campus, I don’t want to follow around the people who attend the same seminars etc. as I do like a lost puppy and, crucially, I’m a bit too independent for my own good.  Which is why I think I feel the need to attend departmental stuff as often as I can.  I was going to attend SlavSoc but it’s all drinking and that’s boring, although they do appear to be trying to start something more inclusive.

Well, hopefully some sort of stability for the next two to three weeks will mean I feel much more settled and much less like I’m floundering in a dark sea…

A Personal Farewell Tour, Part Four: Three Counties

This may well be the last of the Farewell Tour instalments: it is the last so-far advertised flight and I tend to not be able to suddenly up and go: most of the routes tend to be an hour’s drive or more from Nottingham which also curtails events.  That Farewell Tour weekend, though, those of us in Nottingham were lucky enough to be able to see XH558 on both days, with a little planning.

Saturday I decided I would go to Derby: I reckoned it would be easy enough to get to Rolls-Royce and, with the exceptional Red Arrow bus service from Trent Barton, I wouldn’t need to drive.  Matt even came with me.  We went into Nottingham to do some bits, got some fancy burgers from the food market then got the bus to Derby.

The weather wasn’t amazing: cloudy, cool, a stiff breeze occasionally, but the cloud was high and it was dry.  We eventually found our way to the business park Rolls-Royce occupies (despite Derby’s best attempts to confuse us with signs), passing the usual people sat on vans, standing with cameras, parked on roadsides.  We walked all the way to Rolls-Royce but it wasn’t a good viewpoint so we walked back to outside the Volkswagen garage and waited.  I said to Matt “I don’t need to tell you to look for a big smoky trail by now, do I.”

“You mean like that one?”

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Overhead Derby Pride Park

We have the best comedy timing…!

It was short, but low, slow and fairly noisy.  We discovered later she’d missed East Midlands Airport but she’d still come in at the right time and the right direction.

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Overhead Derby Pride Park (Rolls Royce)

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Leaving Derby, smoke trails spirally dissipating in the wind…

Sunday I decided to try Waddington (The Sentry Post Cafe/WAVE) and Newark Air Museum.  Newark had put out loads of publicity out to expect loads of traffic, as there was an Autojumble at the adjacent Showground, and that they’d had no official contact from the Vulcan people so weren’t able to open the Southfield site for parking.

I left later than intended: I was waiting for route time updates to text my Mum the time for North Weald in case they wanted to go.  I got into the wrong lane in Lincoln so tried to go through the Hykehams but got horribly lost.  I missed XH558 at Waddington, but I also knew from Twitter contact that it was ‘stupidly busy’ (thanks, Avro Vulcan XM575!).  I saw her on her way south, thankfully there was no traffic around me and a good pull-up place immediately obvious, so I pulled up and captured this awful shot:

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

She’s in the centre, just above the hedge…

Thankfully, the memory of her flying in the beautiful Lincolnshire sunshine as seen through the windscreen of my car is much clearer!

I got to the mostly-empty WAVE in time to queue for the loo (which is one reason why I didn’t head back to Newark straight away) and get some food (the second reason: support your local aircraft viewing area, especially when there aren’t any aircraft to view because the runway’s being resurfaced!).  I chatted to some people.  The sun was in an awful position for pictures of XM607, so I didn’t bother trying.  I then took a stunning drive across country to Newark Air Museum, after posting on Twitter saying I was going there or Collingham: on the way (oh, the joys of a smartwatch!) I got a reply saying Newark Air Museum recommended itself!  That to me meant they had space to park.

When I arrived at the Air Museum, from the east on Drove Lane, they were directing us on to part of the Showground.  I spoke to a gentleman I thought I recognised (turns out it was Nigel Bean, NAM groundsman and Tweeter) who said many more volunteers had been able to turn up than expected and the Showground had kindly opened this little part of their site for them to use.

Red wheelbarrows in front of Vulcan XM593

Lovely Reds display, plus ‘photoship’ (black)

I walked the long walk (it wasn’t that far: you could walk further at Duxford!) and paid my entry fee, unlike many others who just sat in their cars!  I also gave my change to the pot as Gift Aid was off (to avoid even worse queues).  I had just over an hour to wander about before the Vulcan was due, and as I’ve been twice I know what I’m looking at these days.

Fairey Gannet AEW

Nice to see the Gannet outside

V-Force Memorial Wall, Newark Air Museum

The sun shining through the hangar meant I could get a decent shot of the V-Bomber Force Memorial Wall

Gloster Javelin

The sun also made photographing the Javelin possible

Handley-Page Victor cockpit

Nice to see the Victor cockpit looking resplendent in the sunshine.

Handley-Page Hastings

The Hastings was used as a Vulcan trainer

It was warm: I was wearing leggings under my grey shorts (some of you may now realise who I was) and was proudly showing off my ‘Farewell My Friend’ tshirt (though mine is a kids’ one so cheaper!).  It was a beautiful day.  I grabbed a hot chocolate and a slice of cake from the cafe (dropping £1 of my change into the Project Panini box) and then the tannoy announced Vulcan was running 15mins ahead of schedule.  Cue mass movement across the site!  I set myself up ‘leewards’ of XM594 and waited.  A paraglider and some buzzards made useful targeting opportunities until She arrived.

Crowds around Avro Vulcan XM594 at Newark Air Museum

The ‘Vulcan Effect’ in full force at Newark! And they’ve already got one!

Sun-dog next to Avro Vulcan XM594

There was a pretty sun-dog while I was waiting, though it hasn’t come out too well.

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558


XH558 with XM593

My proximity to XM594 made for some great dual-Vulcan shots

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

The weather was glorious.

XH558 with Blackburn Buccaneer

I was very pleasantly surprised by the circuits

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Wherever she was flying over, I bet they got a good view!

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Even out of the sun, she shone.

XH558 with Avro Shackleton and Handley-Page Hastings at Newark Air Museum

Turning over the other big exhibits, including her Shackleton sister.

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Ever impressive.

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Straight over the top!

XH558 with XM594

I hope I got some unique pictures, other than what those the other side of XM594 got.

And did she: the massed crowds pointing heralded her arrival as the Smoky Moth glided across the Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire countryside and overhead of sunny Winthorpe.  A sudden accelerating roar as she passed ‘594 sped her into a circuit, and she circled the airfield three times before meeting with a photoship for some evening sunshine shots over north-ish Nottinghamshire.

XH558 joining with photoship

You can see her centre-right (follow the smoke trail) and the photoship just right of XM594’s tail in the darker strip of cloud.

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

Heading off for her date

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

I spent a few minutes in Hangar One, and she was still mooching around the countryside when I came back out

I didn’t cry: I did have a lump in my throat as she came into view, but until Friday 30th October it’s all still yet to come…

Sun halo at Newark Air Museum

A sun halo greeted our exodus 🙂

A Personal Farewell Tour, Part Three: Old Friends (incorporating Bruntingthorpe Cold War Jets Open Day)

It had been years since I went to Clacton Air Show.  I must have still been in school, so we’re looking at 15+ years.  It was the last of my planned Vulcan Farewell tour, but I expect it will not be the last of this Farewell Tour post series.

Thames Barge

The Thames Barges ply a roaring trade in planespotters during the show.

My parents live in Essex so it was easy to get to, within reason, although my Dad decided to drive which meant we were stuck in traffic for a while.  I imagine the trains back would have been very packed too though.  Mum and I were dropped at the Martello Tower and Dad went to leave the car at his friends’.  I managed to drag Mum away from the candyfloss and down to the PA Tower where we found a patch for her wheelchair (which she was walking with at the time, not in) and our chairs.

Bulldog and Tutor

The Bulldog and Tutor put on a couple of tight flypasts before splitting into their solo displays.

The day was cloudy, but it didn’t actually rain while the show was on and the sun arrived just in time for the Vulcan’s appearance.  It was seriously windy though, and how I didn’t get windburn I’ll never know!  It was a joy to see some aircraft I’ve not seen in a long time, as well as some new and exciting displays.

Tigers Parachute Display Team

Tigers Parachute Display Team with some fancy action: did really well in the wind!

Top of the new and exciting are two items I can’t choose between: La Patrouille Reva and the Autogyro.  I didn’t know that the lifting rotor on an autogyro is not driven by the engine, but by the forward motion of the craft.  Knowing that made the display all the more spectacular.

Calidus Autogyro

An autogyro is always great to see: this one was spectacular!

Calidus Autogyro

Some of the moves were breathtaking!

La Patrouille Reva fly spaceships.  They’re actually two AcroEzes and a Long-EZ but could pass for spaceships in a fairly decent sci-fi film.  They put on a stunning display of climbs, fast passes and tight aerobatics.

La Patrouille Reva


Sean Maffett, ‘The Voice of the Vulcan’, was there too: he regaled us with the story of one of his relatives, uncle I think, who was among those being commemorated just down the coast on the day at Walton-on-the-Naze.  I’ve noticed he always refers to XH558 as ‘Vulcan’, not ‘the Vulcan’.  He’s also supremely good at silencing when the Vulcan makes a great noise.  Both the Spitfire and Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight did a flypast at Walton, and XH558 did a pass there before she held at Frinton.

Spitfire and Hurricane

PA announcer said ‘prize for knowing which is which’: still haven’t got mine though I reckon I was the first!

Given the devastating Shoreham crash less than a week before, no-one knew what to expect with regard to restrictions.  Clacton were on the ball and cleared their event with the CAA as soon as they could on the Monday, and being an over-sea airshow was not subject to as strict restrictions.  I was impressed and pleased that the BBMF pair and Red Arrows were still allowed to enter from crowd rear.  The Vulcan, as we were reliably informed by the Vulcan team, is not considered an aerobatic classic jet so has not been affected much by the new regulations.

RAF Chinook

The Chinook display was unchanged since Yeovilton, but everything is different over water.

One of the groups heavily affected, I imagine, is the Norwegian Historic Display Team, who are holidaying at North Weald for the summer.  I missed the MiG-15 at Yeovilton because it had a fault but was pleased to see it in Clacton’s programme.  It put on a fair display of fast passes and tight turns, but with age to contend with (before we even get to the possibility of any restrictions), it wasn’t as high-powered as its stablemate Vampires at Yeovilton.  It was beautiful though.

Norwegian MiG-15

It was a graceful, somewhat muted display, but lovely.

Another beauty is Sally-B.  I don’t see enough of her because I don’t think she travels far.  She put on her usual sterling display in decent sunshine.  The Red Arrows also displayed in decent weather, managing to put on a full display despite the cloud (which didn’t look to have such a high base but evidently did).

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress 'Sally-B'

Sally-B streaming her memorial smoke

RAF Red Arrows

One joy of the seaside is capturing the long, lingering smoke trails of some of the more intricate Red Arrows manoeuvres

But what we all came to see was the Vulcan: she powered over from Frinton with her 1960s smoke trail receding into the wind.  I’d always planned to see her at the sea front once at least: it just so happened that this year, the National Trust are running the ‘Sounds of our Shores’ public engagement event, where people record seaside sounds and upload them.  So I recorded the Vulcan: she reminds me of airshows and airshows remind me of the seaside.  So now, she is preserved forever in the annals of the National Trust and British Library here.

Avro Vulcan B2 XH558


Avro Vulcan B2 XH558

I taught my other half to recognise 1960s jets by the smoke trails

After the airshow, we didn’t want to sit in traffic for three hours so we walked back to Jaywick to Dad’s friends, who I hadn’t seen since I was 5 or so.  We had some tea and cake and talked about, well, all sorts!  Then we made our way out of town and it was still pretty rammed.  We stopped off in Colchester for something to eat at a little local pub down an industrial estate road alongside the Colne.  The food was standard cook-from-frozen things but it was very tasty and certainly worth it: the peas were a nice texture too!

Team Raven

Team Raven were a man down.

Eurofighter Typhoon

The Typhoon was a lovely noisy end post-Vulcan.

I spent the next couple of days in Essex and travelled back to Nottingham in time for the Bruntingthorpe Cold War Jets Open Day.  The weather was supposed to clear up through the afternoon but by midday the forecast had changed and it was set for the afternoon instead!  It was so wet I even missed the second Buccaneer display, on purpose.  I did get to see some of the new things though: the Tornado GR1, a Folland Gnat, a number of the ex-RAF fleet of Lockheed TriStars (in the dismantling area)…

Tornado GR1

I had a ‘what the hell is that?!’ moment with this: I should know it’s a Tornado but the missing rudder caught me off guard! Obviously it makes the fin look much smaller!

Comet airliner

The Comet was still off for works.

Avro Shackleton MR3

The weirdest Shackleton you’ll ever see.

First down was the VC-10.  I’d visited the inside of the VC-10 on my last visit in 2013 while it was still technically in RAF service (they put it back on the roster for a day so we could all get inside), but never been so close to one moving before, only seen them fly (very occasionally).  Turns out, I’ll be wearing ear defenders for that one next time!  They ain’t kidding when they say the noise restrictions hurt them.  It then whined (and wound) its way around the airfield for parking and visits, and greeting it off the taxiway was an interesting sight too.

Vickers VC-10

Oh my God the pain!

Vickers VC-10

Everyone cleared off at the right time, I assure you!

Vickers VC-10

::whines:: A lovely shot though.

VC-10 model

Didn’t expect to see a VC-10 flying!

After a couple of aircraft had done their thing, the heavens opened and it never really stopped.  Various of the #twitterVforce team described it as a washout but I, like some other hardy (tight) folk, stayed until the end, when the sky brightened and a BBMF Spitfire did a few lovely passes.  The aircraft are a great sight in the rain though: the Victor causing great sprays, the Lightning whipping up a storm behind it, the Hunter’s cartridge start smoke oozing into the puddles.  The rain also made the minute’s silence for the two airshow crashes this year all the more poignant, as did a lone skylark.

RAE Canberra

The Canberra wasn’t running on my last sortie: was an interesting sight (though I’ve seen many flying and running Canberras)

Vulcan model

Soon to be the largest flying Vulcan

Victor model

Never seen a Victor fly (apart from on TV during Gulf War reports) so this was a lovely experience.

Victor model

It’s got that spaceship look about it from every angle.

L-39 Delphin

The Delphin is resplendent in its Romanian colours.

Hawker Hunter

As you can see, it’s rather wet now. The smoke from the Hunter’s cartridge start never really went anywhere…

Hawker-Siddley Nimrod

The Nimrod was the last of the dry runners really

Hunting Jet Provost

Made for some nice reflective photography.

Handley-Page Victor

There was a brief moment of brightness for the Victor’s run.

Handley-Page Victor

Then it got very atmospheric again.

Handley-Page Victor


English Electric Lightning

Even more zooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom!

I spent the last part of the day in the relative warm of the late afternoon brightness (it wasn’t really sunshine) perusing the Lightning merchandise cabin before heading home.  But I did get some lovely pictures and not ruin my camera in the rain!

Supermarine Spitfire

Sun for the Spitfire.

English Electric Lightning

A sunny Lightning