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Vulcan Memories


Below are a few stories which I have collected from various ex-Vulcan crew. Each one is genuine, and shows us that even highly trained RAF personnel can have the occasional problem too :)



Marshalling Mayhem!

It was on an evening shift at Scampton, on 35 Squadron in August, 1979 I think. I had just come in from fixing a radio compass problem and the chief asked me to take our latest young LAC (Leading Aircraftman) to be posted onto the Squadron out for his first go at marshalling at night time. Marshalling a Vulcan can be a very frightening task until you get used to it, and for a young raw recruit straight from training it was terrifying, especially at night.

I took him out on to the perimeter track as our incoming Vulcan landed and waited for it to taxi round. I reassured the young lad that all would be well and I would be stood behind him all the time. All he had to do was marshal the Vulcan towards us and then turn the Vulcan from the peri track onto the pan when I tapped him on the shoulder, whereupon a more experienced liney (liney = ground crew chappie, so called because we mostly work on a 'line' of aircraft, known as 'the line' !!) would take over and marshall the aircraft into position. Easy.

The Vulcan turned off the runway and as it came towards us I got the lad to start waving his wands in the recognised motion to bring the beast straight on towards us, no problem. As the bright lights and the thunderous noise got ever closer I eventually tapped the, by now, terrified young lad's shoulder to start bringing our Vulcan round. This it started to do and I could see the lads demeanour look far more relaxed as he realised that this monster was actually doing what he was telling it.

But not for long. No sooner had the huge machine started to turn than it changed its mind and started coming straight for us again. He stiffened as I furiously tapped his shoulder. But he was doing nothing wrong, his signals were correct, if a little faster than normal.....understandably. But the Vulcan should have been turning. It wasn't and worse, it wasn't stopping either. As I began to realise what was happening I went to shout to our young hero to leg it, but I was too late. The marshalling wands had gone up in the air and he had taken off. I saw him disappearing down the peri track as I effected my own escape from the path of this disobedient aircraft. I stood at the side of the peri track helpless and watched as it taxied off the edge of the peri track onto the grass and towards the airfield perimeter fence. I started to run towards it, heavens knows why, I heard the engines shut down but still it moved across the grass and eventually ran out of energy and came to a halt just short of one of those mini water reservoirs that you find dotted around some airfields.

It wasn't long before everybody and his dog appeared to gawp at this errant Vulcan and to try to establish what had happened. It had apparently suffered some catastrophic steering failure and had virtually no brake pressure either. It had started to steer round the corner and then the fault happened, by the time the pilot realised there was a real problem he was on the grass and his brakes, already low on pressure were not much use either in the wet conditions, so he shut the engines down and hoped for the best. We managed to get it off the grass and back on to the squadron apron reasonably quickly and were just getting ready to go to supper when we realised our young new chap was not around!  Oh dear, big search time.

He was nowhere in the squadron buildings or the apron area. So everybody grabbed every available vehicle and started looking. He was eventually found crouched in a corner down by the ops building half a mile away, trembling and mumbling to himself, totally convinced that he had somehow boobooed big time and would spend the rest of his life paying for a new aeroplane !!. Our flight sergeant decided he should be taken to the bowling alley bar and 'loosened up', no shortage of volunteers there.

He eventually got over it and realised it was not his fault and carried on to have a normal career as far as I know, but what a thing to happen on your first go at night marshalling one of our esteemed Queens of the Sky !!



Is this your parachute?

It was our rather embarrassed squadron commander (Name censored for obvious reasons!) landing back at Scampton one evening in 1980 and nobody could find his brake parachute after he taxied in.

The brake parachute panel was open, so it had been used, but it was not on the runway where it would normally have been jettisoned soon after landing. At the debriefing the true story came out.

Our intrepid wing co had somehow operated the wrong switch at about 30 odd thousand feet over Devon and the Vulcan tried to come to a complete stop in the sky. 
Not a good idea.

The crew realised they had erroneously deployed the brake parachute and jettisoned it quickly. It was found by a farmer in his yard the next day and was returned.

The Boss took some stick for a long time over that
 I can tell you !!



Below is a story which describes the last moments of Vulcan XM645



The Final Flight of XM645

This story provides a brief description about the final flight of XM645 (number IX Squadron, based at Waddington). On the 14th day of October 1975 at about 13:10 local time (12:10 GMT) this aircraft was approaching to land at RAF Luqa MALTA, and somehow at touchdown one of its undercarriages collapsed, and it overshot to do another circuit for an emergency landing on foamed runway, but over Poala village, I saw two parachutes, and a few seconds later the XM645 turned into a fireball.

Luckily the main part of the fuselage and wing fell in a field, a wing aileron fell on the roof of Zabbar Primary School, and another part in the main street of Zabbar village. The windows, doors and parked cars in the main street all were burnt by the aircraft's fuel.

Although the pilot and co-pilot ejected the other crew members sadly lost their lives. On the ground one civilian woman was killed.

The parts of the XM645 which survived; are the undercarriage which was left on the runway and the cockpit canopy, a part of the wreckage of the fin (tail), the original badges of Lincoln (White with the red Cross) and the Green Bat of the IX Squadron. A deformed undercarriage door (the one which is fixed to the undercarriage hydraulic stem), and a few other pieces of instrumentation which are all now preserved at  Zabbar Parish Church Museum.

Story donated by Albert Sacco, 
edited by G. Bartlett.




Vertical Take Off Vulcan!

As an RAF policeman at Waddington back in the early sixties my memories of the big white beasts were not always pleasant. I spent what seemed the coldest winter of my life, especially on the night shifts, babysitting sometimes four at a time. We used to count the rivets under the wings just to get rid of a few minutes to get nearer to that magic moment when the shift change Land Rover appeared through the fog. One never to be forgotten moment occurred one Sunday afternoon as I stood on a dispersal at the end of the runway a solitary Vulcan taxied to the far end of the runway and then began its take off. When it reached the end of the runway, and me, it somehow changed an inclined take off into an almost vertical one and I had the full benefit of the four Avro engines bearing down on me for what seemed forever. What wags those aircrew could be sometimes.

Story donated by M Lester.



Palouste Initiation!

When I joined 230 OCU at RAF Scampton in 1970 my first task was to be trained to see off and see in the aircraft. The see off is accompanied by learning how to operate the palouste which is basically a small jet engine that provides air to start the aircraft engines. As was usual for a new boy the combustion chamber had been primed with fuel by dry cranking the palouste just before I was due to use it. At this point it might be worth adding that the old sweats that had set me up had not been too careful when parking the palouste. So there I was next to the mighty Vulcan about to do my first start and see off, the crew chief signalled me to start the palouste which I duly did, at this point the pre-primed fuel in the combustion chamber ignited and as the exhaust is directed upward about 6 feet of flame shot out of the exhaust. I immediately hit the emergency stop button and before the turbine had stopped had ran as fast as I could back to the line hut. When they found me and told me that it was ok that I had not done anything wrong or set the aircraft on fire, I was persuaded to go back out and start again, it was at this point that a rather disgruntled crew chief pointed out the wing leading edge paint had turned a light brown colour where it had been singed a bit. Still other than making sure the palouste was parked properly, the priming of the combustion chamber continued as an initiation rite for new arrivals.

Story donated by Mick Haines



Who Turned Out The Lights?

Another see off initiation rite was for the benefit of the trainee aircrew. When external power was applied to the aircraft and the new aircrew had got most of the equipment turned on and running but just prior to the engine start, the crew chief would give a hand signal for the man stood next to the external power lead where it attaches to the aircraft who would just pull the plug out. The effect sometimes was quite amusing, this included the evacuation of the aircrew from the aircraft who then proceeded to run in all directions, to a head popping out of the entrance door with comments similar to "very funny, now plug it back in and let's try again shall we?"

Story donated by Mick Haines



Time for Tea?

One incident was during the Cold War in the 1960's when the 'Nuclear Clock' reached five minutes to midnight. Vulcan and Handley Page Victor nuclear bombers were disbursed around the country and one of the locations was just outside of our office at Filton, Bristol, where I worked for Bristol Siddeley Engines. During the lunch break my buddies and I would walk out to the perimeter track and watch. Two Vulcans, fully fuelled and fully armed sat on the edge of the runway, crew on board and the ground APU running. This was 'four minute standby.' The aircraft had four minutes to leap into the air once an incoming missile had been detected. When we watched the bombers roll down the runway and roar off into the sky we did not know where they were going.
 Back to base - or a one way ride to Moscow?
 Four minutes - not enough time to boil a kettle for tea.

Bristol Siddeley (later to become Rolls Royce), made the Olympus 593, the engines for Concorde. During the development phase Bristol's acquired an old Vulcan to act as a flying test bed. The 593 was fitted into the copious bomb bay with the fairing around it giving minimal ground clearance. I was a test observer and did many of the development tests on RR's experimental engines. One day we had a Viper on test that was not behaving itself and I suspected that it may be something to do with the HS 125, the aircraft that used the Viper in those days. RR had a 125 as a run around aircraft (a flying taxi service), and I knew that the 125 was in the flight shed. I wandered over and there and, in the middle of the shed, was - a Vulcan. I stood underneath of this thing and it loomed above me on its jacks. What a 'plane! As I said, Bristol Siddeley used the Vulcan for flight test of the Olympus 593 for Concorde and I was standing in the bomb bay, in the way of the fitters! I was not popular at that moment.

The aircraft mentioned above was the second Vulcan, the first came to a pyrotechnic end. On that day, the aircraft was parked at the end of the runway (this runway at the time was one of the longest in the UK having been specifically laid down to accommodate the massive Bristol Brabazon), fuelled up and just doing the final engine tests that precede any testing. It seemed that one of the 593's turbine wheels got tired of being hot and bothered and decided to leave. It shot out through the containment shield - a big no-no, hit the runway spinning like a circular saw, bounced upwards through the Vulcans fuel tanks and shot off to land about a half a mile away. The fuel in the tanks, witnessing this sudden change to the usual placid state also became agitated and burst into flame, deluging out of the hole in the tank. By now the crew were tumbling out of the aircraft and running hell for leather in all directions. The burning fuel ran across the concrete and greeted the fire engine standing by with great enthusiasm, persuading it to join in the conflagration. Result? One Vulcan - lost, one 593 - lost, one fire engine - lost and lots of embarrassment all round.

Stories donated by Pete Noyle.


In Memory of....

I flew in an RAF Vulcan for three or four hours on a
day/night in the summer of, I think, 1975. The crew
were as follows: S/Ldr John Prideaux (Captain) F/O
Ewan Alexander (co-pilot), S/Ldr Dave Beeden (AEO),
F/Lts Stan Lambert and Tony Pullman (Navs).
We did a high-level transit up to the north of
Scotland and returned at low-level (250 feet) through
the NATO low-flying area just west of RAF Leuchars in
fife, Scotland. I remember clearly watching as John
coaxed Ewan through an asymmetric approach to 
an RAF airfield on the way south. 
We did at least one "touch-and-go".

It was a clear night, and I particularly remember that
from high altitude we could see both coasts of the UK
and all the lights of various cities over which we
were flying.

They were a terrific crew, although I only spent that
one trip with them, followed by a lengthy session of
beers at Waddington officer's mess shortly afterwards.
I was very saddened when their aircraft crashed a few
months later in Malta, killing all on board except for
the pilots, who ejected as the Vulcan climbed away at
full power after having made a heavy landing at Luqa.
I just wanted people to know that 
Stan, Tony and Dave are not forgotten.

Received from Ian Black.

If you were fortunate enough to work along side the Vulcan, and have any memories which you'd like to share on this page, 
please e-mail me. 
All published articles will receive relevant credit.

moving e-mail




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