2009 - From the Ground - Kevin 'Taff' Stone

25 November 2022

Part of the Vulcan - A Time In History series
Vulcan-from-the-ground

The race was on again to prepare XH558 for the 2009 airshow season. A host of servicing requirements awaited the attentions of the Trust’s engineering team, complicated by a warning from Rolls-Royce about possible corrosion issues on the engines. This necessitated the removal of No. 4 engine for inspection by Marshalls and Rolls- Royce, so new propulsion engineer Ray Watts hit the ground running! Fortunately the corrosion was less than feared, but the delay meant that XH558’s test flight would take place only two days before her first public display of the season at Cosford! So on the Friday afternoon we took off with a new crew member Paul Mulcahy (CAA test pilot) alongside Martin Withers with Barry Masefield (AEO) and Andy Marson taking notes in the back.The flight threw up some minor snags, but these were quickly fixed and up the crew went again, to get valuable flight time via a practise display at Brize Norton and a flypast at Cosford, followed the next day by a full display for Brize’s Families Day.

Once more the ‘Vulcan effect’ was in full swing. The 14th of June dawned and Cosford quickly reached capacity, with a crowd of 70,000, and with traffic backed up around the airfield people had to be turned away. Following that success it was time for XH558’s first overseas adventure since 1991 as we took her to Volkel in the Netherlands.

Two displays were performed and a flypast with the Dutch F16 and Hunter before flying back to display at Kemble. Next up was Biggin Hill on the weekend of 27th June, and while XH558 flew on the Saturday, pre-flight checks on Sunday revealed a fault with the Elevator Artificial Feel system. After a couple of hours of trying to reset the system we finally had to accept we were unable to make the display, and replaced the Artificial Feel Unit.

Start me up.’ Ground crew commence the engine start procedure with the Houchin ground power unit. Rick Lee

The next weekend XH558 was due to display at her old home, RAF Waddington. On the flight in on Thursday’s Press Day, pilot Kev Rumens got the opportunity to gain his Display Authority, but subsequently a problem with the renewal of the Permit to Fly led to the Vulcan being grounded for the weekend, to the dismay of spectators and crew alike. Unable to fly, we towed XH558 in to the static area where we spent the rest of the weekend talking. After a long week of waiting we finally receive our Permit to Fly late on Friday afternoon and off we go to RNAS Yeovilton for their airshow. The weather is not the best as we prepare for our afternoon slot at the airshow, and with the aircraft powered up and all checks complete we go to remove the chocks when we notice a hydraulic leak from one of the brake pipe connections. After a short time this was resolved, only to be halted by the great British weather, so once again we towed the aircraft across to the static line where we meet the public once more.

Now on to the biggest airshow of the season RIAT Fairford, with XH558 due to fly in on the Friday. This proved to be not as easy as expected, once again due to the great British Summer, but after several time changes and weather hold she safely landed. Saturday went well with the best of the weather, although the flying part was the easy part of the day as there were some out of phase (OOP) inspections to complete before the following days, including mag chips and oil samples on all four engines. A brake pipe and Maxaret (Anti-Skid Unit) were also showing signs of leaking and not wanting to take any chances these were also replaced.

Sunday again proved to be a good day, starting off with a Royal Visit from Prince Michael of Kent. Despite being taunted by the weather, XH558 finally managed to put in another fantastic display in between the heavy downpours, opening with a spectacular take-off and wingover from Kev Rumens. The next day she left Fairford with a new pilot on board, Phil O’Dell (Rolls-Royce Test Pilot), making a flyby at Filton before landing back at Brize Norton.

RIAT: XH558 blasts spray from the runway on take-off. Tony Gardner

Then followed the busiest week so far with RAF Odiham Family Day on the 22nd July followed the next day by RAF Marham Family Day and Lowestoft for the first of the two planned displays there. On return from these displays there were further OOP’s to carry out, and inspection revealed one of the main undercarriage door brackets showing signs of damage. With new ones still being sourced the decision had to be made to cancel the second Lowestoft display. This still left three scheduled displays on the 25th at risk, but the members of XM655 MaPS at Wellesbourne came to the rescue, supplying a door bracket from their aircraft. This was promptly taken to RAF Brize Norton where the NDT section checked the bracket, before it was fitted to XH558.

XH558 powers past the hills at the Windermere show. Peter Starling

On Saturday 25th the aircraft flew at three displays, Sunderland, East Fortune and a spectacular routine over Lake Windermere before landing back at Brize over three hours later. Chief Pilot Martin Withers had flown a longer sortie but not for some time! August started with a number of visits and meetings to clear up an issue over the Port Undercarriage Leg. This was fitted with a limitation of 50 Landings / Taxi Runs and we had now reached that point. The leg had been monitored closely with NDT checks being carried out every 10 flights all with no problems reported, so when the last of the meetings was held between TVOC, Marshall Aerospace, Messier Dowty and Kearsleys, a decision was reached to extend the life by another 20 flights. This meant some added checks and restrictions, including changes to the all up weight of the aircraft, and that after every flight the front of the undercarriage leg underwent an ultrasonic NDT check, until the end of the season when it could be removed and sent for overhaul.

Leading the Red Arrows at Dawlish

XH558 then paid a visit to RAF Lyneham for their families day, and after landing we found quite a big leak from one of the Starboard U/C Leg walking joints, this resulted in a couple of the main wheels sitting in a puddle of hydraulic oil! So after showing the multitude of families around the aircraft we cleared them away and replaced the seals and cleaned up the wheels. The next day it was off to Whitehaven for a display, flypast at Blackpool and back to Brize. Unfortunately on landing the walking joint failed again so before we could fly the following weekend we had to dismantle the joint and replace all of the seals.

Then on the 20th August at Dawlish came the event many had been waiting for, the formation with the Red Arrows. Unfortunately during the preparation of the aircraft Crew Chief ‘Taff’ Stone had a fall and snapped his kneecap tendon. To the credit of the team, all of them rallied around to ensure the day’s flight continued without a hitch. The next couple of displays were at the weekend at Bournemouth and Shoreham, with the aircraft been seen by over a million people! The month concluded with another busy weekend, firstly on Saturday 29th formation flights at Sywell with The Blades aerobatic team, giving competition winners the opportunity of a lifetime, flying alongside a Vulcan! Then followed a display at Silverstone, which was hosting the World Aerobatic Championships, and then Dunsfold on the Sunday.

September began with a display at Hawarden and a special event at the Cosby Victory Show, where Martin Withers (captain of Black Buck 1) re-enacted his bombing raid on the Falklands with some spectacular pyrotechnics. There was also a spectator who had turned up on the sidelines in a wheelchair just to observe what was going on with HIS aeroplane! Then came the last away day of the season, with a trip to RAF Leuchars in Northern Scotland, to display on 12th September. We positioned the aircraft near the Vulcan Village, serviced it ready for the display in the afternoon and then allowed a number of guided tours around the outside of the aircraft prior to the flight.

We then received a message from the aircrew telling us we had only 30 minutes to push the aircraft across to the active side and complete our start up checks which usually take us 45 minutes plus! So a decision was made to start the start up procedures with the aircrew on board, then push the aircraft back and complete the see off. However when the aircrew started the checks we found the aircraft battery would not switch on; a quick check of some fuses found we had no voltage, so we quickly replaced the battery only to find out we still could not switch it on! With time running out some quick fault diagnosis was carried out, identifying one of the main DC distribution fuses had blown, however time was up and we had to move the aircraft. With the aircraft being pushed back, all the Engineers followed, whilst getting everything ready not only to fix the problem but get the aircraft ready to make our closely approaching flight time. This they managed to do smoothly and professionally, so much so all at the airshow were unaware of the problem we were having. Sunday then saw a quieter day as we dispatched XH558 back to RAF Brize Norton, visiting the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, and flying in formation with the Rolls-Royce Spitfire en route. She also performed several flypasts for the 655 MaPS members day at Wellesbourne, as thanks for their support.

In formation with the Rolls-Royce Spitfire. Liz Cocks, Mail on Sunday

The last confirmed weekend of the season was to be another busy one, displaying at Goodwood, Kemble (an unofficial appearance to allow Martin Withers to renew his Display Authority) and RAF Brize Norton’s Party in the Park on Saturday 19th, followed by no less than four flypasts/displays, on Sunday 20th at Goodwood, Sanicole in Belgium, Marshalls Family Day and Turweston. Enviable reliability for an aircraft approaching her fiftieth year, and a tribute to the dedication, expertise and hard work of her engineers and ground crew.

XH558 then flew to RAF Lyneham, which was to be her winter servicing base, but this wasn’t to be her last flight of the year, as the opportunity arose to appear at Southport on September 27th (with flypasts at RAF Coningsby, Cottesmore, Manchester Airport and Woodford for good measure). Back at Lyneham it was time to put the aircraft to bed for the winter. With the season all finished and no more flying, we moved the aircraft from its operational phase into Anti-Deterioration Checks, before we move on to the Annual Servicing in 2010.

However before we could commence any work we had to get RAF Lyneham audited by Marshall Aerospace, to enable us to carry out scheduled and line maintenance. After negotiations with RAF Lyneham on where we can keep our aircraft along with any facilities it was time to set up our little world. In true RAF fashion everywhere was cleaned, tidied and given a lick of paint to ensure it was all neat and tidy, we then set about moving our ground equipment from Brize Norton and set up our quarantine area and racking ready. Once the 14 Day Anti-Det Check was concluded the emphasis moved to getting the aircraft indoors and the port undercarriage off (for refurbishment) before all of the MA Technicians went back to their full time commitments at Cambridge. We towed the aircraft in at lunchtime, and by teatime had her jacked up and the wheels, brakes and leg off! Then we managed to get the last outstanding task done while we had a MA Tech with us, which was to inhibit the engines (as it would be slightly difficult to tow XH558 with two legs!).

Well that’s it for 2009, the aircraft in the hangar for the winter and the next planned maintenance, the annual servicing and strengthening modifications.

Tags: Red ArrowsSpitfireVulcanXH558

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