As an 18-month-old baby Carolyn was fascinated by the Vulcan, so the story goes, her Dad was watching a programme about the iconic aircraft and she couldn’t take her eyes off the screen, fast forward a decade or two and the engineer can’t resist giving XH558 a hug when she goes out onto the airfield as part of the team of volunteers who help to keep this important piece of military history maintained. Here Carolyn tells us about her lifelong love of the Avro Vulcan XH558.
My dad was interested in aviation and he says that from the moment I first saw XH558 I was hooked – I really like that story and it’s true. I’ve loved everything about this amazing feat of engineering for as long as I can remember.
When I asked my daughter what it is that I love about the Vulcan, she said – everything!
I’m lucky enough to live just 25 miles away from where XH558 is based at Doncaster Sheffield Airport and my two children, thanks to the hard work of Dr Robert Pleming and his team, had the pleasure of watching her fly, when the Vulcan to the Sky charity restored her to flight and brought the awe and amazement to millions of fans old and new who were able to see and hear her howl again.
I went to an all-girls school and the pathways that they expected us to take were as a lawyer, teacher or doctor but I wanted to work in aviation. This wasn’t expected and I’m not sure that they knew what to make of it but I was determined. From a young age I used to go to and visit air museums and was a regular at the Finningley Airshows. I just loved aviation and wanted to be a part of it.
So, I joined the RAF Air Cadets literally on my 13th birthday. I was so desperate to join and the day could not come quick enough. I went on several camps across the country and in Cyprus at RAF Akrotri, and got to do lots of flying and soloed in gliding.
Sadly, I knew I couldn’t join the Air Force at the time because I am diabetic, so I decided that I’d go into civilian aviation, at the time I thought I was going to run an airport.
In my early teens I wrote to all the small airports to get work experience and got to work at Caernarfon Airport which was fabulous as they operated vintage aircraft on pleasure flights, and there was also an aircraft museum there. A memorable work experience was at Kent International Airport at Manston when XH558 was there in 1991 for the airshow and I was working. I was able to chat with the crew and to have a cockpit tour and my enthusiasm for her grew even more.
With a degree in flight operations and crew rosters for a European regional airline and then further study for a Masters in Transport Engineering and Operations from Newcastle University, my career has seen me cover aviation and transport in different guises. I worked for British Airways, lived in Germany for three years in charge of IT and databases for flight operations and crew rosters before working as a consultant in transport consultancy.
I always went to the airshows and the museums wherever I was in the world and the golden thread throughout all of this was always XH558.
My 30th birthday saw me back in Hamburg flying an outside loop and I guess that sums me up in some ways. I like to understand how things work and I’m not scared to take a different approach where necessary. Aerobatics have always fascinated me, so what a way to celebrate an important milestone!
I remember the day in 2007 when XH558 took off again after her restoration. I remember being in a large open office and crying my eyes out. It was such an emotional moment, and I remember being elated because I knew my daughter would get to see her fly and to hear her.
There is nothing better than seeing the effect the Vulcan has on people. She always inspires that jaw dropping reaction and the smiles.
When she came to Doncaster my husband got my name put on the bomb bay door as a birthday present and I went on a VIP tour. I then went on a ground run and kept going back. I used to talk to the engineers a lot, I asked if I could help to wash her, and they said why don’t you just come and volunteer and so I did as I was there so much.
I loved doing the VIP tours when we were in Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s hangar and taking school children of all ages to see her and then to see the airport was always a highlight. Seeing the children’s faces light up on a school visit and knowing that you’d engaged them into the possibilities that are open to them was really special. My standing there as a female engineer will have hopefully made others including the girls think more about the possibilities of a career in STEM.
I didn’t think I’d be able to top my 30th birthday aerobatics but my 40th birthday saw me fly alongside XH588 with the Blades aerobatics team – it was an amazing experience, followed by some more extreme aerobatics.
There were smiles and tears at her final flight and I know that I’m lucky as I have the best ‘job’ in the world as I still get to see XH558 and help to maintain her. I’m on the engineering team of volunteers and enjoy being really hands on.
Now the focus is on fundraising for the new hangar and this will mean everything. There is nothing better than being able to share the passion and the vision and hear people’s memories. Inspiring the next generation will be incredible with aviation and keeping 558 alive. It will also make it much easier to maintain her, and to work on restoring the Canberra.
The engineering made XH558 ahead of her time and she truly captures all the senses, she is not only a big aircraft, but you can hear her, smell her, touch her and when she does the ground runs you can feel her as the ground shakes. Our job now is to harness all of this and inspire those who didn’t see her fly or haven’t heard her howl. Her engineering magnificence will inspire many generations to come especially with the use of green technology.
Until she has her new home, I’m busy restoring a Buccaneer cockpit with my son, this is his obsession. Just as I’ve followed my dream with XH558, I’m looking forward to helping him follow his.