Exercise Golden Eagle

50 years ago, on 27 July 1971, during his Royal Air Force training to become a jet pilot, HRH Prince Charles was introduced to the Vulcan. The pilot training for The Prince of Wales was codenamed ‘Golden Eagle’. 

Flt Lt Graham Heath, who was Nav Radar on the flight with the prince, shared the experience with VTST after attending an event held beneath the shadow of Vulcan XH558 in her old hangar in December 2011. 

Vulcan XL392 

Graham said, “The aircraft used was XL392. This was borrowed from No 230 OCU (Operation Conversion Unit), especially for the occasion. I understand that the engine fit on that aircraft was deemed “safer” than that on the operational aircraft with 301s! Our crew were from No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron based at Waddington, but the Captain for the day, Flt Lt John Lebrun was an OCU QFI (Qualified Flight Instructor). 

XL392 Royal Flight Auth Sheet 27 Jul 1971

The flight was a Hi-Low sortie, with the low level portion being at 500 ft from Bass Rock (near Edinburgh) down to Hatfield plain and the River Trent.”

Left to right: Flt Lt Pete Marsland (Nav Plotter), Flt Lt Graham Heath (Nav 
Radar), HRH Prince of Wales, Fg Off Ian Washington (AEO), Flt Lt Pete Perry, 
Flt Lt John Lebrun. 

Graham concluded, “The sortie went successfully, and HRH seemed suitably impressed.” 

After The Prince of Wales’ last training flight, he was qualified to wear the Royal Air Force Flying badge, which was presented to him on 20 August 1971 by Air Vice Marshal Sir Denis Spotswood during a ceremony at Cranwell, Lincolnshire. 

The Prince of Wales wearing the Royal Air Force Flying badge  
© Royal Collection Trust 

Flt Lt John Lebrun not only has the honour of being part of Exercise Golden Eagle, he also has the honour of flying the last Vulcan out of RAF Finningley, now Doncaster Sheffield Airport and permanent home of Vulcan XH558.  

Vulcan XH563

In communication with Dr Robert Pleming in 2011, after watching a BBC news item about XH558 returning home to ex-RAF Finningley, John said “I was a qualified flying instructor on Vulcans in the late 60s and early 70s.  It turned out that with the best of plans and organisation to do otherwise, I, an ordinary QFI, flew the last Vulcan, XH563, out of Finningley on 16 December 1969.” 
  
John continued, “The Chief Instructor, Wg Cdr Daryl Hamley, formally had flown out the last 230 OCU aircraft from the station the previous day with due fanfare, tears and moans in front of press cameras.  However, hidden away in a hangar was the aircraft he should have flown but was unserviceable.  It was my duty to sneak out quietly the following day (how that is done with a Vulcan is still a state secret). The ensuing flight was a straightforward conversion sortie with a new crew. 
  
Now, I’m delighted that once more Finningley will house a Vulcan.  Good luck.” 

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