Ramblings from the AEO’s Panel – Part 17

Ramblings from the AEO’s Panel – Part 17

Barry Masefield was the Air Electronics Officer (AEO) for Vulcan XH558 and had flown in this iconic aircraft for over 30 years, also being a key member of the Vulcan Display Flight (VDF), the RAF Unit which memorably flew the aircraft on the Airshow circuit until September 1992. Barry was also a member of the crew that flew XH558 into Bruntingthorpe Airfield on 23 March 1993 – her final flight in RAF service.

Fast forwarding to 18 October 2007, Barry was once again flying XH558, as a part of the crew, alongside Al McDicken and David Thomas, who made the historic First Flight from Bruntingthorpe, after the extensive restoration programme had been completed to return her to flying status. Barry had been a regular member of the Aircrew of XH558 since 2008, and had helped to thrill crowds around the country at Airshows and other events with a spectacular and memorable flying display, which has captured the hearts and minds of many thousands of spectators.  

The following is a first hand account entry from Barry during the flying season of XH558.

The season is drawing to a close

Vulcan XH558 has completed her last commercial display for the 2012 season with a display at RAF Leuchars. The team for that day was Kev Rumens, Bill Perrins and Phil Davies. The event went off with no problems and from what I hear, the crowd at Leuchars were buzzing with excitement in anticipation of the Vulcan appearing. After the display, several spectators were asked by the local media which part of the day had been their favourite – and it seems that the display by Kev and his team took the plaudits. How surprising is that!! It’s becoming almost boring to keep on reporting this – but it’s a fact of life that everywhere 558 displays, the common consensus of opinion is that she remains the star of the show.

Although 558 has finished her display season she hasn’t quite finished her flying for 2012. Yesterday, 20th September, a crew comprising Kev Rumens, Bill Ramsey, myself and Martin Andrews (Junior), gathered up at Doncaster to fly 558 on a private trip to Sywell (Northampton) aerodrome where we were to do some formation flying with the Blades team and a Spitfire. Our long-term friend and erstwhile saviour Eddie Forrester had organised and paid for the Blades to fly some passengers alongside 558. The lucky winners of the raffle that the Trust had organised over the summer months were also there to experience the delight of flying with the Blades alongside us – but, the star prize had to be the winner who won a seat in a Spitfire to fly alongside us too.

The crew all gathered in the office at Doncaster at 1030, some 3 hours before the designated take-off time. The weather was forecast to be good for the route with the occasional shower that we might have to dodge around. Kev was in telephone contact with the Blades to finalise the formation briefing and I was ringing all the appropriate airfields along our route, to let them know we would be flying either past or through their airspace. Earlier, while I was at breakfast in the hotel I received a text on my mobile phone from Ellie, a teacher at Great Doddington primary school welcoming us back to the Sywell area and wishing us a safe flight. So what I hear you ask. Well the school is an old friend of ours. A couple of years ago the children there completed a project to help with the funding of 558 and to say thank you at the time, we did a fly-over of the school much to the delight of the children and especially the teachers. Well I can take a hint as well as the next man and reading between the lines, I could see that they were asking for another visit should we have the time. I mentioned it to Kev and he, after looking at the timings of formating with the Blades, could see no reason why we couldn’t spend ten minutes or so to fly over and around the school. It was a done deal, so I contacted the school and let them know that we would be with them at 2-30pm for a 10 minute slot. To my surprise, I was told that the school would effectively be shut down while all the children were to be assembled in the playground to wave to us. Please don’t tell Michael Gove, although I’m sure that he could be persuaded that this was all in aid of our aim of “Inspiring a generation”.

Building this into the plan was easy and we were just about finalised on what we were going to do when we received a request from Eddie Forrester, a major sponsor of XH558, that should we have the time, could we fly down to Cranfield to say hello to members of his company Aerobytes who were on a course there? This too fell beautifully into the plan because we had about another 20 minutes to spare between the first formation flight with the Blades and the next one, even taking into consideration the visit to the school. The initial plan was that on the way home from Sywell to Doncaster we were going to carry out a practice display for Bill Ramsey at RAF Cranwell, but due to circumstances out of our control, they couldn’t accommodate us, so, we had to search around for another airfield where Bill could do his practice. I asked Cranfield if they would allow us to do the practice there and they almost bit my arm off! So there we are then, the finalised plan now was to take off from Doncaster, fly down to Sywell and formate with the Blades and Spitfire, have a small diversion to Great Doddington primary school, continue on to Cranfield to fly a practice display, before returning to Sywell for the second formation flight with the Blades and the Spitfire. Having completed all that, we would then carry out a display over Sywell for Eddie and his guests before returning to Doncaster.

We had about 10 minutes to go before our crew briefing when Toni Hunter, our resident tour guide, organiser, chauffeur, administrator and any other job that may fall her way, asked whether we could overfly Hayfield primary school on our way out of Doncaster.  Hayfield School is resident at Doncaster right alongside the hangars. Most of you will not be aware, and why should you be, that next Thursday 27th September will be the launch of the school’s new uniform and the school badge will feature the Vulcan as its centrepiece. Most of the ground crew will be there to celebrate the event and so will the majority of the aircrew. Once again, it’s all part of our “Inspire a generation” theme. Kev rang Doncaster air traffic control to see if they would agree to us flying a non-standard departure in order to overfly the school and like the man from Del Monte they said ‘yes’. Yet again, the school children would be assembled in the playground to wave to us as we overflew them.

With this latest addition to the plan, we all agreed that there should be no further changes. So we briefed the trip, had a final cup of tea (not always a good idea in my case), and then Toni drove us out to the aircraft. As usual, the aircraft was looking absolutely splendid with her paintwork glinting in the sunshine. How do the ground crew (and volunteers) manage it? They must spend hours lovingly polishing her. The start up went well and soon we were taxiing out to the runway. Air traffic gave us clearance to take off, so Bill applied 80% power, held the aircraft on the footbrakes to make sure they were working as advertised, and then with toes off the brake pedals we were off down the runway. Once airborne, we flew back over the airfield before turning back in to fly over the school and the children who were all waving from the playground. We could almost hear the squeals of delight from all those upturned faces. 

Pressing on, we were soon at Sywell and could hear the Blades on the frequency taxiing out to the runway. As previously agreed, we held off to the north west over the Pitsford lakes and waited for them to join us. Soon, I could see them behind me in my periscope and having told Kev and Bill that they were behind us, Kev cleared them to join us on either side. I could hear the noise of their engines running at full throttle as they flew alongside us sounding like a swarm of angry bees. I could see them then from my side window and seeing as I had my camera with me, I thought that taking a few piccies might be in order. All too soon the formation work came to an end and the Blades went off to do their own thing, as we continued on down to Great Doddington primary school to see our young admirers. Kev identified the school and flew over not once, but three times. On our final pass he waggled the wings and that gave me the opportunity when the port wing was down, to see all the kiddies waving furiously at us. I don’t know what it is, but it always gives me a warm glow inside when I see these youngsters showing such great enthusiasm with their waving arms. I guess that it takes me back to when I was the same age – when I used to wave at aircraft whenever they passed low over me. It was that thrill I got when waving to the aircraft all those years ago as they passed low overhead, that imbued in me a love of aircraft and set me on the path to a career in aviation. Maybe, just maybe, we might have yesterday sown the seeds of the love of aircraft and aviation in one or two of those children and they will go on to become the future of British aviation. I do hope so.

With the school visit complete we ventured on down south a further 20 miles to Cranfield where Bill completed his practice display. I’ve said before in my blogs that although I’m not a pilot, I can sense when a display is or is not a good one – and Bill’s display practice yesterday was a cracker. It was so obvious that he is a very experienced display pilot having been with the Red Arrows in years past and more recently, the Tutor display pilot. All that experience shone through yesterday during his display practice. Having completed his practice, we set course back to the Pitsford lakes to meet up with the Blades for our second episode of formation flying.

Once again the ‘angry bees’ closed on us and I could also see the Spitfire momentarily below us through my periscope before he went out of my field of vision. I thought that because I had a bit more time on my hands this time round, I would take some video of the Blades on the port side. I’m not Stephen Spielburg and I most certainly won’t be giving up the day job to enter the film industry, but having played the video back, all 30 seconds of it, I was quite pleased with my efforts. The formation work was soon finished and we stooged around for about 20 minutes while waiting for the Blades and the Spitfire to complete their tasking before landing, then disgorging their passengers who were then going to watch us do a display over the airfield. Kev flew that one; Bill of course, has yet to receive a display authorisation from the CAA before he can display before the public – so he couldn’t fly it. We’ve all seen Kev’s displays, so there’s no need for me to say really, that yet again, it was nothing less than impressive. I’ve seen a selection of photos taken by some of the assembled photographers including some taken by Charles Toop who was for many years the official photographer of the Vulcan Display Flight and the aircraft looks awesome in them.

Display complete we cleaned up the aircraft, bid Sywell and the spectators goodbye and set off northbound to Doncaster. It only seemed like a few minutes had passed before I was talking to the air traffic controller at Doncaster who cleared us for a straight-in approach to land. Two and a half hours had gone by in a flash. The day’s trip had been so gratifying in many ways. Firstly, we had flown an awesome display, not for the usual air show crowd, but for a crowd of personally invited guests, secondly, we had given eight lucky people the experience of a lifetime by having them fly alongside the Vulcan with the Blades. Thirdly, one very lucky person can proudly say that not only have they flown in a Spitfire, but it was in formation with the most impressive aircraft on the air show circuit today – the Avro Vulcan.

But for me, the best part of the day was the fact that we were able to let the school children experience the very awesome presence of the Vulcan, and hope that just maybe, it will fill them with enthusiasm which will manifest itself by them coming into the world of aviation in their adult lives. If that happens, then our motto of “inspire a generation” will have been achieved.

On that note, I shall sign off and get this down the wires to the newsletter editing team ready for inclusion in tomorrow’s (Fridays) newsletter. Once again, thank you finding the time to read this and as always thank you all for your continued support which helps us bring the Vulcan to the attention of everyone who sees her – but mostly, for the very young in who’s hands the very progress of aviation in Britain depends.

Happy landings,

Barry Masefield


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