Ramblings from the AEO’s Panel – Part 2

Part of the Ramblings from the AEO's Panel series

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.  


As most of you will know by now your aircraft has flown once again and been safely delivered to her new home at Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster.  For the military minded of the readers Robin Hood Airport is the old RAF Finningley, a base that the Vulcan operated from for many years.  You will remember from my last blog that before we could get 558 airborne all the crew members had to undergo their annual emergency evacuation drills from the aircraft.  The MaPS team at Wellesbourne Mountford kindly lent us their aircraft, XM655, for the day so that we could perform the drills under realistic conditions with the engines running.  All went well and our Flight Safety man, Andy Marson, gave us all a tick of approval.  Running the aircraft and taxiing it for a short while gave our newer pilots the opportunity to keep their hands in and get used to the feel of ‘driving’ a Vulcan once again.  Once again our thanks go out to the MaPS team for their invaluable assistance.

Now that we had the emergency procedures sorted it was a case of waiting until the 29th March, the date for us to fly 558 up to Robin Hood.  The crew to do the initial flight from RAF Lyneham was Martin Withers, Paul Mulcahy (the CAA Chief Test Pilot), Andy Marson, as our Navigator, and myself. Although the aircraft didn’t need to complete an air test after the winter servicing it would have to have one before July when the Permit To Fly needed to be renewed.  Martin, Andy and myself all met at Robin Hood on Monday 28th to get all of the paperwork sorted out and to get our security passes for the airport. Then we had the long drive down to our hotel near RAF Lyneham where we would meet up with Paul ready for the flight the following day.

The day dawned with what was basically a fine day but rather misty.  The Met. man assured us it would burn off as the sun got higher in the sky and so armed with that forecast and the assurance that the weather at Robin Hood was okay we continued our pre-flight planning.  We got the distinct impression from all the Ops staff at Lyneham that they were all rather sad to see us go but they all knew, like we did, that staying at Lyneham was not an option seeing as it is due to close in the very near future.  We have received an excellent service from them and our thanks go to all of them for helping us. With all our planning done we arrived at the aircraft to meet up with all our servicing guys once again.  We hadn’t seen them since September last year so there was a lot of hand shaking and banter going on. Generating the aircraft was uneventful and soon we were roaring off down the runway for our flight to Doncaster.

After a farewell flypast at Lyneham we turned eastwards to overfly Wootton Bassett at 2000 feet to pay our respects to the townsfolk there. An overflight at RAF Brize Norton followed and then we continued our flight up to the RAF Marham area in East Anglia where we had our test flight schedule to carry out.  This was done up at 14000 feet and involved amongst  many other things shutting down all the engines in turn, checking out the flying control systems and finally making sure that all the emergency electrical systems worked when electrical loads were placed on them.  All this took about one and a half hours and then it was time to head northwest towards Doncaster to be on time for a 2pm arrival.  With his usual precision Andy had us over the airfield exactly on time where Martin carried out a fly-through down the runway so that the crowds could see us before turning downwind for the landing.  As part of the air test we had to stream the brake parachute, this always looks impressive and just enhanced our arrival.

After the aircraft was shut down we all stepped out to meet all the airport dignitaries and to meet up with a barrage of press photographers and TV crews.  What they really wanted of course was to interview Martin!! While this was going on the rest of us could relax a bit and re-hydrate after a sortie which had had quite a heavy workload.  There seemed to be a genuine feeling of welcome from everyone who was there which bodes really well for our future operations from Robin Hood. The VTST accommodation is only a short walk from the Passenger Air Terminal so once all the hand shaking and pleasantries were over we made our way to the office to carry out a comprehensive debrief with Taff Stone, our crew chief, about how the aircraft had performed on the air test.  You will all be pleased that overall the aircraft was in good condition and, after a period of minor rectification, should soon be ready for our first display.

That’s about it for this time.  My next blog won’t be until after our first display so a few weeks will go by before I write again.

Happy landings.

Barry

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