Ramblings from the AEO’s Panel – Part 6

Ramblings from the AEO’s Panel – Part 6

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.

With RAF Waddington done and dusted it was time to organise 558’s transit down to RN Yeovilton to be in position for their Open Day the following weekend of 9th July.

The crew, comprising Martin Withers, Bill Ramsey and myself met up at Waddington Operations on the Tuesday morning to brief the trip and once that was completed we drove to the far side of the airfield to crew-in.  As I made my way up the ladder into the cockpit I was met by Martin Andrews (Junior) making his way down.  He had been in the cockpit for about an hour practicing his skills using the Garmin GNS 430, the rear crew GPS system. One can only admire his devotion to duty!!

As we progressed through the start-up checks all seemed to be going well until we tried to start the third engine (No2) and it just flatly refused to accelerate past the Idle power setting. We thought that maybe the air starter unit might not have been sufficient to spin the starter turbine (unlikely seeing as it had already started Nos 4 and 3 engines) so we decided to dispense with the air starter unit and use the already started engines to supply compressed air to start up No2. To do this requires the engines to be run up to fairly high power settings which creates a very forceful jet efflux from the tail pipes but unfortunately parked about 150 yards behind us was the Air Ambulance helicopter and we would have sent that bowling across the airfield.  We shut down the engines, climbed out and made our way to the Air Ambulance HQ to discuss the situation with them. The helicopter pilot was more than happy to climb into his helicopter, start it up, and fly a couple of hundred yards out of the way of our jet exhaust efflux and then land it again.

We had a little bit of time chatting with the paramedics while the helo pilot was moving his helicopter. Some of the stories they told us were rather stomach churning but nevertheless interesting. They really are a great bunch of guys and do a magnificent job.  Anyway, after the helicopter had been moved we climbed back in to 558, completed the Pre Start checks and gave it another go this time using what’s known as a cross-feed start where once Nos 3 and 4 engines were started we would, as explained before, use the compressed air from them to start up No2.  Once again the engine turned but refused to accelerate past the Idle setting.  Blast, we thought or words to that effect.  We had no option now but to shut everything down and hand the aircraft back to Taff and his techies to sort out the problem.

We left them scratching their heads and returned to the Officer’s Mess for a light lunch and to wait hear from them.  Ray Watts, our engines techie, started working on the engine with the aid of Taff and the rest of the guys and eventually they traced the fault down to a faulty fuel bleed valve in the CMFS (Chassis Mounted Fuel System). This unit controls all the fuel requirements for the engine ranging from the minimum fuel required at start up to maximum fuel required when the engine is run at full thrust (just like a glorified carburettor really!!).  They tried some adjustments to the bleed valve and then attempted to re-start the engine.  Unfortunately to no avail, it still wouldn’t accelerate. The guys came to the conclusion that there was no option but to change the entire CFMS. Not an easy thing to do because normally the engine and the CMFS are changed together as a complete unit but in this case it was just the CMFS that needed to be taken off and not the engine as well. Getting to the fuel pipe joints is really difficult when the whole thing is still mounted in the wing but they decided to give it a go anyway. A replacement CMFS was detached from an engine down at Hinckley and transported up to Waddington for Ray and his helpers to weave their technical magic. There was no chance that the engine was going to be fixed for a few days so we aircrew packed our bags and returned home to wait for the call that would tell us that the engine had been fixed.

Eventually at 10 o’clock on Friday morning Martin Withers rang us to say that things were progressing well and he wanted us to make our way up to Waddington to be ready for when the techies had done the job and declared that the engine was, once again, serviceable. The techies were still working on it when we all arrived at about 12 o’clock but felt confident that it would only be an hour before they had wrapped up the job. They still had the engine runs to do though and that was going to take a couple of hours so.  We had to be at Yeovilton by 5-30pm before the Navy closed the airfield so the pressure was on for Taff and his men to get the engine fixed. In the middle of the afternoon we could hear the engines being run on the far side of the airfield so our confidence was building that all was going to plan.  Finally the phone call came through from Taff that the engine had been declared serviceable and the aircraft was ours.

Our crew briefed the sortie at Operations.  This didn’t take long seeing as it was a straight transit trip and finally we made our way to the aircraft to be met by the techies. The poor guys looked absolutely shattered, they had worked extremely hard to get the engine serviceable and it had taken its toll leaving them with really tired looking faces.  We climbed in and with Ray as our passenger for the trip we completed our checks. During the checks I got a call on the radio from Air traffic Control asking what time we would be overhead East Midlands airport on our way south.  This came as a bit of a shock seeing as this was the first time we had heard that East Midlands were expecting to see us.  I queried this with Air Traffic and asked whether East Midlands were just chancing their arm by suggesting that we visit them and we both came to the conclusion that they were.  Looking at the route it was only a few miles off our planned track south so we told them that provided it was at no cost to the VTTS we would be happy to visit them for an approach and fly through.  It’s always nice to oblige places like East Midlands airport, we sometimes use them as an emergency diversion airfield and it’s always good to keep them ‘on side’.  You never know when we might need to use them in anger. With this modified plan in place we got airborne and headed off to Yeovilton via East Midlands airport.  The transit went smoothly and all the engines behaved themselves so well done to all the techies who had put in so much hard work to achieve this.

Our arrival at Yeovilton was uneventful and after completing the booking–in process we soon headed off to our hotel in Ilchester.  It was a Travel Lodge and was quite remote from anywhere to eat except for the co-located Little Chef.  The nearest place to get a proper meal was in a pub about a mile away.  Not a problem we thought, it shouldn’t take us too long to walk there until we found out that they stopped serving food at 9pm and it was already 8-40 before we were ready to set off.  Nothing like a very brisk walk to whet the appetite eh!!  We made it just as they were calling for last food orders so having ordered our meal we then settled down to drink a well-earned pint and wait for the food to arrive. Anyway, we ate, we drank and before long it was time to wend our way back to the Travel Lodge to get some sleep before a very early start in the morning.  We had to be at Yeovilton by 0715 because the Navy close all the approach roads to the base at that time.  It was a 20 minute drive from Ilchester to Yeovilton which meant leaving at 0630 to be on the safe side.

The display day at Yeovilton was yet another great success for the Vulcan.  We had pre-briefed an additional add-on at the end of our display with the pilot of the RN Historic Flight Sea Vixen whereby when we had finished our display he would join up with us and we would fly past the crowds a few times to give them a unique photo opportunity.  It all went well and the crowd loved it. After landing we taxied the aircraft right up to the crowd line and after climbing out we were greeted with rapturous applause.  Quite humbling really, but it’s great to see how much the spectators love the aircraft and all that it stands for. They wouldn’t let us go for over an hour asking us to sign photos, magazines, show programmes and anything else that they could find for us to write on.  Eventually we managed to get back to the VTTS tent which was only 50 yards away and drink a desperately needed cup of tea.  Of course, once we were back in the tent Ian Homer then rounded us up to sit at a table to continue the signing of the merchandise bought by the assemble crowds. I really value this part because it gives me a chance to talk with the enthusiasts and share in their enjoyment of what they have just seen.  One gentleman introduced himself to me, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve forgotten his name, and told me that he really enjoyed reading the blogs that I had written.  This was the first and only feedback I’ve had and it was gratifying to know that at least one person is reading them.  He was carrying a fairly impressive camera and lens and said that he had taken some photos of us with the Sea Vixen and would I like to see them.  Needless to say the answer was yes and having seen them I called Richard Clarke over to see them.  Richard asked if he could publish the photos on the VTTS web site to which the gentleman agreed so the two of them exchanged names and email addresses and Richard published one of the photos last week which I’m sure most of you will have seen.

As the show drew to a close we, the crew, left early in our car to avoid the traffic congestion.  We had to make a long drive home to Waddington where our cars were situated and we didn’t want to be held up at the start of the journey.  The aircraft was going to remain at Yeovilton for the rest of the week before it was then due to transit to Fairford for the Royal International Air Tattoo.  We drove up to Bristol where we dropped off Martin Withers to meet up with his wife Laura and then Bill Ramsey and I continued our journey home getting back to Waddington at 1015 pm.  I then had the drive down the A17 to King’s Lynn before finally getting home at 1130pm.  It had been a long and tiring couple of days but a very successful outcome for 558 and the VTTS.  My thanks, and the rest of the crew too, go out to Taff, Ray and the rest of the techies for all the hard work they had put in that week to get 558 repaired in time for the weekend’s show.

I was due a bit of a break now. I wasn’t down to fly until after the RIAT show when it was my turn to be part of the crew to take the aircraft from Fairford up to RAF Wittering to be in position for their Families Day on the 22nd July.  More about that in the next blog.

Well that’s about for this time.

Happy landings.

Barry Masefield


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