They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it certainly takes an army of supporters and volunteers to look after a heritage aircraft. One of the volunteers who gives his time to ensure that Avro Vulcan XH558 is kept in the best possible condition is former Vulcan navigator and space researcher Mal Stainforth. Here he shares his story with the Vulcan fleet and explains why he takes the time to travel from his home in Lincoln to work with a team of dedicated volunteers who work on XH558:
My height makes me a useful volunteer! At 6ft 4inches tall I can close the engine doors without the need for a ladder. But my height was not always a blessing in my RAF career, it meant that I was simply too big to fly some aircraft.
When I first graduated from nav school my first choice of posting was the Buccaneer, but I did not fit, I was too tall, so I was asked what I wanted to fly. I chose the Vulcan because it was an operational warplane.
I joined the V Force in 1976 and was 24 when I joined 101 squadron. Unusually I was given the role of Navigator Plotter. I was one of the two navigators in the back of the Vulcan, the nav plotter and the nav radar. Normally your first tour was as radar operator and then some transferred to the plotter role on later tours.
It was a great role to have. I was responsible for planning the sortie for the crew. I started my planning about four hours before takeoff. I had to make sure that the plan fitted together all the crews training requirements and worked in terms of event timing.
At that point I was flying a Vulcan with 301 engines: more powerful than those in XH558 but without the magnificent howl.
I was part of my crew for three years and then went back to nav school and converted to fast jets, flying the F4 Phantom.
The RAF was my career for 40 years and as well as flying some of the very impressive aircraft I travelled to Europe, N America and the N Pole.
For the last 11 years of my RAF career, I was teaching the military applications of space and aerospace systems engineering. The Green Technology Hub that is planned for the new hangar at Doncaster Sheffield Airport has really caught my interest.
I joined the Vulcan to the Sky Trust as a volunteer in 2017 and was part of a group of people who took tours round XH558 to explain the role that she played in the Cold War. It was great to show people around and hear stories of their and their family’s involvement with the Vulcan. There are so many people who have a real passion for this aircraft.
A couple of years ago I joined a team of volunteer engineering helpers who were trained by our crew chief to do the essential servicing work to keep XH558 in a good condition and to ensure that she can continue to do engine runs for the public.
I am lucky enough to be in the cockpit when we do the engine runs. I sit in the AEO seat (next to my plotters seat 40 years previously) and it’s always a pleasure to be part of a crew once again.
The team travel from all over the country to work together on this impressive aircraft and ensure that this important piece of military history can continue to play a role in education and learning today.
For me, the most important priority is that we get her undercover, this is why the fundraising for the new hangar is so important. Then we can return to showing people around and sharing her history.
Having a Green Technology Hub in the new hangar where people can investigate and learn about future aviation technology is an exciting part of the plan. This will enable us to get a new generation of people interested and to use the principles behind the development of the Vulcan to look at the problems we face today and think about viable solutions. The mission is to take all the expertise we have, and there is a great deal of expertise across the volunteers, and harness that to make sure that the hangar can deliver a really engaging offer both for the Vulcan’s adoring public but to excite a generation of young people to join the aerospace industry. I am looking forward to being involved the Vulcan’s future.