I joined Rolls Royce in February 1958 and worked at Hucknall, Notts, for 14 years before moving to Derby for a further 21 years, in the stress office. One Friday I had just visited the toilet when someone shouted – ‘Hi Ken, come outside and look at this’. A group of designers and stress engineers were outside, standing on the steps leading to the pilot’s car park and staring up at the sky. The Vulcan currently at Hucknall for engine testing, was flying at a high altitude. Nothing unusual in that but the 360 degree victory roll that followed had us all wondering what was coming next. Nothing happened and a normal landing took place so all was ok.
The following day my first wife, my young cousin and I attended the flying display at (No Suggestions) Aerodrome – mainly to see the same Vulcan give its display. While the 3 of us were in one of the hangars, watching the Martin Baker Ejection seat demonstration, we heard a noise that no one could explain. On emerging from the hangar we could see the runway and lying along each edge was a line of debris which was not there when we went in. The Vulcan had done a very low approach at a very high speed, totally against all advice and regulation, crashed and completely disintegrated. Several lives were lost – The CAA reported – Pilot Error.
Several years later, while still at Hucknall, a very dear friend and colleague had an experience, which is worth repeating. John, sadly died a few years ago, suffered Polio at the age of 14 and was confined to a wheel chair from getting up until going to bed.
Another Vulcan had arrived at Hucknall for engine testing and it was our office custom to take mid-day lunches and eat them on the grass between the Control Tower and the runway. One day we had all eaten and were on the point of returning to our desks when someone came down the steps of the tower and told us ‘Hang on a bit longer, the Vulcan is due to land soon and there’s an air vice marshal at the controls’. So we did.
A Railway embankment ran along the front of the runway which meant that pilots had to maintain some altitude before dropping at the last second for landing. The Vulcan came into view, flew over the embankment – but did not drop. The plane stayed at the same altitude for much longer than we had ever seen. Then, suddenly it did drop and hit the runway with a frightening thud We all expected to see the undercarriage break off and disappear, resulting in a serious crash landing. As a result, we all fled and hid behind anything we could find, lying flat on the ground.
Seconds later we heard the engines increase power and the plane went on to complete another circuit and land safely. Relief all round – but then we saw John, sitting in his wheelchair and shouting at us.
‘You deserted me in my time of need’
Was the gist of his speech, but there were other phrases, which I can’t repeat here.
At R.R. model aircraft club some years later someone flew a 16ft wingspan Vulcan and it was fantastic. John was taking part in an archery competition, still in his wheel chair when the Vulcan flew very low over his head. The next day at work he maintained that I had arranged it so that ‘next time the Vulcan would get him’
I was asked to give the eulogy at John’s funeral on behalf of his friends and colleagues at Rolls Royce, and there were many. Imagine the reaction in church when hearing the above story – the incident was a one off, just like John.