Aviation in Doncaster

by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General

An Evening with Vulcan People

Thursday 11th October saw an almost full house at our ‘Aviation in Doncaster’ exhibition at Lakeside in Doncaster for an evening with Vulcan People. Our visitors were treated to three excellent presentations.


The evening started out with Coffee, served as people arrived, and after brief introductions, the first speaker, Wing Commander (Ret) Adrian Sumner, gave a presentation on his memories of being a Vulcan pilot, flying Vulcans all around the world - incorporating some very amusing stories.


One of his vivid memories was of the time he flew around the world, West-about.


Adrian stated:

Aviation in Doncaster

Throughout the 1970s the Vulcan Force still had a commitment to reinforce the Far East post the Malaysian Conflict and the Indonesian Confrontation. Periodic opportunities to practice the reinforcement were allocated to individual squadrons under the name of Exercise 'Sunflower'. One such opportunity arose whilst I was on 44Sqn at RAF Waddington in 1973, and, having the boss of the squadron on my crew as my Nav Radar proved fortuitous, as my crew were lucky enough to be assigned to fly a Lone Ranger to Singapore AFB Tengah from 10th November to 14th December that year. We routed westabout via Goose Bay Labrador, Offutt AFB Nebraska, McClellan California, Hickham AFB Hawaii, Wake Island, to Anderson AFB Guam where we were kept awake with black B52s taking off all night to bomb Vietnam.


Then instead of flying direct to Singapore, we flew to the Australian AFB at Darwin where we dropped 7 x 1000lb bombs on Quail Island range before flying up to Singapore. A further benefit of having the sqn boss on my crew was that he had gained permission to fly up to RAF Kai Tak in Hong Kong. However, this was easier said than done in those days, due to the so-called 'Checker Board' approach at Kai Tak, where a visual almost right-angle turn was required at around 600ft on the approach to the south-easterly runway. Therefore, in order to satisfy the RAF rules at the time, and to earn the proverbial 't-shirt', I had to not only watch a video of the approach, but also fly on the flight deck of another aircraft carrying out the approach into Hong Kong.


This I duly did on a VC10 flight deck a few days later, where the co-pilot was an American on an exchange tour, and, as we flew past Vietnam, I remember him turning to the Captain saying ”That’s another day’s combat pay!!!”.


After returning to Tengah, I was then able to fly the Vulcan up to Kai Tak, but the anti-climax was that we ended up landing on the opposite runway! The final benefit of the sqn boss on my crew was that he insisted that we also flew home from Singapore. This we did a week later, continuing west about via RAF Gan in the Maldives, RAF Masirah in the Arabian Sea, and RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. The total hours flown over the 34 days were 65hrs 10mins.


Flying westabout we also crossed the Date Line, and so I am actually a day younger than people think I am!! This was further complicated back then by the fact that I left the UK as a 25 year old Captain and returned as a 26 year old.


Finally, the Vulcan airframe I flew around the world was XM598, which is wonderfully preserved with 44Sqn markings in the Cold War Museum at Cosford. However, the aircraft is not there because of my memorable flight around the world, as little did I know that 9 years later, XM598 would become famous for its part in the Falklands War. Initially it was the primary aircraft for Black Buck 1, but had the DV window pressurisation problem after take-off, and then it became the standby aircraft for the rest of the Black Buck Missions.


After a short refreshment break it was over to Taff Stone who entertained with an amusing talk on Engineering and perfecting the art of being a Swan he enlightened the audience with some of the challenges of seamlessly keeping XH558 flying.


One of the stories Taff told was the time he had completed a display and had to drive from RAF Brize Norton to RAF Leuchars for a display the following day a long drive in a clapped out Transit van full of support equipment for XH558.


Just as he was arriving at Leuchars, his phone went. XH558 had blown a brake pipe back at Brize Norton and could not make the flight until it was repaired and where was the kit to do this? - in the back of the van that Taff had just driven all the way to Scotland!


Aviation in Doncaster

Upon Arrival at Leuchars, he explained his predicament and much to his excitement, was offered a back seat in a Tornado for a quick flight back to Brize Norton.


It was only when he realized he could not get all the equipment in the Aircraft with him that his excitement waned.


Upon hearing of his predicament, up stepped a Royal Navy officer who said we need a training flight, so jump on board our transport and we can take you and your equipment to Brize Norton and we can bring you back.


Repairs all done, the following day, XH558 completed her display without a hitch and with the public unaware of the drama that had happened the day before.


Our final speaker of the evening was Squadron leader (Ret) Malcolm Stainforth, who gave an entertaining rendition of flying Vulcan from the back seat. None of our guests will forget the ‘Talking Autopilot’ story.


The Vulcan was fitted with the Smiths Military Flight System (MFS), a supplementary Heading Reference System (HRS) and Navigator Heading Unit (NHU). During normal high level flying, the navigator could steer the aircraft using NHU demands fed through to the MFS system and autopilot.


This system did allow a mischievous crew to perpetrate an illusion on an unwary passenger. Passengers were often encouraged to stand on the ladder and watch the pilots. This placed them well out of view of the rear desk. Passengers then were asked if they were familiar with our “talking autopilot”. (Direct Voice Input (DVI) was an unheard-of term in those days.)


The pilot would demonstrate by telling the aircraft to turn; the navigator would hear the instruction on intercom and turn the NHU, thus manoeuvring the aircraft via the autopilot. After a couple of demonstrations, the passenger would be asked if he wanted a try. Any command the passenger made was ignored by me. The pilot now turns to our guest (often a senior officer) and says quietly that he must put much more determination in his voice. Eventually after screams and shouts, I would grudgingly move the NHU a few degrees.

Silly games but at the time good fun!




Aviation in Doncaster




All three presentations were amusing and highly entertaining and 3 hours passed in the blink of an eye.


All our guests went home with lots of new Vulcan stories to pass on to friends. This certainly was an event that will be remembered.


Our thanks to all that attended, our volunteers on the evening who looked after everyone, our guest speakers and of course, Jim Debenham, for writing this review of proceedings on the night.