G-ARVF seen at Hermeskeil, Germany
Photo J. Hieminga
The career of G-ARVF has taken some twists and turns to end up in an aviation museum in Hermeskeil, Germany. Obviously nobody could have guessed this when she lifted off the runway at the Brooklands airfield near Weybridge for the first time on 6 July 1963. Ordered by BOAC, she was first used by Vickers for development work. Together with G-ARVB she flew the majority of the route proving flights and did a lot of the flight training work. Starting on 17th October 1963, G-ARVF was involved in a trial that aimed to operate a single airframe for 1000 hours during many overseas flights to prepare the type for its eventual airline service. The first of these route proving flights went from London to Beirut, with later ones operating for example from London to Lagos, Nigeria, via Kano, arriving just in time for lunch. During these flights the aircraft was still owned by its manufacturer but operated by BOAC together with two flight crews and three technicians from RAF Transport Command. A wonderful example of industry cooperation that provided all parties with loads of information about the new type. More proving flights were made to places like Montreal, Toronto, Shannon, Prestwick, Nairobi, Khartoum, Rome, Aden, Salisbury and Accra. During the complete certification and route proving programme, 16,500 engine hours were flown on the eleven aircraft used, and just one unscheduled removal occurred. The culmination of all this was the certification of the VC10 on 22 April 1964. With the unrestricted Certificate of Airworthiness in hand Vickers could now deliver the VC10s to BOAC, who wasted no time and flew the first service to Lagos on 29th April with G-ARVJ. Commanding that first flight was Captain A.M. Rendall, also known to his colleagues as 'Flaps' Rendall, who would forever leave his mark on the VC10. On one of the early proving flights he became concerned that there was no horizontal surface in the structure around the windscreen which could help relate the attitude of the aircraft to the horizon on a visual approach. The solution to this was a thin steel wire, with adjustable tension to compensate for airframe 'stretching' when at altitude, mounted above the glareshield. It would forever be known as 'Rendall's washing line'. This was not the end of the Rendall family's connection with the VC10 though. In later years his son also flew the VC10 for BOAC/BA, and even more recently, in March 2001 it was his granddaughter Lucy Rendall who captained the last ever flight of VC10 K2 ZA142 (ex G-ARVI) to RAF St. Athan.
Upon entering service with BOAC, the VC10 encountered the teething problems that are common for any new advanced aircraft. In the early days the crew sometimes referred to it as the 'VC When'. The technical difficulties were soon under control though, something that could not be said for the 707. In the first two years of VC10 service superficial cracks appeared in the tailplane structure, but this was soon reinforced and they never returned. The 707 suffered from similar problems on its wings, but these were never fully solved and continued to cause concern throughout its service as wing fasteners and wing panels were continually coming loose. Also the 707 would sometimes emerge from crew training with popped rivets and wrinkles in the top fuselage skins, this never occurred on a VC10 when subjected to the same manoeuvres. From those early days on the VC10s became an integral part of BOAC's route structure, managing the 'hot and high' Africa routes with ease, although some destinations still warranted some special attention. Chileka Airport, Malawi, for example was always a cause for concern for BOAC crews. The single runway layout necessitated a 180 degree turn at the end of the runway so that the aircraft could taxi to the platform via the same runway. The turning circle at the end of the runway was adequate for a Standard VC10 but the extra length of the Super VC10 made this a test of skill for its crew. On several occasions reverse thrust was used very gently to reverse the aircraft and the alternative, a long wait for an airport tractor, was thus averted. Chileka also featured a very narrow runway which made it difficult to judge height and distance, to its credit, the VC10 was the only large aircraft to land regularly at Chileka.
Another 'special' airport was Ndola, Zambia. BOAC would fly short hops to the mining town of Ndola from Lusaka, the Zambian capital, usually with a full load of passengers. Although the fuel tanks would never be full during these trips, the bearing strength of the paved runway at Ndola was not sufficient to take the weight of the aircraft. This problem was solved by reducing the tire pressure and thereby widening the aircraft's 'footprint'. Also on the BOAC route structure was Entebbe Airport, situated right next to Lake Victoria. Knowledge of the local flying conditions was absolutely necessary when taking off from Entebbe as the aircraft would fly directly over the lake, where the air temperature was usually far higher than that at the airport. The result of this was a proportional drop in performance for the aircraft and engines causing the aircraft to 'wallow'. Close calls have been recorded and one 707 freighter was seen leaving a wake across the lake.
By 1974 BOAC had become BA, and with the introduction of the 747 the Standard VC10s where phased out. G-ARVF was one of those to find a new home, being sold to the Government of the United Arab Emirates on 24th July 1974 for £690,000. The colour scheme for the aircraft was specially designed by BA's overseas division, and when finished the aircraft emerged almost entirely painted white with red trim, a wise decision considering its future theatre of operations. After some final checks the aircraft was handed over and for the next seven years it flew Sheikh Zayed and other government officials to many varied destinations. As a VIP aircraft the VC10 had few vices, its reserve of power helping out with time keeping, something that can be very important on a state visit. Also the height of the rear engines kept them well clear of any guard of honour. The only thing lacking on the VC10 is an APU, which means that engine starting can get complicated and noisy on some airports. When available a ground source of pneumatic (low) pressure is used, which is similar to the bleed air that would be available from an APU or an already started engine. For those destinations where this is not available the VC10 can be equipped with a combustion starter on one of the starboard side engines, usually this will be installed on engine no.3. This system consists of a small combustion chamber to which high pressure air is directed from an external bottle. With fuel and ignition added the result is a fierce combustion that is used to get a small turbine moving which powers the N2 shaft of the engine. The effect on the outside is somewhat similar to the cartridge starters used in early jet engines. Getting an engine started this way is somewhat tricky as well as noisy but as high pressure air bottles can be easily found on many airports, or even brought along in the cargo compartment, this provides the necessary self supporting capability for the aircraft. BUA aircraft went one step further, they had three bottles fitted in the tailcone below the rudder so that they were never dependent on ground support for engine starting.
In 1981 G-ARVF was retired from its duties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Government and it was decided to donate the aircraft to the Hermeskeil Museum in Germany. It was flown to Saarbrücken - Ensheim airfield, but its last journey would be by road with its wings, engines and tail removed. Due to several low bridges between the airfield and the museum, and of course the work required to take the aircraft apart, it took three weeks to get to the museum site. After its arrival the aircraft was slowly put together again and was securely mounted at the - then still a bit empty - museum site. In the Flugausstellung Junior at Hermeskeil the aircraft has found a peaceful resting place, and being on indefinite loan from the UAE, it is still preserved in its colours with its interior intact as well. The collection at Hermeskeil includes several other British designs such as a Vickers Viscount 814, deHavilland Comet 4C, two ex-Luftwaffe Percival Pembrokes, a Venom, Dove, Lightning, Canberra and Gannet. The most striking view however (next to the VC10 of course) is a full size replica of a Concorde which houses the museum's restaurant. There's something odd about this Concorde at first sight, and when you take a close look it is clear that this replica has been constructed with a larger diameter fuselage than the real thing, probably to have a decent sized restaurant. Five abreast seating has definitively never been installed in a real Concorde!
1. The first of the 1000 hour route proving flights went to Beirut, here the tail of G-ARVF is shown against the hills surrounding the airport.
1. A wonderful view of the aircraft showing the first BOAC scheme on the VC10.
1. Boarding G-ARVF at Nairobi in July or August of 1966. The aircraft has the first 'stepped' Golden Speedbird colourscheme here.
1-2. G-ARVF delivering its passengers to Honolulu on 30th December 1972, operating flight BA592.
1. The August 1974 edition of BA's
Speedbird magazine showed off G-ARVF which had just been delivered to the
President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi.
1. The half-moon settee in the lounge of
1. G-ARVF seen in May 2003
1. Both wings are supported at the tips
1. The front office of G-ARVF, control
wheel buttons are a prized souvenir I guess
1. Plexiglass screens are installed when
you enter at the front of the airplane to discourage thieving and vandalism, a
sensible precaution considering the fact that the aircraft is kept open all day
1. In March 2012 I had an opportunity to
see G-ARVF from above, this photo was taken from the North-East and shows the
entire aircraft park with the VC10 in the center.
1. When looking at some of the photos from
2003 above it is obvious that most of the surrounding planes are still there but
there appear to be more small jets next to the VC10's righthand wing.