From engine changes to formation flights.... if it includes a 'Shiny Ten' you can find it here.
Photos by Ken White (Separate page)
Memories of RAF Brize Norton, by G.R. Fraser (Separate page)
Fun & Games with Harold (Separate Page)
Record setting days in the RAF (Separate Page)
Introducing the VC10 C Mk1 into RAF service (Separate Page)
This story comes from Mike Howles' Bit of Universe (and is used with his permission).
"Now, here's something you won't see everyday:"
"This is a photocopy of a picture of a drama that happened to ZA144 in the hangar during a routine No 4 engine fit during a major service. We were using the electric engine winching kit (which can be seen on top of the torque box) and the engine was very nearly in when the front cable decided to part company with the swaged end resulting in the front of the engine crashing down onto the engine staging that we had just put underneath.
No serious damage occurred to the aircraft either, as you can see the aft engine cowling is a bit creased but the torque box was all ok."
The following account was very kindly provided by Mr. Ken
White, VC10 Base Sqdn Flight Manager in the period December 1968 -
September 1972. Along with this account he has
provided an ample supply of photos, mostly taken by himself, that record several
aspects of the comings and goings at RAF Brize Norton. The complete collection
can be viewed on this page:
"I was promoted to Flight Sergeant on posting from 5 Squadron Lightnings at RAF Binbrook to RAF Brize Norton. I was allocated the job as Propulsion Systems Manager but after a week I told the Wg Cmdr Engineering that there wasn’t a job to do as all the specialist knowledge was with the Chief Techs and there was no need for a FS to manage the bay. Within a week he had posted me to take over as VC 10 Base Squadron Fight Manager to replace the FS who had been with the VC10 since its Project days (I know why but its not for publication) so started a love affair that still continues.
My best memories are of the SNCO’s and "troops" who worked for me. Some superb characters. I have maintained contact with some. No one could have asked for more. We reduced servicing times from weeks to days. A Base One inspection took 3 days maximum including modifications and repairs, Base Two’s one week and Base Threes three weeks. The spirit was exceptional.
We operated from a purpose built cantilever hangar with 5.5 acres of floor space the hangar being the largest in Europe when it was built in 1967.
The servicing teams could put the mobile "Highway Staging" around the aircraft and have the aircraft jacked within ninety minutes of the aircraft entering the hangar for a service. Quite a feat!
A major problem that occurred was inter crystalline cracks on the wheel axles which all needed to be inspected by NDT and changed. After a couple of inspections the team got it down to a twenty four hour turn round per bogie. So the commitment to route flying was never interrupted. The thing that held us up was the supply of replacement axles. Other problems were only the ones you would normally expect.
"major" problem during my four years with "Tens".
Repair schemes for airframe damage were produced by Edgar Skitt of the Stress Department at BAC Weybridge to whom we were always indebted.
Apart from normal servicings we produced VIP and Royal fit conversions of various VC 10’s for use on overseas tours by the Queen, Members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister and Senior Government Ministers.
Youngsters of that time will remember Princess Anne flying with Valerie Singleton to Kenya on a "Blue Peter" trip. I remember Harold Wilson setting alight a bed with his pipe on one Government trip.
Air testing following "Major" servicing was carried out from the hangar and it was at this time our families went flying, Ten Squadron using the time to give trainee cabin staff "live" trainees. My wife and daughter still talk of those flights despite the tens of thousands of miles they have flown in many other types.
I next met up with the VC10 when I was stationed at RAF Gan in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean in 1974, it was still the same pleasure to hear it’s distinctive sound, especially the one that brought me home after nine months on the island.
The VC10 reminds me of what comradeship can mean, especially as I get older and need major servicing myself. If any of my old crew read this please get in touch at my e-mail address. Thank you Jelle for a site that reminds me of all that is good in life."
I don't know if this item should be on another page, but I think it belongs here. It is not really a 'memory' as such, but I'm sure that it helps to keep some memories alive. Bob Whittington is an ex-10 Squadron Air Steward 1971-1975 and 1978 - 1980 and drives around Brantford, Ontario, Canada with the number plate shown below. I guess it is not for sale.
Update, November 2005: I was contacted by Bob Whittington with a new photo of his number plate. Looks like he got himself a new car! (New photo on the right.)
Who knew that the VC10 could be such an inspiration for poetry? The following
three poems with accompanying notes were submitted by G.R.
Fraser, and were written during his time as a 10 Squadron Loadmaster
"during idle hours droning over the oceans of the world while the
passengers slept!" He has also provided me with several photos depicting
the early beginnings of RAF Brize Norton, they can be found here:
To the first female Loadmasters on RAF VC10s
I am a lady Loadmaster
( XV101 35000 ft Bahrain-Changi 20th April 69 )
The Meal Tray
Initially the inflight meals were in plastic dishes heated in electric containers and then dished out on to pre-prepared meal trays by the Air Stewards (a new trade at that time) and were sometimes a bit “tired”. One complete meal service for 135 passengers was carried in insulated containers in the front freight hold for emergency use (diversions, delays, etc) and if unused was unloaded back into stores at Brize Norton for reissue. Sometimes ones breakfast had been round the world twice before you ever ate it…..
What makes ones stomach reel and squirm?
Prepared by a genuine Borgia brood,
Heaven rot the ghastly ughsome mess
This greasy, dirty, noisesome platter
With many a curse and agonized yell,
And when I die and go above
(XV102 35000ft Gan – Akrotiri 9th March 1969)
More on Food
With the advent of trooping and family flights by VC10s instead of civilian charters, an “airline image” was set up with particular reference to catering, which became an “empire” of its own. Vast quantities of instructions, manuals, amendments, feeding plans etc., were produced and sent round the routes and stations. When amending copy 124 of “feeding plan Gan – Akrotiri” for the umpteenth time in ones pile of in-flight documents it was often thought that eating the paperwork would have more nutritional value than the meals themselves….
Noisy, shiny VC10, what are you a’doing then?
Little brats with snotty noses, drunken soldiers with
Eyelids drooping, spirits flag, but the cabin staff
(XR808 37000 ft Akrotiri-Brize Norton 19th Jan 1969)
* Sqn Ldr Oxtoby – 38 Group Senior Catering Officer, a.k.a. God
Drew Hodge sent me a message about the use of the RAF's VC10s for aeromedical evacuations. This may be one of the lesser known jobs of the VC10.
During 13 years in the RAF, I flew many times in VC10s as a member of an aeromedical evacuation team. This included a memorable trip to Montevideo during the Falklands war. As the takeoff run to return to Brize (via Ascension Island) started, one of the aircraft's engines lost a fan blade, which was ingested and caused the pilot to abort. The aircraft was full of walking and stretcher-bound wounded, but there were no injuries -- just a few days delay while another VC10 brought out a replacement engine.
The photo above was taken on Ascension Island in 1985. I was a member of an aeromedical evacuation team sent to West Africa, via Ascension, in an RAF VC10 to pick up a patient who had contracted Lassa fever. It was the first time a special air-transportable isolation tent, designed by the RAF, had been used in anger. The patient was picked up in Sierra Leone and flown to Filton airport in Bristol -- the closest airport to Ham Green hospital -- and made a complete recovery. The photo shows the team (doctors, nurses, biomedical engineering technicians, and aeromed technicians) with the VC10 in the background.
Andy Robinson was on RAF Gan when this photo was taken by a member of the local photo section, sometime during 1969/1970. It shows a VC10 during a turnaround, getting refuelled and loaded for the next leg of its trip.
As part of the celebrations laid on for the VC10's forthieth, the RAF organised a formation flight to provide a photo opportunity to journalists. I stumbled onto a post in the 'Private Flying' forum on PPRuNe that provided a first-hand account of some of the flying on that day. So, with permission from BEagle, who posted this, here is his account:
"OK - There’s a photo-shoot opportunity for a whole host of aviation journos to record the 40th anniversary of a certain aeroplane. Three of us are to fly our dear old Vickers Funbuses in formation, do some air-to-air refuelling, then home for tea and medals. I’m no. 2 to another mate, we’ve got 4 journos on board but most of the others are in no. 3’s jet. The plan is for him to get airborne first and poke off to the East Coast, we’ll then follow, get set up in formation and await the plethora of pointy-jets which have been arranged - regrettably the weather is too poor for a formation departure.
But then no. 1 goes tits up, so I’m now lead. We tell no. 3 to get airborne as planned, sort out the 6-ship which is due to meet him on the area, we’ll then give him some gas and settle down in cell with me leading, the fast jets joining and the journos snapping. No. 3 gets airborne, we’re taxying when we hear that no. 1 is now serviceable. So we get airborne as planned and wait to hear how no. 1 is doing. We hear that he’s airborne, so we bin our plan, no.3 goes on to the North Sea whilst we throw a 360 to fall in behind no. 1 - he’s 24 miles away at this point. There he is - ease, harden - pull as hard as is safely possible in a 40-year old ex-airliner and tuck in on his wing in close echelon right. Out to the area, form cell, take 4 Jaguars on our wing. Follow no. 1 - he’s waiting for 4 F3s whilst we sort out our Jaguars’ requirements. Then we’ve got 4 Jags on us, 2 F3s joining him 1 mile ahead and 1000ft below, another 2 F3s joining us - and where the hell is no. 3? He joins us and manoeuvres to keep the journos happy. Now there are another 2 Jags joining and a couple of GR4s are also due. They all turn up, no.3 gets his piccies but the fuel in our tankers isn’t terribly well equalised. So we pop down to join no. 1, asking for 5 tonnes of fuel. Join in echelon right, move astern then hang on for no. 3 and the journos to arrive. They’re happy, ‘clear contact centre’ is called so I make contact with all the tenderness of a returning nuclear submarine sailor greeting his girl-friend after 6 months under the ice cap! We get our gas, then it’s no.3’s turn. He does the same, we go wide echelon left on no. 1. When 3 is complete we clear him to join us and no. 1 bogs off back to base. No.3 and I now race back across to the Irish Sea, handover to Warton as there’s an EF 2000 for our journos to snap.
On the area, EF mate turns up and the journos go all moist and ecstatic. Up to the top, turn south and then north again. EF is finished and after being cleared to leave, disappears upwards at an incredible rate! It doesn’t half go!! We’re on the way back now, clear of controlled airspace we descend towards base for a pairs approach - 8 Conways in close formation! But the ATIS is giving a picture of pretty poor weather, so after a bit more photography for our journos we split and come home independently. Co-pilot does a nice ILS and positive touchdown, ideal on the wet runway which we have to land upon. Taxi in, shut down and the journos are all waggy-tailed and happy - 3:45 hours flying, great fun - but nothing really out of the ordinary for the RAF tanker force.....
That’s what I did at the office today! And on Sunday I’ve got 4 days away to Africa and back!!"
This account tells of a crew training flight where everything got a bit exciting.
"An evening in April '67 saw my crew take off from RAF Fairford in VC10 XR806 for a night continuation training detail, to consist mainly of circuits and (roller) landings plus some ILS approaches. Passage of a cold front had been predicted for later on, but for the first hour or so conditions were reasonable; good visibility beneath the 3000ft overcast, and a light to moderate NW wind. True, I did observe some distant flashing to the NW during the early stages of our sortie but could not be absolutely certain about its origins; now, as we neared the Brize Norton NDB to commence an ILS approach into Fairford, it was pretty well out of my mind on this dark spring night.
I was therefore slightly surprised when we ran into a ragged cloud base on approaching Brize, accompanied by some moderate turbulence; perhaps the front was closer than predicted? The ghostly flicker of St. Elmo's fire played across the windscreen panels, followed by occasional forking of what appeared to be miniature lightning. As these phenomena intensified I suddenly noticed a ball of intense blue light, about the size of a small apple, perched on the ice detector probe just outside my direct vision panel. I was in the act of drawing the co-pilot's attention to this curious object, when there was a blinding flash and a most tremendous bang that left us all dazed and totally blinded.
For a short while I remained unsighted, and my head rang like a bell; then, very gradually, sight returned in odd reddish-blue hues similar to those seen through the goggles issued to viewers of early, experimental 3-D films. Fortunately I already had the auto-pilot engaged, and this continued to function as if nothing had happened; a check with the rest of the crew found them (like me) scared witless but otherwise OK, with all systems functioning normally. A demoralised voice from the tower requested a radio check, saying they had received a lightning strike; "so have we" responded the co-pilot somewhat brusquely, thus terminating that particular conversation. I decided to land and have the aircraft checked over - surely such a massive strike must have caused some damage?
Miraculously, our VC10 was totally unharmed, not even a wick discharger burned off. Static electricity is a strange beast; I have known comparatively mild strikes cause significant damage, yet this terrifying zap had left no trace whatever. A ground observer later stated he had seen a great stab of lightning from our aircraft's nose as we passed overhead Brize; for my part, I think that we were probably victims of that mysterious, seldom seen and little understood phenomenon known as ball lightning. If so we had been especially fortunate, as it is quite unpredictable in its behaviour and is supposedly capable of causing great damage should the ball "explode", as it apparently had done in this instance."
For many years Aeroplane Magazine featured a few comments from John Maynard in his column 'Crosswind', in his unimitable style here he comments on the insurance industry when applied to a RAF VC10 flight."I should start this piece with those famous words, 'Now, you're not going to believe this, but . . .'. However, since I am about to write about the vagaries of the insurance industry, I will not be stretching your credulity unduly. Roger Carvell draws my attention to a letter, published by The Times, from Wing Commander G.L. Perry. This tells of an occasion some years ago when the Wing Commander was offered an 'indulgence' flight to Washington on an RAF VC10. He was required to pay for the seat and planned to spend a period of leave in the USA. He sought travel insurance, which was refused by two companies because he was not flying on a 'recognised' airline! Wg Cdr Perry pointed out that the VC10 would be operating on an RAF scheduled weekly service to the American capital; it would leave from a totally secure RAF base; the RAF crew would be highly competent and well used to flying VIPs, including the Queen and other members of the Royal Family. The insurance company's little men were unimpressed and even failed to offer loaded-premium policies. I must say that I wonder what their reasons might be? Then again I recall posing the same question to a Managing Director who was haranguing me at the time. 'REASON?, he thundered. 'there doesn't need to be a bloody reason - it's company policy!' "
Sometimes luck is on your side. When Flypast forum contributor PaulC received a phonecall he didn't need to think twice about saying yes. The photos tend to speak for themselves as well.
"On Tuesday of this week I got a phone call at work asking if I wanted to join a group on a VC10 flight from Brize Norton - after a nano seconds thought I said YES!
Thursday 10am 2 of us set off for Brize Norton - we had to be there by 12 so we had plenty of time. We met the rest of the group and were escorted to the aircraft - XV108 VC10.
Took off at 13:40 and returned 3 hours later having been over the North Sea acting as a filling station for some fast jets. On returning to Brize we were still heavy so a low pass was performed to burn off some fuel - 2nd time round we had to do a go-around as something was in the way.
All in all a stunning afternoon - one of the other people on board said 'I have died and gone to photographer heaven' - which sums it up very well."
One of the joys of Ebay is that you can sometimes find items which no ordinary shop would sell. A while ago I purchased a set of photos from an Ebay shop that aroused my interest. They are a set of colour photographs taken during a Polar flight by RAF VC10 XV101 which came from the estate of Mr. K.J. Meekcoms, who worked for the Aircraft Inspectorate. Ever since I got them I've been puzzled by them as I cannot uncover the full story behind them. What seems most likely is that the person who took them (I'm not sure that it was Mr. Meekcoms) was along on the flight to act as an observer as the callsign 'Aries', which is mentioned a few times on the captions and map, is one that is/was (?) used by the RAF to denote navigation trial flights over the Pole.
The first 'Aries' was a converted Avro Lancaster captained by WC D.C. McKinley which overflew the North pole on 17th May 1945 during an expedition to establish the exact location of the magnetic North Pole, and also to test K.C. Maclure's theory of grid navigation in Polar regions. (For more on this flight, there is a comprehensive article available here.) Since that day many more RAF flights have overflown the pole for navigational purposes, all of which were named after this famous Lancaster followed by the year in which they were carried out. The Aries 84 flight was meant to test the new VC10 navigation fit against other navigation systems, including some new models. In other years the Boscombe Down Comet was used for Aries flights as well.
Some of the photos are damaged a bit from the neatly typed captions which were glued to them. Fortunately I was able to remove them again as most of the glue had dried out by now, leaving some blemishes and discolouration behind. The captions are copied directly from the original hand-typed ones.
The photos above were taken on the first occasion that a VC10 carried out the yearly 'Aries' polar flights. Until the year before they were flown by the A&AEE Boscombe Down's Brittannia (XX367) which was retired in 1983. For six years the VC10's of 10 Squadron carried out this task until the A&AEE took over the task again after the 1989 flight, using Comet 4C XS235. Although the VC10 offered lots of room for the various equipments being evaluated, the 10 Squadron VC10s were needed for other tasks.
Andrew Lee was still kicking himself about turning down a cheap Concorde ticket 6 years earlier when another 'trip of a lifetime' came along. This time he said 'yes' of course. The next story on this page is from his friend Michael Gregory who won the tickets for this flight.
"In 1980 when British airways withdrew and sold their VC10 fleet to the RAF I thought to myself that’s it, my chance has gone, I will never be able to fly in a VC10! I had flown in the Trident, Viscount and BAC 1-11, some of the other great British airliners, but not the VC10. Not that is until a friend of mine who's partner is serving in the RAF texted me to say that he had won in a charitable auction two tickets on an RAF VC10 air to air refueling sortie and would I like to go with him?
Previously in 2002, I had foolishly turned down an offer to buy a cheap Concorde ticket (when Concorde was just coming back into service), a decision I have regretted ever since. This time, so not to miss out on this offer of a life time, I said YES!
So on September 2nd 2008, I made my way to RAF Brize Norton and to the home of 101 Squadron and the last of the VC10’s, meeting up with Michael, my friend and fellow passenger. After going through a very strict security screening, we boarded VC10 C Mk1 (K) XV105 and was welcomed aboard by Hayley, our Air Stewardess who would be looking after her two VIP passengers. Inside half the seating in the forward area, except for three rows of seats at the very front were removed, showing us the freight door and large freight area which could also be used to accommodate stretchers. The rear cabin was full of seats, all rearward facing, RAF style for reasons of safety.
The flight crew consisted of four members, Captain, Co-Pilot, Flight Engineer and Radio / Navigator. I was invited onto the flight deck by the Captain and we were airborne and on our way by 1020Z (GMT), the four Rolls Royce Conway engines roaring into life as we raced down runway 26. Turning north we passed over East Midlands and then Norwich before heading out to sea, holding a 11,000 feet we waited for the fighters to rendezvous with us. Today we were refueling German Air Force and RAF Tornados, French Air Force Mirages and Italian AMXs. They all report in and follow us on the port side. Meanwhile the flight engineer with the aid of a camera located on the belly of the aircraft deploys the hose, one on each wing, taking fuel from the aircraft’s main fuel tanks. Like little chicks feeding from the mother bird, they gradually move into place and connect to the hose and take on fuel. I have never witnessed this event in my life, how amazing it was to see a fighter jet so close that you could see the pilot. After taking fuel the two fighters then move over to our starboard side and follow us for a while before saying good bye and peeling off to the right. Michael and myself, like two excited school boys continue to take photographs and video of this wonderful event, Hayley continues to supply us with tea and coffee before presenting us with a boxed lunch containing a very tasty baguette, chocolate bar, fresh fruit and mineral water.
All too soon, for us, the mission is over and we start to head back to Brize Norton, during our lunch the Captain comes back into the cabin and advices us that he will perform one touch and go at Brize, before finally landing. For this I take the jump seat once again for the first landing and Michael will take it for the second and final landing which we perform at 1325Z. Upon landing, I enter into my ‘Passenger Flying Log Book’, which has recorded every single flight I have taken since 1965, VC10 XV105 Brize Norton – Brize Norton 3h05mn 02-SEP-08. An entry I never ever thought I would make.
I am so grateful to my friend Michael, his partner and to the RAF for allowing me to experience such a wonderful flight. In the crew room back at Brize, we are both presented with a print of an RAF VC10 C Mk1 and our crew’s signatures along with the aircrafts registration XV105 and the date and ATD / ATA (Actual Time of Departure/Arrival). A print which I intend to frame and keep as an ever lasting memento of such a special day."
Andrew Lee has compiled this video, showing the entire flight from take-off to landing, including a touch and go at RAF Brize Norton.
Michael Gregory was the lucky one to win two tickets for a tanking flight from Brize Norton on which Andrew Lee finally got to fly in a VC10. These are his recollections.
"Looking back on my childhood, I consider myself very lucky. For 3 adventurous years in the mid 1970s, I was a great adventurer and explorer – well in my mind anyway! My family exchanged the rather dull world of 70s Britain with its 3 day weeks, power cuts and industrial woes, for the glamour and excitement of life in Saudi Arabia. From 1973 to 1976 it was like being in an Alan Whicker show as we flew back and forth – BEA Tridents to Paris, Air France Caravelles to Beirut, MEA 707s to Dhrahan, BOAC VC10s and later BA Supers direct from Heathrow (as we’d only just learned to call London Airport!), KLM DC-8s, DAN Air HS748s, BMA Vickers Viscounts to name a few.
As a child you see things differently. The VC10 to me as a 7 year old was the ‘big one with all the engines at the back’. I can remember the life rafts being in the roof, as a faulty one delayed our departure once. I can vividly recall the rather garish 70s upholstery and the orange cabin call buttons overhead with the pictures of the steward in his tie and the stewardess with her 60s ‘flicked’ haircut! I recall BA branded Eau de Cologne in the washrooms, which were wonderfully appointed in stainless steel, complete with miniature mixer taps! On one flight my brother and I were presented with BOAC Junior Jet Club log-books, with a greeting from Captain Leo Budd. These were the days when flying still had the hint of glamour, when your Mum dressed you smartly for the flight, and when stewardesses wore full uniform rather than a polo shirt.
The last time I flew on a VC10 until 2008 was April 22nd 1976! My love for aviation, and the British Jets of the 60s has lived on to this day. ‘Airline Classic’ videos and trips to Duxford and Brooklands were my only link to this great aircraft. Then fate dealt a hand in reuniting me with the VC10 when my partner got posted to 101 Sqn, RAF Brize Norton. Suddenly, after 32 years, I see VC10s come and go every day! And along with this has come the opportunity to fly on a VC10 twice in one year.
At Families Day in June 2008 I joined a full flight of relatives of 101 Sqn personnel for a morning flight out over the UK. Despite the damp weather, a flight on XV107 out over the North Sea and back down the coast to Norfolk really restored my spirits, as all the sights and sounds of this magnificent machine came flooding back. All of the details I remember were the same – the buttons, the washrooms, the unique dull roar of the Conways when throttled back. And of course the ‘crackle’ when they are at 100%. The full cabin and excited chatter of families taking their children flying for their first time all added to the nostalgic atmosphere for me.
Following that, I was lucky enough to join a refuelling flight on XV105. This was down to a charity auction which I was determined to win, and was able to give an opportunity to fellow Brit-Jet nut Andrew Lee to finally get a flight on a VC10. After a few false starts, Sept 02, 2008 was finally agreed by all concerned!
We had a fantastic day, from a walkaround with the Flight Engineer before departure, to jump seats on take off and landing. In the cabin, Hayley the Stewardess was kept busy with her TWO VIP passengers, keeping us plied with coffee and a ‘butty’ box at lunch time. To paraphrase a BOAC VC10 promotional film ‘This really is LIVING in the 1st half of the 21st century’. The gloomy weather was well below as we reached our assigned refuelling altitude of 11,000 ft in a clear blue sky. We watched the drogues winch out from their wing pods as the assorted aircraft from France (Mirages), UK (Tornadoes), Italy (AMX) and Germany (more Tornadoes) all fell in place to take their turn. Under the guidance of the Flight Engineer, they awaited their instructions to hook-up and start tanking before moving off to starboard and peeling off. Fighter pilots carefully, but confidently manouvred their aircraft into place, their job made easier by the absence of jet blast they sould suffer from a wing-mounted engine arrangement. This well orchestrated aerial ballet takes place day in and day out, ensuring that fast-jets have ‘the legs’ to reach all the far-flung trouble spots of the world.
After a chat with the Captain, who explained the process of charging the fuel and tanking-hours to us, we then got ready for our approach back into Brize Norton. To give both Andy and myself a chance to sit on the flight-deck for landing, XV105 carried out two approaches, opening the throttles just before touch down. The Conways’s roared back into life and the aircraft surged back into the sky, while Andy and I swapped seats ready for the real landing.
What amazes me is the tremendous amount of original kit the VC10 still flies with. Aforementioned Cabin call buttons and washrooms aside, these aircraft still use the same Elliots autopilot as it did when it was delivered. Many of the flight instruments are still 1960s vintage, not to mention all the Engineers panel, Control Surface Indicators, Cabin Intercom and Cabin Light Control panels! The steering yokes still proudly display their ‘Vickers-Armstrong’ badges. What an absolutely 1st class piece of engineering the VC10 remains to be. Designed in the late 1950s, built in the 1960s and with 6 years still left to serve the RAF my sense of nostalgia is balanced with a feeling of pride that these machines have served stoically for over 40 years, surely far longer than Vickers or the RAF ever expected them to. That RAF VC10s still regularly fly the North Atlantic to Washington and beyond, 40 years or more since BOAC machines first plied this route, must be some kind of record!"
Photos M. Gregory
Photos M. Gregory
The following story was sent in by Charley Cleaver, who was seconded from Rolls-Royce to International Aero Engines AG, a seven company/five nation collaboration producing the V2500 commercial turbofan. He is a native Texan but his grandfather was a Lancastrian and captain in the Royal Flying Corps in WWI. Perhaps this led to him being more aquainted with British designs than some of his colleagues.
"In early 1989 during the weekly marketing meeting, a Pratt & Whitney secondee who covered potential military applications (Boeing KC-135 was a possibility at the time) said he received an enquiry from his opposite number in Rolls-Royce (Bristol) that he did not quite understand. This fellow, not being very well-educated on commercial aircraft other than Boeing, McDonnell Douglas or Airbus, said we were to explore a re-engining RFP for the UK Ministry of Defence on behalf of the RAF. He went on to say that he did not know the RAF operated the McDonnell Douglas DC-10/KC-10. I looked up immediately and said, “you mean the VC10 by Vickers; four RR Conways.” Other than the other Rolls guys, my clarification got only eye-rolling!
The MoD was considering re-engining the Conways with V2500s on a one-for-one basis under a five-year lease plan that could be terminated each year if there were no parliamentary funds available (like the US, the UK government funds itself annually). Sales finance was my responsibility and I felt this type of financing could be arranged. As the study project went further, however, the V2500 engine pricing and stub wing redesign negated the considerable increase in range achievable because the RAF operated VC10 aircraft only 400 flight/hours per year per aircraft (much like the USAF KC-135 fleet which still flies 60 years after entering service)."
Peter Ure is Chairman of the Newcastle based aviation enthusiast society Air North. The society publishes a magazine and for this Peter wrote an article about a photo he took at RAF Wyton in 1983. The scene on his photo was familiar to me as I found it in the background of a photo that I bought at a fair sometime in the early nineties. It triggered the same questions in my mind and I got some answers on this post on my forum. Air North does not currently run a website but their editor has some references on his Newcastle centred site.
"First glances can often be deceptive. In the case of my photo showing RAF 10 Sqn VC10 C.1 XV109, taken on 16/07/83 at the RAF Wyton Airshow, it would be another 23 years before this interesting photo elevated itself into something of mystery and intrigue. Originally I assumed that the VC10 had went ’U/S’ on arrival at Wyton. Upon closer inspection however, my thoughts became drawn to the rather crude but substantial hanger door extensions. These inserts perfectly matched the VC10s fuselage circumference, the logical conclusion being that, they were made for more than one occasion. At that time RAF Wyton was the last station to house a large concentration of Canberras - on that day I counted a total of 43 on the ground!
Wyton was also home to various ‘lodger units’, one of which was the Electronic Warfare and Avionic Unit (EWAU). The work inside their hanger was classified as very ‘sensitive’ and required security clearance to enter. Secure communication systems were filtering down to line aircraft around about this time. Various aircraft types were brought to EWAU to be upgraded with avionics or communications equipment. Personnel working on one type of ‘fit‘, were not permitted to inquire or see what was going on with another type of aircraft - people just disappeared into aircraft, shut the door and started their own particular task.
During the early 1980’s, the VC10 fleet was upgraded and received a new internal navigation fit, however the hanger at Wyton was unable to cope with the sheer bulk of a VC10. The hanger door inserts provided a compromise and kept the other sensitive work, in a secure environment and away from prying eyes. Once in position the VC10 had its rudder locks applied and jacks were attached under the wings and fuselage to stop the aircraft pitching or yawing during a light breeze. The modified hanger doors were then closed, achieving an extremely tight fit around the VC10 as modification work commenced in the cockpit and forward radio racks area. I believe XV109 was the first of two C.1s to undergo this type of work at Wyton and subsequently was followed by two K.2 of 101 Sqdn. Once the work carried out by EWAU at Wyton had met all specifications, further fleet installations were carried out at the Squadron’s home base - in this case Brize Norton. Seemingly there was no need to run a trial installation at Wyton on the VC10 K.3 aircraft, as they were deemed ‘very similar’ to the K.2 version and accepted the new K.2 ’fit’ at Brize.
Checking my records; part of the static line up at Wyton on that July day in 1983 included Andover C.1 XS644. This venerable workhorse was also operated by EWAU around this time. The Electronic Warfare and Avionic Unit moved to its present location of RAF Waddington in 1995 and has subsequently been re-named the Electronic Warfare and Avionic Detachment. However its history can be traced back to a multitude of differing units in World War Two, as the pace of events sort newer and better equipment in the avionics and communication fields. Eventually the RAF brought all their affiliated units together under ‘one roof’ forming the Electronic Warfare and Avionic Unit at RAF Wyton in 1971, which neatly brings us back to the photo in question."
On my forum (see link above) mention was made of XR806 going to Wyton on 29th November 1982 (a trial fit was done on 11th November), which means that XV109 was not the first aircraft to be modified here. The photo I have shows XV102 in the same location on 15th July 1984 or thereabouts.
Russ Williamson got in touch about this in January 2016. He mentions that the modification in question was called the SRIM mod, and XV109 was the first to receive this. C1s with this modification were easy to identify as they had a large 'roof rack' or 'towel rail' antenna on the mid-upper fuselage. The antenna in question did not stay on the airframe as it is missing on photos taken in the late nineties and after.
Not everyone has wedding photos with a VC10 in them. ZA147 became a very special VC10 for Andy and Mandy and I'll leave it to him to explain why:
"My Father Bob Bean, also known as Florence Nightingale because he used to teach first aid after work, worked at Weybridge for Vickers/BAC on every VC10 built, as a fitter. He never talked much about his work but he did take me to work on some Saturdays both to Weybridge and Wisley. Unfortunately he left home when I was 15, he moved to Bristol to work on Concorde after production finished on the VC10. He did once explain that he fitted the Flight Engineer's throttles (ghost throttles) and told me all about them and why there is two sets of throttles. My brother in law also worked on them.
So that’s how the Queen of the Sky got into my blood.
In 1997 I asked my then girlfriend Mandy to go to an air show with me, Her reply was “I’ll come to one with you but I don’t like them much”. I decided to take her to RAF Fairford for the tattoo, and once we were settled I went to the media centre and asked them to read out a hand written message on a post card:"Thank you for coming today Mandy, even through it’s not your cup of tea. Hope you have a lovely day and by the way will you marry me ??"
We had a great time for the rest of the day ending with the Red Arrows drawing a heart in the sky and dedicating it to us as we drank champagne in front of the crowd line. They asked if we had made plans for the big day and suggested we get married at the show the next year. When they asked 'what is your favourite aircraft?' I replied “the VC10". Ho! We have some of those still flying! (you’ve got 21 still flying!!)
Over the year we had several meetings with Harry Burgnone the media manager and others and everything was arranged for Thursday 23rd July 1998. On the day the aircraft, ZA147’F’, was flown from Brize to Fairford by Wing Co Grey who had just taken over from Wing Co Ollis who’s wife was the registrar at the register office at Witney, where we officially got married. The crew were wonderful even finding Mandy a cup of beer from inside the plane as she was thirsty!!
We had a wonderful day and although my 'first' love is all things VC10, 'F' is very special to us both."
Photos A. & M. Beaumont
The 10 Squadron VC10s were often used to transport VIPs to various places around the world. Andrew Brown shared these photos which show his father Eric W. Brown first as a co-pilot but later as a Captain. He had the privilige of flying Prince Charles in 1975. The VC10 is XV108 as can be seen below the wing.
Photos via A. Brown