All the stories about the civil (civilised?) side of the VC10 can be found here.
Radio Development on the VC10 (Separate Page)
Cabin Crew - Again? (Separate Page)
Peril lurking in 1st class (Separate page)
IFR conditions on the flight deck (Separate Page)
Taste of the high life (external page)
The aircraft I didn't want to fly (Separate page)
This story was told to me by an ex-flight engineer whom I met when he visited the Brooklands Museum. I'm afraid I can't recall his name, and I may not remember all the details of the story correctly so if you recognize this and can offer corrections, please mail me.
"During a long flight, a respected business man and his wife were travelling in first class. At some point during the flight the wife, an upper class lady, visited the flight deck where she found the crew hard at work, monitoring the instruments. Probably prompted by a remark made by the lady about the aircraft's vintage, the flight engineer told the lady that the newest technologies were incorporated in the aircraft: voice-controlled throttles. Now, for the non-initiated, the VC10 has two sets of throttles, one set on the pedestal in between the two pilots, and a second set, which is mechanically connected to the first one, on the corner of the flight engineer's station. It is fairly easy for a flight engineer to keep his set of throttles hidden from view by leaning an elbow on that corner of his station, with his arms crossed he can then operate his throttles without the unsuspecting visitor noticing this. Obviously the flight engineer got an incredulous look both from the lady and the pilots, who figured they would let the flight engineer have some fun and quickly went back to staring at their instruments. The flight engineer went on to explain to the lady that all the pilots had to have their voices recorded for use with the system as it was quite sensitive. Still getting a questioning look, he asked the pilot to demonstrate the system. The pilot, not wanting to interrupt the ploy, only uttered: "number two, throttle back", and to the lady's astonishment the number two throttle on the pedestal moved back an inch. The flight engineer then asked her to try it, and strengthened by the demonstration she cautiously said: "number two, throttle back", but unfortunately nothing happened. The flight engineer explained that she had to get a bit closer to the pedestal, as the system probably didn't pick up her command. A second try didn't get a result either, and now the flight engineer suggested that she lowered her voice a bit to better emulate the pilot's voice as the system was obviously set up to recognize masculine voices. The pilots by now were staring intently outside, not to look for other aircraft but to keep the visitor from seeing their faces as they were doing their best not to laugh out loud at the image of the lady, on her knees behind the pedestal speaking to the throttles in as low a tone as she could. This of course only got worse when she became ecstatic at the first sign of a throttle moving under her command.
It must have been the combined shaking and muffled sounds of laughter that emanated from the crew that finally made her realize that something was wrong on the flight deck. The end result being an angry visitor storming back to the cabin, leaving the flight deck filled with laughter."
It's been years since I typed up this story, and even longer since it was told to me. I recently heard that the flight engineer in question may have been disciplined over this prank. I guess that is one of the inherent risks of pulling stunts like these, you never know who the lady might be married to...
This little snippet was found in a brochure that features a reprint of Aircraft Engineering's special on the Super VC10.
"The passengers were comfortably settled in a Super VC10 at Kennedy Airport preparatory to departure for London when a red-faced steward hurried down the aisle and made the following announcement: 'Will Mr. Hucklebaumer please come forward since he is on the wrong aircraft.'
Quick-as-a-flash representative from British Aircraft Corporation: 'Correction, right aircraft, wrong flight.'"
This letter by a retired BA Senior Flight Engineer appeared in the 'Reader's Letters' section of the October 2001 issue of Aeroplane Monthly.
"Sir - In October 1966, when VC10 G-ASIW of British United Airways was being prepared for the evening service to South America, it was jacked up to have all its ten wheels changed. The Duke of Edinburgh was due to visit South America on this aircraft. Unfortunately the nose jack collapsed causing the tailplane to strike the hangar roof, severely damaging both. Fortunately we had a replacement aircraft for the service that evening. The tailplane was changed by a Vickers team from Weybridge and repairs made to the nose skin. On October 15 I reported to Gatwick and with Alec MacKenzie, the Flight Operations Director, in the right-hand seat, Brian Trubshaw gave us his briefing in the aircraft for this air test. We had a g meter fitted and during this incredible 1½-hour flight I had never experienced, in such a short time, such large fluctuations of negative and positive g in such a large aircraft - and I had done many C of A renewal trips with Mr. Davies of the ARB! It is a flight I will always remember and such sad news that Brian Trubshaw has died. I treasure my logbook entry of 1½hr in 23,000."
Some time after this letter was published in Aeroplane Monthly Paul Robinson sent in a reply that sheds some more light on this story. I asked him for a copy and he was kind enough to send this to me along with some photos. Here is the letter first:
"Dear Sir - As a VC10 aficionado the picture of G-ASIW on your letters page of the October edition caught my eye, and so read the accompanying letter from Victor Ball with interest. However his explanation of the reason for the test flight is incorrect. After the wheel change the park brake was left set. This meant that when 'IW' was de-jacked the main wheels were unable to rotate to remove the truck tilt. Something had to give and it was the tail jack . The a/c jumped off the tail jack and sat on its tail with the tailplane supporting the aircraft on the tail dock. The jack went through the fuselage and narrowly missed one the engine bearer spars. If that had been struck the aircraft would have been a write off. Below are some photos (taken by Bob Cooper) of the tailplane fairing skin damage & the subsequent tailplane removal."
In his E-mail Paul mentions that he has spoken to Bob Cooper, who took the photos, since writing the letter and Bob explained that it was more a case of when the a/c was de-jacked the nose jack failed to come down as fast as the main jacks to the point where the a/c slipped off the tail jack. Jacking the VC10 is a tricky procedure at best as there are four jacks and at some point once the weight is off the wheels the plane will tend to become 'tail-heavy' as the wing jacking points are in front of the centre of gravity. This means that as you start jacking the weight will be mostly on the two wing jacks and the nose jack but this will shift towards the tail jack at some point. Something to keep in mind.
The point at the rear fuselage (beneath the engine nacelles) where the tail jack went through the skin, the four holed plate left of the hole is the jacking point.
Photo: Bob Cooper
Two shots of the tailplane being removed
Photos: Bob Cooper
This photo shows the damage to the tailplane bullet fairing where it rested on the tail dock
Photo: Bob Cooper
In 2012 retired engineer Maurice Ungless wrote about his experiences with the VC10 and included this about the incident described above:
"BUA VC10 G-ASIW was meant to be transporting Prince Phillip The Duke of Edinburgh to Brazil on a state visit during early/mid October 1966 and BUA were carrying out an aircraft service in a hangar prior to releasing the aircraft for the Royal Flight. On de-jacking the aircraft in the hangar the aircraft became dislodged from the rear jack and the jack pierced the fuselage structure around the jacking point. As the tail plane settled on to the surrounding docking it also sustained damage. A working party from BAC Weybridge was sent to Gatwick to assist in the repair. This was my last assignment with BAC as I left employment circa 20th October 1966, joining BEA on 22nd October 1966.
The problem with this accident was the fact that the VC10, whether Standard or Super, was very difficult to de-jack as anyone who has been involved in de-jacking a VC10 would confirm. If the aircraft is de-jacked in a normal longitudinal level attitude, stand by for a problem.
I have issues with both versions of events during that incident with G-ASIW at Gatwick that have been voiced by previous donors of information or opinions. Although I wasn’t present when the incident occured (I was during the period of repair at Gatwick) I can only voice an opinion of someone who over 4 years had considerable experience of raising and lowering VC10s at Wisley and abroad.
Firstly even if the brakes had been left applied during lowering, and I don’t know whether they were or not, the undercarriage bogie beam would be tilted rear down in its normal trailing condition with load off wheels, that is if it was in a fully raised condition to carry out undercarriage functions. The two rear wheels would impact the hangar floor first on lowering, this would not initially be a reason for concern in the scenario of brakes applied as all the weight is still very much on the jacks and none on the undercarriage. I would have thought some juddering or screaching from the rubber on the hangar floor with the wheels unable to turn would have alerted those on the nearby wing main jacks to the noise and re-coup the situation and remove the application of the brakes. However lets assume the brakes were left on. As a Licensed Aircraft Engineer I’ve been either involved, observed or supervised raising and lowering of aircraft over the last 50 years (I’ve been retired for 10 years, so make that 40 years experience) on many aircraft types, whether it be at Vickers, BEA or British Airways. VC10s, Vanguards, Viscounts, Comets, Tridents, Concorde, B767, B757, B747 and L1011 Tristars, the VC10 is or was the most difficult. During these practices it is paramount that brakes are released soon after the initial weight of the aircraft has been taken by the jacks, but still firmly on the ground prior to raising. Also it is paramount to release the brakes before lowering commences, with wheel chocks set a small distance from the tyres to prevent the aircraft rolling once on the ground, but also so they do not get jammed under the tyre on fully lowering. Usually if brakes are left on during lowering and there is a build up of tension in the tyres to the extent of pushing the aircraft one way or the other, this will occur to all jacks as the load is completely released from the jacks. There were a few incidents of that nature in lowering L1011 Tristar aircraft at British Airways with minor damage to the lower wing panel. The point I am attempting to make is the unlikely contribution to the incident of lowering the aircraft, with brakes on, that would cause only the rear jack to become detached from its pad. If that was so, why did not the main jacks also become detached at the same time? No in my opinion it is the classical example of rocking between main wing jacks and main undercarriages as the load transfers in the later stages of lowering, which is inherent in the VC10's de-jacking operation, which can only be prevented by using the procedure we adopted at Wisley. This meant allowing a nose down attitude in the intial stages, such that the rocking can be prevented. Sadly on this occasion there was not enough good supervision to prevent this happening, and was very probably embarressing for those involved.
As far as scrapping the aircraft "had it pierced the main frame". Usually aircraft are not scrapped after an accident unless they are uneconomical to repair, and there is always a repair scheme, believe me. I’ve seen, been aware of, and been involved in some very large repairs to aircraft. Anyway the jack head would have probably slid by the frame perhaps making a mark but hardly doing too much damage. The frame after all is a substantial frame which is capable of taking rear jack loads, the only damage I think here is reputations, and the fuselage skin and perhaps a stringer or two."
Mike Treacy tells us about his early memories of travelling on a VC10.
"The first time I ever flew in an aircraft was in a VC10. This would be in 1966. I was about six years old and myself, my mother and my two-year-old brother were travelling from Heathrow to Aden to join up with my dad, who was an aircraft engineer working for Aden Airways. I think Aden Airways was a subsidiary of BOAC, or in some with affiliated with them. Our flight took us via Rome, where I lost my Airfix model Boeing 707 in the airport terminal, and Khartoum. By the time we reached Khartoum, I think my mother had just about persuaded me there was no way we were going back to retrieve my toy aircraft.
My brother and I were recruited into the Junior Jet Set Club, which I think was a probably a PR thing for kids operated by BOAC. We were both given smart, dark blue log-books with the BOAC logo on, which the pilot filled in and signed when we arrived in Aden. My memory is a bit vague, but I think the details were the flight/aircraft number, destinations visited and the mileage travelled - stuff like that.
Because this was my first flight and it was on a jet aeroplane, the 'wow' factor was all the more. My strongest memory of the cabin interior is of the coloured mosaic pattern on the plastic fascia around the windows. It's strange what children remember. Of course, there were also things to play with too - like window blinds, tray tables and seat pockets which the designers had helpfully incorporated as toys. It must be great travelling with kids. A girl about my age doused herself in the contents of the complimentary ladies' toiletries from the washroom and carried around the overpowering smell of Elizabeth Arden for the rest of the flight. It was a real journey of wonder and discovery for me and I still find the sights from an aircraft window incredible. But I was seeing for the first time mountainous cloud formations and the ice-blue of the sky, lit by a brilliant sunlight I'd never seen before. I was spellbound.
Later on, after dark, I can remember seeing the tiny pinpricks of light from oil flares as we passed over the Sahara desert. I recall our time in Aden as a happy one, despite the conflict that was going on in that part of the world at the time. In 1967 we were evacuated, as were all the British, and had to return to England. On another VC10 - of course.
Since then I've flown many of thousands of miles in many different types of aircraft, but I'll never forget the VC10. She's a beautiful lady and I only have fond memories of her."
John Cannell sent in the following paragraphs about his time with Vickers Armstrong. His revelations about the escape hatches on the VC10 prototype provide an interesting insight in the dangers of flight testing.
"I worked for Vickers Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd (later BAC) from 1958 to 1963 and the department I liked best during my apprenticeship was the Wind Tunnel.
The first three aircraft had escape hatches for the flight test crew and one of my jobs was to help the photographer with his high speed cine-film photographs of simulated escapes from a model in the 13' x 9' tunnel. I pulled the string which released a model man who was then photographed, something that we did for various speeds and attitudes. All was well except for one particular combination and one hatch (the one forward on the side), when the man flew into the engine. We did that test again and he hit the tailplane. At the third attempt he just caught the wing downwash and went safely below the engines.
Some time later I asked the photographer what the flight test crew said when they saw the film. He told me that he had cut that bit out and only showed the safe exit as he didn't want to worry them! I never did find out whether he was pulling my leg or whether he really did edit the film."
Well, things could have been worse! On the subject of escape hatches I couldn't resist adding the following lines from Brian Trubshaw's 1998 autobiography 'Test Pilot'. In these lines Brian Trubshaw recalls one of the stall tests that he carried out with the prototype G-ARTA when things didn't go as planned. There is also some information about this flight on the Incidents and Accidents page, including some comments from an ex-Vickers ground crew member.
"The last day of 1963 nearly brought the stalling programme to an abrupt end. I was just recovering from a clean stall when at about 250 Kts all hell broke loose as G-ARTA started shaking violently. There was a shout from the Senior Observer, Chris Mullen, who was looking at the tail through his periscope, 'Right inner elevator'. I was quite certain that G-ARTA was going to come apart and it nearly did, so I fired the escape hatch door and ordered the crew to bale out. The flight engineer, Roy Mole, could not get out of his seat and the same applied to the co-pilot Captain Peter Cane of BOAC, while the crew in the back could not hear me above the general racket. I managed to reduce speed to about 160 Kts which put me very close to a pre-stall buffet, whereupon the violent vibrations and oscillations calmed down to a smaller amount. The escape hatch chute which went through the front forward hold had collapsed and gone out when the door was jettisoned, so it was as well nobody tried to use it and only a jangled bunch of metal remained. I made a very gentle return towards Wisley under Mayday conditions and soon realized that I had lost half the aircraft services. However, the split system principle worked very well but I had to free-fall the right landing gear. After flight inspection revealed that the two right-hand engines had rotated 2 inch and in doing so pulled off hydraulic pipes and air-conditioning pipes. The right inner elevator had broken its attachment bracket which had set up flutter of that surface. Two fin attachment bolts were severed. In fact poor G-ARTA with whom I had developed a great bond of affection was in a sorry state. I think that we had done about 2,300 stalls together."
The type of escape hatch discussed above was fitted to both the VC10 and also to the BAC 1-11 (and perhaps other types of aircraft but I'm not sure about that). They consisted of a metal tunnel (the escape chute) that slid down through the forward freight hold to extend down below the aircraft through the freight hold door aperture after the door was removed using explosive bolts. Whether this would have provided a safe exit for the flight crew is a debatable issue, especially when the stories above are taken into account. The BAC 1-11 prototype G-ASHG was lost in October 1963 - just months before the incident with G-ARTA - when it got itself into a stable stalled condition and the flight crew did not have enough elevator authority left to regain control. The escape system was fired but the aircraft hit the ground shortly after the freight hold door was explosively removed. The flight test crew of seven did not survive the accident.
Jerry Lister sent in these images from one of two flights that he made with his family on BOAC's VC10s in the 1960's. He also became a member of the BOAC Junior Jet Club, as you can see from his logbook.
"I was the child in the family, just 9 years old in Late Dec1966 when we (Mother 'Mary', Father 'Stanley' and Brother 'Nicholas') flew out to India on a standard VC10 G-ARVM, we stopped at Bahrain and Tehran. We have no photos of that one unfortunately.
Coming back we did a stop-off tour (a day or so overnight at Delhi, Athens, Rome).
The VC10 was special. Something about it's curves! We caught a Super VC10 G-ASGI on July 12th 1968 in Rome."
Super VC10 G-ASGI at Rome when the Lister family boarded for the last leg of their journey to London
Photos J. Lister
The BOAC Junior Jet Club Badge and Logbook, with skilfully coloured illustrations by the owner!
Photos J. Lister
This item has been moved to the Memorabelia - Airlines page.
Max Kingsley-Jones sent me the following message, with attached photo:
"This is a copy of a photo by John Clements that hangs on the wall of the bar at White Waltham airfield in Berkshire. It shows BA VC10 G-ARVM making a low pass at the 1977 Silver Jubilee air show on 14-15 May that year. Capt AJ Smith, F/O A Harkness and E/O T Snell were at the controls. Rumour has it that the aircraft went even lower than the picture shows as she flew down the runway. Does any one remember this event?"
making an interesting low pass at White Waltham, must have been an impressive
The photo below is one that was already on my site, showing the same low pass.
photo by Paul Robinson shows the same low pass from another viewpoint
Geoff Hall sent me this account describing his career on the VC10, with accompanying photos.
"I started off my Cabin Crew career on VC10 / B707s - both classics in their own right. As everyone else was going onto the B747 this was the last course on 'Mini's' - we trained in late '76 and went on line in early '77.
I'd already trained as a 'General Apprentice' with BOAC since 1973 and I'd already clocked up quite a few hours on VC10s. My first trip was a training flight on Standard G-ARVJ - we flew up to Bedford for night circuits; I sat in the jump seat and the flight lasted 45 mins. My longest passenger flight was BA 891 26.9.74 Hong Kong - Calcutta - Beirut - Frankfurt - Divert Prestwick - LHR: 18hrs 45mins - and there was no In Flight Entertainment fitted to VC10s!
My first Op was to Abu Dabi via Jeddah on G-ASGP, 31.1.77 and my last was Larnaca - Dar-es-Salaam - Blantyre on G-ASGF, 20.2.81 (the last few weeks of operation). In those 5 years I flew everywhere you could on the VC10 (all Supers apart from 3 trips on a leased Gulf Air Standard and a few training flights).
The SVC10 was used mainly on African routes towards the end (what she was originally intended for!) but we used to do an interesting cross-country route spanning Africa to the Far East and calling at, variously, JNB (Johannesburg) - NBO (Nairobi) - SEZ (Seychelles) - CMB (Colombo, Sri Lanka) - BSW (Brunei) - HKG (Hong Kong) - TPE (Taipei) - HND (Tokyo Haneda). We also flew to E.USA, Canada, Indian, Pakistan, Ceylon (where we regularly got pissed with RAF VC10 crews in the same hotel), Middle East, Bermuda; Prestwick and Manchester to USA Canada.
Although the SVC10 was renown as being the whispering jet, I can assure you that as a lowly steward two, seated right down the back in the galley sandwiched between four Rolls-Royce Conways screaming at full power on take-off, it was anything but! The cockpit was huge and I enjoyed many take-off's and landings (Hong Kong being memorable) up there - I think I even flew it once!
I'm still with BA as Cabin Service Director on
B747, B767, B777's - it's not the same!"
Paul Greer sent in his memories of Dicky Brown, an erstwhile neighbour who had a bad accident while working with VC10s.
"I lived from the age of around 10, a stones' throw away from LHR, in a place called Charlton Village in Shepperton, Middlesex. Being only a 10 minutes drive from LHR, it was a popular place to live for those employed in and around LHR. One of our neighbours in Hetherington Road was a chap called Richard Brown, who worked as a ground engineer for the then BEA/BOAC.
I remember coming downstairs one morning in what I think was the autumn of 1972, to hear my Mother asking another neighbour about "what happened to poor old Richard...."
Dicky Brown had very narrowly escaped with his life after being ingested into I believe the nr 2 or 3 (inboard) engine of a VC10 on an engine run-up stand: he'd only recently been issued with a new-style anorak with a drawstring around the waist that when pulled tight made the anorak into a bell-shaped death-trap.
Apparently someone in the cockpit nudged the throttle in question a bit too firmly, the engine spooled up (like it should...) and Dicky Brown was lifted up off his feet and into the powerplant....
The event had been observed from the ground and as a "bump" by the run-up crew on the flight deck, who instantly shut down all the engines.
Dicky Brown was removed more alive than dead a short while later and spent a long time recovering in hospital. He'd tumbled around in the inlet, being rapidly chopped to pieces by the vanes: he'd lost his right arm from the elbow down, and three of the remaining five fingers on the other arm, suffered severe abrasions to the head and ears and legs. His wife and their son and daughter had to learn to live with a changed man, who did fight back to such a degree of normalcy, that he relearned to drive a specially adapted van, had an old-fashioned hook fitted, shunning any 6-million-dollar-man type of prosthetic device, and was given a very responsible desk job back within the BEA/BOAC concern.
I myself went on to become later in life a Line Station Manager for British Airways in Sweden in the 1980's, and had the tremendous good fortunate to remake Dicky Browns acquaintance by chance whilst attending a Disaster Management course at LHR. Dicky was then Duty Manager Operations (Maintenance) at BA's Network Control centre, and I think is probably enjoying well-earned retirement by now.
Progress has, however, given us better equipment, procedures and systems to work with - for that we should at least be grateful. Even if Dicky Brown had had such measures that night he may not have gotten off any better.
If you publish this, and anyone knowing Dicky Brown reads this, please give him my regards. No longer with BA, or even Swissair with whom I spent the last 10 years with, I now enjoy the crazier and more volatile world of passing on IT skills to teenagers.
All the best, Paul Greer."
Steve Frampton also has some fond memories of the VC10 as both he and his wife used to work as cabin crew for BOAC in the early seventies. The photo below is a reminder of those days.
UPDATE: There is now a sequel to this story, have a look here: Cabin Crew - Again?
Michael Williams was closely involved with the development of the VC10 during his time as an avionic inspector for BAC. This is his account of one of the many test flights that took place from Wisley.
"As an avionic inspector, on occasions I used to accompany test flights from the BAC Flight Test Centre at Wisley. This is my account of one of those occasions.
One Sunday morning in the mid 60s we took off in the brand new Super VC10. The first destination was London Heathrow, a short distance away. We followed the Kingston Bypass at a very low altitude, the Tolworth Tower seemed at our wing tip. It must have been a lovely sight from the ground. However, we arrived at LHR and carried out some automatic landings. The autopilot was quite an advanced system for those days, and was the programme in which was I most involved. The landings were carried out satisfactorily, the only problem being a small 'blip' on runway 28R glideslope's signal that upset the computer system a little.
Having completed those tests we headed West to do some 'stalling'. Upon leaving London and still very low I was amazed to see out of the window, parachutes falling all around us! We had flown right through The Aldershot Military Tattoo. I never did find out what the people on the ground had to say about it. The authorities had warned all local aerodromes of the activity except Wisley. - Because they never fly on a Sunday!
Now safely in the West Country (of England) and at 42,000 feet we were ready to commence our stall. Clearance had been given from ground control and we were told no aircraft were within 10 miles of us. I was on the flight deck, and the pilot asked me if I could identify an aircraft below us. I said 'Yes a Hawker Hunter'. He said either I had very good eyesight or the aircraft was a lot nearer than 10 miles. So the first attempt at a stall was aborted. Finally, a lovely smooth stall was carried out and we returned to Wisley in the late afternoon.
All I had to do now was fill in my 'test flight expense form'. I could claim 15 shillings (75P.) I was never sure but I think this was to purchase extra life insurance."
Keith Hugget was there when it all started, on 29th June 1962 when G-ARTA took to the air for the first time he skipped school to watch it all. He wrote the following account remembering that day. His studies at Brooklands actually never quite recovered from the serious case of aeroplane-itis that he had caught by then! This was not the only maiden flight he witnessed as years later working at Kingston for Hawker-Siddeley he watched the Harrier's first take off, and after watching that he didn't make himself too popular when he took a day off to watch Concorde's first flight. Vickers/BAC were still the arch rivals in those days!
"For the end of June it was an atrocious day. Overcast with marginal visibility and a bit of cold drizzle in the air but it didn't stop a few of us from breaking the college rules and bunking off our lectures.
In the months leading up to that day you could tell all those smitten by the flying bug as they gazed dreamily from their books at Brooklands Tec at the sound of the engine tests being carried out on the other side of the rhododendron covered woods of the former Brooklands House, home of the legendary Hugh Locke-King, founder of the racing circuit inside which the VC-10 had been taking shape.
A group of us had made our way across to the track and were sitting on the top of the banking getting wetter and wetter for what seemed like hours before G-ARTA made her way slowly down the runway towards us, gradually becoming more and more impressive as she emerged from the gloom.
At the end of the runway she manoeuvred around the monument to the racing days of Brooklands, wafting that wonderful warm scent of kerosene in our faces.
Never had we seen anything like it......that massive tail plane towering nearly 40 feet up in the air, the four Conways in cluster below it, the dramatic sweep of the wings.
Then the engines opened up and, from where we were sitting, the back of the plane disappeared in a heat haze and once again that smell....but this time accompanied by a hurricane and a roar. Every sense was overloaded as I only ever experienced once more in my life.
Then she was off. It was all so smooth and so uneventful. As soon as she was ready she just lifted her nose and the dream had come true.
Because of the poor visibility the planned circuits were, apparently, curtailed and we had to make do with a single over-flight with her undercarriage still down but I don't think that mattered. I suspect that we couldn't have cheered any more.
The other time I went into overload? That's easy. I was lucky enough to be involved in the noise measurements for the first commercial flight of Concorde from Heathrow to Bahrain. After walking around and under her on the ground taking measurements during engine run up from a Health and Safety point of view I was stationed at the end of the runway, right on the centre line and only feet from the ILS to make environmental measurements.
Have you any idea what it is like to watch Concorde take of from the sharp end?
Just like 29th. June 1962 it took a few days to get the smile off my face."
Terry Selman spent many happy years working on the VC10 firstly as a BA engineer performing Major and Minor inspections in what was the Wing Hangar at Heathrow, and then as an Overseas Station Engineer. He sent me the following memories.
"Looking at your site brings back two memories, one related to an East African Airways Super VC10 falling of the jacks while on maintenance in Nairobi, the other one to the 'low fly past' at White Waltham.
The EAA VC10 was on jacks undergoing maintenance in the hangar. It was decided, due to the fact that the aircraft was due on the London service that evening and things were behind schedule, to check the operation of the Fuel Flow meters by running the engines at Idle while the aircraft was still on jacks (could I just remind you I worked for BA, not EAA).
As you can imagine the aircraft fell off the tail jack, the nose of the aircraft ended up in the roof of the hangar and the tail jack went up through one of the main engine beams. It was 14 weeks before the aircraft was back in service.
For it's first flight after repair it was sent on the Nairobi-London route and arrived in London with 16 tonnes of fuel missing, the fuel having leaked away during the flight. As it transpired later the BA engineers cleared the defect as "No leaks apparent" and the aircraft took of for Nairobi via Frankfurt with me as a passenger.
While on the ground in Frankfurt the EO (Engineering Officer) came back through the cabin and saw me sitting there. At this point he asked me to join him on the tarmac in order to discuss a problem. The problem was of course fuel leaking from around the inboard section of the right wing. The engineer confirmed that they had uplifted 16 tonnes of excess fuel but was a little worried about the flight continuing to Nairobi. I feel it would be wrong to divulge my recommendation however I am still around to tell the story (just).
With reference to the low fly past photos again more memories.
I was at the time the duty engineer in Prestwick and in fact issued the Release to Service for the aircraft's return to London via White Waltham. It was normal practice to send Overseas Engineers to Prestwick between postings to cover crew training. The aircraft in your photo was almost always used for training as it only had a C of A in the Private category due to extensive corrosion. And of course having only a Private C of A, and no fare paying passengers, it could do almost anything and did at White Waltham!!!!!!!"
Stuart Perrin is an ex-VC10 captain who has been retired for a while now. He sent me the following story.
"Way back in the mists of time, I was on a routine flight in VC10 G-ARVL which involved 'slipping' at Bahrein. Whilst there I was hauled out of bed early one morning and was told that the Sheik of Bahrein had hired the aircraft to fly him to an Islamic conference in Lahore. So off I went, waiting at Lahore until he wanted to return to Bahrein. Of course I was given the usual gold watch on the way back and then things went haywire. As I approached Bahrein fog closed the airport and I told the Sheik I would have to divert to Kuwait, my alternate. He forbid me to do that since he was at odds with the Sheik of Kuwait and ordered me to go to Doha instead. At Doha the Sheik went off to the palace while the crew and I went to a hotel.
Next morning I ferried a very disgruntled Sheik back to his Bahrein. He was not in the best of moods to say the least and I expected him to demand his watch back but he didn't! I still have the watch and some years ago it was valued at £300. The whole incident was a bit of a nightmare at the time but no diplomatic repercussions resulted!"
January 2007: I only just heard that Stuart Perrin died on Dec. 8th. 2004. However, his brother Brian and family look forward to sharing any further memories from his contemporaries in BOAC or BA. For contact details please e-mail the webmaster.
Retired Flight Engineer Nev Boulton flew on VC10s for 11 years and sent me this story of the 'Chinese Seaman incident'. The story in itself is enough to stick in your mind I guess, but the composition of the passenger load made it all the more memorable. Coincidentally the captain in this story is the same one who sent me the story above this one!
"I was looking through my old log books (after a search in the attic) and came across the Chinese seaman incident! 11 July 1973, Captain Stu Perrin, Kuwait to LHR, G-ARVH. Kuwait is very hot - often 30~40+ degrees resulting in reduced power from the engines. Daylight flight back to UK. Quite a lot of fuel onboard - we were heavy. We had a charter flight of Chinese Merchant Navy Sailors. I understood that we were taking them to UK in order to pick up a ship. Not a word of English between the lot of them!
Unknown to the technical crew the port outboard aft tyre shed it's tread during the take off roll. (By-the-way on aircraft - re-treads are always more reliable than new tyres). The tyre tread broke the strut between the oleo leg and the port undercarriage door (which retracted the door). The port gear outboard door failed to close when the gear went up. The aircraft would not accelerate at 2000ft to our clean (no flaps extended) speed of 229 Knots in level flight due to the extra drag from the door. So the Captain ordered the flaps back to take off while we thought about the situation. I suggested to the Captain that we climb (with the flaps at take off position) to 4000 feet, stuff the nose down and clean up. We did this and we were able to accelerate to 290 Knots (climb speed, as I remember) and continue towards LHR. I had a word with the station engineer on Company VHF at Kuwait about our problem and he told me that a door strut had been found on the runway. I went down into the electronics bay (F7) and rigged the famous periscope through the belly aperture. The port main gear door was clearly visible in the open position with the gear retracted. Went back to the flight deck and discussed the situation with Captain Perrin. A cruise altitude of 2000 ft lower than planned and low speed cruise could certainly get us as far as Rome. (At lower than planned altitude - we burnt more fuel). So we pressed on down the Med towards Rome! I got onto the Single Sideband HF and warned BOAC on London about our problem. Told them to put BEA Rome in the picture in case we diverted there. (Please send a new door strut on BEA to Rome?) LHR also needed to find a replacement aircraft for whatever service that VH was lined up to do next. We worked out that we should have sufficient fuel to get to LHR if we used Paris as destination with London as an alternate. (bit of a fiddle but quite safe!). The next problem was if it all went wrong..... So I took the cabin crew (one-at-a-time)down to the periscope and showed them the problem and fully explained the situation. Everyone got fully briefed for a full emergency landing. The one thing that I was concerned with was - getting 3 Greens (Gear down and locked) on the undercarriage for landing at Heathrow . Sunset was the same as our ETA for Heathrow - so the periscope would not be any use for checking the gear was down. Anyway the down locks were not visible through the 'scope. We did not have enough fuel for a fly past the tower to check gear down - anyway not much point after sunset. It was agreed that we would stop on the runway and that the towing crew would fit the gear down locks before we were towed to the gate. We would also keep the engines running until the ground locks were fitted so that the hydraulic pressure would keep the gear 'Down & Locked' We landed at twilight on 28R with half a dozen fire engines and stopped on the runway. Got towed onto the stand, wrote it all up and went home. All in a day's work for a Flight Engineer!"
Apart from the Chinese Seamen mentioned in the story above, Nev Boulton has more anecdotes to share, this one is about a trip from London to Nairobi via Rome. The date was 25th August 1965, the aircraft was G-ARVF, Captain Wright was presiding over flight BA111 and the day was saved by a supply of Tampax.
"As I remember we had departed Rome and were just going over a place called Bennina (somewhere on the N African coast), the flight plan called for us to do a stepped climb from (as I remember) 33, 000 feet to 37,000 feet. Everything was running nicely, on flight plan for fuel, one or two minor defects, nice quiet night - hopefully we would get our meal soon. The Chief Steward came in for a chat about the passengers & the VIPs with the Captain and on his way out of the flight deck said something along the lines of "By-the-way 'Engines', door one left is a bit noisy and I can see stars through the gap".
My immediate reaction was to check the door warning lights - which happily were all out - cabin pressure was stable - must be some sort of joke! So I told the skipper that I was off to the toilet and casually popped out into the galley to have a look at the door. I pulled back the trim from the door, sure enough the door seal was deflated, the air was whistling out and any navigator would have been delighted to see such a fine display of interplanetary bodies! The door seal, in question was rather like an bicycle inner tube with lots of holes in it. The cabin pressure was supposed to go through the holes and inflate the tube, thus sealing the door. Clearly this had not happened with door #1L on VF. This was not an immediate problem, but all flight engineers are suspicious blokes and are trained to look at the next problem - preferably before it happens. The cabin air compressors occasionally failed on the VC10, and on rare occasions we would loose an engine (which also meant the loss of a cabin air compressor, which was engine driven). So it might be rather a good idea to find out if we could maintain cabin pressure with one of our four air compressors inoperative. The skipper agreed with me and, under his watchful eye, I reduced the output of one cabin compressor to minimum flow. The cabin proceeded to climb at around 700 feet a minute. The blower was immediately re-selected to auto. I suggested to the pilots that it might be a good idea for one of them to go 'On Oxygen' whilst I took a look at the door. When I got into the door/galley area I asked the Stewardess if we could have some tea towels, she was very helpful and we soaked them in water. I fed them into the gap around the door and before very long we had run out of tea towels, flannels, the lot. The passengers had got all the blankets. What on earth could we use? Then the Lovely Lady Stewardess had a really bright idea. We always carried thousands of Tampax - box loads of the ruddy things. Some one in BOAC clearly decided that the human female needed these devices daily instead of monthly! So she filled the toilet washbasin with water, pulled the strings, dunked them in water and handed them over to me. I fed them into the gaps (one or two went straight out - A wet semi-frozen Tampax should keep a thirsty camel happy, thought I!) until eventually they all froze up in position and the door was sealed. A quick reduction of mass flow on a cabin blower showed nil rate of cabin climb - very satisfactory - felt reasonably pleased with myself.
Now we could have our meal. I had no sooner
got rid of my tray when the Ding Dong, the Selcall rang (sounded like 'Avon
Calling' - a sort of
As we taxied in - we were marshalled to a red carpet at the foot of door #1 Left. The Ceremonial Guard and Band leapt to attention. Chiefy flung the front door open and a couple of hundred semi frozen Tampax rolled out all over the place! Off went the African VIP. The station manager then arrived and demanded an explanation. Expressions like 'Diplomatic Incident' were flung around. We told them the story -After a bit every one saw the funny of things and we went off to the hotel and went off to bed."
A passenger remembers flying on Air Malawi to Chileka airport.
"I flew on the Air Malawi VC10 between Gatwick and Chileka Airport many times in the late 1970's and early 1980's before it was retired.
The flights were much more gung-ho than the parallel service that British Airways ran at the same time. One always felt the pilots were much more familiar with landing at Chileka than the BA pilots. Chileka had a very narrow runway which could lead pilots feeling they were higher than they actually were leading to some heavy landings. The runway was also short and I always remember the very powerful reverse thrust that had to be applied upon landing. The engines would always die away at touchdown followed by immediate reverse thrust.
Chileka approach was always a turbulent one with a lot of big stomach lurching drops in the rainy season which was always rather exciting. I also remember large amounts of condensation dripping down from the ceiling lights whenever we landed in hot conditions. Why doesn't this happen on modern aircraft?
The Air Malawi VC10 met with a sad and undignified scrapping next to the runway at Chileka. They were great planes to be a passenger in."
In 2006 the movie 'The Last King of Scotland' was released to the theatres to tell the story of Uganda's leader Idi Amin as seen by his personal physician. This sparked some memories of BOAC crews meeting the unlamented General during stopovers.
"In the early 70's many BOAC VC10 crews used to meet General Idi Amin and indeed have a drink with him at the Appolo Hotel in Kampala, prior to operating northbound out of Entebbe. I don't remember how many services a week that went through Entebbe from Jo'Burgh to London but generally the north bound crews used to slip in the Appolo Hotel in Kampala and the southbound crews at the Lake Victoria Hotel near the lake and airport.
Because the BA crews were not in any way involved with local politics I suppose that General Idi Amin probably considered us to be neutral and thus safe to mix with. It was customary for the technical crews to have a drink around 11 o'clock by the swimming pool before getting some sleep prior to the overnight flight back to Europe. Frequently the general accompanied by a couple of bodyguards would appear and march up to our table. The crew (knowing the 'drill') would stand up and wish him "Good morning Mr President". He would then sit with us, ask us to be seated and order a round of drinks. We would attempt to make polite non-controversial conversation before explaining that we needed to get some shuteye, make a polite departure and go off to bed. Not the sort of bloke that we needed to upset! I remember that someone once remarked that meeting him was bloody good training for marriage and dealing with the mother-in-law!"
I'd have said that Vickers was best known for being an aircraft constructor, Chris Tinker got in touch with me to explain why he has fond memories of the Weybridge works and the shop on the site.
"My father, who is now deceased, was a flight engineer with Vickers at Weybridge, Boscombe Downs and Wisley. He worked for Vickers and BAC all his life from a young man until retirement. Plus he owned a radio and tv shop in Fetcham near Leatherhead in Surrey. He always spoke fondly to me about the VC10 being one of the best aircraft in the world.
In his latter days he was responsible for flight testing Vulcan Bombers for the Fleet Air arm and I remember joining him at work in Wisley for this as a young boy.
My whole life as a young man was coloured by my fathers job and I remember visiting the massive works at Weybridge on many occasions. They had a shop on site that used to sell huge blocks of chocolate!
His name was Ivor Tinker (known as Tink to his friends and colleagues) and was very well known at the Weybridge and Wisley sites."
Ronnie put his memories of the VC10 in my guestbook, he tells how he and his friends were able to recognise the VC10
"I am 47 today, grew up within 2 miles from JFK runway 22L. Friends and I used to play this game of 'guessing' what type of aircraft was landing at JFK without looking up at 700-1200 feet to see the aircraft on final. By FAR the easiest plane to tell without looking was the VC10! It had the MOST distinctive sound of ANY commercial plane in the sky in those days by far. A super high-pitched whine that was music to all of our ears. Nothing in the air sounded anything like it, nothing! The most beautiful commercial jetliner ever built! The VC10!"
Alec Jordan shares his memories of the VC10 at one of its 'mainline stations': St Lucia.
"I thought you might be interested in this as most of your stories seem to be about VC10s going East from Heathrow....
My father worked in St Lucia, West Indies from 1966 to 1982. When we arrived there in 1966, all intercontinental traffic went through Antigua, Barbados, or Martinique, so when we were flying backwards and forwards from our boarding school in Scotland, we would fly from Heathrow to either Antigua or Barbados, then change planes onto one of LIAT's Avro 748 island hoppers. These flights were quite interesting in themselves, especially the approach to Dominica's airport where we were about 300ft or less above the ground 5 miles out from the strip, with the plane virtually diving into the valley to land. One also hoped that they didn't need to overshoot, for at the end of a pretty short runway, there was a road and then the crashing waves of the Atlantic.
St Lucia was in desperate need of a decent sized airport to be able to grow its tourist trade, so the old US Naval Air Station runway at the south of the island was extended and strengthened, and in 1971 BOAC started the direct service to St Lucia from Heathrow using VC10s. While the runway had been completed, the island's government had not been able to secure the funding for a new terminal. Instead, the rather charming old dispersal hut for the Naval Air Station was pressed into use. This was almost entirely open to the elements, which was fine when the weather was okay, but when in rained in St Lucia, it RAINED, and there was usually a pretty strong wind accompanying these squalls.
The next problem was that the site of the new terminal had been chosen - and the apron had been built accordingly - about 600 yards from the temporary terminal. Obviously a bit far to make the passengers walk! Court Line (remember them?) had built a new hotel a few hundred yards from the airport, and in their wisdom had brought in a pair of London Buses with the sides taken off and open topped. BOAC duly used these to take the passengers to and from the aircraft, which was a novel way to arrive at a holiday destination.
I particularly remember leaving the island at the end of school holidays, and seeing the VC10 parked on the apron, with no buildings around it, and a backdrop of palm trees. With the lack of any apparent infrastructure around the plane and the then very recent memories of the hijackings to Amman, there were some pretty awful jokes going around about 'when we were hijacked'.
BOAC very quickly replaced the VC10s with 707s for the St Lucia route, and before long, they were replaced in their turn by 747s. The new and totally charmless terminal was thrown up in months, and before long, travelling home became pretty boring. I can easily recall the VC10s at St Lucia, but strangely, cannot remember the 707s. I visited Duxford a few years ago, and went for a trip down memory lane on the VC10 there - there was a bit of a welling in the eyes as I recalled the flights home."
Going on holiday is always exciting, Blair Murray was only 13 when a BOAC VC10 flew him all the way to the Seychelles for a holiday. That's not just exciting, that's a magnificent trip!
"Back in 1972, my parents decided to take an overseas holiday with us and Mum eventually chose a place called Seychelles. This was way beyond just exotic as I was only 13 at this time and had never been outside of my home country (Scotland) before.
Back then, nobody had ever heard of the Seychelles and one had to do much searching of the World Atlas to find out where the Islands were. I was lucky enough to do the out and back to Seychelles from Gatwick courtesy of a BOAC VC10. We stayed at the Northolme Hotel on the North West coast of the main Island of Mahe. The Northolme back then was a very rustic and charming hotel, run by an English couple. There were only eleven bedrooms in the whole hotel, so within a short space of time, all the guests got to know each other and it all became one big party!
Photos of the aircraft parked at the
Seychelles airport and two of the crewmembers
Our family and the friends we had made with the other residents all enjoyed our holiday so much, that we all decided to return the next year in 1973 for a re-match. During this second leg, the flight crew from one of the VC10's happened to stay over at the Northolme and were promptly welcomed into our 'Club' for the evening. Their names and faces are sadly now long forgotten. What I have not forgotten however, is what happened the next day.
To give an idea of the hospitality on
board the VC10, these images show the menu on the return flight
At some point during their stay, they mentioned that as a token of their gratitude for such a fine evening with us, that they would request from air traffic that they, er, 'give their passengers a last look at the island!' We spent the morning in the hotel on a wonderful cloudless day wondering if permission would be granted. Suddenly, from somewhere in the hotel, someone yelled, 'HERE THEY COME!' We all ran up to the room aptly named the 'Crow's Nest' as it was the highest room in the hotel with panoramic views. Looking South, we gazed in awe at the VC10, now flying very low and banked over following the long sweeping curve of Beau Vallon Bay. It then straightened up and flew straight towards us! The adrenaline rush we got was awesome as the jet roared directly overhead, all four engines at maximum 'shout'. Even with hands and fingers jammed into ears, it was a thunderous noise that you could feel going through your whole body. A truly amazing experience.
I noted that someone had sent in pictures of their Junior Jet Club book. I too had one of these, but sadly got chucked out just last year when we moved house. I now regret this as it would have enabled me to let you know the names of the aircraft in my pictures and the pilot.
Back then, I believe the old runway had been built by the sea on reclaimed land. The engines being mounted high on the VC10 meant it was the only jet that could safely land and takeoff from the runway. The 707 with its engines under the wing were apparently too low to the ground and were at risk of sucking in loose coral!"
While a trainee ATCO in 1977 John Baker managed to get a seat on the (by now famous) flight to participate in the White Waltham airshow (see also here). Here is his story (which was also posted on PPRuNe here). To illustrate it, I have added two photos taken by the late Anthony Pollard and one from Paul Turner.
"I was a passenger on that flight!
G-ARVM was the training aircraft based at Prestwick. In 1977 I was a trainee ATCO on approach and noticed a flight plan on 'VM to EGVY (White Waltham). So I rang Flight Clearance and told them about the incorrect destination! They informed me that the flight plan was correct and it was indeed going to White Waltham - but not for a landing!!
So I asked if there were any spare seats - yep said the Captain, 'Get yourself to the apron'. So I was granted an 'Early Go' and got a lift to the apron in the ATC vehicle. A group of us boarded the aircraft and were ushered into an almost empty cabin. There was just a 'pod' of a few seats (10 or 15 I think), and told to make ourselves comfortable. We went Airways (Amber 1 - Ahh nostalgia), with a few dutch rolls on the way. We all visited the flight deck and chatted with the crew and the trainee pilots that were on board. 'VM left controlled airspace at WOD, and was too early for our slot to open the airshow at White Waltham.
The Captain announced that he 'had a friend playing cricket nearby', so we went off low level 2,500ft looking for a cricket match! Apparently he found the village and the cricket team were treated to a flypast, anyone know where that was? We then continued to Twyford to follow the railway line to White Waltham. At that time the airfield was inside the London Control Zone, so we had to fly up the 'free-lane' and comply with the level restrictions. Was that (not above)1,250ft? We did our flypast, just as Prince Charles was declaring the airshow open. In fact that evening it was on the national news with Prince Charles saying 'I declare this airshow - the rest being drowned out by the sound of a VC10 !!' After that we flew back up the free lane and rejoined controlled airspace at WOD, via the Ambers back to Prestwick. On the way back we discussed with the crew the flypast. I asked if the captain had meant to do a 'touch and go', he replied 'No, as the wheels were up!' It certainly looked close to the ground from inside!
The return was quite leisurely with just a few more dutch rolls. I will always remember the galley curtains flying across from one side of the aisle to the other, almost horizontal. We then managed a few 'toasted sandwiches'. On return to Prestwick 'VM then went straight into the circuit. Unfortunately the 'toasties' and the 'dutch rolls' took their toll on my stomach, so the Captain agreed to do a 'full stop' and return to the apron to drop me, and those other passengers that didn't want to spend some hours 'circuit bashing'. So that is the full story of the Saturday flypast at White Waltham.
Thank you G-ARVM, a most memorable flight."
Two photos of the low flypast of G-ARVM at White Waltham,
with a third by P. Turner showing its swift departure
Anyone who has been to New York has seen the neon lights on Times Square. If you were there in 1965 like Jim Ferris, you would have seen a BOAC neon advertisement there, as his son Robert tells us.
"My father's name is Jim Ferris and he was going to the US as part of his job working for Kodak. He flew into JFK on a BOAC 707 and then on to Rochester NY where the main Kodak factory is located. He was formerly in the RAF and always did, and still does, like aircraft. On the return leg of the journey he and his colleagues got to spend a couple of days in New York City. At the time BOAC was making much of the passenger appeal of the VC10 and as he was taking pictures of the Broadway and Times Square area the BOAC advert caught his eye, knowing that he would be flying home on one in the next day or so. He commented that although the VC10 was quiet and smooth he missed the fact that there was no in-flight film like there was on the 707!
We later visited New York as a family in August 1978 and I remember seeing a BA VC10 arrive at JFK. I think BA still ran a daily London - NY schedule with the VC10 in amongst the 747 schedules due to its lasting passenger appeal. The VC10 was obviously a favourite on that particular route."
All photos J. Ferris
Mr. Quentin Heron e-mailed me the following recollections of his and his father's associations with the VC10. He was on board for the inaugural Super VC10 flight from London to New York, continuing on to San Franciso, on 1st April 1965.
"My father ended his BOAC career on 6th January 1971 as a Senior Captain on the VC10, having previously flown the Liberator, Constellation and Britannia for the airline.
Although we lived as a family in Surrey, my father was an Australian, and he took us all to Australia to visit his relatives and friends in Queensland every few years, using his Free-Of-Charge (FOC) tickets.
The second of these trips Down Under was in March & April 1965 when I was only 9 years old. We departed Heath Row for New York on 30th March 1965, where we spent two nights, before leaving for San Francisco on the 1st April 1965.
On reading through Wikipedia today, I have discovered that this was the same date as the first commercial service by Super VC10. This triggered a memory, and when I went to the top of the stairs in my home where my childhood memories are framed and hung, I discovered - lo and behold - the Super VC10 'First Commercial Flight' certificate issued to all passengers, and signed by Captain Harry R. Nicholls, who was a good friend and colleague of my father.
I can recall visiting the flight deck en route, and standing there asking question after question, all patiently answered by Harry Nicholls - a rare treat for any 9 year old boy.
For those who read your website and might remember, my father was Captain James L. Heron who performed some of the developmental flying on the VC10 and wrote some of the BOAC manuals for the aircraft. His nickname at BOAC was 'Jimmy The Bird', and although he was aware of his reputation for very formal behaviour, Dad knew nothing of this (or any other) nickname until I found out about it and told him in 1975, more than four years after he retired. I am happy to report that he was vastly amused!
I also have my 50,000 mile certificate for the Junior Jet Club, dated 5th April 1965; it is signed by the redoubtable O. P. Jones - does that make it a collector's item, I wonder? :-)
My father used to tell me stories about the old Imperial Airways Captains and about O. P. Jones in particular, and the general fear and reverence with which they were held by the young, post-WW2 ex-RAF recruits (such as my father) to BOAC.
It was O. P. Jones who - according to my father - had been commanding a flight across the Atlantic shortly after the War, in an unidentified aircraft type, and was back at the navigator's table, pouring over the charts and smoking the pipe for which he was universally known and recognised. Jones was head down and deep in discussions with the Navigating Officer, when the FO turned around to ask a question, and the FO's knee hit the gang bar covering all eight magneto switches, turning them all off simultaneously, and thus causing all four engines to shut down at once, some 20,000'+ over the ocean at night. An impenetrable, shocked silence settled over the entire flight deck, with everyone frozen involuntarily in their places and appalled looks on everyone's face. No-one was able even to say a word. O. P. Jones did not turn a hair, and without so much as looking up, he simply took the pipe out of his mouth and said: "Quiet, isn't it?", and replaced his pipe in between his teeth.
Of course, the engines were quickly re-started, and being out of radar coverage with few if any other aircraft in the sky then, nothing else happened and nothing more was reportedly said about the incident. But O. P. Jones was hard to beat for sheer sang froid.
My father also remembered flying with the author, David Beaty, shortly after WW2, before Beaty left flying to pursue his writing full-time. Beaty was senior to my father, and Dad painted him as a rather prickly character.
In the end, of course, Dad became one of BOAC's 'Atlantic Barons' himself, spending much of the latter part of his career flying from LHR to any one of the multiple destinations in North America served by BOAC VC10. I think his fleet seniority number was 3 by the time he retired, and I accompanied him on his very last flight for BOAC in December 1970/January 1971 - I was 15 at the time.
We passengered LHR-Manchester on 27 December 1970 (where we overnighted) under the command of a Captain Futcher, before Dad and his crew operated Manchester-Prestwick-New York arriving 28th December 1970. We spent two nights in New York according to my father's log books (which I am looking at right now). His crew consisted of FOs L.C. James and W.P.D. Jeffries, and FE K. Thorington. I remember there being a young SO aboard too, but his name is not recorded.
The return flight left New York in the evening of 30th December 1970, and involved passenger sectors from New York to Prestwick, and Prestwick to Manchester under the command of Captain Goulbourn, before Dad commanded a positioning flight from Manchester to LHR in G-ARVF. After landing we taxied to the maintenance hangar, arriving at 11:37 Am on 31 December 1970.
There, we found about half of the BOAC Board of Directors waiting to meet the flight and mark my father's retirement. He was due to retire on 6th January 1971, and I guess the company had figured out that there simply wasn't enough time remaining for required rest and another operating trip before that date.
Dad hated a 'fuss', and although he was pleased by the small, informal ceremony he was also a little embarrassed. My father was also disappointed not to have one more, final trip for BOAC. He ended his airline career with 3,290 hours on the VC10, out of an eventual lifetime total of 18,871 hrs 57 mins.
Dad's planned retirement to Inverness in Scotland was initially postponed by a two-year stint in Zambia (1972 to 1974), where he was Chief Operations Officer for the Zambian DCA (Department of Civil Aviation). This was immediately followed by two years as a Technical Expert for the UN, who posted him to Dacca, where he was Flight Operations Inspector and Chief Pilot Examiner for the DCA of the newly-independent Bangladesh from 1974 to 1976.
Amongst the more dubious events experienced in Bangladesh was that of living through the military coup in August 1975, which toppled Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had been the first Prime Minister post-independence.
Inverness was finally reached in 1976, and my father became first an AFI and then a QFI at the Highland Aero Club at the Dalcross Airport just outside town. I was amongst his flight students, and he taught me to fly to my PPL in 1978. Dad's very last flight was in command of a Cessna 152/G-BIHE ('Dalcross Local') in Inverness on 7th March 1983.
In 1983, after all we children had left home, the house in Inverness became far too large for my mother and father, so they moved to Bowral, NSW in Australia, where they lived for 17 happy years before my father passed away in October 2000, at the age of 86.
Harry Nicholls remained a friend in retirement, and ended up in New Zealand, where my parents visited Harry and his wife sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Dad was also great friends with Harry Sherwood (another VC10 Captain), who pre-deceased my father. But my mother and Harry's widow, Shirley, remain close and still correspond and visit with each other - the last time being earlier this month, when my mother visited the UK. Thus, the association between BOAC and my family now spans 66 years in all - how many other airlines could claim such longevity of loyalty, I wonder?
I once asked my father which aircraft, of all the numerous types he had flown in a career which ultimately spanned 44 years aloft, was his favourite? He answered without hesitation: "The VC10. It truly was superb."
My father was not a man given to overstatement."
As a nice addition to the story above the following bit puts the inaugural flight of the Super VC10 across the Atlantic in perspective. In anticipation of that first flight a bar on New York's West 44th street called The Berkely Room created the Super VC10 cocktail - half a jigger of Cointreau, six drops of Creme de Cacao, two jiggers of brandy and a sprig of mint. It was shaken and served, julep-style, over cracked ice. Now scroll up on this page to the previous story, VC10 on Times Square, to get a view of how BOAC advertised the Super VC10 in New York in 1965. Together it provides a flavour of how much the VC10's service was appreciated by BOAC and the public that flew on it.
John Wilson, who previously sent me some photos of G-ARVF, has been in touch with his old friend David Samways, with whom he was stationed in Nigeria. David still has the 16mm films that he made while he and his wife (who is featured in the video as she was a BOAC Ground Stewardess) were working on the airfield and these have been converted to a digital format. They were kind enough to create a small 3 minute clip showing BOAC Standard VC10s operating from Ikeja. Enjoy!
Michelle Van-Stein has fond memories connected to this picture as it shows her father, Maurice Wilmer. While working for Vickers he was appointed Fuselage Project Manager on the Engineering team for the design of the VC10.
This second photo is from the Brooklands Museum archives and shows a scene in the Vickers Weybridge Advanced Project Office in 1957 with four engineers looking over a drawing of an aircraft tail. It does not appear to be a VC10 tail but may be of one of the forerunners that led to the VC10 design. Maurice Wilmer is third from the left. Amongst the others are John Davis, Chief Weights Engineer who was also on the engineering team and Ernie Marshall, Chief Project Engineer.
George Stevenson has been involved in the design of the VC10's unique air conditioning system and initially this earned him a seat on a test flight out of Wisley. An extra route-proving flight to Nigeria to test some aspects of the air conditioning meant that he got a day trip to Nigeria!
"It's good to see so much interest in the VC10. I became involved in the design of the air-conditioning equipment for the VC10 in 1960 and after that with the changes made for the Super VC10.
The aircraft entered my life again just before I retired in 1994 when we were investigating how to update the refrigerant with a non-CFC type. This was because the RAF was extending the VC10's life with the tanker versions. I saw some of the conversions underway at Filton. Some of the aircraft used had been sitting out on airfields unused for several years. The transformation was remarkable.
I flew on a test flight from Wisley during 1963. I think that was in G-ARVC. In April 1964 flew in the last route proving flight before the aircraft entered service. That was with G-ARVF. This flight to Kano and back has always been remembered as my day trip to Nigeria.
My last glimpse of the VC10 was an RAF aircraft at Calgary airport in the summer of 1997.
It is just possible that the high pitched whine noted by Ronnie in 'How to spot a VC10' was caused by the Godfrey screw compressors fitted to the RR Conway engines. These provided the cabin air supply. "
The airshow at White Waltham in 1977 is one which has been covered on this page before, see here, here and here. It is an event which still stirs up memories for many people and both Keith Jamieson and Michele Caso e-mailed me their impressions as spectators on that day.
"I was there.............
It was a beautiful clear day, and we could pick out the VC10 approaching from the North, and it entered a long downwind sector...descending...before it went baseleg and disappeared from view......
The Airshow loudspeakers then announced the arrival of the next item....the VC10...the crowd went quiet.....but it was nowhere to be seen.......................................
Then suddenly...we realised why...the VC10 broke cover over the airfield perimeter..................................................below tree level !?!
The pilot had shut the Conways down to almost idle........and the VC10 sailed majestically and silently down the centerline of the grass runway...................getting even lower...
At about 3/4 of the display line the pilot spooled up the Conways....but I think he left it a bit too late....the VC10 kept descending due to lack of airspeed....but entered a kind of 'VC10 in Ground Effect' state....
Then ....with the Conways at maximum thrust...with the VC10 rapidly approaching the end of the runway and the airfield perimeter track..............he raised the nose to 40 degrees.................
At this point he was only above the ground by approx 10 feet or less......and with the Conways at 100%...proceeded with the 'Agricultural ploughing...........VC10 Style'.
Clods of earth and grass being sent 100s of feet into the air accompanied by the awesome grunt of four Conways at full throttle................unforgettable.
Someone out there must have a video.............."
Indeed there may be video out there, but I haven't found it yet! Over to Michele for the next story:
"I was there! I am Italian but I have spent some years in Oxfordshire in the late Seventies. I went to the White Waltham Silver Jubilee Air Show, of which I have a very vivid memory. I was at the show since the morning and at lunch time, when flights had been interrupted, I spent some time among the commercial stalls browsing and buying. Suddenly I heard a very strong noise of an approaching aircraft and rushed towards the runway: when my sight was clear of the stalls I saw G-ARVM making its flypast. I remained astonished: seeing such a large plane flying so slowly, with a very high angle of attack and consequently the tail incredibly close to the ground: it is my strongest remembrance of air displays. And the rumors that it did fly even lower than the picture show confirm the impression I had: certainly the perspective had its effect but my impression was that the tail cone was at less than 3 meters above the grass.
In any case, I am happy to have been there and to have seen this spectacular flight."
Keith MacGaul wonders why there aren't that many stories about the South American routes which the VC10 also flew on. Having been based at Caracas, Venezuala, Keith recounts two of his VC10 memories to rectify this situation. Obviously this is just a start so anyone else with recollections of the VC10's adventures in South America: please send them in!
"When the VC10 came onto the route (London (LHR), Barbados,
Caracas and back), I was
based in Caracas.
Of course, there were two definite NO's, nonsense! Never been done!
But the other three said it was ok if I took the task on board 100%. The majority was selected of course and all future correspondence on the matter addressed to only those three. From the on I adopted the rule of NEVER ASK FOR PERMISSION, BUT FOR FORGIVENESS. The two NO responses never really caught on.
After the demo flight, with only the crew and 6 of my staff on board I sought 'freedom of the skies' from the Tower with two iced bottles of Moet Chandon ensuring the right answer. The guests were advised to remain by the Terminal, air side, and watch the departure as they would end up being a further privileged few. After a normal take off, at 2000', a left hand circuit over the sea, fly-by approved, base leg onto finals going to climb power, finals down to 200' over the runway at takeoff power, trimmed and pulled back into a climb that sent the rate-of-climb indicator to hell. Levelled at FL210 in under three minutes.
The controllers at Plessman were not convinced they had heard right when we informed them we were established at that level. We bid them adieu, changed to Caracas approach, requested clearance for a straight in to 09 and being clear of traffic, visited the beaches for those last few memorable minutes. Thank you mon Capitain... Peter Tebbitt, for trusting me.
The second story was some time later when Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru came online. We landed in Bogota one evening with a dicky Conway which our flying spanner determined required an engine change. As you may imagine there was nothing in Bogota and the nearest replacement engine was in Barbados. This posed a challenge as no commercial 4 engine aircraft had ever been authorized for a three engine take off from Bogota's El Dorado airport which is 8361 feet above mean sea level and has a runway 12.467 feet long. To make things interesting the airport is surrounded by mountains.
Interesting conversations took place on the flight deck where we all mucked in and worked through the manuals to see what was needed for a three engine ferry in the way of requirements, weight, altitude and temperature (WAT) limits et al for take off and the phase two climb gradients which you have to achieve. We needed to wait for a 2 degree drop in temperature and then it was legal, if we could get the authorities to approve it, and of course Control Centre at LHR.
We liaised with Barbados first, then the authorities, ending up with the Captain , First Officer and self in the Tower with all the manuals. At last we succeeded with the airport authorities and ATC, we then presented our plan to Control Centre at LHR. Much checking of manuals once again (as this had never been done before!), and by the time we got everything sorted the temperature had fallen, providing the requested 2 degrees.
After a long run down to the amber lights for extra speed, the Super VC10 crackled off into the night at an initial airspeed of V2 + 20, circling within the bowl of mountains whilst climbing out,then down to the coast, over Caracas to Barbados.
Another first for the SuperVC10 and those glorious thundering Conways."
Nigel Human found some old photos his father had taken for him in Africa during a business flight on G-ARVM. At a guess they were taken between 1965 and 1967. Later in life Nigel would have the opportunity to fly on 'VM himself.
"These photos were taken by my late father who was a frequent business flyer within East Africa, and he took these expressly for me, as I was already an avid fan of the '10, especially in BOAC colours. On this occasion, he was taking the '10 from Nairobi Embakasi to Dar-es-Salaam. The last photos were taken as 'VM was on final approach to DAR, and the harbour and town can be seen below.
Although only around 13 years of age at the time these were taken, I ended up working for BOAC in Sales at Victoria Air Terminal, my first job on leaving school in 1972. Around 1973/4, I was reunited with 'VM when I was lucky enough to get a jump seat position on a training flight doing circuits and bumps at Stanstead from LHR. I'll never forget eating sandwiches and sipping hot coffee with the crew during a rest break half way through the exercises whilst 'VM sat stationary on the runway with all 4 engines running on idle for around 10-15 minutes, as though we were on some exotic picnic!"
All photos P. Human
Julian Fitzherbert has flown on VC10s on several occasions. In this account he tells us about the two last VC10 trips that he flew on, during a return trip to Malawi for the Christmas holiday of 1978.
Trip 1: London Heathrow (England) to Blantyre (Malawi) via Khartoum (Sudan) and Dar-es-Salam (Tanzania) about two weeks before Christmas 1978.
"I was in my final year studying Geology at Chelsea College London University and visited Blantyre over the Christmas holidays. This gave me a chance to see my parents who were working there and to finish my geological mapping project, which needed more on site data. More important was the fact that I also managed to fit in some more flying as I had ‘gone solo’ the previous September in a Piper Cherokee (7Q-YWC). My flying instructor on that occasion was Brian Meadley who was the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) at the Luchenza Flying Club and also a First Officer on the Air Malawi VC10. On previous trips to Blantyre I had travelled by the Air Malawi VC10 (7Q-YKH) but this Christmas, presumably due to flight availability, I went by British Airways Super VC10 from Heathrow. This turned out to be my last flight on a Super VC10.
Walking to the departure gate past a British Airways Concorde, the VC10 turned out to be G-ASGA, the prototype Super VC10 which would later in life be sold to the RAF and converted into a K4 tanker. It was scrapped in 2006 after 42 years of service!
The flight from London Heathrow to Blantyre was not non-stop as we are used to these days. After an evening departure from Terminal 3 the VC10 flew through the night and just after a sunrise over the Sudan G-ASGA started its descent towards Khartoum, arriving at about 6am local time. After a quick turnaround the departure was about an hour later, heading towards the second stop at Dar-es-Salaam. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures to show of Khartoum or of Dar-es-Salaam later that morning. The flight finally arrived at Blantyre in the late morning. From cruise altitude, before commencing the descent into Chileka, the southern end of Lake Malawi was visible looking to the west.
We landed from the west on runway 10 at Chileka with the aircraft moving along the runway to the turning circle at the eastern end so that the BA Super VC10 could turn around and backtrack to the terminal. The Chileka airfield had two intersecting runways, a long main runway (10-28) [2325x30m] and a shorter secondary runway (15-33) [1372x30m].
Trip 2: Blantyre (Malawi) to London Gatwick (England) via Nairobi (Kenya) and Amsterdam (Holland) about second week of January 1979.
"The picture below is one of only three photographs that I ever managed to take of the Air-Malawi Standard VC10 (7Q-YKH). The difficulty being that taking photographs at Chileka Airport was actually forbidden. This picture was taken from the Luchenza Flying Club Piper Cherokee (7Q-YWC) as we landed on the main runway (28) at Chileka. Also shown is one of the Air-Malawi HS748 which is just starting engines. The HS748s often used the shorter secondary runway (15-33). The building to the right of the VC10 is actually the Presidential or VIP building. This picture was taken in January 1979 just a few days before I left Malawi for the last time and my last flight on a VC10.
A few days after the picture above was taken I was back at Chileka to depart on the Air Malawi VC10 back to England. On this occassion the VC10 was sick, only the second time a VC10 was ever delayed for me, and we were told to come back the next day. The following day the VC10 could be heard long before we got to the airport doing engine runs. While we all checked in, a task made very difficult by the deafening noise of the VC10 at moderate throttle outside, we were told that the aircraft was mended and final checks were underway. Once in the departure lounge with the aircraft fully visible I was surprised to see the two ex-pat engineers on top of the port engine nacelles while the engine(s) were running! They had an access panel open and even with ear defenders it must have been even noisier up there. Eventually they were happy with their work and the engines were shut down. Silence decended on the airport although my ears were ringing for many minutes afterwards as it had been that loud!
It seemed there was a difficulty with the bleed air for the pressurization system and although the problem was resolved enough to allow the aircraft to fly we were told to close the air vents above our seats shortly after takeoff as the fix wasn’t totally successful. This didn’t prevent the flight continuing to England but clearly the aircraft was beginning to show its age and went out service with Air Malawi later in 1979.
This was still in the days when it was possible to visit the flight deck and during the stop at Nairobi I introduced myself to the crew. I think the Captain was Van Rensberg and although busy with organising the refueling he graciously allowed me to visit the flight deck during the ground stop. Although my flying instructor (First Officer) Brian Meadley was not on this flight the Captain later invited me back to the flight deck and I was able to sit in the extra crew seat watching operations from Nairobi to Amsterdam. Company regulations did not allow me to be present during takeoff and landings but I did get some great views.
The VC10 flight deck is especially roomy and to be allowed to be there while the Flight Engineer, Navigator and two pilots did their stuff was a privelege I’ll always be grateful for. Flying over the Ethiopian Highlands and watching the thunderstorms below was memorable as was the flight up the Adriatic. The nearest I came to flying the aircraft was being allowed to turn the autopilot to a new heading. There’s a big heading adjust knob on the central console behind the throttles and as I turned it the aircraft banked in response to the new heading. That was awesome – to me anyway!
Arrival at Schiphol airport was shortly after dawn and was noticeable by the lack of reverse thrust on landing. I later discovered that noise abatement procedures meant the pilots engaged reverse thrust but in idle only. There was a change of flight crew at Schiphol with the previous crew becoming passengers for the short flight to Gatwick. The aircraft was thus lightly loaded and the new Captain, whose name I don’t recall but looked very young, did a very short takeoff from Schiphol. The nose lifted seconds after the takeoff roll began and the aircraft was airbourne very shortly after. A normal takeoff roll lasts about 30 seconds but this was much less! The arrival into Gatwick was normal but being a day behind schedule the aircraft was parked at a remote stand near the cargo area and we were bused to the terminal.
I never saw 7Q-YKH again and discovered later that it went out of service with Air Malawi and was stored at Hurn Airport near Bournemouth from 29th October 1979. On 12th May 1981 it was ferried back to Chileka for possible sale. Sadly this never happened and the aircraft lay derelict and even sat on its tail before it was eventually scrapped during January 1995."
Phil Hogge flew VC10s from 1964 to 1978 and looks back on those days with fond memories. He e-mailed me the article below about flying on the African routes for which the VC10 was designed.
"Reading this excellent website has set so many memories going. I was on the first Hamble intake to join BOAC in 1962, converting to VC10s in 1964. This was my first jet type, and looking back, I realise now how lucky I was, not only to fly this magnificent aircraft, but also to do so on such an extensive route structure, first to West Africa, and then to the rest of Africa, the Far East, the Americas and across the Pacific to Australia.
In the early 1960s, the world had not changed so much from pre-war days, and, except in the USA and a few other places, high rise buildings were the exception. Dubai for example was still a small trading station on a creek in the desert with wooden dhows drawn up on the strand. The crew hotel was one of the tallest buildings in town, all of about four or five storeys – a far cry from the ‘Las Vegas’ it has become today.
I have few exciting tales to tell, most of my memories are of the wonder of being able to explore much of the world before it became homogenised. Of all these memories, flying through Africa is perhaps the most intense.
Communications were, by modern standards, primitive (overseas telephone calls had to be pre-booked several hours ahead), HF communications could be hit and miss, navigation aids frequently did not work, airfield lighting was sometimes only partly available, met reports could be highly dubious (it was better to ask the BOAC station officer to look out of the window and tell you what he saw than to rely on the official observation) and en-route ATC was often ‘do it yourself’. When away from London, you were very much on your own with no instant data-link back to head office – far more fun, if somewhat less efficient.
Most of the captains I first flew with were either ex-Imperial Airways or ex-RAF bomber pilots. Their stories of flying boats through Africa told of a magical mix of flying, ‘sea faring’, night stops in lonely staging posts on rivers and lakes, and low sight-seeing over vast herds of wild game. The ex-RAF people, understandably, had less to say, some of their experiences being too harrowing to tell except after many beers. But all felt that flying was ‘not what it was’, a feeling that exists in every generation, including my own.
The VC10 was designed for the hot high short runways of the African routes. Therefore it had an excellent take-off performance, a little over-powered from an accountant’s point of view, but much enjoyed by us pilots. It was a real pilot’s aircraft; lots of performance, precise powerful controls, very stable and with an ability to flatter even the most ham-fisted pilot. It also had a roomy well laid out flight deck, with large windows giving good visibility, and a legendarily quiet cabin. Not for nothing was BOAC’s slogan ‘Try a little VC10derness’.
But it was Africa which captured one’s heart. Flying south from Cairo towards Khartoum along the Nile, you could see this thin green ribbon stretching far out ahead, winding through the vast brown desert, first far out to the eastern horizon towards Luxor and Aswan, then back underneath near Wadi Halfa, only to disappear in the west towards Dongola, returning once again as it wound its way east towards Atbara, and finally to Khartoum. This was indeed to see one of the wonders of the natural world.
I have always been fascinated by exploration, and having read about the Victorian explorers, Burton, Speke, Grant and others, searching for the source of this mysterious river, and now seeing it with my own eyes really drove home the modern wonders of jet travel. Whereas they had sweated and struggled here was I, comfortably sitting in my shirt sleeves, taking the same journey in a matter of hours. I remember once, later when I became a captain, going through the cabin to talk to the passengers after a long delay in Rome on our way to Nairobi, being accosted by an irate lady passenger who was upset by being only a few hours late. She was most unimpressed when I pointed out that the journey we were now taking in little more than six hours would have taken her over six months only 100 years before.
In the 1960s, when daily services were a rarity, one had many days off at slip stations. There was time to explore: to hire horses in Cairo and ride out into the desert to see the stepped pyramids at Saqqara; or to go sailing in Khartoum on the Blue Nile from Blue Nile Sailing Club whose club house was the Melik, Kitchener’s gunboat, built in 1896 and used at the relief of Khartoum in 1898. There was time to hire cars and drive out from Nairobi up the Rift Valley to Naivasha, and then north around Mount Kenya via Gilgil, Nakuru, Thomson’s Falls, Nanuki, Meru, Embu and Fort Hall. On one memorable trip we hired a car in Kampala and drove to Murchison Falls and Lake Albert, arriving just after a thunderstorm had passed. The sky was dark blue/black, the earth and trees newly washed sparkling clean. There was no one around, the only sign of human existence being a low pipe rail fence. And there before us, only yards away, the whole White Nile thundered 140ft down through a gap just over 20ft wide. That image is still vivid in my mind.
Other occasions that live in my memory include hiring a minibus and driver in Addis Ababa and taking an entire VC10 crew to the Blue Nile gorge, second only in size to the Grand Canyon; taking the train from Lusaka and staying in the Victoria Falls Hotel right on the edge of the falls; going down a gold mine near Johannesburg to a depth of around 6000ft (well below sea level); walking through an African village on the banks of Lake Malawi at dawn (I was still on the wrong time zone and couldn’t sleep) and being greeted by happy villagers who must have been very surprised to see a lone white man passing by.
I remember one day early on in my career the aircraft went sick in Kano (even VC10s did that sometimes), forcing us to stay until the spares arrived. It was a real lesson in how to handle a problem, one that I tried to emulate later in my career. The captain and station manager organised hotels and hired buses for us all (passengers and crew) to tour around the old city. In 1965 Kano was like something out of Beau Geste, with aircraft being greeted on landing by robed men on camels blowing long trumpets! At the end of our enforced stay one of the passengers remarked that he had never really wanted to visit Kano but had enjoyed the tour very much. I could go on and on…..
But there were darker sides too. Like several days spent at the Ikeja Arms hotel in Lagos with no power or telephones while rumours of riots ran rife. This was shortly after the massacres in The Congo and the imagination runs away so easily. Being driven to Lagos airport in the crew bus during the Biafran war, coming to a road block with soldiers armed with rifles and machine guns, and the driver not stopping at the barrier but accelerating through, and all of us crew members throwing ourselves under the seats – but nothing happened, although it was the only time I saw a black African go white with fear! On another occasion, unloading the aircraft at gunpoint in Tripoli while Algerian air force fighters refuelled on their way to Cairo to support the Egyptians in the Six Day War. No one would refuel our aircraft or unload the holds and when we started to do it ourselves the army stopped us by surrounding the aircraft. Eventually after a lot of shouting and arguing we unloaded everything onto the tarmac, threw the joining passengers’ luggage into the holds and departed. The fastest start, taxi and take off that I can remember – just in case they changed their minds.
Some of the flying problems were interesting too. Early morning arrivals at Nairobi often encountered low cloud which, before the days of autoland, meant holding before the cloud lifted. On some occasions it was necessary to have to work out how best to make the approach with a mixture of aids that were only partly working. Or arriving in Lagos to find that half the runway lights were unserviceable because the locals had stolen the copper wires to make bangles. Or taxiing out at Entebbe for a heavy weight departure for London with a growing feeling that something was wrong until it dawned on us that the grass was leaning the wrong way. We stopped on the taxiway and, after a long ‘discussion’ with the tower, got them to admit that the anemometer had been broken for several days and the wind data they had given us was three days old. So we each made an assessment of the wind speed and direction by looking at the grass, re-did the take-off calculations using our combined estimates, and took off in the opposite direction to ensure we had a head wind!
I have often been asked which was my favourite route. To me, the best was a 10 day triangular trip that could be done in either direction with different selections of stops. For example, the first leg might be to Bahrain, the next to Bombay or Calcutta. Then to Singapore and Hong Kong; back via Singapore and Colombo; then across to the Seychelles and on to either Blantyre or Johannesburg. And finally back to London via Nairobi or Entebbe with night stops all along the way. What a diverse selection of cultures and aeronautical problems; the monsoon in India, the Chung Cheu ADF approach through the harbour to Hong Kong; back to Colombo flying along beside the awe inspiring thunderstorms of the ITCZ, filled with sheets of almost continuous lightening. The VOR let down on limits to the Seychelles which involved flying overhead the VOR, heading southeast out to sea, descending to break cloud and then turning back towards the island, peering through low cloud and driving rain trying to see the lighthouse at Victoria and then flying along the coast until the approach lights of the airport appeared behind the hill. All good Mark 1 eyeball stuff.
Then on to Africa for a landing at Blantyre where the narrower than normal runway made it difficult to judge the flare height – the locals used to come to watch the resulting spectacular bounces. Or, alternatively, to Johannesburg with an elevation of 5,500ft.
What a wonderful trip, and with time off at most of the stops to explore. Rose-tinted spectacles? Yes, most certainly – but that is what memories are made of. What a magnificent aircraft and what wonderfully diverse routes for us to enjoy!"
This video from Youtube is part 2 of 2 of a promotional video from BOAC called 'BOAC presents: The VC10', showing the VC10 in action during route proving. From 2:08 onwards you'll see footage of an arrival at Kano, Nigeria, including the men on camels with trumpets as mentioned in the article above. For part 1 of this video click on this link.
Gwyn Mullet flew VC10s as a copilot between 1966 to 1970 and came back to them as a captain from 1976 to 1979. He has written a book about his flying life and decided to share an extract from his work. The famous captain in this extract shall remain nameless but people who were around then will recognise him.
“Before I leave my beloved VC10 I must tell you about a couple of trips I did with the infamous Capt. ‘G’. On one occasion I was with him in Nairobi and on the day of departure it was normal to go the local food market where the fruit and vegetables were bloody scrummy. The prize fruit was the pineapple which was pretty well unknown in England and we usually ended up with a large basket delivered to the hotel in time for the pickup in the evening. It was normal to ask the Captain, out of courtesy, if it was OK to carry the fruit but Capt. ‘G’ was just not around to ask. So the complete crew plus a large contingent of fruit baskets got to the airport and then Capt. ‘G’ arrived with his basket of fruit.
“Nobody approached me about the loading of fruit so it will all be offloaded and only mine will travel” He barked.
As the crew bus moved towards the waiting aircraft struggling under the weight of all the baskets the atmosphere on board could be cut with a knife.
“Sir, we were unable to find you all day” I piped up on behalf of the crew.
“I have said that the crew fruit will not travel on the aircraft and that is final” was his curt reply.
He actually got out of the bus and walked over the crew hold and made sure that the only fruit to go on board was his own. So there was this pile of sad looking baskets sat by the aircraft and just the one miserable basket in the hold. It was customary for the Flight Engineer to leave the Flight Deck just before the doors were closed to check that the all the panels were closed up. The stand we were on required us to do a sharp right about turn before taxiing for the runway and as we did this turn the Flight Engineer tapped me on the shoulder and beckoned me silently to look out of the right hand window and low and behold there was this fruit basket flat-packed on the tarmac with tyre marks embedded on it. Now wonder the aircraft was difficult to move in the first place since it had to climb a fruit basket first. Have you ever struggled not to giggle when you know that it is out of order? I struggled to Heathrow with a grin from ear to ear. The arrival at Heathrow was conducted like a military operation whereby the Flight Engineer scarpered off quick and got the fruit loaded well deep into the boot of the bus with only the crew bags showing. Once we got back to the crew report office we all evaporated into thin air with our fruit baskets tucked under our arms. I was certainly not going to be around when Capt. ‘G’ found that his fruit basket was missing. Sweet justice I thought!!”
In a second extract from his book Gwyn Mullet tells us about a speed record that was set in March 1979 on Super VC10 G-ASGC, a record between John F. Kennedy Airport, New York and Prestwick that still stands to this day. 'GC was moved onto European services later that year and made its last commercial flight in October 1979. Just over a year after its record flight, in April 1980, it was flown to Duxford where it it preserved to this day.
"I did another rather amazing flight at about that time out of JFK to Prestwick and onto Manchester. This was one of main routes ex-JFK and on this occasion when I checked in with operations at JFK the flight time shown on the plan was about five and a quarter hours which was pretty quick so I asked what the record was for the route and they ferreted around and said that it was held by a 707 at five hours and eight minutes. My tail was up and so I put a little bit of extra fuel on and told the people that we were out to beat that time. Little did I know that they informed the control tower and so just after take-off we were told to route direct to Gander, Newfoundland and to ignore any speed restraints and they wished us good luck in our venture.
“Wow, we are off and running!” I said to the rest of the crew triumphantly.
After about two hours or so we were in the Gander area and we called for our ‘Atlantic clearance’ and would you believe it they were in the picture as well. They told to route direct to Prestwick and not on the normal track system. As for the speed we were given a free hand as to how fast to go.
Super VC-10 G-ASGC hurtled across the North Atlantic at a speed that was just below the maximum the aircraft was allowed. The Flight Engineer was in his element and spent the night fine-tuning the engines to keep the speed spot on. After a short time the Chief Steward came onto the flight deck and announced that the dinner service was complete and that the passengers were now all bedded down of the night.
“I am sorry to spoil your rest break but we will be landing in just over two hours” I said.
“What are we flying? A bloody Concorde or something! I will have to wake them up for a full English breakfast in one hour” he replied.
“Scrub the breakfast and give them champagne for landing” was my reply.
We arrived off the Scottish west coast after about four and half hours flying and the Air traffic Control fellow let us go direct to the downwind point for the landing. I woke the passengers with the news that we will be landing in about half an hour. That must have surprised them!
We finally landed after five hours and one minute after take-off from JFK. The scheduled time was six hours and twenty minutes so this was some achievement in my mind. Besides we had beaten the 707’s record by a wide margin. The amazing thing is that my time has, to this day, never been beaten by a scheduled aircraft."
Ex-Flight Engineer Nev Boulton recalls that he once took on the role of designer when 'VH was stood at Colombo with a hydraulic problem.
"On December 16th 1966 we were operating a standard VC10 G-ARVH, BA796 from Bombay, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Captain Pete Worrall was in command. The passenger load consisted mainly of male and female teenagers returning from school to spend Christmas with their expatriate parents in Singapore. With this sort of teenager load our BOAC cabin crew used to do frequent patrols during the night to ensure that not too much went on under the frequently shared blankets!
As we arrived on the parking stand at Colombo the station engineer (SMM) came on the ground intercom and asked me to quickly shut down the engines as hydraulic fluid was pouring out of the nose wheel bay. Captain Worrall confirmed that the parking brakes were on - so I shut the four HP fuel valves and off loaded the four hydraulic pumps. As we were in daylight this would not be a problem for the passengers and cabin crew. Clearly we had a major technical problem.
After completing the flight deck shutdown checks and establishing ground power, I went down below to find the nose gear doors had been opened by the ground engineer and hydraulic fluid dripping everywhere. The SMM was a bit worried because he only had 5 or 6 quart cans of fluid with which to top up our leaky system. Several rolls of absorbent paper later most of the mess was cleaned up and we tried to find out where the leak was. This is not easy because one tiny egg cup of hydraulic fluid makes a huge patch of dampness. Eventually after about an hour, the SMM traced the leak to a split in a stainless steel hydraulic pipe. He was now the one with a very dirty shirt! Further technical research showed that the leaking pipe in ‘A system’ (powered by #1 & #2 Engines) was one of the three which forcibly parked the windscreen wipers after they were selected to ‘OFF’. From dim/distant memory I think that the individual electrical powered wipers used DTD 585 hydraulic fluid. The ‘A System’ fluid went to a sort of junction/distributer box and from there went three separate ways to the individual wiper units. A signal was sent to engineering London (no telephones were available to us in those days) and we were advised after an hour or so that the nearest spare pipe was 36 hours away! We had already assumed something along those lines – we had conferred with Captain Worrall and asked the Duty Officer what hotel accommodation might be available.
The answer turned out be ‘Not Much’ – I was personally quite relieved because on a previous night stop (when on Britannia 312s years before) my room had been rat infested and the legs of the bed were resting in metal water filled bowls to stop the buggers getting into bed with me!
I asked the SMM if he had any AGS (Aircraft General Standards) spares so that we might blank off the offending line – None were available – but there was a crashed Chipmunk on the airfield and there might be some spares that we could rob! A quick sortie in the SMM’s jeep proved fruitless resulting only in a single light alloy blank off the D/H Gypsy engine. That was no good as I had little confidence in a light alloy blank standing 3000 psi of hydraulic pressure. In my previous life I had been an Aircraft Artificer in the Fleet Air Arm and worked in the hydraulic bay occasionally making pipework and I knew that if stainless steel pipework was gently bent on a very large radius it would be fine. So with the agreement of the Captain and approval of the SMM we picked the longer of the two other parking pipes and gently formed it around a fire bucket and connected it in a loop to the distribution box - Thus disabling the parking system on both the middle and Captain’s windows. Effectively we had blanked off two of the wiper parking systems. We also made sure that the retracted nose wheel would not foul our newly routed pipe. A quick engine run and some rapid wire locking and we were away to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. We just managed to keep our duty day under the legal limit of 16 hours, minimum rest in Singapore before going westbound to Kuala Lumpur, Colombo and Karachi next day on time. The Technical Log was written up as minor re-routing of the pipework, ‘B Snagged’ to base and the SMM signalled London Heathrow for two new pipes on return to base.
I never heard a thing from the office about re-designing the aeroplane."
The recent delivery of ZA150, ex-5H-MOG, to Dunsfold and its retirement with The Brooklands Museum triggered some memories from Tony Russell from his time with East African Airways. He has kept a scrapbook from those days and has lots of slides so if anyone wants a trip down memory lane involving EAA and Kenya in the 60’s and 70’s, please feel free to get in touch.
"In September 2013 I went to Dunsfold airfield to witness the departure of one of the last flying Super VC10 aircraft. Its registration is ZA150 and it was proudly camouflaged in RAF livery. In February 1970 I was on the apron at Nairobi airport as a fifth Super VC10 was delivered to East African Airways. Its registration was 5H-MOG and it was proudly displaying its colourful cheat line and the national flags of its new owner. It is the same aircraft. Congratulations to a beautiful aircraft for superb service and two excellent operators for all the care and attention during its 43 years life.
The arrival of 5H-MOG in Nairobi was one of many VC10 associated events that took place during my eight year working spell with East African Airways based in Nairobi, Kenya (1967-1975). Not only was this a special time in my life of working and travelling widespread through a beautiful country, but it sealed a lifelong love affair with the supreme of all subsonic commercial airliners ever built.
In my roles within the EAA Technical Office, I was privileged to interact with every facet of the Super VC10 operational life, including visiting the Vickers build line at Weybridge and regular visits to OEM suppliers and MRO subcontractors (even as a retired aircraft engineer I still slip into acronym mode!) Operationally my Conway maintenance licence entailed some very interesting supernumerary flights, particularly those involving C of A test flights conducted over the Indian Ocean. Quite nervy waiting with hands-off for the stick-push to operate to get you out of the induced stall and then seeing the ocean racing towards you! Another reason for my appreciation of the VC10's flying abilities!
Life with the VC10 was not without incident and sadly one of the fleet of five aircraft was lost in April 1972 (5X-UVA in Addis Ababa). The recovery of parts and subsequent investigation was not easy for any of us involved. Another serious incident that can now, with the benefit of time, seem somewhat humorous concerned an aircraft slipping off its jacks in the hangar. Coming into work and seeing a Super VC10 in rotation position within the hangar is not something you see very often! The tail support went through the rear fuselage and damaged the engine cross beam and for some time an aircraft write off seemed on the cards. Fortunately, this did not happen and 5Y-ADA saw its life out as ZA148 with a new engine beam – some clever engineering was involved in this incident.
Sadly, due to financial reasons, EAA finished operations in January 1977 and later that year the four aircraft returned to BAC and subsequently to the RAF. Over subsequent years I have frequently caught sight of the VC10s in operation with the RAF. I always get that same proud feeling. Thank you RAF (my father served for 35 years) for caring for those four special birds through to their final resting places. RIP."
Ivor Horton worked for IBM and although that company isn't often associated with the VC10, he was an important part of the tropical trials in Johannesburg.
"I enjoyed your very detailed record of the trials in Jo'burg in 1965. I was a 'guest' on the flight as I worked for IBM at the time. I recall that my wife was somewhat concerned that I needed special life insurance to go on the flight because there was no C of A I understood.
I remember a few things about the flight. There was a dinner at Heathrow before we left. The seating was rather spartan on the aircraft to say the least - sort of canvas jump seats - with most of the interior taken up with technical equipment. I vaguely recall that the takeoff was rather long on the runway - I remember someone said the reason was that the aircraft was overweight. I was told that the intention was to simulate a full passenger load for the non-stop flight but it was said there was far too much ballast on board. The decision to land in Rhodesia seemed to be taken fairly late. It seemed to be a very steep landing approach to me - but then my previous experience of flying on a jet aircraft was nil. The takeoff also seemed to be remarkably steep and rapid but maybe this was Bill Cairns' flying style, or perhaps he was just in a hurry to reach the destination.
I was asked to go along to handle processing of the kinetheodolite data that recorded the behaviour of the aircraft during take-offs and landings. The IBM data centre in Johannesburg was the only place where processing of the test data could be done. I was needed to ensure that the data processing worked - if there were problems it could delay the test program. The analysis for each day's testing had to be done overnight and the results were essential to determine whether the days testing was satisfactory, and could affect the testing program for the next day if they were not.
The kinetheodolite produced punched paper tape containing angle and azimuth data for the device at fixed time intervals while recording the aircraft on film. Each frame on the film was analyzed to determine the position and attitude of the aircraft within the frame by recording the relative coordinates of fixed points on the aircraft. The computer program combined this data with the data on tape from the kinetheodolite to calculate the velocity, acceleration and rotation of the aircraft. My job was basically loafing around all day until the testing finished, then spending half the night processing the data for the test engineers. The reason I was necessary was that the program ran on an IBM 1401, which was a commercial system not designed for scientific and engineering work. Further the program written by someone I cannot recall was sparsely documented. I guess if things hadn't worked out I would have had to produce a new program... I was there for 6 weeks in all, after which the data processing was stable enough to be handled by local IBM people. I flew home on a commercial flight that seemed to take forever, landing to refuel in Luanda, where disturbingly the airfield was ringed with armed soldiers.
As an aside I was also involved peripherally in the structural analysis for the VC10. I can't remember exactly but it might have been for the tanker version. The analysis was being done in-house at Weybridge on a Ferranti Pegasus I think, and it took literally days to do the calculation. Computer use in BAC was in its infancy then and the computation was not regarded as essential - just a confirmation of the design engineers slide rule calculations or rule of thumb design parameters. There was a reluctance to spend money on this at the time as it was not seen as important.
The results of the Pegasus calculation seemed to have some problems, which is how I got involved. There was an IBM 7090 scientific computer in the IBM data centre in London. I suggested to the stress engineer, Ranjit Bhagat I think his name was, that we could rewrite the program for the 7090. The Pegasus program was written in a low-level language and had taken months, if not years to write and text.
I proposed rewriting the computation for the 7090 in a week. We did this in Fortran well within the week as well as producing a program to calculate the moments of inertia(MI) for the fuselage structural frames within the same timeframe. These had been calculated by hand previously. It had taken more than a year and they were mostly incorrect. We recreated the correct MIs in one day, including writing and testing the program. The structural analysis computation took around 10 minutes and confirmed that the design engineers for the structural components had not got anything wrong. Ranjit Bhagat subsequently applied for, and got, a job with IBM."
Former photographer Sue Chapman found herself photographing VC10s or being transported to photo shoots by VC10s. Now that the aircraft has been retired she wrote down her memories for Eynsham online and they e-mailed me about it. Follow the link below to read her recollections.
In November 2013 ex-VC10 steward Ian Middleton passed away after a brief struggle with cancer. He was an active contributor to the Classic British Flight Sim forums and at one point shared this story about a Soviet Mig intercepting a BOAC VC10. I felt that having this story on my site would also help us remember Ian.
"...of course, Lightning/Bear intercepts were happening regularly but this was a civil passenger aircraft on a scheduled flight. It was a bit scary at the time, though.
I didn't keep a record of the flight but it was mid-70s and we were in a VC10 en-route to London somewhere near Sofia about lunchtime. I was silver-serving some greens to a First Class punter on the starboard side. In a terribly British restrained manner he nodded his head out of the window and said, "I suppose the chaps up front know about this?". I bent down to look out of the window and nearly dropped my brussels sprouts because there was an armed, silver Mig with a red star on the tail flying parallel to us about 200 ft from the wingtip. You need to have lived during the Cold War to appreciate the concern as the Russians were our enemies and we had lived for many years with the expectation of a nuclear war breaking out.
The first contact was ATC who said they could do nothing about it, so the flight crew contacted Ops in London who patched them through to the Foreign Office who immediately contacted Moscow. Meanwhile, to our relief, the Mig slipped behind, only to re-appear a couple of minutes later on the Port wingtip. It also slid underneath us at one stage and popped up on the other side. The poor pilots didn't know which way to look next. The most important thing was not to change course!
It stayed with us for around 20 minutes and then disappeared - I assume that the diplomatic hotline call had done the trick. It sounds quite fun now but in the tensions of that time it was easy to imagine it turning ugly."
Basil Payton joined BOAC in 1946, at the age of 26, after serving as a navigator with the RAF in Burma. One particular flight across ‘the Hump’ had earned him the Croix de Guerre for service to the French. His BOAC service lasted for 18 years until he left to join BUA in 1964. He really enjoyed flying the VC10 and always spoke fondly of the aircraft. When Nigeria Airways bought G-ARVA from BOAC in September 1969 they didn't have enough crew members to operate the aircraft with a full Nigeria Airways crew and Basil Payton got the opportunity to fly for Nigeria Airways for a while. BUA seconded him to Nigeria Airways where he fulfilled the navigation tasks on 5N-ABD through a validation of his British Flight Navigator's license by the Nigerian authorities.
On 19 November 1969 he had been off duty for six days and turned up at London Heathrow airport to operate Nigeria Airways flight WT925 which left London for Lagos at 22:10 in the evening. The aircraft made transit stops at Rome and Kano before leaving for their final stop at Lagos, Nigeria at 6:24 on 20th November 1969. An hour later the aircraft crashed while on approach to Lagos, killing all on board.
His daughter Claire was just 14 when this happened and remembers the mystery and silence surrounding the accident. Over the years she has done her best to learn more about the circumstances and has travelled to Nigeria to visit the accident site and the, sadly neglected, communal grave on the Atan Cemetary in Lagos where many of the victims were buried. At the site where 5N-ABD ended up there were several parts of the aircraft still scattered around the area, lying in the scrub.
Photos C. Galt
A while ago I posted the story above about the Navigator on 5N-ABD's fateful last flight, written by his daughter. This triggered an e-mail from Bob Baker who had been in a very similar situation as he lost his father in that same tragic accident. Here is his story:
Bert started his aviation career in 1937 as a maintenance trainee at Imperial Airways at Hythe, Hampshire. At the outbreak of war he was called into the Royal Air Force where he worked in various locations, including around Lysanders judging by the photo on the right. After the cessation of hostilities he joined Cunliff-Owen Aircraft at Southampton. He was then offered a position with British Overseas Airways Corporation as a Flight Engineer on their flying boats, based at Hythe.
In 1951 he joined Trans Oceanic Airways, based at Rose Bay, Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, the aircraft that was to deliver him to Australia (a Shorts Solent) crashed on take-off, at Malta, with one fatality. The aircraft was floating upside down with all survivors sitting on the wings, when one passenger tried to swim to the rescue boats but perished in the attempt. Bert lost all of his belongings when the aircraft sank. A second aircraft made the trip, with little effort.
A short time after moving to Sydney (in 1953) the company went bankrupt. Fortunately, QANTAS were looking for "boat" people, and Bert joined the company at its base at Rose Bay. Flying was very different to that of Europe! The early fifties still had the left-over dangers from the Pacific War, and operating any type of aircraft demanded a large amount of skill and luck, especially when flying into Rabaul, Buka, Kieta, or Port Moresby, New Guinea.
The days of the Flying Boats were unfortunately slowly fading away, and after six years Bert moved on to land planes, namely the Lockheed Constellation, considered by some to be the prettiest aircraft ever designed. It was still tough to make a living since the company used to "slip" the crews. This consisted for example of flying Sydney to Darwin, Darwin to Djakarta, Djakarta to Singapore, and then a crew change. The previously rested crew would then take the aircraft on to Colombo and then Bombay. The crew would reach its London destination eventually, using this method. After a few days rest, they would do the same thing in reverse. This method called for about nine days to reach London, and another nine to reach the home port of Sydney. In the pre-credit card era mum would try and stretch five or six pounds left by dad, to pay the rent and keep two growing lads fed and clothed. Since dad would have a couple scheduled days off between flights, he would work at the local garage, fixing cars for a little extra cash.
The family were off again, to Thailand this time, when dad found a position with Thai Airways in Bangkok. Brand new "Super Connie's" were brought on line with Australian and American crews assisting the local lads. It was soon noted however, that they could not make money with the routes they were flying with that type of aircraft. After a short while, we said goodbye to that beautiful country and made our way back to the U.K. Dad found a position as a Flight Engineer, with Hunting Clan Air Transport, flying Bristol Britannias, known as the Whispering Giants due to their lack of cabin and engine noise. Shortly thereafter in July 1960, two major aviation companies, Airwork and Hunting Clan, merged to form British United Airways. Dad was overjoyed to go through the required training and eventually qualify as a Flight Engineer on the VC10.
His first flight was on G-ASIX, Gatwick to Entebbe, Entebbe to Nairobi, Nairobi to Entebbe, Entebbe to Gatwick, on November 22, 1964. Like many other members of our profession, Dad was well aware of the "downside" of aviation and the cruel price some must pay. We are all rather blasé when discussing aviation accidents, since it cannot happen to us, but maybe someone we might know. For the first time in a long career Dad could see that retirement was within his grasp in a short three or four years.
He was on secondment from BUA to Nigeria Airways on November 19, 1969, when the unthinkable happened to VC10 5N-ABD. The aircraft struck large trees on its approach to the airport at Lagos. There were no survivors. There has been a lot of speculation about the cause and information has been hard to acquire in the past. It has been only recently that an accident report has been available. I feel extremely privileged to know a young lady (Claire) who actually went to the crash site, and took photos (bravo!). Her father was Basil Payton, the aircraft's Navigator. We have all suffered in one way or another since then, and I am pleased to be able to enlighten you on the way things were.
Graham Perry sent me the photo below and the story behind it. In it, he explains how a trip from Hong Kong to London ended up with a Scottish breakfast.
Hong Kong was on the TV news tonight and something made me look in my logbook. Sure enough, it was 50 years ago, 29th September 1964, that I was lucky enough to be a passenger on the inaugural VC10 service from Hong Kong to London, on G-ARVF. I took this picture from the roof terrace of Kai Tak's terminal shortly before boarding.
Presumably the aircraft had been through Hong Kong the day before and had done a Tokyo rotation - I am not sure. The route back to London was via Rangoon (first ever visit by a VC10, so presumably it had flown via Bangkok on the way out), New Delhi, Karachi, Cairo, and then Zurich before London. However, Zurich was fogbound and we carried on to London, where we attempted 2 approaches in fog before diverting to Prestwick. After a superb Scottish breakfast, courtesy of BOAC and presided over by the captain (Captain N.F. Eagleton), we took off at 1115 BST (just before crew duty time expired) and stacked over Bovingdon until the London fog cleared, landing at 1240. Over breakfast, Captain Eagleton was asked about fuel, given that we had over-flown Zurich, had two goes at Heathrow (London Airport then) and diverted the length of the UK. He replied that if Prestwick had been unavailable, he had enough fuel for Copenhagen...
A year before, in 1963, I had worked on the VC10 production line at Brooklands during the summer, on a university vacation training placement. G-ARVG, 'VH, 'VI and 'VJ were in the final assembly 'cathedral' shed in the Summer of '63, as was the first Super VC10 G-ASGA, into which I helped fit the nose undercarriage leg. But I had seen 'VF there, even though it had flown; it was the first aircraft to return from Wisley (they said it couldn't be done...) to be assessed for the drag-reduction modification of tilting up the engines. So it was an especial pleasure to fly in it back home a year later, looking very smart in its new colour scheme, after a summer spent visiting my parents in Hong Kong.
Not all that long ago King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia passed away, passing the throne to his half-brother Salman. Nev Boulton sent me the following story about one of their brothers who preceded them on the Saudi throne.
On the 29th of September 1972 we were operating a Gulf Air Service 008 with G-ARVC under the command of Captain Clarke from LHR to Dhahran. At the time Gulf Air were (as I remember) operating mixture of DH Doves, Skyvans and had started to rent BOAC VC10s for the long haul services to London. These services were frequently favoured by many rather rich Arab Oil Sheiks who, wanting to avoid their hot summers at home would spend their summers in England. These gentlemen were well known for their generosity to the BOAC crews that carried them. Usually around ten envelopes would arrive on the flight deck to be distributed amongst the grateful crew. There was one exception to the norm and it was late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia who was known to give away gold Rolex watches each of which had a picture of the King’s head at the 12 o’clock position on the dial. Hopefully that night, it was to be our turn, because we had him and his entourage in the first class.
About an hour into the trip I noticed that the oil temperature on one of the generator constant speed drive units (CSD) was starting to gently rise, eventually getting into the caution range. After consulting with Captain Clark, I took it off line giving it the opportunity to cool down but eventually had to disconnect it when the frequency started to hunt. The remaining three generators were now in parallel and well within their load limitations. The VC10 flight engineers were always very much aware of the electrics on the VC10 because all eleven of the flight control surfaces were powered by three phase AC motors. It the event of total generator failure we had an electrical ram air turbine (ELRAT) which could be dropped out of the belly, which was driven by a propeller in the slipstream. The check list was completed and we pressed on towards Dhahran.
About an hour or so later as we were passing overhead Rome (the sky was clear and the lights of Roma beautifully visable) another generator oil low pressure light came ‘On’ and the generator dropped off line as the frequency dropped below limits. Once more I did the drill from the check list and Captain Clark asked me what I wanted to do. As we were down to two generators – I wasn’t very happy - I remember pointing at the lights of Rome and suggesting that we all should go down there and drink some Peroni! Captain Clark decided that we should return to London as there were plenty of funk holes to drop into in the event of further Constant Speed Drive problems. A careful eye was kept on the A.C. loads and we headed back towards Heathrow. Obviously the other (unspoken) consideration was political complications of dropping King Faisal unexpectedly and unannounced into another country.
I called up company on the HF single sideband, gave them an ETA, reminded them about our VIP passengers and put engineering in the picture. We landed uneventfully - chock to chock 5 hours and 35 minutes. Unsurprisingly – Unhappy King - No gold Rolex!
This affair is reminiscent of the story Stuart Perrin sent me a few years back. He did get the watch...
John Davey spent his childhood and school days at Aden, Yemen. In 1963 he was at the civil airport when he spotted something he had not seen before.
I was at school in 1962/3 and we had the afternoons off so my friends and I were usually found at the civil airport two or three times a week.
On the 12th August 1963 we had a quiet afternoon and were about to leave when some 'well dressed' VIPs started to walk from the terminal out to the parking stands. We thought they were going to the EAA Comet that was parked at the far end of the apron but they stopped after a few yards. After a few minutes we could see an unusual shape on finals and realised that it was a VC10. What a surprise that was, we had only seen pictures in magazines. So we stayed, as you would. The aircraft touched down and taxied to the parking stand opposite the Comet and the VIPs and crew introduced themselves. After a few minutes we had to leave to catch our bus home.
Two days later on the 14th we were again at the airport and relieved to see that the VC10 was still based there. We had got friendly with the airport supervisor and asked if we could go onto the apron to take some photos. As it wasn't too busy he agreed. (You couldn't do that now!). While walking around the aircraft it was noticeably bigger compared to the usual residents and visitors and what a wonderful sight with the 'T' tail, 4 rear engines and swept wings. The engineers in their white flying suits were going in and out and setting up for the trials. One asked us if we would like to go inside. Well we didn't need asking twice and were up the steps in a couple of bounds. From what I could remember there were a few seats at the front and some test equipment further down. I wish I had taken more notice and some photos. If I remember correctly it was due to stay for one week doing trials.
Our visit was over too soon and we made our way back to the viewing gallery at the terminal after thanking the supervisor for allowing us to be on the apron. Then we left and that was the last we saw of G-ARVA until I saw it again at Heathrow in service with BOAC colours.
Ex-EAA Captain Arthur Ricketts recalls flying the special engine transportation pod around.
Most of the maintenance on our SVC10s was carried out "in house" at Nairobi, with specialist items usually either on exchange or overhauled in our own workshops at Embakasi.
However, engines posed a special problem in that splitting the earlier Rolls Royce Conway 550Bs required tools only available at specialised engine overhaul centres in the United Kingdom. In order to return our engines for overhaul without incurring freight and packing charges we fitted a pod under the leading edge of the starboard wing of one of our aircraft and thus were able to carry the engine inside the pod directly to London on a normal passenger service.
As this flight was slightly non standard, only a few of us were cleared to do this and we were usually briefed by Cliff Sarginson, the Chief Engineer, immediately prior to the flight. Cliff was a rather burly Yorkshireman who only lent his aeroplanes to the pilots' to fly, so his briefings were terse and to the point.
"Two divisions left aileron trim, max speed M.80, max rate of descent 2,000 feet a minute and keep your big feet off the rudders. Any questions?"
The first time I was rostered to do this flight as a Captain new to the Super VC-10, I knew that no response was expected to this question, but I couldn't help myself asking:
"Yes, where's the jettison handle if I want to get rid of it?"
The crew blanched and dived for cover as Cliff informed me,
"There is no f.........g jettison handle, and if there was, and you used it, I'd have your f............g b.......s for f..........g breakfast! "
Whereupon he stalked off the flight deck, leaving the crew to look at me incredulously, no one ever questioned the Chief Engineer in that manner before. However Cliff and I had a good relationship from previous fleets on which I had served. He knew that I held the engineers in high regard and tried hard to write up defects properly to assist in the diagnosis of the sometimes obscure snags that arose.
"I was there as a young sixteen year-old with my father (a VC10 engineer) and, being a huge fan of the VC10 anyway, I remember the display well. I remember commenting to my father that it was an unusual item to have in the display alongside the Lancaster, Mossie, Spitfire, Rothmans Pitts etc., but when it made its spectacular appearance it certainly stole the show. As noted, the Mosquito did a couple of very low level passes too.
We were on the crowd line right by the Rothmans team and I remember being delighted to see Neil Williams, a hero of mine at the time. I took the attached photo with an old Agfa Silette camera, which was all I had at the time. The quality is therefore poor I’m afraid, even though I was pleased with the timing!"
The stories below were related to me by Ian Kirby, ex VC10 flight engineer. He worked for Vickers during the period when testing VC10s was a daily task.
The Brooklands runway was initially considered on the short side for a VC10 takeoff, however once G-ARTA had been completed most of the doubts about this had been removed and on 29 June 1962 Jock Bryce proved that there was plenty of room for a VC10 to leave Brooklands. By 1963 there were several jobs that necessitated VC10s returning to Brooklands and it did not take long before a VC10 landed successfully back at its birthplace. This procedure did include some additional risks that were not present with landings at other airfields. For example the railway embankment at the Northern end meant that all landings were carried out from the South end, just like all take offs were accomplished in the opposite direction. Another thing that wasn’t very wise was landing long, or in layman’s terms: touching down far beyond the threshold, as there would most likely be insufficient room to stop and a go-around should be done in a timely fashion to avoid said railway embankment.
The Vickers test pilots, as most pilots would have done, took on this challenge of not landing too far beyond the threshold and created a friendly competition out of it. Basically the aim was to land as close to the edge as possible, both to leave enough room to stop but also to show that you were just that little bit better than your colleagues. The South end of the Brooklands runway came up to the perimeter path and cycle track that ran from one side of the airfield to the other. As the runway and path surface were slightly higher than the grass, a slope was constructed just before the path to allow for an early touchdown.
It was Eddie MacNamara who landed Super VC10 G-ASGD back on the runway it had left on 29 September 1964 and while doing so knowingly or perhaps unknowingly managed to set a new benchmark in the test pilots challenge. After the arrival he was taken out to the runway end so that he could view where the telltale rubber marks started on the runway surface. He agreed that this had been very, very close to being out of bounds.
Test pilots were and still are a special breed of pilots in some respects. The Brooklands runway challenge was not the only occasion on which they operated close to the edge of what was possible with an aircraft. John Cochrane had at one point been reprimanded for turning a VC10 away from the runway at such a low height after take off that one wingtip had grazed the grass next to the Wisley runway leaving green marks on the wing tip. With such an incident ‘on the books’ it would of course be wise to avoid any situations that could lead to further reprimands and perhaps a change of employer.
When VC10s returned to Wisley and had to be stored in one of the hangars there the wingspan of the aircraft necessitated that one wingtip had to be removed before the aircraft would fit between the structures that supported the hangar roof. So a VC10 would be marshalled to a position just in front of the hangar before shutting down so that a wingtip could be removed before it was pulled forward into the hangar. During this procedure one of the lookouts below the wingtip signalled to the marshaller that something was not right. After shutdown a broken wingtip navigation light was found with what looked suspiciously like bits of tree stuck in it. It would not be difficult to remove the offending foliage, but how to explain the broken glass? After John Cochrane had made his way from the flight deck to the wing tip, he was not a happy person as he considered his options. After a few moments of pensive silence all around one of the crewmen spoke up: “You know John, we will have to remove the wingtips anyway to fit the aircraft into the hangar.”
“You know how difficult it is taking off the wing tip with the platform we have with a raised edge. It is very easy to damage a navigation light and we would have to replace it from stores.”
“Also, I suspect that after such an incident, the guys involved would be quite thirsty.”
“OK. Down to the Hut at five thirty.” (The Hut was a pub close to the airfield and opposite Wisley Lake.)
It was an observer who explained later on that sometime during the test flight, the aircraft was put into a low-level steep turn for a very specific purpose: two ladies were sunning themselves in a field.
The VC10 inspired quite a few artists, including those who liked to use humour to comment on the different sides of life. I have gathered several cartoons here that somehow relate to the aircraft. If you know of any more, send them to me.