This page started out with stories about the civil (civilised?) side of the VC10 but over time I have moved a lot of them to other, themed pages.
Peril lurking in 1st class (Separate page)
The aircraft I didn't want to fly (Separate page)
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."
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."
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!"
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."
In a second extract (the first one is here) 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."
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...
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.
The VC10 inspired quite a few artists, including those who liked to use humour to comment on the different sides of life. I have included two cartoons here that somehow relate to the aircraft, I have more of them on this page about the RAF. If you know of any more, send them to me.
Kevin Morrison started working for BOAC in 1968 and learned that VC10s should be given a wide berth if you're in a light vehicle.
"I was born into a poor low working class family in 1952 but have strived to make a good living on my own without any proper formal education. There were plenty of jobs around in the 1960’s so I applied to join BOAC as a Postal Messenger at the BOAC headquarters Heathrow Airport.
Anyway I passed the aptitude test and started work with BOAC on 21/10/68 aged 16 earning £5/18s/6d (in old money) delivering mail on foot around the various offices. It was the days of Mini Skirts so I saw plenty of lovely women. (I say no more!) In 1969 the BOAC Post Section manager asked me if I would like to drive around the airport delivering mail, and they would pay for my driving lessons and driving test as well.
Can you imagine a company doing that these days? I passed my driving test first time in a Mini, and became a Reliant Van driver in 1969 ‘thrashing’ these little 3 wheeler vans all around the airport for £9 a week. And it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had. Security was not a problem in those happy days, so I used to go ‘Airside’ delivering urgent BOAC company mail to the aircraft on the stands in Terminal 3, so I have probably set foot on many VC10 flight decks, if only for about 1 minute.
Anyway my frightening experience in a Reliant van happened in 1970, when I was crossing the taxiway between the aircraft stands just behind the South Wing Building. VC10 G-ASGH was just moving off and the blast from the 4 engines blew my lightweight fibreglass van up onto two wheels! But luckily I managed to recover the incident and continue with my deliveries. Although it was an experience I will never forget!
I eventually applied for a job in the BOAC Computer section in 1971 and made a good career for myself in ‘IT’ until I left BOAC/BA in 1998 after 30 years’ service."
Back in 1974 a few runaway indicators managed to drag E/O Nev Boulton away from his after dinner whisky. Read on to find out what the link is between fuel flows and power stations.
In the summer of 1974 Gulf Aviation, based in Bahrain decided to expand from small De Havilland Doves and similar two pilot small aircraft and acquired five standard VC10s (G-ARVC, VG, VI, VK & VL) from BOAC. They recruited a number of pilots from East African, and various sources but were having trouble in obtaining suitably qualified flight engineers and asked BOAC if four experienced E/Os could be seconded to newly titled Gulf Air while their new E/Os were trained up for three months. I was eligible for this secondment because I had been on VC10s for about 10 years. Volunteers were be based and have a room in the Gulf Hotel in Bahrain.
Part of the deal offered to the BOAC flight engineers was a couple of weeks holiday (all found) for our families in the Gulf Hotel Bahrain. As I had five children I took the bait and volunteered. We also had to do a short conversion course at Shannon and trained to operate with a three man crew which dispensed with the BA pilot/navigator. Quite a few retired ex VC10 BOAC Captains got re-cycled and joined Gulf Air (tax free) at the same time. The whole operation was fairly relaxed and (if slightly chaotic at times), good fun. On my first (under supervision route check) sector out of LHR for Bahrain, the new Chief Stewardess came on the flight deck and announced that she and all her girls were ex Tristars from Court Line, didn’t know the VC10, or its galleys and probably wouldn’t have time to feed the technical crew. She then dumped a cardboard box full of bars of chocolate on my desk and disappeared! My route checking supervisor only had minimum hours on type so we trained him up to make pots of tea! When we got to Bahrain, a Gulf Air Admin chap told us that there had been a cock-up with the rostering system and please would we go on to Abu Dhabi. For the next three months we worked our way around the Gulf with occasional trips to London and when my time was up I had the pleasure deadheading in a seat in the first class back to Heathrow.
I had enjoyed my meal and a glass of Glen Fiddich when the purser told me that the Captain (who I had flown with) wanted to see me on the flight deck.
A quick scan of the instruments immediately showed up the problem – number 2 & 4 flowmeters were racing away full scale max flow. Clearly an instrumentation problem. The E/O who was new on type, and the Captain asked me if I knew what the cause was. The operating E/O was sensibly using #1 & #3 flow meters times two to calculate his fuel usage.
The first thing that I had to do was to establish my position and I explained that I had been drinking and would not touch the controls. Only the licenced operating crew could do that. All I could do is offer advice.
The VC10s electrical supply was divided into two separate halves principally to protect the power supplies to the eleven electrically powered flight controls. #1& #3 bus bars were in parallel with each other and #2 & #4 were in parallel with each other. Both pairs of bus bars are separated from each other by the Split System Breaker switch (SSB) located on the E/Os electrical panel.
In the event of a generator failure the three remaining generators would automatically run in parallel via the Split System Breaker (SSB) – provided that it is in its normal Auto position. The SSB could be left in AUTO or selected by the E/O to Manual Split.
The rate of indicated flow on the fuel flowmeters was varied by the transmitters in the fuel lines sending out a series of pulses imposed on top of the normal AC current. More pulses = more fuel flow. I suspected that one of the two generators may be introducing extra pulses into the #2 & #4 electrical supply, because the only thing in common with flowmeters #2 & #4 was the electrical supply where #2 & #4 alternators are in parallel.
So I suggested to the operating crew that one of the two generators could be faulty and that the SSB should be selected to ‘Manual Split’. This prudent action would prevent any interference with the other pair of good fuel flowmeters or indeed prevent transferring any possible generated fault to the other bus bars. After that, I suggested that #2 or #4 could be selected off in turn to see if the fuel flows became normal. Any single generator would easily support a double load especially with the galleys having finished the meal service.
We were all delighted to see that with one of the two suspect generators off line all four fuel flows became normal. (I don’t remember which generator was the problem – it is over 40 years ago!) Clearly we had isolated the source of the problem and had a defective generator which could be entered into the Technical Defect Report for LHR for a generator change.
I was then asked why I had suspected that the generator had been at fault and I explained that I had been operating a Super VC10 into JFK when multiple power stations had dropped off line in the North East of USA causing state wide blackouts. This was later known as a ‘Cascade Failure’ and resulted in our SVC10 having to divert from JFK to Montreal when all the ground station radios and runway lights failed. That, in itself, was in interesting exercise being unable to get clearance from ATC and lots of diverting aircraft all talking to each other, in an attempt to ensure safe separation.
Simply put, the apparent cause was that each power station generator’s field current (which created a magnetic field in the generators) was powered by the grid. So that in the event of the grid tripping off, the generator(s) ceased to have a magnetic field and therefor ceased to generate electricity. This failure in turn caused the next power station to drop off line and so on – hence the fault being called a ‘cascade’.
Now back in 1964 when I did my VC10 conversion type course the very knowledgeable electrical instructor told the class that we had ‘Self Exciting Generators’ and explained that ‘Self Exciting’ meant they did not require an external power source to make a magnetic field in order to produce electricity. Without going into too much detail – the self-exciting ‘bit’ was all done with a few permanent magnets and electrical non return valves called diodes in order to make DC electricity to power up the generator field coils. If one of these diodes failed (in conducting mode) it could allow extra pulses to be imposed on top of the normal 400 cycle, three phase alternating power as supplied to both fuel flowmeters – hence the full scale max flow indication.
John Anderson has served as BOAC Duty Officer in various places, such as Entebbe, Uganda. Another memorable posting was a temporary one, to Bangladesh in May 1973.
In late 1971 there had been a devastating independence war, closely followed by a series of natural disasters in what was a desperately poor country. At the time there was a large number of aid workers in the country and numerous charter flights carrying inbound cargo on a daily basis. The country was desperate for any aid and the proper scheduling of aircraft movements into the airport was virtually non existent. Dacca International Airport was in a bad state with war damaged facilities, this included filled in bomb craters on the main runway and taxiways, bullet holes in the terminal walls, broken windows and a complete lack of basic ground handling equipment. At times the relatively small aircraft ramp area could became very congested.
BOAC’s Super VC10 services operated via Calcutta twice weekly and terminated/turned around in Dacca. Calcutta positioned a BOAC ground engineer on board the flight to handle the turnaround. On this particular day our flight arrived a little behind schedule and was parked on the ramp area about 200 metres from the passenger terminal (no airbridges in those days).
During the four hours the VC10 was on the ground the ramp was filling up. Immediately behind our aircraft was a Donaldson International B707 freighter, which was parked up for a nightstop, the crew having all rapidly disappeared to their hotel in town. Our ground engineer and I were becoming increasingly concerned that there was insufficient space for our flight to start up and taxi out safely without causing jet blast damage to other aircraft. Finally after some discussion with the airport authorities and our ground handling agent it was decided that our VC10 had to be moved into a safer parking position on a nearby taxiway. Simple solution, but how to do it? There was no aircraft tug in the whole country! BOAC had previously positioned a VC10 tow bar in a small engineering store at the airport but there was nothing to attach it to. The handling agent had only a few small agricultural tractors used for towing baggage trolleys. However, a cunning plan was being formed making use of the abundant manpower available and a decrepit open backed ex-army truck normally used for carrying cargo. Dozens of cargo/baggage loaders and engineering staff were gathered together and received a quick massed briefing on the ramp, the message was simple, the Bangladeshi equivalent of “You are all going to push/pull the BOAC aircraft forward on the count of 3.” The towbar was attached to the nose wheel and the other end was somehow hooked onto the truck. Stout ropes were attached to the VC10’s main undercarriage and after much shouting and commotion the VC10 began to move slowly to a position on the taxiway, where refuelling and loading were completed. Job done!
John Anderson recently sent me this memory, does anyone else remember this incident?
Have you come across the story of the BOAC VC10 which landed at Sharjah instead of Dubai in the early 1970’s? The story did the rounds within some parts of the airline and obviously the UK Civil Aviation Authority was informed, but I don’t think it got out into the media.
Briefly the story was that a VC10 from London to Dubai was several hours behind schedule and had arrived in the Gulf just after dawn. At the time Sharjah and Dubai airports had main runways which were basically parallel to each other (and approximately 15km apart). There was some early morning mist covering Dubai but not Sharjah which was a few miles to the east. Due to the delay the crew had had a long period on duty and quickly spotted the runway at Sharjah off to the starboard side and assumed it was Dubai. They landed but then quickly realised their mistake (the airport was obviously closed!). So it was a quick taxi back to the other end of the runway, take off and a minute or so later they landed in Dubai. Much embarrassment all round and an enquiry back in London followed.
Even in today's modern age with flight management systems and GPS navigation, mistakes like this still occur from time to time. In the VC10's day it would have been even easier to mix up two very similar airfields like the ones in this story.
Nev Boulton sent me this story about the local customs at Fiji. I guess times have changed.
In the early seventies BOAC Super VC10s used to operate a twice weekly service to Australia over the Pacific Ocean via JFK, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Fiji. It was a super trip of nearly a month for the crews who got two day and five day slips in lovely places and was highly prized. We used to arrive in Fiji from Honolulu late in the evening and, after a quick clean up, adjourn to the hotel bar for a beer. On one occasion the station Duty Officer warned us that there was civil unrest brewing up because the Indian citizens in Fiji were out-breeding the local Fijians and becoming the dominant political force in local politics. Apparently Indians had been brought to Fiji during the nineteenth century to work as labourers on the sugar plantations because the Fijians were not willing to work. When we got to the bar, the usual friendly bar tender (big feet and mad about rugby) was gently asked how things were developing concerning the ‘Indian Problem’. “It is not really a problem sir” he replied – “My Daddy used to eat them!”
Calvin Shields has written about his experiences as an airline pilot in his semi-fictional book 'Dancing the Skies and Falling with Style' (click the link for more info or to buy a copy). He flew the VC10 for seven years and encountered some interesting colleagues along the way, one of which features in this excerpt from his book.
‘Electric Ed’ bought some expensive tropical fish in Singapore and connected their little glass tank to the aircrew oxygen system for the long flight to Bahrain.
Ed was obsessed with dirt and dust. The cockpit was difficult to keep clean and the cleaners were reluctant to come onto the flight deck for fear of damaging something.
Ed designed a cockpit vacuum cleaner.
He bought a length of flexible pipe in Singapore which was the same diameter as the sextant housing, and he jury rigged a temporary coupling for the sextant port. The sextant port was an airlock in the roof of the cockpit through which the sextant was inserted during astro-navigation.
It was a calm clear starry night. The full moon shone on the Bay of Bengal, casting long shadows from scattered candy-floss clouds, thousands of feet below.
Ed eased himself and his oversized stomach out of his seat and reached up to the sextant port to connect his Heath-Robinson contraption. The pressure difference between inside the aircraft and outside was 8-9 psi. and the diameter of the pipe was about two inches. Ed calculated that the hose would have suction of about 25 psi, but he didn’t realise that that was about ten times the suction of a domestic vacuum cleaner. He paused and adjusted his glasses before switching it on.
He pulled the lever to open the port.
A whoosh filled the cockpit and the open end of the pipe snapped up into the air. It flailed about like an indignant writhing snake and sucked up everything in its path. Pages from Ed’s technical log disappeared down the twisting tube, charts were plucked from the centre console and it devoured the stilton from the cheeseboard. There was a sudden silence as it digested the Captain’s hat and, with a gulping belch, disgorged the tattered titfer into the void.
Ed tried in vain to shut the port. The flimsy pipe started to ingest itself, and with a farting spasm, the tube disappeared up its own orifice. Still attached to the vent, the pipe beat loudly on the first-class roof until it disintegrated somewhere over Madras.
The Captain wasn’t happy.
We landed in Bahrain and to Ed’s dismay the tropical fish were bloated and floating upside down. His over oxygenated ocellated cardinalfish had drained the crew oxygen tank. We were delayed two days waiting for a replacement to be flown from London.
The Captain was apoplectic.
This story has also been published on Calvin's own website: https://calvinshields.com/
The VC10s that went to the Middle East for use by various local rulers were well suited to that job, and were liked by their users. John Anderson remembers that this was something that took some convincing.
"As the Boeing 747s came into service British Airways was keen to sell off the standard VC10s, including G-ARVF. In the summer of 1974 I was seconded to Omeir Travel Agency (the BA ground handling agency at Abu Dhabi) as relief Station Manager while the permanent incumbent was having some well earned leave.
Part way through my posting G-ARVF flew out from London to be demonstrated to Sheik Zayed (the ruler) and his family. The aircraft was kitted out with the Queen’s Royal Flight interior. A full BA crew came out with the aircraft captained by John Darcy (the Fleet Captain). John obviously did a good job in the very hot conditions and Sheik Zayed decided to buy the aircraft complete with the interior. One bit of feedback I did get however was that Sheik Zayed thought the interior was bit dull, utilitarian and not at all luxurious!"
Guy Warner's career took several twists and turns, but a move to Bristol meant working near several BAC types, including the VC10. It would not be the last connection to a British designed aircraft type. The account below is part of a larger write up about his adventures in various companies.
Following my involvement with the world of air displays, my next posting was to the Navy Department but after three years, I returned to aviation in a job concerning aircraft procurement. The branch was reponsible for the financial control of several major aircraft projects,which were being undertaken by industry. Accordingly, this afforded me the opportunity to visit a number of manufacturers and sites. The first location was British Aerospace's factory and airfield at Filton, near Bristol. In previous years, the former Bristol Aircraft company had produced such famous machines as the Brabazon, the Type 170 Freighter and the Britannia. Following merging into the British Aircraft Corporation, Filton had been the joint birthplace of Concorde along with Toulouse. There was another connection with Concorde as our meeting was chaired by Brian Trubshaw, who had been the project's chief British test pilot. Now the massive main hangar was home to a more prosaic project, the conversion of Vickers VC10s into aerial refuelling tankers. Nine airframes were involved, five Type 1101 Standard models which had served with BOAC, British Airways and Gulf Air - these were the K Mk 2s. The remaining four aircraft were former East African Airways Type 1154 Super VC10s, which were to become K Mk 3s.
The conversion of the VC10s needed really major surgery on the aircraft. The new fuel tanks located in what had been the passenger cabin were surprisingly small in diameter, due to weight and centre of gravity considerations. Three refuelling points were fitted, two pods under the strengthened wings and a hose and drum unit in the rear fuselage. An inflight refuelling probe, internal piping for the delivery of fuel, uprated Conway Mk 550B engines, military avionics, a camera system to monitor operations and an auxiliary power unit were also installed. After talking to the project staff, my impression was that BAe were thankful that a difficult and costly job was nearing completion. It was fascinating to look around the aircraft in various stages of their conversion, it was also interesting to note the manufacturer's name on the aircraft control columns - Vickers Armstrong - how the British aviation industry had changed since the VC10 was first conceived. Another remarkable feature at Filton was the caste system among the staff, there was an incredibly hierarchical structure of dining and toilet facilities.
I only flew in a VC10 twice, taking indulgence flights home from Brize Norton to Aldergrove and back again in XV102. I was deeply impressed by the smooth ride and enjoyed the novelty of the rearward facing seats.
Marshall of Cambridge were rather more egalitarian, merely being separated into two divisions, white and blue collar. The chairman, Sir Arthur Marshall, was a regular visitor to the staff canteen. Indeed, as a general rule, Marshalls were rather easier to deal with than BAe. As a much smaller family run concern, there was rather less in the way of bureaucracy to fight through. The company had won the contract to convert six ex-British Airways Tristar 500s into tanker/passenger/cargo K1 and KC1 aircraft. The tanker conversion involved fitting two centre line Mk 17T Hose Drum Units and extra fuel tanks in the cargo hold, the four KC1s also had a large cargo door and a strengthened freight floor installed. A vast new hangar had been built to accommodate the aircraft. This was a huge and technically complex job requiring considerable structural modification of the airframes. As one of the project engineers explained, it was made much more difficult by different American and British production methods. A British aircraft was, he said, crafted to an exacting and precise degree. An American aircraft was, in effect, mass produced. On the Tristars the internal dimensions were not the same for each aircraft, cable runs were all over the place - with the result that a separate set of conversion plans had to be drawn up for each aircraft. The overall result for Marshalls of these unforeseen snags was a project that was inexorably becoming a time consuming and costly nightmare. It also perhaps explained the success of the US airplane industry - make 'em quick and sell 'em cheap.
Since 1966 Marshalls had been the UK MoD Design Authority for the RAF C130K and from 1974 was the European Authorised Maintenance and Service Centre for civil and military Hercules. In another hangar several of the aircraft were in the final stages of the stretch programme which was converting 29 aircraft into C Mk 3s for the RAF. In 1982 critically urgent work had been completed in a remarkably short timespan to convert Hercules to tankers for the South Atlantic Airbridge. Six aircraft were modified to C Mk1 K configuration by fitting a Mk 17B Hose Drum Unit to the aircraft ramp floor. Two unique types were also in residence, the Meteorological Flight's Hercules W Mk2 XV208, which had been converted to its highly specialised configuration at Cambridge and the RAF's only Beagle Husky XW635. Grumman Gulfstreams and Cessna Citations were also frequent visitors, as the company was a main service centre for both types. There was also a connection with Concorde, as Marshalls designed and built the droop nose and retracting visor back in 1967.
A number of VC10s went to the Middle East and provided some interesting postings for BA crews. Rex Hennebury was one of them and, having flown VC10s for BOAC and BA he spent some time with the Royal Flight in Abu Dhabi. He was also asked to Captain G-ARVF's last flight to Saarbrucken airfield in Germany, so that the airframe could be preserved at the Hermeskeil museum. It wasn't until he went through his logbooks recently that he found out that his association with G-ARVF had a significant date that kept turning up.
I joined BOAC in September 1966 after 5 years RAF and 1 year at BEA awaiting BOAC’s recruitment! I was initially assigned to the VC10 Flight and very happy to discover a really beautifully handling aircraft - almost a ‘Hunter’ in its perceived roll rate. Our flying conversion to the ’10 was in February '67 at Shannon - much fun in those days. In all I suppose I completed about 7500hrs on VC10s with no major problems, just the odd engine failure which the ‘Lady’ coped with exceedingly well.
One of my chums was not so fortunate, given he asked me to ‘donate’ a service to him since he was short of flying and ended up hijacked! Lucky for me.
Incredibly I have just checked some old log books and note I first flew G-ARVF on, believe it or not, 23 March 1967! The same March day when we ‘flew’ the aircrafts last leg! Amazing coincidence 14 years later!
The VC10 secondment to Abu Dhabi was well established when I joined the Royal Flight on 17 March 1980. I do not believe this! I have checked when I first flew VF on the Flight - Yes you’ve guessed it - on 23 March 1980!! This is becoming a ‘novel! I must remind myself to do the Lottery next year on 23 March!
Personnel changed fairly regularly during the Tour: Paul Richards, the First Officer, was replaced by Dick Long. Flight Engineer initially was Gordon Woods, later replaced by Terry Tibbot. Ground Engineers were Dennis Bice, Ian Bishop and Steve Jones, replaced by Roy Thompson. Admin was Ralph Glazer replaced by Cliff Clifton. Our Stewardesses were usually Ann Richards (Paul’s wife), Janet Mason and Maggie Flammer, although on some days ladies from Gulf Air were seconded to the flight.
I have recalled one fun incident when we operated over a few days, shuttling the Saudi Oil Minister, Sheik Yamani and the UAE's Oil Minister, Dr. Oteiba, backwards and forwards from Abu Dhabi and Taif. Returning to Abu Dhabi one afternoon, we were in the final approach when a concerned Minister rushed to the Flight Deck and gushed that we should have been told that Medina was the destination! No problem says Rex, we raised the gear, overshot and headed to Medina!! Only one problem, Mr Yamani’s meeting was to be extended and we were running out of crew time, let alone fuel. Solution, a night stop in the Holy City in a brand new, empty, 5-star hotel within the walls! An amazing stay not without hospitality and holy water!
Having spent five months as Captain of VF with the Royal Flight in Abu Dhabi, together with other seconded crew from BA, I went back to BA and became fully engaged as a B747 Captain. Several months later I was somewhat surprised to get a direct call during which I was asked to operate Victor Fox’s last flight. I then sought a suitable opportunity to fit in a test flight and the subsequent ferry flight from Abu Dhabi to Saarbrucken. Fortunately, in March 1981 I was terminating a Far East B747 flight in Bahrein with an anticipated passenger sector back to London. This provided an ideal opportunity to fly over to Abu Dhabi, conduct an air-test on VF and prepare a flight plan for its final flight the following day! What’s more, what a great experience to say farewell to a great aircraft servant and enjoy our own personal jet transport back to Europe!
G-ARVF had not flown for months having been retired earlier in Abu Dhabi so our reunion was somewhat eventful. With my preassembled team of colleague Paul Richards and a replacement F/E from London plus our old engineering ‘gang’ we topped up with fuel only to see it initially cascading out of wing and engine outlets!. Never fear said our faithful Denis Bice and Ian Bishop. “The outlets are dry and will reseal!” Sure enough all was well later for a test flight. We conducted a local test with many chums aboard and some local low handling checks, all very satisfactory for such a ‘Lady' of the skies!
Next day, March 23, 1981, we flew VF to Saarbrucken having said farewell to Abu Dhabi airport with a couple of low passes and nostalgic farewells. All ATC centres throughout the Middle East also passed on the greetings and farewells which was very touching and a tribute to VF’s historic Royal Flight’s experience. Finally into Saarbrucken, short runway, crosswind and raining hard over a threshold somewhat elevated from a deep chasm! An ideal testing climax to a great aircraft and faithful servant. A very hospitable greeting from Saarbrucken staff with subsequent enjoyable nightstop. Yes I expect one or two keepsakes were relinquished by the ‘Lady’ but what a finale and now a fitting final resting place in the Aviation Museum down the road.
Graham Perry mentioned in a previous article how he had spent a few weeks working on the VC10 production line as a university student. In his 2004 book 'Flying People - bringing you safe flying, every day' (available from Kea Publishing), he expanded on this topic and had a foreman explain to him how parts on the VC10 production line were interchangeable. This anecdote has been reproduced here with permission from the author.
British Aircraft were well made, almost over-engineered. For the VC10 and the One-Eleven in the 1960s, Vickers and the British Aircraft Corporation went to great lengths and expense to achieve a near identical standard of airframe component production. Wing planks, for example, were cut using the latest numerically controlled cutting machines so that all wing planks were interchangeable. 'Interchangeability' was the proud watchword on the VC10 production line at Brooklands, Weybridge. So much so that it jarred a little to one university vacation student, working in the final assembly building in the summer of 1963, when he saw two fitters struggling to fit a passenger door to G-ARVJ that they had 'robbed' from G-ARVK. It didn't fit and the lack of door was holding up G-ARVJ's pre-first-flight pressurisation tests. The undergraduate, in all innocence, sought the counsel of Bert Lambert, the final assembly shop supervisor, who cut a dashing figure in his snow white boiler suit. Bert had worked at Vickers since he left school and was shortly to retire. As an apprentice he had helped build the Vimy bomber in which Alcock and Brown had first crossed the Atlantic in 1919; there wasn't much about aeroplanes that Bert didn't know.
"Mr Lambert, I don't understand," said the student. "...if all the parts on the VC10 are interchangeable, why won't Victor Kilo's door fit on Victor Juliet? They've been struggling for hours."
"Son," said Bert, putting a grandfatherly arm around the student's shoulder. "Just between you and me, the only thing that's interchangeable on this aircraft is the air in the tyres."
John Silltow contacted me about some VC10 routings, and shared some of his memories including the one below about a VC10 fuselage on a trailer. The big question is which one and why, so I've decided to post this here, hoping that someone can fill in the details.
This would be back around the 1963 / 64 timescale, when the VC10 was known about and had probably just made its maiden flight. I used to live near Enfield which is north of London. Going south from home one early evening in the dark (suggesting it was winter) I was on the A10 road which is the London to Cambridge main road and largely dual carriageway at the time. At the junction with Southbury Road - the road up from Enfield town - there was at that time a large depot for Pickfords. Pickfords were removals and storage but also one of the few companies that did seriously heavy haulage. On this particular evening as I passed the depot, there was parked up - on the northbound carriageway - a trailer with a complete VC10 fuselage on board. I knew it was a VC10 because of the sign on the side! There were no other markings or colour scheme that I could see but as I say, it was dark. The towing tractors were not in sight so had presumably gone into the depot. When I returned probably around three hours later there was no sign anything had ever been there.
Back in those times information sources were rare being mainly Air Pictorial, Flight magazine or what your friends knew. Consequently I never did find out which airframe it was or what it was doing there.
Checking this site, I see that the test frames were all incomplete whereas I am sure that this was a complete airframe. So that rules that idea out.
Whilst the M1 was in place, this was long before the M25 was on the scene and many roads were still quite rural. Going north on the A10, to the west was Hatfield which was the de Havilland base, To the east was Stansted which was populated by aircraft of the Queens Flight (Pembroke and Dove,) STC had a DC-3 there and BOAC had certainly been using it for training Britannia crews. In other words, nothing like it is today. So, the options always seemed limited.
Of course when moving a load like that, the fact it was on the northbound carriageway may only indicate a moment in a more complex manoeuvre. I think that to be unlikely as Southbury Road led either through the centre of Enfield which would have been tricky or in the other direction over a steep bridge crossing the railway at Ponders End and even narrower roads beyond that.
It is an interesting thought that a VC10 fuselage may have been transported along the A10 in those days, but for what purpose? I could not think of a reason so I asked fellow VC10 enthusiast John McCrickard about his thoughts on this matter. This is his reply.
The only VC10 fuselage movements I can think of around this time were the C1s. As part of UK government policy to bolster the Northern Ireland economy, the manufacture of 13 VC10 C1 front/rear fuselages, centre section excluded (for aircraft XR807 to ’810 and XV101 to ’109) was subcontracted to Short Brothers and Harland, Belfast. They were shipped to Weybridge during 1965-68. The first fuselage shipment was in May 1965, so this is later than John's observation.
The only other theory is that this was a pattern fuselage being shipped TO Short's - although I cannot think why this would really have been necessary or indeed the fuselage involved.
So a question remains, why could a VC10 fuselage be traveling along the A10 in those days? Please get in touch if you know more.
I was reminded of the VC10's withdrawal from service by British Airways in 1981. I was 19 years old then and had grown up in South London where we lived under the approach into London Heathrow made by arriving aircraft coming off the stack over Reigate, Surrey. I believe aircraft passed overhead at between 3,000 feet and 5,000 feet altitude so you could get a good view of them. I used to watch the early jets from our back garden as a child but became most interested in aircraft aged about 10 years old when I made my first flight as a passenger (a Britannia Airways Boeing 737 from Luton to Rimini, Italy).
Later, I discovered I could cycle to Heathrow in about an hour and I started to watch aircraft at the airport. First I used to watch from the perimeter, where I remember they had low lying wooden fences you climb onto and sit upon. That was until about 1978, when the present high wire perimeter fences were first erected. Then I started using the excellent viewing deck on Queen's Building/Terminal Two, demolished in 2009 although sadly closed to the public since 9/11.
I started photographing aircraft using a proper SLR camera in 1980 and the VC10 was already becoming a rarer sight then at Heathrow as British Airways had already started to reduce their fleet. I must have read that the type would operate its last scheduled service out of Heathrow on March 28, 1981 and made a special visit to Heathrow that day to see the flight depart. Like many others, I used to love the distinctive sound of the Conways and I wanted one more fix whilst I could see the type in service with BA. I looked back at my photo collection I had from back then, and note I have not retained any photos of a VC10 from other days so perhaps I knew this was my last chance to photograph one.
I attach some photos I took of that departure which took place on a fine, sunny day. I used to keep a file of news cuttings about BA back then taken from magazines like Flight International and Aircraft Illustrated. I added the photos to that cuttings file and noted the key details about the flight. I am sorry the photos are a little yellowed now with age.
I believe the last flight was BA065 routing from Heathrow to Dar Es Salaam via Larnaca and Kilimanjaro. I believe it departed Heathrow in the late afternoon of 28 March 1981, probably around 17:00 hours judging by the shadow on the tailfin of the aircraft in the top left picture. The shadow is coming from the west and the photograph is taken from the viewing deck looking south, hence indicating the time as late afternoon. The aircraft operating the flight was Super VC10 G-ASGF.
The next four photos show the VC10's take-off run and climb-out from runway 28 right. I must have climbed to the highest viewpoint on the viewing deck to take those pictures!
The next day, on 29th March 1981, G-ASGF returned to Heathrow from Dar-es-Salaam via Kilimanjaro and Larnaca, which concluded the scheduled services for the Super VC10s. On that same day G-ASGL flew two charter flights from Gatwick and on the next day would fly the final British Airways Super VC10 flight with invited guests.
Steve Scullion was on board one of the two enthusiasts charter flights that G-ASGL operated from Gatwick on 29th March 1981. These were organised by Ian Allan travel and crewed by Captain Roger Price, Senior First Officer Brian Horn and Engineer Officer Herbert Bailey. The Super VC10 flew to Fairford, down the Bristol Channel and at low level past Porlock, then performed a flypast at Cardiff before returning to Gatwick. On the second run, the flypast at Cardiff was exchanged for a touch and go at Cardiff. G-ASGL had been ferried from Heathrow to Gatwick that morning with BA staff members on board, and these were collected from Gatwick before returning to Heathrow at the end of the day.
Andy Frish was fortunate in that he was able to accompany his father, Anthony (Tony) Frish, on the flight deck on several occasions. He took lots of photos but he also brought his tape recorder and recorded some of the sounds and conversations on the flight deck of these BOAC/BA VC10s. He later converted them to CD and has now allowed me to share these sounds on my website.
Ed Austin from Christchurch, New Zealand, shared this story about two findings on VC10s that could have led to a very bad outcome.
In 1969, as a qualified Chief Technician, I left RAF Cranwell, to join British Airways at Heathrow, and work on the VC10 maintenance night-shift. By 1972, I had gained the civilian Aircraft Maintenance Licence, and was an acting foreman. Aircraft defects seldom affect their immediate airworthiness, and it's most unlikely that a mechanic will notice a major defect on an aircraft that he is not working on. It happened to me, twice.
I cannot recall the aircraft registration numbers, or the precise dates, but this is what happened to me, on two aircraft that were about to go into service nearly 50 years ago. I had just come on duty when I was asked to look at a parked aircraft that was about to go into service. The pilot had reported an anomaly when using the flaps for landing, but no defect had been found during hangar maintenance. I found the right main flap was about to disintegrate. Fortunately, it hadn't done so during the approach to Heathrow.
The second aircraft had been in the heated hangar overnight, and was about to go into service. Walking past it, on my way home, I noticed water dripping all along the aircraft belly. We lifted the cargo compartment floor panels, to discover the entire bottom of the fuselage was filled with ice. The aircraft log mentioned some difficulty in taking off from Chicago in very cold conditions. We found the potable water tank ruptured, and assumed that the ground crew at Chicago had kept loading water (the gauge would have shown empty). Fortunately, the water froze, otherwise it would have run to the back during takeoff, or to the front on landing. If all the ice had melted at Heathrow, with the large volume of water unable to escape - It's very likely that the aircraft would have crashed on the next take-off. The crash investigators would be unlikely to discover the cause.
Thanks for reading my story.
A large volume of water moving around in the belly of an aircraft could seriously influence the center of gravity, which has severe effects on the controllability of an aircraft. A 2013 fatal crash of a Boeing 747 freighter turned out to be caused by the cargo shifting inside the aircraft, a somewhat similar situation.