FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The lure of Dawlish

Posted in Dawlish, England by folkestonejack on August 22, 2015

I had resisted the lure of the air show at Dawlish until last year, joining 100,000 spectators to watch the rare sight of two Lancasters and other delights against the red cliffs of the South Devon coastline. It didn’t take long to appreciate why this air show was so beloved of photographers and I had a suspicion that I would be back sooner or later.

The Vulcan makes an impressive entrance at Dawlish as the bad weather closes in

The Vulcan makes an impressive entrance at Dawlish as the bad weather closes in

In the end the temptation of saying a last farewell to the Vulcan at such a special location proved too much and I booked some train tickets for a mad day trip to the show. The plan looked more than a little foolish in the build up to the day, with forecasters predicting a devilish mixture of clouds and rain. I was grateful to find that this was one of those occasions where the reality was rather different, arriving in Dawlish to the welcome sight of blue skies and sun.

The air show is dependent on donations and sponsorship, all of which came into sharper focus this year with an impressive crowdfunding campaign to bring the Vulcan to Dawlish one last time (£10,000 was raised in the space of a week). Sadly, bad weather was rapidly closing in when the Vulcan arrived but she still gave us a wonderful reminder of why she will be much missed when her flying days come to an end next month.

The Typhoon thrills at Dawlish

The Typhoon thrills at Dawlish

Other highlights of the day include a terrific display by the Typhoon and a delightful duet between the Strikemaster and Rich Goodwin’s Muscle Biplane. The flying display finished early to the accompaniment of thunder, lightning and rain but given the dire forecasts it was amazing that they managed to squeeze in as much in as they did.

I did not get to hear the news about the terrible events that had unfolded at Shoreham until I returned home late in the evening. My thoughts go out to everyone caught up in the tragedy.

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Howl of farewell

Posted in England, Fairford by folkestonejack on July 18, 2015

The last airworthy Avro Vulcan, XH558, is set to retire in a couple of months, bringing to an end an astonishing 55 year career in the air. It is a mark of her incredible popularity in the UK that her busy farewell tour has drawn the crowds wherever she has appeared, eager to hear that distinctive howl one last time.

An impressive take off at the Royal International Air Show

Vulcan XH558’s impressive take off at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2015

Watching the delta wing silhouette of the Vulcan in the air today it is hard to believe that this aircraft was first conceived in the 1940s. It certainly feels as though you are looking at a design many decades younger, rather than a stable mate of the Avro Lancaster (the two aircraft were designed by Roy Chadwick).

The Vulcan emerged from the need to develop a long range bomber to carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent. It is chilling to consider that at the height of the cold war the Vulcans and their crews stood ready to take off within two minutes in the event of a Soviet attack. In the event, the only military action seen by the Vulcans in their operational history were the long range bombing raids of the Falklands War.

XH558 was delivered to RAF Waddington on 1st July 1960 and would go on to become the last Vulcan to leave RAF service, following active duty (1960-84) with a stint flying solo in displays until 1993. It would be another 14 years before her howl was heard once more, the result of one of the most impressive restoration efforts in the engineering world. Since then, she has delighted many an audience, but her time is now up – XH558 has flown 10% longer than any other Vulcan and is well into uncharted territory.

Avro Vulcan XH558 'The Spirit of Great Britain' with the Red Arrows

Avro Vulcan XH558 ‘The Spirit of Great Britain’ with the Red Arrows

To get this far has cost a whopping £22 million but her retirement is not a question of money. The three expert companies on which the Vulcan to the Sky Trust depends had decided to cease their support at the end of the 2015 flying season. This effectively meant that the Vulcan would be prohibited from flying beyond this point under Civil Aviation Authority regulations.

The display at this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford was the best that I have seen – a stunning takeoff and climb matched by a wingover that drew appreciation from everyone. As if this wasn’t sufficient delight, we had the pleasure of a flypast with the Red Arrows and a rare landing with the braking parachute deployed. If this is the last I see of her in the air, that is certainly how I want to remember her!

XH558 deploys her braking chute on landing at RAF Fairford

XH558 deploys her braking chute on landing at RAF Fairford

The Vulcan still has plenty more appearances before she lands for the last time and will no doubt be attracting thousands of spectators and filling many more column inches in the run up to that sad day (my favourite still has to be the way she photobombed a wedding in Scarborough recently).

If you have the opportunity to see XH558 fly as she enters her last couple of months I would recommend it, but if not you can also see a couple of rather wonderful videos on youtube that someone in the crowd filmed of her display and flypast at the tattoo.

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Farnborough 2014: Survivors of the golden age

Posted in England, Farnborough by folkestonejack on July 19, 2014

Britain’s pioneering aircraft builders gave this country an incredible boost in the post war years, delivering a remarkable variety of innovative jet aircraft that dazzled the public throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The world class aircraft produced looked like a vision of the future and were given stirring names that matched the sense of expectation at the beginning of the new Elizabethan age – such as Valiant, Victor and Vulcan.

Vulcan XH558 takes off from Farnborough

Vulcan XH558 takes off from Farnborough

The capabilities of these incredible machines and the men behind them stood testimony to the brilliance of the work taking place within the British aviation industry at this time. However, in spite of this, the golden era of British jet aircraft manufacture was all but over by the late 1960s. Arguments still rage today over the cancellation of the supersonic TSR2 bomber/reconnaissance aircraft in 1965, a jet which many test pilots felt had the potential to the best of its era.

I am pretty sure I would have seen some of these astonishing jets on my family’s occasional visits to airshows in the early 1980s but I wouldn’t have appreciated what I was looking at, even had any of it stuck in my memory! In this context, it was a delight to visit Farnborough this weekend and see five jets from this era in the air (a meteor, vampire, vulcan, canberra and harrier respectively). The Vulcan is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, but I was as keen to see a Meteor and Canberra in flight.

Gloster Meteor WA591 takes off at Farnborough

Gloster Meteor WA591 takes off at Farnborough

Canberra XH134 takes off from Farnborough

Canberra XH134 takes off from Farnborough

It was probably the last appearance of a Vulcan at Farnborough, ending a connection that began with her first appearance in September 1952 (remarkably, just a few days after her initial flight). This particular example, Vulcan XH558, had been set to retire at the end of the 2013 display season but modifications to her wings extended the lifespan of her airframe for a further two years. Since the Farnborough International Air Show only comes around every two years, it seems unlikely that she will still be flying by the time of the 2016 show.

Vulcan XH558 at the Farnborough Air Show in 2014

Vulcan XH558 flies over Farnborough

The airshow at Farnborough was supposed to see an appearance from the F-35 Lightning II, which will eventually fly from new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, but the recent grounding of the jets put paid to their first transtlantic flight. Instead, we had a rather wonderful reminder of the capabilities of its VTOL predecessor – the Sea Harrier – with an example from the Spanish Navy. Yet another innovative design from the British aviation industry of the golden age!

If you want to find out more, the story of Britain’s jet age is superbly recounted in the book ‘Empire of the clouds: When Britain’s aircraft ruled the world’ by James Hamilton-Paterson.

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