Vulcan XM594 - Delivery Diary
Heeley, Down To Earth Promotions remembers the day Newark Air Museum
obtained its biggest exhibit
Twenty-two years ago on 7 February 1983, Vulcan XM594 landed at Winthorpe Airfield in eastern Nottinghamshire. When it safely touched down it became the only Vulcan to be flown into a non-licensed airfield in the UK. An abridged version of the following article, which describes the acquisition process, was originally published in an edition of Aviation News that year.
Back in 1982
In early 1982 there was a lot of talk about a Vulcan being acquired by the Newark Air Museum and everything looked settled, but the conflict in the South Atlantic meant that the aircraft were kept in service and indeed some saw action in the Falklands. In 1982 after a fairly busy autumn things looked set for an interesting 1983, but on 17 December everyone's hopes took a severe tumble with the receipt of a letter from the Ministry of Defence [MoD].
The main point of the letter was that the Ministry did not consider the facilities on Winthorpe Airfield suitable to allow a Vulcan to land safely. In short, Newark would not be adding a Vulcan to its collection. A letter was immediately sent to the Ministry outlining our case, and asking when we had already received the go-ahead early in 1982, why had things suddenly changed; after all, the runway hadn't altered significantly. Over Christmas virtually everyone seemed resigned to the inevitable "No Vulcan for Newark Air Museum", despite Stuart Stephenson indicating that he was willing to purchase an airframe to display at Newark Air Museum.
The New Year brought new hope when the first light was glimpsed at the end of what soon became a rapidly shortening tunnel. The national press were detailing impending deliveries of Vulcans to a number of other preservation groups when we received a telephone call setting a new train of events in motion.
The RAF crew responsible for delivering the eight Vulcans earmarked for preservation arranged to visit Winthorpe to make an inspection of the runway. They walked the runway to review the situation and this identified some minor problems:
That having been said they indicated that they intended to inform the Mod that they were prepared to deliver a Vulcan to Winthorpe. From subsequent conversations with the aircrew one of the key reasons why the Museum should get a Vulcan was their wish that to keep a Vulcan in the local area for the public to have easy access to.
Even now we had not actually been offered a Vulcan, so everyone was still uncertain of the position and we only dared hope that an offer would be received. This came in a brief telephone call on Wednesday 12 January at about 5 pm, when the Mod indicated that it had changed its view and asked Stuart Stephenson if he was still interested in buying a Vulcan. He kindly agreed and the cheque was in the post the same evening.
"This is where the fun started!" The problems identified by the RAF were still there and a considerable amount of work had to be completed. However there was a big unknown in the delivery date, which could have been any time and with minimal notice. The only thing that seemed fairly certain was that it would be before the end of January. The RAF advised that once the conditions are right, delivery would whilst they hoped to give us at least a day's notice, this could diminish to a couple of hours if necessary. Everyone was kept on a relative state of alert but all that could be done on this aspect of the project was wait.
Thursday 13 January 1983
A compressor and pneumatic drill were delivered to the Airfield and members of the COMMAC job creation scheme who were operating from the museum started to work at filling in the numerous holes in the runway with concrete. The Agricultural Society was contacted for formal permission to remove the fences and to undertake repairs to the runway. This was obtained and post removal at the western end of the runway commenced.
A surveyor from Eve Construction arrived at 11 am to assess the problem of getting the Vulcan to its new home. Despite the Vulcan having a wingspan of 111 feet, being over 105 feet long and weighing approximately 60 tons, the surveyor advised that they could help us. The distance to travel was 68 metres over a fairly soft-grassed field so Eve Construction decided to lay five roads (one for each set of wheels), each 11 ft. wide. After a lot of calculation it was found that a total of seven rolls of their Trakway product would be required.
Trakway is specially constructed aluminium roadway and in 1983 each roll cost £10,000.00 to buy new. The hire charge including delivery and laying was quoted as £2,495.00. At that time this represented a lot of money for the museum but it was the only way to get a Vulcan onto the Dispersal Pad safely. The decision to go ahead was given with the delivery date set for Monday 17 January.
Details of our impending acquisition were issued to various TV and radio stations and also all of the newspapers covering our area. The Ambulance Service and Fire Department were both contacted and they agreed to assist us. Also the Police were contacted and discussions held with several high-ranking officers before they consented to close the A46 during the delivery phase. The Ministry of Transport, who also had to be contacted for their consent to the intended road closure, later ratified this decision. A phone call on Thursday evening from Eve Construction informed us that they would now be starting work the following morning.
Friday 14 January 1983
The Eve Construction team arrived with a lorry containing five rolls of Trakway accompanied by their track laying lorry carrying a further two rolls. A tractor was borrowed from the Showground and this was used to clear a large amount of soil that was in the way of the roadway. The COMMAC team also started to take down the fencing in the area of the eastern end of the runway.
Great care was taken in positioning the Trakway so as to give the Vulcan maximum clearance from the fences and the incinerator building to the north of the dispersal pad, whilst making the angles of turns involved as shallow as possible. With only five men and a track-laying lorry, the roads were laid and picketed by 3.30 PM despite weighing over 25 tons.
During the late afternoon the Mod telephoned to inform us that they had received the cheque and despite all the doubts over the potential acquisition, the Vulcan for Newark had been the first Vulcan to be paid for! Following a visit to Waddington by Stuart Stephenson he was advised that the registration of the aircraft was XM594 and that the Mod had also sent a signal releasing the aircraft for delivery to Winthorpe.
Throughout Thursday and Friday much hard at work had also been undertaken trying to contact companies and members for assistance with locating a road sweeper for the runway. Several possibilities were looked into with no success. One sweeper was found at a cost of £17 per hour, but this was thought to be too expensive. After further searching a company in Grantham offered a sweeper for £10 per hour (this was finally negotiated at 6.30 PM on the Friday evening).
15 January 1983
Sunday 16 January 1983
The sweeper was collected by tractor and brought to the Airfield in the morning. The radio appeals for help had been a great success with over 100 volunteers and members turning out with brushes to help sweep the runway.
On Saturday the road sweeper had uncovered several holes in important parts of the runway so a team of members and volunteers started mixing concrete and filling in these critical positions. Various newspapers and radio stations covered the 'Sweep-In' and the whole day was a great success with an estimated twenty tons of gravel being moved off the runway. At the end of the day it was thought that the Vulcan could now land safely and everyone headed for home, many with aching backs and covered in dust.
Sunday 23 January 1983
Squadron Leader Neil McDougall, the pilot who was delivering the Vulcan, visited the Museum; he had come to inspect the work we had been doing on the runway and roadway to the dispersal. Much to everyone's relief he was completely satisfied with all of the work and arrangements that had been undertaken. Now all that remained was the right weather conditions.
Despite the fact that the required easterly wind was the normal prevailing wind at Winthorpe during the winter throughout the rest of January we were waiting for favourable wind and weather conditions. Long-range reports from the Met Office suggested a suitable change in conditions by Friday 4 February.
The 4th duly arrived, but with a fresh westerly blowing, definitely no go! Saturday 5 February became a possibility, as the wind was expected to veer to the northeast, as usual the weather forecast was wrong and we still had a westerly wind.
Sunday 6 February 1983
This became the strong favourite as the "Met Men" were convinced the wind would move to the northeast. Such was their conviction many museum members were notified and they came along to the Museum. The wind did veer to a heading of 020', but it unfortunately grew in strength to near gale force. This was unacceptable, so once again the arrival was postponed for at least 24 hours.
Monday 7 February 1983
The wind had died down somewhat and stayed in the northeast, could this be the day? Outside it was snowing but thankfully not settling.
8.30 am - A call was made to Waddington to check on the situation. XM594 had been scheduled to depart from Waddington at 10.30 but Waddington was completely snowed in and the snowploughs were working to clear the runways. However Squadron Leader McDougall was not at Waddington but possibly at his new posting at RAF Bawtry.
9.00 am - Another call to Waddington Ops confirmed the earlier information. The museum volunteers were now also receiving constant inquiries about the Vulcan delivery.
9.50 am - Heavy snow had started falling and settling at Newark. Fortunately this only lasted for five minutes, after which it started to melt - Still no change at Waddington!
10.00 am - Another call to Waddington Ops confirmed that their runway was now clear and the Base had become operational. XM594 was still scheduled for a 10.30 am departure, albeit that there was still no crew!
10.15 am - Sqn Ldr McDougall had arrived at Waddington and had decided to come to Newark by road to check the runway, thus delaying the delivery. All the press, TV and radio were informed of the delay. Those people already at the airfield (over fifty cars) were told that if the Vulcan was coming it would be at least 12.50 PM before it would arrive. Many people left the airfield to try and get warm and some to return to work.
11.00 am - Sqn Ldr McDougall arrived at Winthorpe and inspected the runway. A large puddle of rainwater near the runway intersection was noted as being in a critical position, which had to be removed. Other than this everything was satisfactory for a landing to be attempted.
11.15 am - Sqn Ldr McDougall said that he was prepared to bring XM594 to Winthorpe, but because the wind was not within the limits set by the RAF the decision was left to the Station Commander at Waddington. One problem - he was visiting BAE Bitteswell by road and could not be contacted until his arrival there at 12.15 PM
Sqn Ldr McDougall advised that he would return to Waddington to prepare XM594 for flight and wait for the CO's decision. If everything went according to plan and the CO was happy with the weather conditions, then XM594 would depart for Newark at 12.30 PM
We were still left in the position of not knowing whether the Vulcan was coming and if it was we would maybe only have 25 minutes notification. The museum trustees talked through the options and decided to set everything in motion again and apologise later if it turned out to be a false alarm. A team of volunteers was organised to sweep away the water on the runway. Once this was underway notification was made to the emergency services.
A message from Waddington soon confirmed that the CO had approved the conditions at Newark and that the Vulcan would be arriving at approximately 12.40 PM
Once the water had been successfully removed, the COMMAC Supervisors and workers were gathered together and briefed on their positions for securing the entrances to the airfield and the main 'Show Ring' area next to the runway. Other members were positioned at the entrance to the airfield and on the taxiways to guide people to safe vantage points.
The various members of the press were briefed as to the best and safest vantage points to watch the landing from. A message was received from the Waddington Ops Room that the arrival time would now be 1.30 PM - excitement started to grow when we learnt that both the Police and Fire Services had also been independently notified of this time change.
12.50 PM - The ground crew arrived from Waddington and were briefed as to the routing and positioning of the Vulcan once on the ground. The delay in the arrival allowed more time for the security of the runway to be checked. By now several hundred cars had arrived and it was decided to stop further vehicles from entering the live section of the airfield. New arrivals were directed to the Showground. Yet another message arrived advising that the Vulcan would now be overhead the field at 1.15 PM, the arrival being brought forward because of worsening weather conditions at Waddington.
1.10 PM - Just enough time for another check of the arrangements around the airfield. Every thing was 0K!
1.15 PM - The noise of jet engines could be heard and hundreds of eyes scanned the sky. There was considerable cloud cover with the base around 1,300 ft. Suddenly XM594 appeared to the south of the airfield in a small gap in the clouds at around 2,330 ft and immediately disappeared behind the clouds. A descending turn to the right brought her into view again. Continuing the descent and turn Neil McDougall positioned XM594 for a surveillance approach across the runway.
Levelling out at approximately 200 ft he performed a wheels-up pass over the airfield. Half way down the runway he opened the throttles and instigated a left turn climbing to 1,000 ft, the roar of the engines completely drowning out the clicking of hundreds of cameras. A left turn, over Winthorpe village and the aircraft was downwind. The undercarriage was lowered as she turned onto finals, everyone watching spellbound. Down to 100 ft and then the throttles were opened again for an overshoot. This was not due to any problems, but was just for the crowd to enjoy the last few flying minutes of XM594.
As the aircraft once again turned downwind many people could see the cloud thickening from the northeast. Turning finals way out over the Newark Sugar Beet Factory everyone could see the Delta wing configuration against the scurrying clouds. Lower and lower she dropped, down onto the runway right at its threshold. The drogue chute was deployed and blossomed into a beautiful white halo behind the aircraft. The Vulcan steadily pulled up and stopped after only 2,300 feet of runway had been used.
The crowd went wild, cheering and applauding. The drogue chute was released and XM594 taxied slowly to the end of the runway. Almost immediately the aircraft and spectators were engulfed by snow. Sqn Ldr McDougall had just beaten a blizzard to the field. He later said the snow had started as he departed from Waddington and he had literally raced it to Newark. This was the reason for not displaying the aircraft over the field for longer. His timing and judgment had been impeccable and we have a lot to thank him for.
The ground crew soon connected their communication systems to the aircraft and directed the steering from under the aircraft. Everything was proceeding correctly when the Vulcan stopped as it turned onto the Trackway. A very slight misjudgment had put the port main wheel bogie on track for a heap of soil, just to the edge of the taxiway.
Five shovels were quickly found and about eight volunteers took turns to shovel the soil away. The noise from the engines above was beyond description and it was with great relief when a path was cleared for the wheels. Nearly full power was needed to start the Vulcan moving again but she quickly transited the Trakway section with the ground crew having to run to keep up with the aircraft. At the end of the Trakway XM594 turned right and was skillfully parked in her final resting place. The engines were closed down for the last time and the snow quickly covered her tracks on the taxiway.
In the end the whole event was over in just thirty minutes. The runway stood up to the landing better than anyone expected, no-one was injured and no damage was done to property or the aircraft. Sqn Ldr McDougall had successfully landed the first jet and heaviest aircraft to land at Winthorpe, on a runway that had not been used officially for over thirty years. 7,000 to 8,000 feet is the normal runway length for a Vulcan to land on, with 6,000 feet being considered a short runway. Pilots also normally required special instruction on short field landings before being allowed to make such landings. In so doing at Winthorpe, XM594 became the only Vulcan to be delivered into a non-licensed airfield in the UK.