After our busy few days at Yeovilton we retired to the peace and quiet of the Caravan Club site at Cirencester to just ‘chill’ for three days.
Due to the miserable weather of drizzle and showers we never got to walk very far so saw little of the ancient town. On one dryish afternoon we ventured into the park for a lovely walk to the edge of town and watched a bit of cricket as two teams of local lads set about each other.
On the Wednesday we drove the short distance to the edge of RAF Fairford where we had booked a pitch on the Gloucestershire CC Centre rally.
A Thursday morning meet nearby and then we ran the gauntlet of OTT security and bureaucracy as we tried to get access to the airfield and the site of our Vulcan Village. Eventually we all drove in convoy to the eastern end of the runway where the biggest ever VV has been built by contractors.
RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) is the countries biggest air show and an important show for Vulcan to the Sky as it’s where we can boost our much needed funds as well as showing the aircraft to the maximum number of people. With around 30 volunteers it was a big team as we had to have tour guides for the underwing tours as well as people to man the VV. Everyone got stuck in to dress out the inside and outside of our huge marquee. By the end of the afternoon the stock was out and priced, banners were up and flags were flying to guide the public to us. There were a few pauses when aircraft arrived particularly our Vulcan and the Red Arrows, who all gave us a wave as they taxied past.
Friday was a limited show day with a smaller number of aircraft flying and smaller numbers of the public. Even so it meant an early start and although we only had to drive a mile or so and had left our site at 6.30am it took us almost an hour to get onto the airfield, park in the traders car park and walk the rest of the way to the VV. Oh the joy of big airshows!
Despite the smaller attendance we were busy all day and the takings looked good. We retired to our quiet site to ‘gird up our loins’ for what we knew would be a manic day on Saturday.
The alarm was set for 5am and as soon as we were washed and dressed we were away and on to the airfield before the traffic built up. Once parked we had a coffee and a quick bite before setting off on our walk to Vulcan HQ for the day. Once again it was mad as soon as we opened. The show had been a ticket sell out and it seemed that every one of the 60k visitors came through the Village and after the aircraft displayed I think they all came back again.
What a display………wow!
Although the display sequence is planned at the start of the year each display is a little different in the way it is flown. Each of our five pilots have their own style just as F1 drivers might drive identical team cars a little differently or musicians might play a piece of music in their own way.
Some displays are gentle, elegant and almost balletic with the aircraft sometimes looking like a giant moth against the sky, others more dynamic and frantic although all are noisy and demonstrate the enormous power of those Olympus engines.
Saturday’s display was to be flown by Kev Rumens whose day job is a Senior Captain for a well known airline flying the latest large Boeings across the Atlantic. A smooth and comfortable flight for his passengers must be high on his priorities. However, when he gets into the Vulcan, an elderly heavy bomber, he appears to suffer a memory lapse and thinks he is in a previous life and blasting his RAF Tornado around the sky in Operation Desert Storm.
He made his intentions clear the first time he flew a display in XH558, also at Riat, when he drew gasps from the crowd with what became known as ‘That take off’.
His exuberant style of display flying has led to his sobriquet on social media of ‘The Rumenator’.
Vulcan taxied out onto the runway and an expectant hush came over the huge crowd. Throttles to 90%, brakes off and she tore down the runway roaring and howling and was launched into the air. Almost immediately Kev pulled a hard turn to starboard almost standing the aircraft on her wing tip when she was only feet above the ground. The sharp intakes of breath on the ground almost drowned out the noise of those four screaming engines.
The display continued with typical steep noisy climbs and wing overs that made the aircraft look completely inverted. For the first time ever the nine Hawks of the Red Arrows taxied onto the runway in their take off formation and absolutely no one noticed or heard them. On his final pass Kev flew down the runway at 300ft straight towards the ‘Reds’ who then put on red, white and blue smoke as Vulcan passed overhead and went into an almost vertical ‘zoom’ climb to 7000ft followed by the steepest ever wing over.
What a display!! Having watched many, many displays over the last 8 years that was, without doubt, the best ever.
Yet more was to come because as Vulcan cleared to the north the Reds took off to meet up with her for a formation flypast. While they formed up a ex Soviet Hind helicopter did its best to entertain the crowd with a very competent display but everybody seemed to be searching the sky for the coming formation.
Soon a smoky shape could be seen approaching and as as she got larger the ‘Pretorian Guard’, as commentator Sean Maffat called the nine Hawks, could be seen around her.
This time Bill Ramsey had taken over the controls from Kev. In his previous life Bill was Wing Commander of the Red Arrows and so is very experienced in formation flying. Two very memorable flypasts with the Reds in a V formation echoing the delta shape of Vulcan, which was tucked up close between them, before the Vulcan peeled off from the formation to land and gave everyone a final treat by streaming her braking parachute.
As usual the VV was swamped after the aircraft landed, with so many people trying to get in that a ‘one way’ system had to be introduced. Even so a long queue formed outside as everyone wanted a memento with a second long queue of people waiting to take an under-wing tour of the aircraft.
It was 7.30 before we got back to the calm of our temporary camp site, 14 hours after we had left. It had been a tiring but at times exhilarating day and we had to do it all again on Sunday.
Really a repeat of the previous day.
The display pilot was Bill Ramsey who took the aircraft a little higher before yanking her round to the right and into her display sequence. A quiet word had been had in Kev’s ear by the display director the previous day as he thought that the initial wing over might have been a touch low. Kev, however, was adamant that his height was well above 100ft before he started the manoeuvre and as the director wasn’t underneath with a tape measure at the time he could do little to prove his point. Bill flew another cracking display in a perfect blue sky followed by a repeat of the Red Arrows flypast. The crowd were once again ecstatic and and long queues built up again to visit us. Once the aircrew had recovered they sat and signed books, photos and calendars, while we were starting to sell out of many popular lines.
End of the day and end of the show so everything had to be packed up and loaded into the vans before we could leave. With our huge Vulcan Village we had record takings and there wasn’t too much stock to pack away. We got back to our site at around 8.30, exhausted but with a little pride in being part of such a great event.
We stayed on-site on Monday, watching the aircraft departures and putting our weary feet up.
Vulcan took off from Fairford for the last time and asked ATC if they could do a circuit and a ‘fly-through’ before she headed for home.
Presumably the controller had memories of Saturdays display as he authorised the fly-through “As long as you don’t beat up the airfield”.
We headed home on Tuesday having decided that, as we won’t be working at RIAT again, we will book onto the very friendly CC site in future years and just sit and watch the flying from the comfort of the motorhome. That seems a good and relaxing way to get our aviation fix without 5am alarm calls and 14 hour working days.
PS. As I was too busy to take photos I have taken the liberty of pinching some pictures from John Woods Facebook album. I have credited those photographers that are known, apologies to those unknown ones whose fabulous shots I have used. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I have. Thanks John.