After the sadness and trauma of the air crash at Shoreham we retreated to our usual summer hideaway by Chichester Harbour to fill in the few days between airshows.
We have been going to Cobnor for years and before we were ‘Vulcanised’ we used to spend the whole of August there.
Our days consisted of sitting by the slipway watching the boats, walks around the headland or just lazing in the sun and cooking supper on the BBQ.
Since we started working at Shoreham and Dunsfold it seemed a bit daft to go all the way home to Suffolk, only to return the following weekend.
After a wet drive from Shoreham we arrived to welcome sunshine and a lovely evening which helped lighten our mood. It was not to last!
The following day it rained, and it rained, and it rained…….for the rest of the week. In hindsight we should have just gone home straight from Shoreham but forever the optimist, I thought that the weather must improve. By this time we knew that there were expected to be eleven dead after the crash although there was some good news in that the pilot, Andy Hill, had been dragged from the wreckage alive but in a critical condition. The constant rain, plus the ever present news in the media just increased our gloom.
Friday 28th August.
Thank the Lord it had stopped raining as we left a soggy Cobnor and headed north to Dunsfold to set up.
It was a relief to meet up with everyone and there were lots of hugs and expressions of concern that all of the team were alright. The airshow ‘circus’ is made up of a group of teams and aircraft that go from show to show and although we may not all know everybody personally we see the same faces and hear the same names at event after event. When something like Shoreham happens the whole ‘circus’ feels it deeply. I think that many of us had thought that it could have so easily been ‘our’ aircrew involved.
Still, there was work to be done and no time to think about gloomy thoughts so everyone got stuck in to help erecting tents. With one tent erected there was more rain, although only a quick shower, which was enough to form a nice puddle on top of the tent which wasn’t yet tightened up. As the next tent was moved into position beside the first the puddle released itself in a waterfall all over Kate. Fortunately Kate saw the funny side and wasn’t upset by the laughter and banter that inevitably followed as she took herself off to the motorhome to dry off and put on dry clothes.
With tents erected, banners hung and flag poles in place we decided that we would fly one flag at ‘half mast’ and that we would also follow the request to hold a one minute silence on Saturday to honour the dead of Shoreham.
With set up completed in good time we positioned the motorhome beside the Vulcan Village, rolling out the awning to form our usual rest area for the volunteers.
Saturday 29th August.
The usual early start for a show day with a bit of last minute titivation to get everything looking 100% before the public landed on us. As soon as the gates were open there was a rush to grab the best places on the flight line and we were soon getting busy. The VV was packed for most of the day and by the time XH558 was due to display at 3pm we were getting short of some stock.
As usual we shut up shop to watch the display and with eyes scanning the sky for those tell tale smoky trails joined the large group of club members who had their own private enclosure.
Following the new CAA rules after the previous weeks crash it would be interesting to see how our crew displayed the aircraft……..we weren’t disappointed.
‘558 came in from the right, low and slow following the line of the runway. At the threshold Bill opened the throttles and accelerated causing the engines to ‘howl’ all the way to the other end.
What an entrance! Parts of the display were toned down, there was no ‘zoom’ climb and the wingovers were a little more gentle but boy, did he give her some ‘welly’. She howled and howled, much to the appreciation of the crowd who gave her a huge round of applause as she turned away and headed to her next display.
We raced back into the VV to face an eager crowd of customers and once again we were packed as folk wanted to get that last souvenir before the old girl goes into retirement.
Shortly after ‘558 departed the rain came back and by the end of day 1 the ground was getting very muddy.
Sunday 30th August.
Fortunately the rain had gone but it was cloudy and damp. Sunday always seems to bring a different crowd to airshows, more of a family day rather than the enthusiasts that come on Saturday. We were still busy but not as busy as the previous day.
Vulcan was due again at 3pm and we got the usual ‘tweets’ that she was on her way. However when she got all the way south to near Oxford the ever changing weather front that was across the whole country got the better of her. The crew had to abort and turn back to their Doncaster base. It must be remembered that this is a 1950’s designed bomber without the weather and anti collision radars that modern airliners use so can’t fly through heavy weather. It was said that she couldn’t get under or over the weather front and to go round it would have fly over Norway.
There were many disappointed people including four or five that I spoke to who had flown from Australia specially to see her in her final year.
The end of show packing up was done in record time, I think we must all be getting the hang of this airshow lark by now. Everyone left for home or hotel but we had planned to stay on-site and drive all the way home on Monday. After a dry Sunday the airfield had also started to dry a bit and the mud had at least hardened a little making our escape in the morning easier.
Oh dear! During the night the rain made a comeback appearance and kept up its drumming on the roof for most of the night. Four tonnes of front wheel drive motorhome and mud do not mean a match made in heaven. In fact, mud and wet grass are a constant subject of discussion on the motorhome forums with many tales of woe.
I spoke briefly to one of the ground staff who advised me not to try the main exit but to keep in line with the runway and join a taxiway at the far end. “Don’t worry, we’ll tow you out if you get stuck” he said, slightly reassuringly.
Traction control on, second gear selected and easy does it as we get moving. Big wide turns and gentle acceleration, keep the momentum going and don’t stop for anything. I tried to pick my way past the wettest and muddiest parts but in some places there was no option but to go through a pinch point that was now a bit of a swamp. “Everything forward and trust in the Lord’!
Once through the wettest bit with just a touch of sideways slipping we could take to the grass which, although slippy, was better than mud and fairly firm. We crashed over a couple of humps in the grass which couldn’t be seen but we needed to keep the momentum so slowing to a crawl wasn’t an option. At last we could see the concrete taxiway and there seemed to be a small gap in the fence we might just get through. Lots more mud in the gap and there looked to be quite a bump onto the concrete so it was as fast as we dare through the mud and then slow down as we met the concrete. We thought we were home and dry but then noticed that the taxiway was fenced off ahead and we couldn’t get out without another wide stretch of muddy grass. Gently off the concrete and accelerate as much as possible without causing wheel spin. With waves and shouts of encouragement from a pair of fellow motorhomers who were packing up in the rain we made it across the last bit and onto Terra Firma. Phew!!
The rest of the drive home was a doddle and we arrived back in Suffolk around lunchtime.
Now ‘Celine’ had to be prepared for holiday mode as we had a tunnel crossing booked for a few days time.