Vulcan Delivery Diary 01
Winthorpe Runway Inspection
By John LeBrun
During the early summer of 1982 I was directed by No 1 Group Headquarters to investigate the possibility of landing a Vulcan at Winthorpe, an ex-war-time RAF airfield. The Newark Air Museum has asked the RAF for a Vulcan to add to its already extensive collection of Cold War aircraft and related exhibits.
I was at the time A Vulcan Examiner based at RAF Scampton but working for No 1 Group. First, I had to find Winthorpe, then its runway. Although this was early summer, it was a foggy morning. Signs to the Air Museum at least pointed me in the general direction but where was the runway? Of course, I stumbled on it entirely by accident and not due to extra navigation skills or accurate road maps. Even the OS map for that area was unclear. Nevertheless, there it was: a runway which looked indeed very neglected. I drove along a few times to note any obstructions; the only ones I saw was a row of poplar trees some distance from the north edge of the runway but far enough nor to cause problems. I was surprised to find that the surface was in quite good condition, although there were lots of small stones spread all over it. These would have to be swept off.
I measured the length of what I considered a reasonable landing distance with my car odometer. I made it at about 4000 feet, plus or minus a bit. How big a bit, I could only guess. I paced the width of the runway at one yard to the slightly extended step, to conclude that it was about 140 feet (it is actually 150 feet wide and indeed 4000 feet long).
So fine. No problems for a Vulcan at light weight to land there. I had already landed one at RAF Catterick on a 3000-foot runway and managed to stop in 1500 feet. Right then, I shall write a quick note to 1 Group recommending that once the runway had been swept, a Vulcan could land and stop easily in the available distance, even if the brake parachute failed, although the brakes in that event could be extremely hot.
The fog had thinned out as I left the site. That is when I noticed, to my horror, less than half a mile away, large power lines with accompanying pylons. (they are in fact 2000 feet away) Oh dear! So, after all there was to be a restriction: for the landing: The wind must be from the east so that the east-pointing runway would be used. No 1 Group agreed with my recommendation.
The landing took place on the 7th February of the following year piloted by Neil McDougall. Those who live on the east side of England know that an east wind at that time of year brings cold air, rain and snow showers. These were the exact conditions that Neil landed XM594, sneaking in between snow and rain showers. To prove it, there is a photograph of Neil taxying the aircraft to its final stand with large snowflakes showing in the foreground.
The accompanying image was taken in January 2022, when a similar assessment was being made (nearly 39 years later) for the delivery of the Reid and Sigrist Desford – the former RAF Winthorpe runway is now known as Vulcan Way.
John Lebrun is one of our regular Vulcan cockpit openers and he has written several books about his aviation career and these are available in the Museum Shop.