Vulcan Delivery Diary 10
The Big Day – 7 February 1983
By Howard Heeley
Nearly forty 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. This is the final part of an abridged version of an article, which describes the acquisition process, that was originally published in an edition of Aviation News that year.
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 Commanding Officer (CO) 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. Everything 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 airfield. 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 misjudgement 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 skilfully 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.