Friday, 21 October 2011

A fine end to the 2011 season for the Delta Lady

And so, the Vulcan made it's final flight of 2011, and let's hope not it's final flight of all, on Sunday in sun filled skies, the perfect end to a display season that has seen plenty of highs and a few lows, but fortunately the no shows due to the weather or going tech were largely outweighed by the successful appearances, at the major shows up and down the country.

The season started on my birthday funnily enough - that was nice - on May 8th, when on Victory on Europe Day, the Vulcan appeared at the Abingdon Air & Country Show, and performed in front of 10,000 people - this was a great start to the year considering in 2010 the aircraft was only ready for action a good month after this, so well done to everyone involved in getting the Delta Lady through the major service that was required prior to this year's display season.

The first major show was on the May Bank Holiday, and it didn't disappoint, with over 100,000 witnessing the display at Southend, and the following day it attended the Cold War Jets Day at its former home at Bruntingthorpe, and I think it's fair to say it caused quite a stir with the take off from there, with many people staying on at the end to witness it.

Into June, and a new display for the crew and great news for the people on the Isle of Man, when the Vulcan appeared at Douglas to coincide with the Isle of Man TT, which allowed people to look upwards rather than at the roads, and in clear blue skies in the soft evening light, XH558 performed impeccably to give the locals a taste of what they had been missing.

Unfortunately, those clear blue skies soon shifted, despite the weather being fantastic around this time, for on Sunday 12th June, it really closed in across the country, and the planned appearance at RAF Cosford was cancelled due to the terrible weather that saw many many inches of rainfall across the country. Typical this really, as Cosford was the first show booked on the airshow calendar back on February 9th!

From it's display at the Isle of Man, the Vulcan had headed to RAF Kemble, and a double date on Saturday 18th June saw it display first at the Kemble Show, then headed off to Margate - another new display for the team - and once again the people at the Margate Show were treated to a vintage display, all 25,000 of them watching the Vulcan, many for the first time.

There was a couple of weeks break for the team then, as they prepared for the RAF's premier show, the Waddington Airshow, and hopes were high of good weather, and also a big turnout from the Vulcan to the Sky team. Sadly, they were only given a pitch right at the end of the static line up, although for me personally that was fine, as I was parked very close to XH558, so to see it right in front of me for most of the show was good enough.

I also got to meet Mike from the team too, and spoke at great length about the financial situation, and how we could help do our bit, I also got to see into the Bomb Day doors, and saw my name in there following a donation - that was nice.

The display at Waddo was fantastic, with the new 'cork-screw' manoeuvre added into the display too, and that was something else, but everyone enjoyed some great howls from the Vulcan, and was one of the top performers at the Show, along with the Thunderbirds, and also Team Viper.

Nearly 150,000 saw the Vulcan perform over the weekend, and the team enjoyed seeing donations flooding in from the appearance, which would help see the team through to the end of the season, along with of course, some great sponsorship from Eddie Forrester (Aerobytes) who had brought his sponsorship forward to help plug the gap that was apparent earlier on in the season.

Thrown in for good measure on the Sunday at Waddo, was a quick sortie to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed. This had proved to be a great show that has attracted the Vulcan to attend in recent years, and I'm sure everyone who was there - all 60,000 of them - really enjoyed the display once again.

The Vulcan ended up staying at Waddo due to a fault, which was worked on heavily during the week, which delayed the trip to Yeovilton, but thanks to the impressive work of the team behind the scenes, got the aircraft ready, and off to Yeovilton she went towards the end of the week, and on Saturday 9th July, she appeared in the skies of the South West to put a smile on the faces at Yeovilton, the scene of course of one of the best You Tube videos of the Vulcan.

Next, it was the big one, in terms of military airshows, the Royal International Air Tattoo, and this was the one that the team really had to be at, so every stop would be pulled out for this one, and must be the only aircraft at the display that was desperate to source sponsors to keep her in the air, with the continued avoidance of the Vulcan being included in any Heritage Flight with the RAF, which I still find disappointed even now, considering the draw this aircraft has with the public.

RIAT saw over 140,000 people pack into Fairford, and suffer incredibly with some adverse weather - what's new? Hopefully next year's display will give us better weather considering it's brought forward due to the Olympics - I'll be pushing for that date to be kept earlier too if blue skies happen to be over Gloucestershire that weekend!

Anyway, another great display by the Vulcan on the Thursday (press day), Saturday, and the Sunday, and the coffers swelling too, all added to a great weekend for the team, and the public of course.

XH558 remained at Fairford for a few more days, before the trip to the North West, which this particular blogger was looking forward to, as we don't get to see much of her in this part of the world, and the good news was that she was ready to fly on Saturday 23rd July, and a double appearance at both the Southport Airshow, which was very welcomed, and in blue skies again too, before heading on to the picturesque Lake Windermere, which allowed some great shots of the Vulcan for many a photographer - some on the hills to catch the best shots.

Then, next another new venue, the Sunderland International Airshow, and just under 1 million, yes, 1 million people saw the Vulcan perform here for the very first time, and what great numbers to display in front of, for the team. A new venue, a new observing crowd, and a healthy swoop of donations from the event.

Unfortunately, the next 11 days saw some cancellations, just when the momentum had really got going, but a fuel leak fault put pay to the much anticipated trip to Dawlish, Shoreham, Bournemouth, Oxford, and Dunsfold (sadly for one of the main sponsors).

The engineers, and volunteers worked tirelessly on getting her airworthy as quickly as possible and had done a tremendous job in getting her ready, and were given the green light on the Friday before the shows at Cosby & Portrush on the 4th September, but very very typically, the weather closed in, and the displays sadly had to be cancelled, which left only one to go, that at RAF Leuchars.

Leuchars had booked the Vulcan late on, and a big effort was made to get the aircraft up there, with the sortie to the north of the border for the first and only time this season, the weather was once again closing in, but left a window big enough to be able to get there, and gave a cracking display at Leuchars, which I'm sure was appreciated by everyone concerned at the venue.

That was scheduled to be the last display of the season, but it wouldn't be the last of the flying, as on Sunday 16th October, the team took her on a flight around parts of England that wouldn't normally have got to see her. A flypast over Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed - although I don't think that was the reason for the flypast! - then onto Wooton Bassett, before the trip back to Doncaster, and a quick display for pilot currency purposes - saw the last action in 2011 for Vulcan fans.

Now the battle continues to try and get her through the winter service, which brings us nicely onto the fundraising side of the Vulcan team.

We heard back the spring that £350k was needed by the end of May to ensure that XH558 would be arriving on to the airshow scene with stable finances, and yet again, the Great British public rose to the challenge and dug deep to fund the appeal.

One of the reasons why I decide to put my hand in my pocket is not just for the great sight of the Vulcan in the sky, but also to doff my cap to those who put in so many voluntary hours to keep the Vulcan going, when others cannot afford to put their time and effort in to it - a donation is my way of thanking those people. If it wasn't for them, we would not be celebrating 4 years of having the people's aircraft in the air, today.

We have Eddie Forrester to thank for pulling his sponsorship forward to get the Vulcan through the display season, so now it's back down to us Vulcan fans to go for it again - I'm ready for the challenge again, and I hope everyone else who adores this aircraft feels the same.

We all know that D-Day will come, but for now, we can still look forward to at least one more year of the Vulcan ripping the skies apart with the ferocious howl, and delightful calm that follows, so if you can spare a fiver, then donate it today - remember what you donate today brings the total of the Winter Service down, and maybe next time the appeal will be less money to raise, and maybe, just maybe, a sponsor may be attracted to meet the gap - I do feel gutted though for the VTTS team that all those regulations around the lottery funding means they can't advertise on the aircraft - I wonder if one company would fund the difference to advertise on the Vulcan, at the expense of the lottery funding? Does it work that way?

It's a thought, but personally I wouldn't care what was on the aircraft, as long as it was in the air!

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