Sunday, 28 September 2008

Aircraft at a distance

Whilst walking on the escarpment top at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, I took a few photographs of the landscape. It was a hazy day and the distant horizon was very indistinct. However, in the bright sunshine, several objects were glistening in the middle distance, several miles away. One such object had what appeared to be the outline of a Concord airliner. Odd in this part of the country.

OK, lets see what todays camera can do. I had with me a Kodak Z650 which I use as a camera of choice for photographing rocks and plants. It takes a few seconds to load up, so it is not very good for rapid response photography, but it has a good optical and digital zoom facility.

I cranked up the optical zoom and took the photograph below. It is a little hazy with the high atmospheric humidity, but the aircraft can be seen to be a Vulcan bomber in the 1960's low flash colour scheme.
Going to digital zoom I captured this image, showing the shape more clearly. It looks like a Vulcan B1, as it does not have the nipple on the nose or the flight refueling boom of a B2.
Back at the car, I checked the maps and it seemed that the aircraft was at the airfield at Woodford. This was interesting, as many Vulcan Bomber airframes were assembled at Woodford.

Back home and a quick check on the WWW, the aircraft is at BEA Woodford and it is a Avro Vulcan B2 - XM603, carefully restored to the early configuration by a group of enthusiasts called the 603 club. The aircraft was delivered to the RAF on 29 Nov 1965, being the 114th airframe to be manufactured at Woodford. It served with 9 squadron at RAF Conningsby, RAF Cottesmore and RAF Waddington. Moving to 50 Squadron and then to 44 Squadron. It was returned to Woodford in March 1982 when it was decommissioned.

Parts from this aircraft were used to maintain the remaining old Vulcans during the Falklands war, this aircraft being restored with reclaimed parts from other decommissioned aircraft and spares during its restoration.

I saw this aircraft in 1976 when it was in service, though my photograph is a somewhat poor quality digital recovery of a flash damaged negative taken with a cheap roll film camera. It was a fully functioning Vulcan B2 then, with the green and grey camouflage pattern that was worn by all of the V-bombers of the day. (Notice the fitters on the step ladder, working on the bomb bay doors.)
These big delta winged aircraft were an amazingly stable design, though I did wonder, at the time, about the two pilots having ejector seats whilst the three AE crew had to crawl over a bulkhead to an escape hatch-. This was a combat aircraft with no guns, but a sophisticated array of bomb and missile options. Very advanced for its time, and the RAF were able to scramble 4 aircraft from standing to 30,000 feet in 6 minutes. I recall the noise of those 4 Olympus 301 engines on reheat, even now.

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