Well, this number is a very special one for me. Years ago my brother and I went to an air show quite nearby, about 10 miles away. I loved going to air shows, and enjoyed seeing all the aeroplanes. And then we saw everyone’s heads turn and look into the distance.
The programme said that the next aeroplane was to be a Vulcan. What on earth was that? I’d never even heard of them, let alone seen one. I didn’t have long to wait. Soon a big shape loomed out of the haze on the horizon. It got bigger and bigger and even I could tell that it was some distance away. A murmur of anticipation ran through the crowd like the wind rippling a field of wheat, and I could almost feel the excitement of the people around me. I watched, fascinated. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
Then it came closer and closer, and roared overhead, its big delta wings blotting out the sky. The engines thundered and shook the ground. I gasped in wonder. It was – incredible! It was so HUGE. So impressive. It looked so close that I felt that I could have touched it. I could see every detail of its green and grey camouflage paint and roundels. And then it had gone, passing in front of the crowd standing on the line of the airstrip, and leaving the rest of us wanting it to come back.
And come back it did, about three times in all, on the second run with its bomb doors open. The reverberations shuddered right through our bones as if it was becoming part of us. And in a way it did become part of me. Then, just when I thought that I could not be more impressed by anything else in my whole life, it flew to the end of the airfield on the left hand side. It seemed to hang in mid-air for a little while, and then tilted its nose and began to move upwards.
Its nose tilted more and more as it rose, until it was vertical. There it was, hanging in the sky, shuddering like a huge, newly-hatched moth with its engines giving all they had got and the crowd shouting and clapping with rapture. By now I’m afraid that I was in tears with the emotion of it all, silly me! And thus began my love affair with it, because then it did the most awful thing – it flew slowly away. Up, up and away, into the clouds and beyond, back home. And it took a piece of my heart with it.
Well then I went back to work full of it, only to find that there were a couple of other aeroplane enthusiasts at work and we would spend many happy lunchtimes chatting about them. One of them ran the local ATC and had a son who was in it and about to join the RAF.
Then one day, these two workmates who used to go out training to different places said that they had received an invitation to go to Manston for the afternoon when they next trained at Margate in the morning, and they’d asked if they could take me, and the chap in charge said yes. I was thrilled when they asked me and worked some flexi hours so that I could take the day off and go too. Well, it was like Jim’ll Fix It! You can see the photos in the “Having Fun” album. I was given the chance to sit in a Hawker Hunter, and we visited the Museum where they have a Spitfire, and we rode around on top of one of their fire engines to see the other planes on the site. Some were in a bit of a sad state because it was a fire training ground.
And then we rounded the corner, and there it was. XM657. A Vulcan. We drove up to it, and the driver raised the roof ladder so that we could climb onto the wings, and I sat by its tail, and up by its head! Then we climbed down and inside, where I sat in the co-pilot’s seat, looking out of the tiny window and imagining what a crowd of Vulcan lovers at an air show would look like; a sea of upturned faces.
It was hard to leave it behind, but it was too big for me to take home!! However I have the memories. Some time later someone at our Headquarters heard about me and offered me the radome of one that he had found in a scrapyard; it’s the round bit right at the back in the middle that covered the radar. Dad took me to his house and it travelled back home strapped into the front seat! He kept it at home while I had my flat, then when R and I married it came with us to our first home, and has now come to our second home, and is sitting outside the front door with a bay tree in it. I know, sacrilege, but if any Vulcan restoration society ever needs a radome they will be welcome to have it.
Some years later I discovered that my Vulcan, XM657, was the last one off the production line, and I think that it should have been saved for posterity, but sadly it has now gone.
So that number is a special one for me, and that is my number for today.