Former 10 Squadron Flight Commander and Pilot, Mike Westwood, contributes with this article of farewell to the VC10.
A PERSONAL FAREWELL TO BOB
"Brize Ground - ASCOT 845, VC10 on Bay 60, Information Tango copied, 5 persons on board, request start clearance for Bruntingthorpe".
With that simple transmission on the morning of 29 July 2013 XR808 'Kenneth Campbell VC', the last VC10 C Mk1K in RAF service, commenced its final journey flown by a 101 Sqn crew on delivery to a civilian contractor for ultimate disposal.
The 101 Squadron Crew of 808’s last flight to Bruntingthorpe on 29 July 2013
Captain: Flt Lt Nick Millikin, (ctre) Co-pilot: Flt Lt Gav Baker, (rt)
Navigator: Flt Lt Rob Webb, (left) ALM: MACR Spike Abbott (rear left) Air Eng: FS John Douglas, (rear right)
Following a maiden flight from Weybridge on 9 June 1966, XR808 became 10 Squadron's first VC10 when it was delivered to the unit, then operating temporarily from RAF Fairford, on 7 July 1966. The first 2 military aircraft, XR806 and XR807, were undergoing Service trials at A & AEE Boscombe Down before eventually becoming 10 Sqn assets. Between 1992 and 1996 the 10 Sqn VC10s were modified as dual-role transport/tanker aircraft by FR Aviation Ltd at Bournemouth Airport and redesignated as the C Mk1K. XR808 was the last of 13 aircraft to be modified, before being delivered back to the Squadron in November 1996.
With the disbandment of 10 Sqn in October 2005, XR808 was transferred to 101 Sqn. Better known to those on 101 Squadron as ‘Bob’, taken from its serial number, XR808 was painted with a distinctive tail marking in 2012 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the VC10 and the 95th Anniversary of 101 Sqn. Interestingly, 101 Sqn had always shown an affection towards its tankers. The original VC10 K Mk2s were named on the unit after characters from the Magic Roundabout television programme, using the aircraft code as the initial letter. For example, ZA144 'Echo' was called Ermintrude. At the time of its retirement, XR808 had been flying for 47 years and was the oldest RAF aircraft in front line service. With the demise of this aircraft the distinction of being the oldest operational airframe was assumed by another Brize Norton based aircraft, Hercules C Mk3A XV177 of 47 Sqn, which also entered service in 1966.
Although the VC10 C Mk1s carried the names of Victoria Cross holders throughout their service life, it was decided not to continue this tradition with the Voyager fleet. However, the Senior Engineering Officer on 101 Sqn, Wg Cdr Matt Lane, thought it would be inappropriate for the VC10s to enter the breaker's yard still bearing their VC inscriptions. Consequently, when each C Mk1 was taken out of service, the VC name was transferred to a current airframe. As the fleet reduced in size, in addition to that of Kenneth Cambell VC, XR808 eventually bore the names of Hugh Malcolm VC (from XR809), Thomas Mottershead VC (from XV106) and George Thompson VC (from XR806).
When it became apparent that 2013 would be the final year of service for the VC10, surprisingly there was no formal arrangement within the 10 Sqn Association for a last visit to the aircraft during the reunion in May. Nevertheless, that did not deter a small group of former ALMs from making their own last visit to an operational VC10.
Well, more accurately, they decided that I should approach OC 101 Sqn with a request to see XR808 after 10 Sqn had hosted the Association in the Air Tanker Hub on 31 May. Wg Cdr Kev Brookes, a former 10 Sqn navigator, was of course delighted to give his permission. Subsequently, Sandy Butler (the new Association secretary), Ann Bihan, Heather Barrett, Joy McArthur and Rita Smith (ex 511 Sqn, but a friend of Shiny Ten) were escorted by Chief Tech Twornicki to Bay 60 where XR808 was parked, having just returned from a sortie as the UK standby tanker.
In their excitement when recalling their time on 10 Sqn, the ladies resembled a group of unruly schoolgirls. At the ALM station, Ann Bihan entertained everyone when she picked up the PA telephone and recited a word perfect passenger welcoming address for the first time in 40 years. At the end of the visit, Tweekie (as he was known on 101 Sqn) was a little surprised to receive an appreciative hug from each of the ladies.
Back on Board
Rita Smith, Ann Bihan, Sandy Barnes, Heather Barrett, Joy McArthur
From back to front on 808
With XR808's remarkable lineage, I thought it appropriate that a member of the 10 Sqn Association should be present on 29 July to bid the aircraft a fond farewell on its last flight. The Station Commander, Gp Capt Steve Lushington, a past OC 101 Sqn, also paid a visit to the aircraft for a photographic opportunity on the flight deck. Clearly, I shared a strong sentimental attachment to XR808 with the CO. Walking out to the aircraft with the captain, Flt Lt Nick Millikin, we recalled that his father Sqn Ldr Paul Millikin RAF (Retd) had also served as a VC10 captain on 101 Sqn. On reaching the aircraft, we were greeted warmly by the ALM, MACR Spike Abbott, who in true tradition had the kettle on in the forward galley. Co-pilot Flt Lt Gav Baker, navigator Flt Lt Rob Webb and air engineer FS John Douglas were also onboard conducting their pre-flight checks.
Having enjoyed a cup of coffee and a biscuit - the only thing missing was a tray of those delicious sandwiches from Dairy Farm in Hong Kong -, I was invited by Gav Baker to sit in the captain's seat for the final time in an operational ex-10 Sqn VC10. The memories came flooding back. I had flown XR808 on many 10 Sqn tasks; a European Trainer in January 1981, a 28 day check with Brian Symes in March 1981 and, the last occasion, with Frank Huddleston in March 1986 to drop a crew off at Luton to collect XV102 after being repainted. With the reminiscing over, I vacated the flight deck to allow the crew to settle, prior to conducting the pre-starting checks.
I positioned myself adjacent to Runway 26 to watch XR808's last ever take off. At 1050 hours local time, the aircraft was airborne after using barely 1500 ft of Brize Norton's 10,000 ft runway. Following a recent rain shower, the runway surface was wet and John Douglas would have selected engine igniters on prior to the handling pilot releasing the brakes. The aircraft climbed away to the north and the Brize controller, Flt Lt Preedy, wished the last VC10 C Mk1K, "Goodbye from the Station," and with that thoughtful gesture handed ASCOT 845 over to Birmingham Radar for the approach into Bruntingthorpe. On touching down at 1130 hours, XR808 had flown a total of 43,867 hours and completed 12,338 landings. As Steve Sansford noted in Newsletter No 49, a plan to preserve XR808 in the RAF Museum at Cosford did not develop. Fortunately, however, the historical significance of the aircraft was recognised and it has been earmarked as a running airframe for the Cold War Jets Collection at Bruntingthorpe.
When I watched XR808 leave Oxfordshire airspace for the last time, I felt immensely proud to have served on 10 Squadron and flown such a fantastic aircraft as the VC10. The Voyager is clearly a worthy successor and having had the good fortune to fly on a tanker sortie with 10 Sqn, I am in no doubt that the crews will exploit the tremendous potential of the aircraft for many years to come.
Mike Westwood sits again in “The Left-hand Seat” before 808's departure on its last flight
Mike P. Westwood
The Good Old Days – XR 808 in Kai Tak, Hong Kong