With the iconic Vickers VC-10 being retired in 2013, this gallery highlights some of the pictures taken over the last few years in service with the RAF, with subsequent retirement and final flights. In addition are pictures of the surviving aircraft, preserved in the UK and Germany.
Even back in 2008, it seems the end was in mind, as XV101/S departs RIAT Fairford with a 'For Sale, One Careful Owner' sign in the window! 'Sierra' was later retired at Bruntingthorpe in December 2011. Among the shots at Brize Norton, XV106/W was caught returning from the Marham Families Day in August 2011, while XV104/U was not looking very healthy, although it was another ten months before making the final journey North to Bruntingthorpe. Party In The Park 2011 then saw XV105/V being displayed at Brize, as a farewell to another C1K, with 'Victor' heading to Brunty ten days later. Despite the grimey weather, access to a great photospot enabled some great shots.
Shots at Brize in 2012 included K3 ZA148/G in July, which cut short a training sortie after a suspected bird strike on the cockpit windows. No sign of any impact though. Then, a final visit to Brunty & Brize at the end of the year in beautiful Winter sunlight provided more shots of three retired and one very active aircraft, with K3 ZA149/H tasked with an afternoon Tartan mission following a morning training sortie. Three months later 'Hotel' left Brize for the last time, on the final journey North.
Into 2013, the final year of operations with the 'Queen of the Skies', the last C1K was retired in July, with XR808 heading to Bruntingthorpe. It was hoped the final flight would be to Cosford, for the RAF Museum there, but despite short landing trials at Brize and Cosford, the runway was deemed to be not long enough (see later). This left just three operational K3's, with ZA148/G next to be retired, making the short journey down to Newquay in August, to join the Classic Air Force Museum there. After removal of the engines, the idea was for 'Golf' to be later converted into a diner, though apparently problems with the plan then prevented this.
With the final two operational aircraft, ZA147/F and ZA150/J, remaining in service for another three weeks, 'Foxtrot' then returned from the final VC-10 detachment at Mount Pleasent in early September. With both aircraft being used less and less, all the attention was now on the final operational missions on the OSD (Out of Service Date) of Friday 20th September. Details were then released of a 'UK Tour', involving flypasts at several airports and bases around the country, to be carried out seperately by the two aircraft, following the final AAR taskings over the North Sea. And so, the familiar 101 Squadron callsign would be used for the last time, as Tartan 51 & 52 taxied out together and departed Brize as planned on the 20th just after 10am, in front of a few hundred 'real' VC-10 fans. Exactly four hours later they returned, with a tight formation approach, to run and break, back into the circuit to land. An amazing sight and photo op, to mark the end of 47 years of excellent service with the RAF.
The next event during this climactic week for the VC-10 enthusiast, was the Brize Norton Aviation Enthusiasts Day on Sunday 22nd. Organized by 216 Squadron, the event was limited to around 200 people, as a final chance to see three types together, about to go out of service at Brize... the VC-10, Tristar and C-130K. ZA147 was the VC-10 on display, open to the public, with the crew present including the now familiar pilot, Flt Lt Jess Gannon, who i had spoken with at Newquay after he had brought in ZA148. Jess then kindly agreed to walk myself and a friend over to ZA150, to photograph the aircraft on the ramp at Brize, away from the public area. Great guy.
And so, three days later... Bruntingthorpe. Following the delivery of ZA150 to Dunsfold on Tuesday 24th (with the last VC-10 built being acquired by the Brooklands Museum), the last ever flight of a Vickers VC-10 was to be ZA147 from Brize Norton to Bruntingthorpe on Wednesday 25th September. After the departure was delayed several times by heavy fog at Brize, 'Ascot 848' finally arrived at Bruntingthorpe (via a touch and go at Birmingham) for the first of two low overshoots at 1552, before the historic final touchdown at 1602. Another epic moment in aviation history that was an honour to witness, as the 'Queen of the Skies' put on a flying display for the large crowd for one last time, bringing the end of an era, as yet another true classic aircraft was retired.
Finally for 2013, another visit was made to Bruntingthorpe the following Sunday, to photograph the (now) six VC-10's present, in very nice weather. With C1K's XV106/W and XV108/Y now chopped up in the scrapping compound, parked nearby was the last intact C1K XR808, along with K3's ZA147/F and ZA149/H, and the only remaining K4 ZD241/N. Not surprisingly, next to go was 'Hotel', being moved into the scrapping compound in November and broken up. Also in November, the forward fuselage section of XV108, which was dismantled some time ago, was roaded out to the Aeropark Museum at East Midlands for display.
Into 2014, with five surviving, complete ex RAF VC-10's (three with GJD at Bruntingthorpe, one with Brooklands at Dunsfold, and one with CAF at Newquay), the plans for the aircraft were now clear. While XR808 awaits the move by road to RAFM Cosford (after being partly dismantled), ZA147 had been designated as a parts supply for ZD241, with reports of the nose section possibly going to the Moravia group at Kinloss, still unconfirmed. With K4 ZD241 now designated as the ground runner at Bruntingthorpe, to be displayed at the 'Cold War Jets' Open Days, the process of restoring the aircraft to running condition had begun, after receiving all four engines from ZA147, along with other parts (including the refuelling probe). And so, 2014 was to see two VC-10's 'active' again in the UK, with ZA150 at Dunsfold also being maintained as a ground runner (being the only retired aircraft left in a fully intact condition) for display at the 'Wings and Wheels' shows there.
Finally, pictures of the surviving VC-10's on display in museums, start with the only aircraft preserved overseas, the ex UAE Royal Flight G-ARVF at Hermeskeil, Germany. The oldest surviving VC-10 (being the 6th built), the aircraft served Sheikh Zayed from 1974-1981 before being donated to the museum. After being flown into nearby Saarbrucken, the final journey here was by road. Later, a return visit to Brooklands museum after quite a few years, saw the other aircraft previously used by a Middle East ruler, photographed again in great weather. Former Oman Royal Flight A4O-AB served Sultan Qaboos from 1974-1987, before being flown here to be preserved, exactly 27 years ago now. Also on display here are two airframe sections, with the fuselage of former British Airways G-ARVM arriving from RAFM Cosford almost 8 years ago (after the aircraft was dismantled there), while forward fuselage static test airframe (c/n 801A, not registered) is painted in BOAC colours. Mounted on a jig, this appeared to have been prepped for re-paint, after fading badly over the years.
Now to complete the picture... just need to get back to Duxford, to photograph Super' G-ASGC... watch this space!