Last VC10 Flight

The final flight by a Vickers VC10 came to an end when the last RAF refuelling tanker to be retired landed at Bruntingthorpe Proving ground and Airfield on Wednesday 25th September 2013.  It was more than 50 years ago that aviation engineers and enthusiasts watched the prototype VC10’s maiden flight from the Vickers factory at Brooklands.  And more than 200 spectators – together with many invited VIPs – converged on Bruntingthorpe to witness the historic climax of a great British aircraft’s history.

 To prevent roads close to the former RAF station and USAF Cold War bomber base  becoming congested with spectators’ parked car, Bruntingthorpe managing director, Dave Walton, threw open the normally-secure site.  “It was an historic day for us as well as for the VC10 and as so many people with an affinity for the aircraft travelled to watch the landing it was the least we could do.”

 As all eyes peered skyward for the first glimpse of the aircraft, ZA147, which was delayed by poor visibility en route from RAF Brize Norton, the RAF crew made two low-level passes with wheels down before gracefully touching down and bringing the grey-painted aircraft to a halt for the final time.  It will be dismantled by GJD Services, one of the specialist companies based at Bruntingthorpe.  But the ultimate future of the last-flight VC10 is uncertain at the moment.  Many are hoping it – or possibly another example – will eventually be transported in sections, by road, to the RAF Museum at Cosford, near Wolverhampton, to be reassembled and go on permanent display.

 Bruntingthorpe is currently home to one unique VC10 – XR808, holder of the Blue Ribband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic by a sub-sonic aircraft.  Known as ‘Bob’, VIP guests – including BAE Systems’ designers, RAF ground crew and engineers who worked on VC10 – invited to witness the final flight by GJD Services, were shown round the record holder.  And some 60 youngsters from nearby Gilmorton Chandler Church of England Primary School – where GJD owner Gary Spoors’ son is a pupil – also got to see Bob courtesy of Mr Spoors who arranged for a special school educational trip.

 However, because of the weather-delayed arrival of ZA147, the children had to return on their bus to school before it landed.  But many, once they were home, persuaded their parents to take them back to Bruntingthorpe so that they could see the last-ever VC10 flight land.

 Mr Spoors says it was day of mixed emotions for him.  “I first flew in a VC10 as a five-year-old lad.  I later worked on VC10s in the RAF and now my company has been responsible for decommissioning almost half of the 54 ever built…  So it was a sad day for me – not only because it was the last flight and the end of an era, but also because it marked the beginning of the end of what has been an important contract for GJD Services.

 Like ‘Bob’, ZA147 is also a record-holder.  “The aircraft, which was ex-East African Airways during its time as a civil airliner, holds the London-to-Perth airspeed record,” says Mr Spoors.  “To achieve the record, the aircraft needed two air-to-air refuellings on the way.”

 More youngsters were able to see both record-holing VC10s at Bruntingthorpe six days after the final flight arrived when Mr Spoors a organised a visit for the local Gilmorton Cub Pack.