Wednesday, 21 March 2012

HDU Black Buck veteran

HDU Obtained from Flight Refueling Ltd

In Early 2008 the team successfully installed a Mk17B flight refuelling Hose Drum Unit in the bomb bay of XL231, this item was generously donated by Cobham Aviation (Flight Refuelling Ltd) and once installed completed the refit of XL231 into a complete Victor K2 Tanker. This unit was in deep store for several years after being inhibited by Cobham Aviation and was last installed in a VC-10 Tanker.

Upon checking the records it was found by coincidence that this HDU is THE very unit which enabled Vulcan XM607 Captained by Sqn Ldr Martin Withers DFC to safely recover to Ascension Island during the 1st bombing raid on Port Stanley Airfield during the Falklands War (Black Buck 1)
Painting by Keith Woodcock
This unit at the time was fitted in Victor X2 XH672 Captained by (then) Sqn Ldr Barry Neal who successfully met and recovered the Vulcan off of the Brazilian coast. The Aviation Artist Keith Woodcock painted a famous painting of the occasion which hangs in the RAF Club, Piccadilly, London (Available in print). 

Naturally with Barry Neal being 'our' regular Captain for taxy demonstration we found this to be a bit of a strange coincidence and particularly as Martin Withers has been a friend for many years.
Fitting the HDU took a number of man hours but I think you will agree the hard work paid off.
Scoop lowered
Scoop removed and HDU Ready for fitting
HDU fitted
The record cards for this unit indicates it was fited in the following aircraft types and serial numbers;
Victor K2; XL511, XH672, Xl512, XL162. 1975-1988
Hercules Tanker; XV192,XV213. 1989-1995
VC-10 Tanker; ZA141. 1997-1999.
 Removed for storage and inhibiting in 1999.
HDU record card
HDU record card
HDU in action for the first time!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Air-to-Air Refueling Accident

The safety record of the Victor as a tanker aircraft in both the Mk1 & Mk2 versions is extremely high.
Considering how close in proximity a tanker is to its receiver aircraft, then the record is second to none and this was all down to exceptional trust, high training and professionalism shown by both the tanker and the receiver crews.
The only 'fatal' accident with a Victor tanker of any mark during Air to Air Refuelling occurred in March 1975, involving a Victor K1a (XH618) from RAF Marham and a Buccaneer S2 (XV156) from RAF Honington in Suffolk. The Buccaneer pilot was on a AARR currency check-flight and was in a two-ship formation with another Buccaneer. The aircraft in question was attempting a 'contact' with the port wing hose of the Victor.

The Buccaneer approached slightly too fast and overtook the hose basket and this then apparently bumped its way down the side of the canopy and partially down the aircraft's spine. The Buccaneer rose above the Victor's wing with the hose probably still against it and dropped back on power in order to back-off. However the Buccaneer in climbing contacted the port tailplane of the Victor and structurally weakened it to the point it was observed to oscillate visibly. One of the Buccaneer pilots realised that the situation was critical and advised an immediate bail-out to the Victor crew. Time unfortunately was not of the essence and the Victor nose dived violently and then pitched past the vertical, screaming downwards. The crew pinned in solidly by the G-forces stood little chance.

The Victor as in all the V Bombers was only equipped with ejection seats for the pilots, the rear crew (3) and the Crew Chief had to exit via the cabin door. The Captain Keith Handscombe was somehow 'ejected' from the aircraft, some say he managed to get to the seatpan firing handle and just managed to pull it with a couple of fingers in the nick of time and in fact he used to relate the story that way. Other Victor Aircrew known to us tend to believe he came out of the aircraft as it was torn apart via the forces. However he was the only survivor, all 3 rear crew perished as did the co-pilot who according to Keith Handscombe was unable to overcome the G-forces to pull the seat handle.

The Battle scarred Buccaneer returned safely to its home base. No trace of XH618 or the crew has ever been found, the accident occured off of the North East coast of England. Keith Handscombe severely traumatised physically and mentally came down in the North Sea and was picked up by a fishing vessel. He was then taken to the RAF hospital at RAF Nocton Hall by helicopter and made a full recovery. He then bravely returned to flying on the Victor K2 and passed away in Norfolk in 2009.

The cause of the accident was deemed to be: Aircrew Error.
On a pre-arranged visit several years ago I was fortunate to meet one of the immediate family members from the rear crew of this dreadful accident and I was able to show them the actual crew position and the equipment that their relative had operated. It helped them to understand what had happened that day.