Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Tanker Trash to Tornado

I think it was 1994 when I first went aboard XL231. My dad had taken me to the museum to satisfy my constant demand for all things aviation and we saw that the Victor's crew door was open! As an excited (things never change) 8 year old I begged my dad to ask the man who was working on the aircraft if we could have a look inside. He did, and the man said we could as it was quiet but just from the top of the ladder! I scrambled up and had a peek, on the way down my dad thanked the man, who then told us he was the owner and the aircraft hadn't been there that long. Who'd have thought, in 10 years time I would be sat next to that man (Andre if you hadn't figured it out yet!) on my very first taxi run in XL231....
Roll on to 2002 and my interest in aviation hasn't faded, I apply to join the museum and spend the next two years moving aircraft, sweeping hangar floors and doing various odd jobs until I start work on the Victor simulator which was then at Elvington, which was run by a kind gentleman called Jim Carnson. Jim used to be a pilot and taught me a foundation in what the instruments were called and how they operated and he let me fly the sim around and practise all the procedures associated with flying an aircraft. As a young man in the air cadets with only a couple of real hours under my belt this was a fantastic insight! Through this I developed an in depth understanding of running the victor and how to monitor its many complicated systems.
In 2004 I was working on the museums Buccaneer (little did I know what my involvement with this particular aircraft type would be in the future) when 'that man who owns the victor' came over and started chatting to me. It transpired that he had the aircraft out on the airfield for a taxi run, however he didn't have a co-pilot. He asked if I wanted to right hand seat given my experience in the sim....excitement doesn't quite cover it. So I went out to the airfield, also meeting an Andrew King for the first time, who strapped me into the seat, with a Yorkshire 'I'm not touching you up mate, just need to make sure you're in properly'! So off we trundled around the airfield before a fast run during which we encountered a small hydraulic snag, not to worry though, I had a brilliant time!
Having experienced life on the Victor team (eat this/drink them/smoke that) I decided I needed a role change at the museum so I 'defected' to the 'dark side'. A change that I never looked back on. I spent the next 3 years working on the jet, balancing university, Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron (hurrah) and working on Lindy (including the 2006 repaint) before there was a small interruption in 2007 when I was accepted into the RAF as a pilot. I distinctly remember the last Sunday (the normal work day) that I attended when Andre said, well that's it we'll never see you again! I said I'd prove him wrong, and bar a few absences due to work and my more recent commitments with the Buccaneer aviation group after 9 years in total on the team I think I've proved him wrong!
So I toddled off to Initial Officer Training to learn how to eat properly, fold blankets and iron immaculate shirts before graduating in June 2008 as a Flying Officer in the RAF, about to start Flying Training. I did this at Cranwell on 16(R) Sqn which was convenient for Elvington and following the first of many happy holds on the BBMF (yes I went flying in the Lancaster, and the Dakota, and have 30 hours on the chippy...I had to get all that in there!) I was streamed to fast jets and moved to RAF Linton on Ouse to fly the Tucano, which was immensely convenient for attending the museum and working on my beloved Victor! After Linton came Valley and the Hawk (not so convenient for Elvington!) which was a great laugh and by the beginning of 2012 I had graduated as a Fast Jet Pilot, ready to go fly the Tornado GR4! However various things transpired that meant my course wouldn't start for around 9 months, however I got offered the hold of a lifetime on the Hawk Display Team, flying the spare aircraft, on my own all around the country. The highlights were leading a 3 ship of Hawks out to Malta and the challenging landing at Duxford, which is a bit on the short side for a hawk! All this meant that I didn't spend as much time as I would've liked a Elvington including the big repaint which I essentially missed, after suggesting (before I knew I'd be otherwise occupied!) to Andre that we get on with it!
In Dec 2012 I left Valley bound for RAF Lossiemouth where I am currently on XV(R) Sqn, itself an ex-Victor Sqn, learning to fly the Tornado GR4, which I still find immensely exciting! There is no doubt I wouldn't be in the place I am today, without the help, support, beatings and all the other things that make part of being on the team that maintains XL231, especially the likes of Andre, Andy, Rick, Barry, Al, Pancho and all the others that have given me encouragement over the years.
This year sees 20 years of XL231 being at Elvington. Lets make it a good one give the old girl the thrashing she needs and enjoy the next 20 years of this wonderful aircraft.

Ollie Suckling

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