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Flypast tribute to 'queen of the skies' VC10 plane
Buy this photo » Wing Commander Kev Brookes on the runway at RAF Brize Norton with the VC10 aircraft, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The craft are operated by 101 Squadron, which is also marking its 95th anniversary. Pictures: OX53934 Damian Halli
A ROARING three-plane flypast helped celebrate the golden anniversary of one of Oxfordshire’s most iconic aircraft. It was the centrepiece of celebrations at RAF Brize Norton yesterday marking the 50th birthday of the VC10.
But the impressive tribute could prove to be its swansong, with the eight remaining aircraft due for decommissioning next year.
The VC10s, which are based at RAF Brize Norton, started life as transporter planes, but are now used to refuel other aircraft in flight.
At its peak, the RAF had 27 VC10s and the plane has flown in conflicts from the Falklands and the Gulf Wars to last year’s Libya crisis.
In 2013 they will be replaced with Voyagers, which will also be based at RAF Brize Norton.
Yesterday, the three planes flew in formation up to Scotland and back to complete a refuelling exercise.
Flight Lieutenant Jess Gannon, VC10 pilot, said: “It is quite a big aircraft and it takes a lot of manoeuvring.
“It is not like a fighter jet, where you can pull it around the skies. You have got to be thinking quite far ahead.”
One of his roles is to coordinate the in-flight refuelling, which sees up to two aircraft fly behind the VC10 at 500mph and attach themselves to two fuel line baskets.
Flt Lt Gannon added: “The planes do get close, but it is all controlled.”
VC10s are operated by 101 Squadron, which is also celebrating its 95th anniversary this year.
The planes, which are nicknamed the Queen of the Skies, are notoriously fast. Master Aircrew Steve Taylor, 101 Squadron’s airload master, said: “She has the nickname because she is graceful, fast and smooth to fly.
“But she is more of a manual aircraft than modern jet, where you just press a few buttons and it will fly for you. VC10s require more careful handling.”
He said the refuelling operations could be “quite tricky”, especially during turns and at night, but said training and practice made it easier.
He added: “The trick is not to follow the basket. You have to line up with the aircraft, know roughly where the basket is and head for that.”
Wing Commander Kev Brookes, officer commanding 101 Squadron, said: “She is probably the last of the gentlemen’s aircraft.
“She was built around what the pilot required and, when she came out, was well ahead of her time.” He added: “There will be a tear in my eye next year, but she is ending on a high. She has earned her name in the history books.”
Royal British Legion Oxfordshire vice-chairman Mike Henderson, who worked on VC10s at RAF Brize Norton in the 1970s, said: “VC10s are without a shadow of a doubt Oxfordshire’s most iconic aircraft.
“We do not have many aircraft of that size in Oxfordshire and it has been with us for such a long time.
“It has done a fantastic service for the RAF.”