I built this website to show this beautiful aircraft I was involved with. I have been doing work at air museums now for over 20 plus years. I worked at Castle Air Museum for a combined time of about 18 years. I know that the Vulcan is a special aircraft to the people of the UK, living here or abroad. I can understand why, she is a remarkable aircraft for her day and age. Here are some of my personal thoughts about the Vulcan and the "cool' museum I had the honor to work at, and serve as Flight Line Chief.
I never profess to know everything about aircraft, and never will. As a Aircraft Technician and Flight Test Technician at Boeing, I feel the guy who professes to know it all is the guy you don't want around your airplane. Nothing is more valuable in aviation than knowing where the book or program is, and how to use it. One thing I do know is safety. Safety is paramount in aviation. I was at one time a Safety Rep and Shop Steward at the flight line station where I worked, for United Airlines, and before that I was Safety Rep at another of United's stations. If its a 747 on its way to Japan, a 737 down the Pacific Ocean coastline, one of the Cessna's I have flown, and even the old static display war birds at the museum, safety is safety. At the museum people involved needed to understand there are limitations to what we can and can not do. Over the years I have gained an understanding of this, and I hope for years to come I can be involved to help to preserve aviation history. Yet myself and all involved in aviation, weather at a museum an active flight line, must understand there are guidelines, like them or not. The aircraft that are at the museum are to look at, static displays. A reminder of what use to be. And although many, many people, have a fond attachment to these old birds, they are what they are, museum pieces!
In the past people have wanted to power up museum aircraft. The idea of aircraft power sounds wonderful, especially since I make my living working on live aircraft. I realized that many of the ideas are great to ponder, but not something that can be carried out at the museum, safely and properly. Not only from a official standpoint, but, truly, a safety standpoint as well. Not only just the safety of persons trying to accomplish these wonderful ideas, but also to the general public, and the surrounding aircraft as well. For example, you might have the guy that takes care of the aircraft next to yours, and seeing power on your aircraft, decides to do the same. Thinking that it is "OK," because there is power on your aircraft. The result could be an injury to himself or even burning the aircraft to the ground, or worse yet, a serious injury to a museum visitor. There are a few aircraft at the museum that could stand having full services running on them again, if done safely and following strict guidelines. The Vulcan is one of them. Yet, there is always that chance of injury to persons or aircraft, and to me that is not worth the risk! The museums are set up like parks and displays, not the tarmac at an airbase!
Truly some of the ideas that I have heard are quite good, if we had the proper forum for them, and the ideas are carried out thoughtfully and safely. I once saw the Grimes lights flashing under the Vulcan, and it gave me a chill, it was great to see her come to life, even in a small way. Then reality set in! I realized that this was a static display, that indeed, had already set out in the weather for quite a number of years. I guess I was overcome with the glory of aviation for a brief moment! There is no possible way to know the condition of wiring throughout the fuselage, how much corrosion might be in pressurized bottles or lines, etc., etc., without the proper checks and maintenance. The Vulcan did not come with all the maintenance equipment that the RAF used on her, this curtails doing quite a number of things to the aircraft in a safe and proper manner. Such as, jacking her and shoring up her struts with out the proper, and safe items, this is totally out of the question as well. A normal "heavy check" of a Vulcan involves 25,000 man hours, and plenty of specialized equipment. I think we would fall short in the manpower and equipment department at the museum. Have you ever heard that old adage, "like spitting in the wind"? That is what is would be like trying to maintain a old museum aircraft in any other manner than as a display. Keeping it in great shape as a static display, yes, but the costly effort to maintain her in any other fashion is a hard road to hoe. Take a look at the beautiful Vulcan 558 in the UK, they would like to return her to the air, yet in turn they have spent a considerable sum of money, and she still is not airborne. I recall the figure as being 2.5 million pounds. If XM605 had been kept in a hangar for all these years, and was mandated by the powers to be, that she be kept in air worthy condition, then it would have been done, and the funds to do so would have been available. When the RAF gave XM605 to the US Air Force, the intention was for her to be a display, and that is all. If she had not been sent here as a display, she would have met her fate in the UK as so many other Vulcan's did, just a sweet memory, and some wonderful old pictures of in someone's scrap book. XM605 was sent here, to serve as she is now, as a static display. A reminder of a beautiful British Bomber, and we do our best to display her in that manor.
Actually, she is one of the best displays at the museum, and draws quite a crowd on Open Cockpit Day. Some lights, and an old air band radio have been added in a careful way, so as to seem realistic. These lights are separate of the aircrafts systems, and pose no hazard to the airframe or the visitors. To visitors, on Open Cockpit Day, she seems as though she has some life, a few lights flashing, cockpit interior lit up, and the sounds of air traffic passing over head on the radio. Visitor to the XM605's interior, and exterior as well, go on there way feeling like they have seen a beautiful example of British aviation history, and they have!
The concerns of safety go far beyond myself at the museum. There are fellows at the museum that have been in aviation since before I was even a twinkle in my mothers eye, and I'm in my 50's. Any person getting involved with aircraft at any museum should not kid themselves and think that these older gents don't take notice of all the things that are going on. We should be aware that we are always under there watchful eye, not much goes unnoticed, which I have found to be a good thing. These fellows are a wealth of knowledge, and just fun to rub elbows with. Any museum can not afford a lawsuit because someone is injured or killed, due to "any" one persons over eagerness to make a aircraft "serviceable," or displayed in a manor that is not set fourth by that museum. I would hope that everyone who comes to "any" air museum, weather visiting or volunteering there time there, realizes one thing, these aircraft are "silent" reminders of what aviation used to be. To try to maintain them in any other fashion poses many great problems.
Finally, and most important. I would like to thank all the folks at Castle for trusting me with there beautiful old war birds. I have been allowed to not only spend time with the Vulcan, but have worked, on and spent time on many of the other aircraft there. I have spent countless hours at the museum, sometimes not even working, but looking at an old bird, and in my mind hearing her run, and seeing her in action. There are some wonderful people at Castle, rich in aviation heritage and knowledge, and yes, some that are fun to visit with. To all of the folks there, my hat is off to them, and my thanks are many!!
Thanks for your time, Thom
Footnote: One never knows what the future holds, one never knows if some crazy scheme would put one of the old birds at the museum back in the air, like the Vulcan. If that was to ever happen, I would salute her as she rotated, with a tear in my eye, knowing that she was my baby for a brief time.
Thank you, Thom Barner
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