So here we are. The main event. RAF Fairford. Royal International Air Tattoo 2015. Three days of air displays, static displays and sun, yet, for me, I only ever had eyes for one old girl. As soon as the gates opened we headed straight down to the opposite end of the runway where she sat, waiting, tamed, brooding.
I still find it hard to believe that this will be the last flying season for Vulcan XH558 and having gotten reacquainted during Swansea airshow after a gap of some fifteen years those feelings were only strengthened further. The RIAT has always been something of a spiritual home for the plane and for 2015 the Vulcan to the Sky trust had something rather special to offer. For a small donation it was going to be possible to cross on to the live runway and take a short guided tour underneath that iconic delta wing. Needless to say we were second in line (third after a couple somehow managed to bypass a queue of some thirty people without batting an eyelid) and after a short wait we were soon getting up close and personal with this cold war icon. Our guide, a former Vulcan pilot himself, was both informative and engaging despite the relatively brief time we had together. What I really enjoyed though was time alone with the Vulcan to take in those details which you simply can’t appreciate during an air display. I can’t deny a sense of awe and nervousness at standing beneath that bomb bay however, not for any modern day reasons but in appreciation of how close the world once came to mutually assured destruction.
A few hours later and it was time for Vulcan XH558 to take to the sky once more. Over the tannoy we were warned that she might not put on quite as sprightly a display as was seen on Saturday which left me wandering why. Had she sustained some injury or had the pilots just been a little too exuberant? Whatever, it clearly had no effect as far as I could see as she lifted into the air and immediately banked into a sharp right turn whilst climbing steeply all the time.
The rest of the display was fairly similar to that which we’d seen at Swansea but the atmosphere was absolutely electric. People had swarmed in from across the entire site and all had their eyes fixed skywards. Down at the end of the runway though the Red Arrows were revving up for something which I’d been looking forward to for a very long time indeed. And boy did it live up to expectations.
Even when she’d landed the crowds kept their eyes trained on her passage across the apron, wanting to savour every last moment before Vulcan XH558 is grounded for ever. After such a good display though I may try and get in one last show before the season is out. I’m not quite ready to say goodbye just yet and shall leave you instead with a few final words from the commentator, spoken with a tremble in his voice.
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened, or if you can’t manage that, smile through the tears.