Final flight of Victor XH648 - Duxford - and my own final Victor sortie - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Final flight of Victor XH648 - Duxford - and my own final Victor sortie

A few weeks later I flew another aircraft on its final flight: Victor XH648, belonging to 57 Squadron, had been donated to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. This was the very aircraft in which I had exceeded the speed of sound over Paris a few years earlier. On Wednesday 2 June 1976, just a few days before work started on the new M11 motorway, I delivered XH648 to Duxford. The aircraft had to be delivered that week because once work had started on building the M11 the huge temporary embankment to be constructed on the runway undershoot would effectively knock 2,000 feet off the available length and render it unusable for Victors. My crew on this occasion comprised: Group Captain David Parry-Evans, in the right-hand seat, and three members of 57 Squadron, Wing Commander Alistair Sutherland, Flight Lieutenant Thompson and Flight Lieutenant Dave Head (Dave and I had been sergeant signallers together on Shackletons much earlier in our careers):

Duxford is just about 30 nautical miles off the end of Marham's Runway 24. I took off on that runway, made one left hand orbit over Marham to increase speed, and then made a low level fly past over 57 Squadron HQ at 330 kts. Strictly speaking, Victors were limited to a maximum of 250 kts below 10,000 feet to conserve fatigue life but, since this was the final flight, that did not seem an adequate reason for restricting the speed. I didn't tell either the Station Commander or 57 Squadron Commander that I intended to disregard one of the Group Air Staff Orders, so the responsibility was mine alone.

In fact, turning finals for runway 24, I had to retard the throttles all the way back to about 80% to prevent the very light aircraft accelerating further. As we crossed the runway threshold at 330 kts indicated air speed (roughly 380 mph or 600 kph), I throttled all engines back to flight idle. For watchers on the ground this produced the so-called 'whistle', when the aircraft is almost soundless apart from a distinctive whistling noise created as the airframe slices through the air. After passing the Squadron HQ, a quick burst of 100% on all four engines produced a mighty roar over the squadron headquarters - where there were lots of spectators. I then gently eased up to 1,000 feet, throttled back to idle again and more or less coasted all the way to Duxford.

We knew that a reception committee would be waiting for us so, for the benefit of photographers, I made a very slow, maximum drag, flypast overhead Duxford with undercarriage down, full flap lowered, airbrakes extended, and bomb doors open. After that it was a normal left hand visual circuit to land and XH648's final performance under its own power was over.
My own final trip on the Victor Standardisation Unit (VSU) at RAF Marham was to conduct the Instrument Rating Test on the Station Commander in Victor XH591 on 8 July 1976. As I was sipping the traditional farewell glass of champagne on the flight line immediately after landing, I said to the assembled throng, "That was probably my last flying trip in the RAF - and I never even handled the controls!"

At that point I thought back to the fateful meeting in the Ministry of Defence nine years earlier when I had been very offhand with the group captain DDP(A) who had tried to talk me out of accepting the Air Secretary’s offer of pilot training (this page)

For the second year running the annual assessment in my official flying log book was 'Exceptional', which was very gratifying. Looking back from the 21st Century, I think the word 'exceptional' appropriately describes some of the adventures I had on Victors. However, let me reiterate what I wrote on an early page about my time on Victors. Reading this website you might think that the Victor was a dangerous aircraft to fly. It was not! The vast majority of my flights in the Victor Tanker were without incident and would, therefore, not make very interesting reading.

After that last flight I had to wind up the VSU, write final reports, and then drive up to Bawtry to see the Senior Air Staff Officer at HQ 1 Group for a last interview and a free lunch. The following Monday, the VSU re-convened with four new officers as the Victor (K2) Standardisation Unit.

This is XH648 as my neighbour Mark Wood found it at the Imperial War Museum Duxford on a grey day in 2017. (c) Mark Wood 2017 and reproduced here with his permission.

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