Monday, July 14, 2008

They Got it Done!

I sometimes become emotional at odd things. I have, for example, been known to completely loose it in blubbery chick flick tears while watching NASA TV when some guy over at the JPL says something like "We have Doppler on our UHF."

Some people get emotional when Sandra Bollock chooses to go with the right guy, others when rovers land on Mars.

But I had one of those moments today, while sitting at work, taking a break from editing an eight two page instruction manual to check the latest news from Farnborough. That's the world's largest airshow, usually a giant selling ground for Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed, Northrop, and all of the other players in the industry. But besides the big A380's and F-22's doing their flying demonstration there was one jet, a graceful delta-winged bomber, that was not for sale.

It was a meticulously restored Avro Vulcan, one of the most distinctive products of the now nearly moribund British aircraft industry. The Vulcan always exercised a sort of cult following in aviation circles. Part probably stems from its distinctive bat-like appearance. But I think that a lot comes form its position as the last large aircraft program, a nuclear armed bomber no less, to come out of the once proud English aircraft industry.

I don't know enough to argue the politics behind it, hell I don't even really know the difference between a Torry and a Whig or whatever they are, but the nation that gave us the Spitfire and the Lancaster and the Viscount and half of the Concorde and tried to give us the TSR.2 is now reduced to producing subassemblies. Life in the UK must be a challenge -- vestiges of so many forms of empire. But, like the Falkland Islands, the Vulcan was held on to with tenacity. In fact, it saw service in that war, flying some gratuitously long range missions to drop bombs and shoot Shrike ARM's (with limited success) in support of the English recapture of the islands.

0a208d8e-6d5e-4c90-b834-0797a50c643c.Large[1].jpgBut this isn't a biography of the Vulcan (I've never really been part of that "cult," by the way). It is a story of admiration. For whatever the reasons, a socity of loving and hard working fans formed to restore and maintain one of the Vulcans to flyable status. Not a static museum piece, but a workable, flyable jet. Like so many of these organizations, they seemed at times to have more belife than business sense. Like those who would return steam locomotives to the rails or pursue other plans so eccentric as to seem a product of the Victorian era, I feared the fans of the Vulcan would mortgage their houses, sell their cars, and in the end lose their bomber. But somehow they made it work. They found or fabricated the parts, they managed the paperwork, and above all they kept the cash or credit coming in long enough to see flight again.

And so now she's back, she's at Farnborough, and if I know the English, she's probably attracting a bigger crowd than any of the state-of-the-art foreigners intruding on her flightline.

And tonight I'll raise a pint of Bass to the people who made it happen.

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