Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Churnet Valley Railway goes supersonic!

Last Wednesday eighteen members of Hazel Grove Rotary Group and some friends came to the Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport for a full technical tour of Concorde. The group was led by a friend of mine, John, who is a volunteer guard on the Churnet Valley Railway.

Concorde G-BOAC in her hangar at the Runway Visitor Park. The restaurant is on the left side of the hangar and has changed hands since this picture was taken.

All day parking is included in a tour so many came early and enjoyed a coffee and lunch in our restaurant. Their afternoon with me started at 14:00 in our 'Avro Suit' where I welcomed them with an introduction and the showing of a short video about the aeroplane. From here we went into Alpha Charlie's hangar for a first sight of the magnificent white bird. 

I introduced this impressive aeroplane to the group, and we spent about forty minutes walking around her looking at the features that make Concorde the special aeroplane that she is. Some aspects of this section of the tour, such as that fabulous wing with an enormous speed range with no high-lift devices and its vortex lift below 300 knots, and the engine air intakes with the engines always in a subsonic environment and pressure recovery in the intake supplying over 70% of the forward thrust at Mach 2 supercruise, can be challenging to explain to a lay audience. However, feedback in the pub afterwards indicates I had probably pitched it about right!

Inside the Concorde hangar

My colleague Ross joined us as we went on board the aeroplane. Our visitors settled themselves into the comfortable dark blue leather seats in the forward cabin where Ross talked about Concorde's history, time in service with British Airways and Air France, reasons for retirement to the museums, and entertained them with supersonic anecdotes.

The dark blue leather Terence Conran designed seats in Concorde's forward cabin. Concorde was a 'one class' aeroplane (Concorde class!) with 100 passenger seats in two cabins.

I settled down in the cockpit to where the visitors came forward in groups of four at a time for me to explain how the aeroplane was flown. Concorde pre-dates today's 'automatic' computer controlled airliners where the aeroplane is 'operated' by the flight crew rather than 'flown'. Concorde, with her analogue-instrumented 1970s flight deck with not a computer screen in sight, was very much 'flown' rather than 'operated'.

CVR volunteers Kevin (crossing keeper and whipper-in for the volunteer roster) and me (Consall signalman) in AC's cockpit

Nice view of the Engineer's panel as I demonstrate to a visitor how afterburner was selected 

Our tour lasted over two hours, finishing with the handing out of an individually-named 'Concorde Certificate' to each visitor. The group kindly invited me to join them afterwards at the nearby 'Romper Inn' for a meal. Over dinner, Concorde and various other conversations continued and it was obvious that everyone had thoroughly enjoyed their afternoon. As this tour had been my fifth and final one that day, a pint of 'Tatton' bitter was most welcome to 'wet the whistle' after all that talking.

It's always good to do a tour with a group of lively and interested visitors, and John's Rotary Group had certainly been that. An enjoyable end to a busy day!


Saturday, 14 February 2015

A visit to the MoSI railway

It's been a while since I went to the Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) in Manchester to the railway where I'm volunteer footplate crew, so I decided to go today even though not rostered on the loco.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

'Agecroft No.1' at Liverpool Road Station, MoSI, today. This locomotive spent its working life at Agecroft colliery transporting coal to the nearby power station. It arrived at MoSI several years ago as little more than scrap, and was rebuilt by MoSI volunteers to as-new condition.

This railway is under threat from Network Rail's proposed Ordsall Chord railway line, which is projected to cut across the eastern end of the MoSI site truncating the railway at the 1830 'Liverpool & Manchester Railway' original station, the oldest railway station in the world. This would reduce the length of the MoSI line to a hundred metres or so, taking only a few seconds to cover. The present 'Y' shaped railway offers passengers a round trip of around ten minutes, so one fears for the railway's survival. A dwindling number of dedicated volunteers are keeping services running for now, albeit with days when operations are cancelled due lack of staff.

Here's a video of 'Agecroft' departing Liverpool Road Station today on a public train trip. Bev driving, Mike on the shovel:

 Our guard, Richard locks the doors of the passenger coaches before departure. Next week is half term for local schools, so a fairground has been set up in the Museum yard to attract families.

At Ordsall ground frame, fireman Mike changes the points for us to propel the train back down the 'Pineapple Line', the other arm of the 'Y' shaped layout 

Looking back from the guard's seat at the back of the train as 'Agecroft' propels it down the Pineapple Line, the futuristic Beetham Tower dominating the sky line. The centre rail is to prevent the train falling off the viaduct in the event of a derailment.

In the Power Hall, MoSI's other steam locomotive, replica 1830 Liverpool & Manchester Railway Stephenson's 'Planet' is nearing completion of its winter overhaul 

The wooden boiler cladding is being replaced as the original was rotted. Through the window of the Power Hall can be seen the Museum's Great Western Warehouse.


Friday, 13 February 2015

Avro Heritage Museum

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The British Aerospace site at Woodford Airfield in Cheshire closed a couple of years ago. Woodford was Avro's company airfield and the birthplace of many famous aeroplanes such as the Avro Lancaster. All the Vulcans, Nimrods, 748s, ATPs and many other types were built here; it's a historic site with a rich history.
This part of Cheshire hasn't resonated to the music of a Lancaster's Rolls Royce Merlin engines or been deafened and vibrated on a daily basis by the earth-shaking thunder of a Vulcan's four Olympus turbojets for many decades now, and the later Woodford products such as the 146, ATP, and RJX were easier on the ear.
But as the flight sheds and runways vanish under the bulldozer to eventually be replaced by yet more housing estates it's important that the heritage of this historic place is remembered. BAe are funding the creation of an aviation museum on the site. 
Artist's impression of the new Avro Heritage Museum building
The museum building makes use of the former airfield fire station, extensively renovated and modified. That work is coming to an end soon and the team can then begin to fit the building out with artifacts and storyboards ready for the museum's opening later this summer.
Adjacent to the new museum building, which is on the south side of the airfield where the flight sheds used to be, will be Avro Vulcan B2 XM603. This aeroplane has been at Woodford for many years now, and I well remember sheltering under its massive delta wing during the all too frequent rain showers at various Woodford air shows (so it was a long time ago!).
 Vulcan XM603 at a Woodford air show while a still-airworthy example of this fabulous aeroplane gives a display. Some scattered fair weather Cu clouds are evident, but no need to use that big wing as an umbrella that day.

XM603's paintwork has deteriorated since the above picture was taken many years ago, and there is corrosion present. The aircraft will be restored to static exhibition standard and located adjacent to the museum, and will retain its white 'anti-flash' cold war colour scheme the V-bombers carried when their primary role was to deliver Britain's nuclear deterrent (now the job of the Trident submarine fleet). Thankfully the cold war did not heat up, and as we know that dreadful scenario did not come about, though it came close to happening at least once. The deterrent worked. 

Inside the museum it is planned for visitors to access the cockpit of sister Vulcan B2, XM602. This is just a nose section, not a complete aircraft, so can be fitted into the museum building. 

Inside the museum's Vulcan nose section, formerly XM602. All the Vulcan's were, of course, assembled at Woodford. 

The museum web site is HERE. At present it displays the picture at the top of this post, but nearer the opening date it should be a fully populated site.