39 years and four days ago, today
Shortly before midnight on the 30th of April 1982 Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers gently eased forward his four throttle levers.
The four giant Olympus engines behind him began to howl in response and all 93.75 tons of XM607 gently started to roll down the runway.
Their target; Port Stanley airfield on the Falkland Islands.
As their take-off speed reached the specified 150 knots Withers gently eased back the stick to lift the giant AVRO Vulcan’s nose to the skies and their 33,000 feet cruising altitude.
With a 7,800-mile round-trip in front of them, this was going to be a long and eventful flight.
With little more than two week’s air to air refuelling practice and using equipment rescued from scrap yards, the whole operation was literally operating on a wing and a prayer.
The flight had barely begun when the lead aircraft developed problems and headed home only three minutes after take-off.
Now there was just Withers and his five-man crew left, and the mission’s success rested lightly on their shoulders.
But good luck wasn’t exactly smiling on them.
Severe electrical storms cause hair-raising problems with air-to-air refuelling.
A tricky operation even in good weather conditions, pilots described the in-flight refuelling hose hook-up as like trying to feed wet spaghetti up a cat’s backside.
As demonstrated when the last of the 11 Victor tankers in support had its refuelling hose violently snapped off in the turbulence – long before they’d given Withers enough juice to get home.
Even the brave would have been hard-pressed to have wagered on them completing their mission and getting safely back to their Wideawake airbase on Ascension Island.
But some 15 hours and 45 minutes later, they did and were to be the only aircraft to successfully bomb the Port Stanley runway in six subsequent attempts.
You can plan all you like but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Whether you think you’re ready or not.
A lesson for all of us afraid to fire the starting gun on our breakout to freedom plans.
In normal times there are nearly always many opportunities to try again but as we approach Freedom Day who wants the competition to steal a march.
Good is good enough – be brave and just do it.
Food for thought, perhaps, this week?
But for now, …