One by agonising one the RAF has been getting rid of the assortment of made-in-Britian, and pretty much only-operated-in-Britain, aircraft that soldiered on through the sixties to the nineties. But the VC10, almost incredibly, is looking highly likely to hit 50 years of service.
Flight International this week reports that delays to the RAF's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) mean that the current VC10 tankers should see service until 2015. One year later and the type (although not necessarily specific airframes I think) will have been in service for 50 years. Mostly as the service's resident 'airliner' in Shiny Ten - number 10 Squadron - more recently as a tanker.
I've got my own memories of the VC10. As a cadet I flew on one of the Shiny Ten machines on a training flight from RAF Brize Norton in the summer of '76. It was a memorable trip - I was in the cockpit as we did max angle of bank turns (60 degrees I think), an ear-popping max-rate descent, Mach-limiting runs (not sure what speed but it was high), and most dramatically - recovery from a Dutch Roll.
The Dutch Roll was spectacular from the cockpit. My recollection (might be slightly wrong) is that the drill was to disable the yaw-damper and give the rudder a nudge. With its swept wings and huge fin, the aircraft would rapidly diverge. I think the regulations allowed no more than two complete cycles before the aircraft had to be recovered with some hefty aileron input. By that time you had reached about 45 degrees of bank in both directions with lashings of yaw going on. Amazing stuff.
But then things got more exciting. I went and sat down in the cabin while my mate Richard Worrall went up-front. The cabin was configured with only about five rows of rear-facing seats and then a completely empty main deck all the way to the rear. At the rear was parked a galley trolley, of which more in a moment.
I sat down in the final row of seats and stretched out my 16 year-old legs. We began Dutch rolling again. At some point the nose went steeply down. The galley trolley, I rapidly learned, had been left unstowed and it began moving...towards me...very fast indeed. Strapped in, and under a fair bit of g force, I couldn't move. At the last second I managed to lift my legs high in the air and the trolley smashed into my seat an inch from my backside.
The aircraft quickly recovered, and a few moments later so did I.
I told the pretty, Welsh, female air loadmaster, responsible for stowing the trolley, what had happened. She begged me not to mention it to the captain. I promised not to and, aged 16, didn't even insist on a date! (I joined the RAF myself three years later and made up for that.)