Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

10 January 1964

Boeing B-52H-170-BW 61-023
A Boeing B-52H Stratofortress similar to 61-023. (U.S. Air Force)

10 January 1964: This Boeing B-52H Stratofortress, serial number 61-023, flown by Boeing test pilot Charles F. (“Chuck”) Fisher, was conducting structural testing in turbulence near East Spanish Peak, Colorado. The other crew members were pilots Richard V. Curry and Leo Coer, and navigator James Pittman. Dick Curry was flying the airplane and Chuck Fisher, the aircraft commander, was in the co-pilot’s position. Pittman was on the lower deck.

The bomber was carrying two North American Aviation GAM-77 Hound Dog cruise missiles on pylons under its wings.

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress had been designed as a very high altitude penetration bomber, but changes in Soviet defensive systems led the Strategic Air Command to change to very low altitude flight as a means of evading radar. This was subjecting the airframes to unexpected stresses. “Ten-Twenty-Three” (its serial number was 61-023, shortened on the vertical fin to “1023”) had been returned to Boeing Wichita by the Air Force to be instrumented to investigate the effects of high-speed, low-altitude flight on the 245-ton bomber.

Flying at 14,300 feet (4,359 meters) and 345 knots (397 miles per hour, 639 kilometers per hour), indicated air speed, the airplane encountered severe clear air turbulence and lost the vertical stabilizer. Several B-52s had been lost under similar circumstances. (Another, a B-52D, was lost just three days later at Savage Mountain, Maryland.)

East Spanish Peak (left), 12,688 feet (3,867 meters) and West Spanish Peak, 13,626 feet (4,153 meters), Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado. (Footwarrior)
East Spanish Peak (left), 12,688 feet (3,867 meters) and West Spanish Peak, 13,626 feet (4,153 meters), Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado. (Footwarrior)
Charles F. Fisher. (Argenta Images)
Charles F. Fisher. (Argenta Images)

Chuck Fisher immediately took control of the B-52. He later reported,

“As the encounter progressed, a very sharp-edged blow which was followed by many more. We developed an almost instantaneous rate of roll at fairly high rate. The roll was to the far left and the nose was swinging up and to the right at a rapid rate. During the second portion of the encounter, the airplane motions actually seemed to be negating my control inputs. I had the rudder to the firewall, the column in my lap, and full wheel, and I wasn’t having any luck righting the airplane. In the short period after the turbulence I gave the order to prepare to abandon the airplane because I didn’t think we were going to keep it together.”

A Boeing report on the incident, based on installed sensors and instrumentation aboard -023, said that the bomber had

“. . . flown through an area containing the combined effects of a (wind) rotor associated with a mountain wave and lateral shear due to airflow around a mountain peak. . . Gust initially built up from the right to a maximum of about 45 feet per second [13.7 meters per second] (TAS), then reversed to a maximum of 36 feet per second [11 meters per second] from the left, before swinging to a maximum of about 147 feet per second [44.8 meters per second] from the left followed by a return to 31 feet per second [9.5 meters per second].”

Fisher flew the bomber back to Wichita and was met by a F-100 Super Sabre chase plane. When the extent of the damage was seen, the B-52 was diverted due to the gusty winds in Kansas. Six hours after the damage occurred, Chuck Fisher safely landed the airplane at Eaker Air Force Base, Blythville, Arkansas. He said it was, “the finest airplane I’ve ever flown.”

Boeing B-52H-170-BW Stratofortress 61-023, "Ten-Twenty-Three", after losing the vertical fin, 10 January 1964. (Boeing)
Boeing B-52H-170-BW Stratofortress 61-023, “Ten-Twenty-Three”, after losing the vertical fin, 10 January 1964. (Boeing)

61-023 was repaired and returned to service. It remained active with the United States Air Force until it was placed in storage at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, 24 July 2008.

Charles F. Fisher and the Boeing test crew with B-52H Stratofortress 61-023. (Boeing)
Charles F. Fisher at left,  and the Boeing test crew with B-52H Stratofortress 61-023. (Boeing)

The B-52H is a sub-sonic, swept wing, long-range strategic bomber. It has a crew of five. The airplane is 159 feet, 4 inches (48.6 meters) long, with a wing span of 185 feet (56.4 meters). It is 40 feet, 8 inches (12.4 meters) high to the top of the vertical fin. Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 488,000 pounds (221,353 kilograms).

There are eight Pratt & Whitney TF33-PW-3 turbofan engines mounted in two-engine pods suspended under the wings on four pylons. Each engine produces a maximum of 17,000 pounds of thrust (75.620 kilonewtons). The TF-33 is a two-spool axial-flow turbofan engine with 2 fan stages, 14-stage compressor stages (7 stage intermediate pressure, 7 stage high-pressure) and and 4-stage turbine (1 stage high-pressure, 3-stage low-pressure). The engine is 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.0 inches (1.346 meters) in diameter and weighs 3,900 pounds (15,377 kilograms).

The B-52H can carry approximately 70,000 pounds (31,750 kilograms) of ordnance, including free-fall bombs, precision-guided bombs, thermonuclear bombs and cruise missiles, naval mines and anti-ship missiles.

The bomber’s cruise speed is 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour) and its maximum speed is 650 miles per hour (1,046 kilometers per hour) at 23,800 feet (7,254 meters) at a combat weight of 306,350 pounds. Its service ceiling is 47,700 feet (14,539 meters) at the same combat weight. The unrefueled range is 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers).

With inflight refueling, the Stratofortress’s range is limited only by the endurance of its five-man crew.

The B-52H is the only version still in service. 102 were built and as of 27 September 2016, 76 are still in service. Beginning in 2013, the Air Force began a fleet-wide technological upgrade for the B-52H, including a digital avionics and communications system, as well as an internal weapons bay upgrade. The bomber is expected to remain in service until 2040.

Boeing B-52H-170-BW Stratofortress 61-023 taxiing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. (Senior Airman Cassandra Jones, U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52H-170-BW Stratofortress 61-023 taxiing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. (Senior Airman Cassandra Jones, U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 January 1956

Lieutenant Barty R. Brooks, USAFR, standing on the wing of a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, Korea, 1954. (U.S. Air Force)

10 January 1956: First Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks, United States Air Force Reserve, a pilot assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing, Detachment 12, at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, along with two other pilots from the same unit, Captain Rusty Wilson and Lieutenant Crawford Shockley, picked up three brand new F-100C Super Sabre fighters at the North American Aviation Inc. assembly plant at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. It was to be a short flight, as these three jets were being taken to nearby George Air Force Base, Adelanto, California, only 42.5 miles (68.4 kilometers) to the east. Brooks was flying F-100C-20-NA, serial number 54-1907.

This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors ling is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at teh center hinge. Thi spin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been reinstalled before Lt. Brooks' flight.
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors link is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at the center hinge. This pin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been secured with a safety pin when it was reinstalled before Lt. Brooks’ flight. (Michael Benolkin)

The brief flight was uneventful until the pilots lowered the landing gear to land at George AFB. One of the other pilots saw that the scissors link joining the upper and lower sections of the nose gear strut on Brooks’ Super Sabre was loose. Concerned that he would not be able to steer the fighter after touching down, Brooks diverted to Edward Air Force Base, 36 miles (57 kilometers) to the northwest, where a larger runway and more emergency equipment was available. Captain Wilson escorted Lieutenant Brooks to Edwards.

The F-100C Super Sabre had no flaps and required a high speed landing approach. Lieutenant Brooks had only 674 total flight hours as a pilot, and just 39 hours in the F-100.

During his final approach to the runway Brooks allowed the fighter to slow too much and the outer portion of the wings stalled and lost lift. This shifted the wings’ center of lift forward, which caused the airplane to pitch up, causing even more of the outer wing to stall.

Lieutenant Brooks fought to regain control of the airplane, but he was unable to. At 4:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, the F-100 crashed on the runway and exploded. Barty Ray Brooks was killed.

Edwards Air Force Base is the center of flight testing for the U.S. Air Force. In preparation for a test later that afternoon, the base film crews had their equipment set up along the runway and captured the last seconds of Brook’s flight on film. This is the most widely seen crash footage, and is still in use in pilot training. It is named “The Sabre Dance.”

Still image from cine film of Barty Brooks’ F-100C Super Sabre just before it crashed at Edwards Air Force Base, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

Barty Ray Brooks was born in Martha Township,  Oklahoma, 2 December 1929. He was the third child of Benjamin Barto Brooks, a farmer, and Maye Henry Brooks. The family later moved to Lewisville, Texas. Brooks graduated from Lewisville High School in 1948, then studied agriculture at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

Barty Ray Brooks, 1950. (Aggieland ’50)

While at Texas A&M, Brooks was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.). On graduation, 30 May 1952, Brooks was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force Reserve.

Lieutenant Brooks was trained as a pilot at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, and Laredo Air Force Base, Texas. In 1954, he was assigned to the 311th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 58th Fighter Bomber Group, Taegu Air Base (K-2), Republic of South Korea. Brooks flew the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. When he returned to the United States he was assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing.

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks were interred at the Round Grove Cemetery, Lewisville, Texas.

The article, “The Deadly Sabre Dance,” by Alan Cockrell is highly recommended:

http://www.historynet.com/deadly-sabre-dance.htm

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 January 1954

The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)
The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. (Ed Coates Collection)

10 January 1954: British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 781 departed Ciampino Airport, Rome, Italy, at 0931 UTC, enroute to Heathrow Airport, London, England. The airliner was the first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet I, G-AYLP, serial number 06003. The flight crew were Captain Alan Gibson, First Officer William John Bury, Engineer Officer Frances Charles McDonald and Radio Officer Luke Patrick McMahon. There were two flight attendants, Frank L. Saunders and Jean Evelyn Clark, and 29 passengers. After departure began climbing toward its cruise altitude of 27,000 feet (8,230 meters).

At 0951 UTC, 20 minutes after takeoff, Captain Gibson was conversing by radio with another BOAC flight. It is presumed that Flight 781 had reached its cruise altitude. Captain Gibson was heard to say, “George How Jig from George Yoke Peter [the phonetic alphabet call signs for Argonaut G-ALHJ and Comet G-AYLP] did you get my—” and the transmission suddenly ended. Nothing more was heard from Flight 781 and it did not arrive at its destination.

Several fishermen had seen the airliner crash into the Mediterranean Sea near the island of Elba and recovered bodies of the victims, which were found to have suffered the effects of explosive decompression.

Wreckage of Comet G-AYLP was found on the sea floor, 12 February 1954, and it was apparent that the airliner had broken up in flight. Consideration was given to the possibility of a bomb having been placed aboard, or that an uncontained turbojet engine failure had penetrated the pressure cabin resulting in a structural failure of the fuselage through explosive decompression.

De Havilland Comet 1 G-AYLP (Crash-aerien)
De Havilland Comet 1 G-AYLP (www.crash-aerien.news)

After two prototypes, G-AYLP was the first production Comet. It was the fourth DH.106 to be lost in just over fourteen months. With the cause of Flight 781’s crash undetermined, B.O.A.C. grounded its remaining Comet airliners. De Havilland engineers recommended more than 60 modifications to improve perceived weaknesses in the Comet fleet.

Extensive testing by the Royal Aircraft Establishment determined that the Comet’s pressurized fuselage could be expected to fail from metal fatigue after 1,000 pressurization/depressurization cycles. G-AYLP had experienced 1,290 pressurization cycles during the 3,681 hours it had flown since its first flight, 9 January 1951.

The Royal Aircraft Establishment placed DH.106 Comet I G-AYLU in a water tank to conduct pressurization tests. (lessonslearned.faa.gov)
The Royal Aircraft Establishment placed DH.106 Comet I G-AYLU in a water tank to conduct pressurization tests. (lessonslearned.faa.gov)

Reconstruction of G-ALYP’s fuselage revealed that a fatigue crack had begun at a rivet hole of a square opening for the airplane’s automatic direction finder antenna. With the differential in pressure from inside and outside the passenger cabin, this crack had spread along the top of the fuselage through a passenger window and back to to the elevators at the tail. The fuselage structure then failed explosively and the airplane’s tail section came off. The wings then failed and fuel carried inside caught fire. The cockpit section tore away from the remaining fuselage section.

In reporting the Probable Cause of the destruction of G-AYLP, the committee wrote,

We have formed the opinion that the accident at Elba was caused by structural failure of the pressure cabin, brought about by fatigue. We reach this opinion for the following reasons:

(i) The low fatigue resistance of the cabin has been demonstrated by the test described in Part 3, and the result is interpretable as meaning that there was, at the age of the Elba aeroplane, a definite risk of fatigue failure occurring.

(ii) The cabin was the first part of the aeroplane to fail in the Elba accident.

(iii) The wreckage indicates that the failure in the cabin was the same basic type as that produced in the fatigue test.

(iv) This explanation seems to us to be consistent with all the circumstantial evidence.

(v) The only other defects found in the aeroplane were not concerned at Elba, as demonstrated by the wreckage. Report of the Public Inquiry into the causes and circumstances of the accident which occurred on the 10th January 1954, to the Comet aircraft G-AYLP.

Four months later, April 8 1954, a Comet 1 operated by South African Airways as Flight 201 from Rome to Cairo, G-ALYY, crashed near Naples, Italy with the deaths of all 21 persons aboard. The airplane had explosively broken up at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters).

The de Havilland DH.106 Comet fleet was grounded and the Ministry of Transportation withdrew the type’s Certificate of Airworthiness. Production of the airliner at Hatfield came to a stop.

BOAC's DH.106 Comet I G-ALYW in long term storage at Heathrow, 12 September 1954. (RuthAS via Wikipedia)
BOAC’s DH.106 Comet I G-ALYW in long term storage at Heathrow, 12 September 1954. (RuthAS via Wikipedia)

De Havilland redesigned the Comet, and as the Comet 4 it had a successful career in airline operation. It eventually lost out to the faster, longer range Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. Production ceased in 1964 and B.O.A.C. retired its last Comet in 1965.

The Comet was again redesigned as the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 January 1948

Flight of three North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs, 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
Flight of North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs, 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., U.S. Air Force. (Kentucky National Guard)

7 January 1948: Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, received a request from the control tower at Godman Army Air Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky, to investigate an Unidentified Object visible to the southwest.

The object was observed by four members of the control tower staff for approximately 35 minutes, from 2:20–2:55 p.m., Central Standard Time.¹

Prior to the sighting by Godman Tower personnel, there had been several telephone calls to the tower from the Kentucky Highway Patrol, reporting numerous sightings by people in two towns which were 147 miles (237 kilometers) apart. The reported sightings were of a large, circular craft, moving at high speed.

Captain Mantell led C Flight, four North American Aviation F-51D ² Mustang fighters, in pursuit. Two pilots broke off because of low fuel, and Mantell became separated from his wingman. He reported that he was climbing through 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) with a large metallic object in sight. He then disappeared. . . .

A flight of North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard, circa 1947. (Kentucky Air National Guard)

It is probable that Captain Mantell lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen. The wreckage of his fighter, F-51D-25-NA serial number 44-63869, was found 5 miles (8 kilometers) southwest of Franklin, Kentucky (Mantell’s birthplace), which is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south southwest of Godman Field. Captain Mantell was dead. His wrist watch was stopped at 3:18.

Occurring exactly 6 months after “The Roswell Incident” in New Mexico, “The Mantell Incident” was one of the most publicized “UFO” reports of the 1950s.

The Air Force determined that Mantell was either chasing Venus or a top secret Project Skyhook balloon, and that he had lost consciousness due to hypoxia. The fighter broke up in flight. Looking back with the advantage of 70 years hindsight, the most likely explanation for the Mantell UFO is the balloon.

The wreck of Captain Mantell’s North American Aviation F-51D Mustang, 44-63869.

Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., was born at Franklin, Kentucky, 30 June 1922. He was the first of three children of Thomas Francis Mantell, a traveling salesman, and Claire Morrison Mantell.³ He graduated from Louisville Male High School in 1942.

Mantell married Miss Margarete (“Peggy”) Moseley. They would have two children, Thomas F. Mantell III, and Terry Lee Mantell.

Avn. Cad. Thomas F. Mantell

Mantell enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, as an aviation cadet, 16 June 1942. He graduated from flight school and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Army of the United States, 30 June 1943.

Lieutenant Mantell was assigned as a Douglas C-47 Skytrain pilot with the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group, Ninth Air Force, at RAF Bottesford. He flew in combat operations during the Normandy Campaign, and is credited with 107:00 flight hours of actual combat time.

On D-Day, Mantell’s Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Vulture’s Delight, was assigned to tow a  Waco CG-4A glider into the invasion zone. The Skytrain was heavily damaged by anti-aircraft fire. He successfully completed his mission and flew the incredibly damaged airplane back to England. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards) by the end of the war.

Thomas Mantell’s Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Vulture’s Delight, with damage from D-Day. The “6Z” painted on the forward fuselage identifies this airplane as from the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. (Saturday Night Uforia)

Following World War II, Captain Mantell joined the new 165th Fighter Squadron, 123 Fighter Group, Kentucky Air National Guard, which had been established 16 February 1947. The group was based at Standiford Field, Louisville (now, Louisville International Airport, SDF). Mantell transitioned from transport pilot to fighter pilot. In his civilian life, Mantell owned and operated a flight school in Louisville.

165th Fighter Squadron pilots. Mantell is in the front row, second from right. (Find A Grave)

Captain Mantell had flown a total of 2,167:00 hours, with 1,608:00 as first pilot. The majority of his flight experience was in the twin-engine Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport. He had only 67:00 hours in the F-51 Mustang. Studies have shown that pilots—regardless of their total flight experience—who have less than 100 hours in type have the same accident rate as a student pilot.

There were unsubstantiated rumors that Mantell’s body had been burned or had been riddled with bullets. The actual cause of his death was described by the medical examiner as “dislocation of the brain.”

Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., was the first flight casualty of the Kentucky Air National Guard. He was buried at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville.

Captain Mantell’s fighter had served with the 358th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, the “Steeple Morden Strafers,” during World War II. It was assigned to Lieutenant Halbert G. Marsh, who is credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft on the ground, 16 April 1945. This photograph was taken at RAF Speke, Liverpool, following the War. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Mantell’s fighter, North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA Mustang 44-63869, was a very low-time airplane, having flown just 174 hours, 25 minutes, since it came off the assembly line at Inglewood, California, 15 December 1944. Its Packard V-1650-7 Merlin engine, serial number V-328830, had the same 174:25 TTSN.

¹ Sources vary as to the time of the incident, with some citing Central Standard Time, others Eastern Standard Time. The EST and CST boundary divides the state of Kentucky, which probably explains the discrepancies.

² The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was redesignated F-51 by the U.S. Air Force in 1948.

³ Some sources identify Mantell’s mother as Elsie Mary Morrison Mantell.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 January 1931

Photograph of Guy Menzies and two other men standing beside his Avro Avian biplane "Southern Cross Junior" at an unidentified aerodrome (probably Wellington), taken in 1931 by Sydney Charles Smith.
Photograph of Guy Menzies and two other men standing beside his Avro Avian biplane “Southern Cross Junior” at an unidentified aerodrome (probably Wellington), taken in 1931 by Sydney Charles Smith. National Library of New Zealand, Reference Number: PAColl-0224-23

7 January 1931: Guy Lambton Menzies flew an Avro 616 Sports Avian IV-A named Southern Cross Junior, solo across the Tasman Sea from Mascot Aerodrome, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, to New Zealand.

Concerned that aviation authorities would prevent his flight, Menzies had said that his destination was Perth, Western Australia.

Geographic relationship between Sydney and Hari Hari, (Google Maps)

While en route, severe weather blew the Avian off course. Seeing an area that appeared to be level ground, he landed at the La Fontaine Swamp, Hari Hari, Westland, on New Zealand’s South Island. The airplane flipped over.

Guy Menzies was unhurt. His flight had taken 11 hours, 45 minutes.

Hokitika postmaster Ralph Cox with pioneer aviator Guy Menzies, notifying Menzies' parents of his arrival in New Zealand. (Photograph from The Auckland Weekly News, 14 January 1931, via West Coast New Zealand History)
“Hokitika postmaster Ralph Cox with pioneer aviator Guy Menzies, notifying Menzies’ parents of his arrival in New Zealand.” (Photograph from The Auckland Weekly News, 14 January 1931, via West Coast New Zealand History)

According to Terry Mace’s website, A Fleeting Peace: Golden-Age Aviation in the British Empire (afleetingpeace.org), G-ABCF was repaired, but crashed again 21 April 1931 at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Another source states 12 April.) The Australian registration VH-UPT had been reserved for the airplane, but because of the crash, the registration was cancelled in June 1931.

Guy Menzies "Southern Cross Junior," an Avro Avian aircraft, upside down in a swamp at Harihari on the West Coast of New Zealand. Photographed by L A Inkster on the 7th of January 1931.
Inkster, Lawrence Andrew, 1897-1955. Guy Menzies Avro Avian aeroplane in a swamp at Hari Hari – Photograph taken by L A Inkster.. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-Transport-Aviation-Aircraft-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22751222

The Avro 616 Sports Avian was a two-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane, produced by A.V. Roe from 1926 to 1928. 405 were built. Guy Menzies’ airplane was a specially constructed variant, the Avro 616 Sports Avian IV-A, serial number 467, which had been ordered by Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C., and named Southern Cross Junior. Sir Charles had flown the airplane from England to Australia in 1930. (He had previously flown across the Pacific in 1928 with a Fokker F.VIIb/3m three-engine monoplane named Southern Cross). The Avian was registered to Sir Charles, 20 June 1930, identified as G-ABCF.

Avro 616 Sports Avian IV-A, G-ABCF, “Southern Cross Junior” (National Library of Australia PIC/3394/925 LOC LBUM 1090/11)

The Avian was constructed of wood-braced plywood panels, forming a tapered box. The sides and bottom were flat and the upper deck arched. The wings were built of two wooden spars with wood ribs, covered in doped fabric. The standard airplane was designed so that the wings could be folded alongside the fuselage.

G-ABCF was 24 feet, 5 inches (7.442 meters) long. Its wing span had been extended from the standard Avian’s 28 feet to 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters). The overall height was 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wings had a total area of 262.0 square feet (24.34 square meters), an increase of 18.0 square feet (1.67 square meters) over that of the standard Avian. The wings are slightly staggered. Both upper and lower wings had a chord of 4 feet, 9 inches (1.448 meters), with a vertical gap of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters).

(FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 1140, Vol. XXII, No. 44, 31 October 1930, at Page 1185)

It weighed 1,100 pounds (499 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 2,225 pounds (1,009 kilograms).

The Avian’s standard 105 horsepower A.D.C. Cirrus Hermes engine was replaced with an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 349.89-cubic-inch-displacement (5.734 liter) de Havilland Gipsy II inline 4-cylinder direct-drive engine, rated at 112.5 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., and122.5 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. The engine turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters). The Gipsy II weighed 295 pounds (134 kilograms).

In addition to the standard 24 Imperial gallon (109 liter) fuel tank, a welded-aluminum tank with a capacity of 91 gallons (414 liters) was installed in the forward cockpit. The airplane carried 3.5 gallons (15.9 liters) of lubricating oil, with 2 gallons in the engine, and 1½ gallons in a reserve tank. The airplane was also equipped with a 2 gallon (9.1 liters) tank for drinking water.

The Sports Avian IV-A had a cruising speed of 92 miles per hour (148 kilometers per hour) with the engine turning 1,900 r.p.m., and maximum speed of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) at 2,100 r.p.m., at ground level, and 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), its service ceiling. It could climb to 10,000 feet in 41.5 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The range was calculated at 1,842 miles (2,964 kilometers) at 1,900 r.p.m.

Guy Menzies with his wrecked Avro Avian, G-ABCF, at the La Fontaine Swamp. (Archives New Zealand)
Guy Menzies with his wrecked Avro 616 Avian IV-A, G-ABCF, at the La Fontaine Swamp. (National Library of New Zealand MNZ-0780-1/4-F)

Guy Lambton Menzies was born 20 August 1909 at Drummoyne (a suburb of Sydney), New South Wales, Australia. He was the the second of four children of Dr. Guy Dixon Menzies, a physician and founder of Seacombe Hospital, and Ida Mabel Lambton Menzies.

Shortly after his flight across the Tasman Sea, Menzies traveled to England where he joined the Royal Air Force. He was granted a short service commission as a Pilot Officer on probation, with effect 11 July 1931. He was confirmed in that rank one year later, 11 July 1932. Pilot Officer Menzies was promoted to Flying Officer 11 January 1933.

Menzies’ short term commission was soon to come to an end, which would have resulted in his being transferred to the Reserve. However, he was selected for appointment to a permanent commission as a Flying Officer in April 1936, and promoted to Flight Lieutenant, effective 1 April 1936. Flight Lieutenant Menzies was granted a permanent commission in that rank with effect from 11 July 1936. He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader, 1 December 1938.

On 1 November 1940, Squadron Leader Menzies, No. 228 Squadron, Coastal Command, was flying a Short Sunderland Mk.I four-engine flying boat, N9020, from RAF Kalafrana, Malta, patrolling near Sicily. The airplane was attacked by Italian Air Force Macchi C.200 Saettta fighters ¹ and “was observed falling onto the sea. There were no reported survivors.” ²

A Short Sunderland Mk.I, W3989, of No. 228 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
A Short Sunderland Mk.I, W3989, of No. 228 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Squadron Leader Menzies’ younger brother, Flying Officer Ian Lambton Menzies, No. 24 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, was also killed in an airplane crash, 18 April 1941, near Ravenswood, North Queensland, Australia. The airplane, a Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Wirraway, A20-117, a development of North American Aviation’s NA-16 trainer, stalled during a steep turn.

Their mother, Mrs. Menzies, said,

“I have given my two sons to the Empire.”

The Daily Telegraph, 19 April 1941.

¹ Internet sources identify the Regia Aeronautica fighter pilots who shot down N9020 as Tenente Luigi Armanino and Sergent Maggiore Natalino Stabile of 88° Squadriglia, VI Gruppo.

² The members of Menzies’ crew: Flying Officer Stuart Maxwell Farries, 40098; Sergeant Elias Dawes, 568257; Sergeant Frederick Harris, 563782; Sergeant Edward Louis Setterfield, 543241; Sergeant George Arthur Stamp, 580074; Leading Aircraftman Leslie Charles Major Hale, 522295; Leading Aircraftman Ronald Fletcher, 535135; and Leading Aircraftman Benjamin Edwin Nicholas, 526309.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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