Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

27 September 1946

Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., OBE. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., O.B.E. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

27 September 1946: Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., O.B.E., Chief Test Pilot of the de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., and the son of the firm’s founder, was killed during a test flight of a prototype DH.108 Swallow, TG306.

Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., in the cockpit of the second DH.108 Swallow prototype, TG/306. (Flight)
Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., in the cockpit of the second DH.108 Swallow prototype, TG306. (FLIGHT)

De Havilland had taken off from the company airfield at Hatfield at 5:26 p.m. for a planned 45 minute flight. Flying over the Thames Estuary, east of London, England, de Havilland put the swept-wing jet into a high-speed dive from 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). As it approached 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) at 0.88 Mach, (658 miles per hour, 1,060 kilometers per hour), the shock waves building up along the wings’ leading edges disrupted the air flow over the wings, causing them to stall. TG306 pitched violently downward. A NASA report called this “. . . an undamped violently divergent longitudinal pitching oscillation at Mach 0.875. . . .”  The extreme aerodynamic loads cracked the main spar and both wings failed. The DH.108 crashed into Egypt Bay, Gravesend, Kent.

The wreck was located the following day. The body of Geoffrey de Havilland was found ten days later. He had suffered a broken neck and fractured skull as a result of his head striking the canopy during the violent oscillations of the aircraft.

(Grace’s Guide)

FLIGHT reported:

Geoffrey de Havilland was one of the outstanding test pilots in the country, and his work has played a vital part in the perfecting of such noteworthy types as the Mosquito, Hornet, Vampire and 108. His death is a serious blow not only to the company but to the country, for in the exploration of the unknown threshold of sonic flight, a combination of skill and cool courage are qualities demanding the utmost of test pilots. Geoffrey de Havilland had these qualities in a very high degree.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No.1971, Vol. 1, Thursday, 3 October 1946, at page 364

De Havilland DH.108 TG/306. (Unattributed)
De Havilland DH.108 TG306. (Unattributed)

The DH.108 was a single-seat, single-engine jet fighter prototype with swept wings and no conventional tail. It was similar in configuration to the Messerschmitt Me-163 rocket-powered interceptor. The first two prototypes, TG283 and TG306, were built using production English Electric DH.106 Vampire F.I fuselages. TG283 had a 43° sweep to the wings’ leading edge, while TG306 had a 45° sweep. The airplane was powered by a de Havilland Goblin 3 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine (a development of the Halford H.1) which produced 3,350 pounds of thrust (14.90 kilonewtons).

The first and third DH.108s also crashed. VW120 was destroyed on 15 February 1950 when it crashed after a dive. The left wing had separated and the pilot, Squadron Leader Stuart Muller-Rowland, also suffered a broken neck as a result of the airplane’s violent oscillations. On 1 May 1950, while conducting low-speed tests, TG283 went into an inverted spin. Squadron Leader George E.C. Genders, AFC, DFM, bailed out but his parachute did not open before he hit the ground and he was killed.

Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., exits the cockpit of one of the company's jet aircraft. (Photograph Courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., OBE, exits the cockpit of a DH.108 Swallow prototype. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 September 1978, 16:02:07 UTC

PSA Flight 182, on fire after mid-air collision, 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

25 September 1978: At 09:02:07 a.m., local time, the worst aircraft accident in California history occurred when a Boeing 727-214 airliner, civil registration N533PS, operated by Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) as Flight 182, crashed at the intersection of Dwight Street and Nile Street in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, 4,830 meters (3.00 miles) northwest of Lindbergh Field (SAN), today known as San Diego International Airport.

Flight 182 was a regularly scheduled commercial airline flight from Sacramento, California to San Diego, with a stopover at Los Angeles. Captain James E. McFeron, a 17-year veteran of PSA, was in command. First Officer Robert E. Fox was the pilot flying the 727 on this leg. The Flight Engineer (also called the Second Officer) was Martin J. Wahne. Also in the cockpit, occupying the two “jump seats” were two off-duty PSA captains. Four flight attendants were on duty in the passenger cabin along with 126 passengers, which included 30 PSA employees.

In clear weather and early morning sunlight, the airliner was on an visual approach to Lindbergh. The 727 passed over the Mission Bay VORTAC (MZB), a navigation aid 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) northwest of the airport, and turned left to a heading of 090° to intercept the downwind leg of the approach.

Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field.)
Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field), center near bottom of image. Montgomery field is at the upper right.

Ahead of the 727, a single-engine light airplane, a Cessna 172, N7711G, with an instructor and student aboard, had made two practice ILS approaches to Runway 9 at Lindbergh and departed to the northwest, returning to its base at Montgomery Field (MYF), 6.4 miles (10.3 kilometers) north-northeast of SAN.

Approach Control called, Cessna 7711G, radar contact, maintain VFR at or below 3500 [1,067 meters], fly heading 070, vector (for) final approach course.” The pilot of the Cessna, David T. Boswell, acknowledged the east-north-easterly heading and the altitude restriction. About 15 seconds later, at 08:59:39, the controller informed the 727, “Additional traffic’s twelve o’clock, three miles, just north of the field, northeastbound, a Cessna One Seventy-Two climbing VFR out of one thousand four hundred.” [427 meters] At 08:59:50, First Officer Fox reported, Okay, we’ve got that other twelve.”

Radar tracks show that N7711G initially maintained the assigned heading but after about one minute, turned 20° right to 090°, the same heading as that of Flight 182.

At 09:00:23, Approach Control acknowledged Flight 182: “Okay, sir, maintain visual separation, contact Lindbergh Tower 133.3. Have a nice day, now!”

Flight 182 switched radio frequencies and Captain McFeron checked in with the tower: “Lindbergh, PSA 182. Downwind.” The Tower Controller responded, “PSA 182, Lindbergh Tower, traffic 12 o’clock, one mile, a Cessna.”

In the cockpit there was confusion about the reported conflicting traffic ahead. Captain McFeron asked, “Is that the one we’re looking at?” Flight Engineer Wahne replied, “Yeah—but I don’t see him now.” McFeron called the Tower, “Okay, we had it there a minute ago.” The Controller replied, “One Eighty-Two, roger.” The Captain continued, “I think he’s passed off to our right.”

Inside the cockpit, McFeron said, “He was right over there a minute ago.” Wahne agreed, “Yeah.”

Lindbergh Tower authorized Flight 182 to land, “PSA 182—cleared to land,” and McFeron acknowledged with, “PSA 182’s cleared to land.” He then asked the Flight Engineer, “Are we clear of that Cessna?” Wahne said, “Supposed to be!” McFeron responded, “I guess.” In the cockpit’s jump seat, one of the two off-duty captains said, “I hope!”

At 09:01:21, Captain McFeron stated, “Oh, yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him about one o’clock, probably behind us now.”

First Officer Fox called for the wing flaps to be lowered and then at 09:01:31 he asked for the landing gear to be lowered. At 09:01:38, Fox said, There’s one underneath [pause] I was looking at that inbound there.” Flight 182 was now descending through 2,600 feet (793 meters).

At 09:01:47, the Flight 182’s Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up the sound of the collision.

The Boeing 727 struck the Cessna 172 from above and behind, destroying it. The airliner was heavily damaged and on fire. With the flight controls damaged, Flight 182 rolled and turned to the right. On a heading of approximately 200°, it crashed into residential neighborhood in a 300 mile per hour (483 kilometers per hour), 50° dive.

According to seismographs at the Museum of Natural History, San Diego, the impact occurred at 09:02:07 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (16:02:07 UTC).

The largest piece of the Cessna impacted six blocks away, near 32nd Street and Park Avenue.

PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978.
PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

All 135 persons aboard the 727, both persons on the Cessna, and seven persons on the ground were killed. Another nine persons on the ground were injured. Twenty-two homes in a four-block area were destroyed or damaged.

The last words of the flight deck personnel recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder were that of an unidentified voice saying, “Ma, I love you.”

Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Pilot in Command of Flight 182, Captain James E. McFeron, had been employed by Pacific Southwest Airlines since 1961. He held an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and was type-rated in both the Lockheed L-188 Electra and the Boeing 727. He had a total of 14,382 flight hours, with 10,482 hours in the Boeing 727.

First Officer Robert E. Fox, Jr., also held an ATP certificate. Of his 10,049 flight hours, 5,800 were in the 727. He had been with PSA for 9 years.

Flight Engineer Martin J. Wahne had worked for PSA for 11 years. He had 10,800 hours, with 6,587 hours in the Boeing 727.

The Pilot in Command of the Cessna was Gunnery Sergeant David Lee Boswell, U.S. Marine Corps, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. Gunnery Sergeant Boswell held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane—Single– and Multi–Engine Land ratings. He was receiving instrument flight instruction to apply for an Instrument Rating. Boswell had 407 total flight hours, and had flown 61 hours in the previous 90 days.

The Instructor Pilot on board the Cessna was Martin B. Kazy, Jr., an employee of the aircraft owner, Gibbs Flight Center at Montgomery Field. He held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane Single– and Multi–Engine Land, and Instrument–Airplane ratings. He had a total of 5,137 flight hours. Kazy had flown 347 hours in the previous 90 days.

Pacific Southwest Airlines' Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1975. (Edge to Edge Photography)
Pacific Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1974. (Edge to Edge Photography)

The aircraft operated as PSA Flight 182 was a Boeing 727–214, serial number 19688, which made its first flight 4 June 1968. At the time of the accident, the total time on the airframe (TTAF) was 24,088.3 hours. It had made 36,557 takeoffs and landings.

The Boeing 727–200 series was a stretched version of the original –100 model. It was designed to be operated by a flight crew of three, and could carry up to 189 passengers. The –200 was 153 feet, 2 inches (46.685 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters) and overall height of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters). The empty weight was 98,400 pounds (44,633 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 184,800 pounds (83,642 kilograms). The airliner was powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9 low-bypass axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 14,500 pounds of thrust at Sea Level for takeoff (5-minute limit), and 12,600 pounds of thrust, maximum continuous power. This gave the 727–200 a maximum cruise speed of 0.9 Mach (610 miles per hour, or 982 kilometers per hour, at 30,000 feet/9,144 meters). Its service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and the maximum range was 1,956 miles (3,148 kilometers).

1,832 727s were built by Boeing between 1963 and 1984. 1,245 of these were 727-200s.

This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center's N7711G. (Skytamer)
This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center’s N7711G. (Skytamer)

Cessna 172 N7711G was a 1975 Cessna 172M, serial number 17265788. It had 2,993 total flight hours on the airframe (TTAF). It was a single-engine, four-place light airplane with a high wing and fixed tricycle landing gear. 711G was painted white with “mustard” yellow trim. The 172M is 26 feet, 11 inches (8.201 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inch (10.973 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The empty weight is 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms) and gross weight is 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms). It is powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-E2D horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder direct-drive engine rated at 150 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The engine drives a two-bladed McCauley fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 3 inches (1.905 meters). The engine installed on N7711G engine had 3,086 total hours since new (TSN) and 879 hours since overhaul (TSO). The 172M has a cruise speed of 138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour) at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and a maximum speed of 142 miles per hour (229 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane’s service ceiling is 13,100 feet (3,993 meters) and its maximum range is 875 miles (1,408 kilometers).

More than 43,000 Cessna 172s have been built, more than any other airplane type.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 September 1921

Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet with a Spad-Herbemont, (S.20bis6) 9 October 1920. (Agence Meurisse 84138/BnF)

23 September 1921: While flight-testing the new Lumière-De Monge racer, Lieutenant Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was tragically killed in a crash.

Flight reported:

DEATH OF BERNARD DE ROMANET

     It is with the most profound regret that we have this week to place on record the accident which resulted in the death of one of France’s finest and most popular pilots, Count Bernard de Romanet. It appears that on September 23 de Romanet took the de Monge machine up for a trial flight. He had previously tested the machine as a biplane, but this is said to have been the first flight made with it as a monoplane; and it proved to be the last. According to reports, de Romanet took off well and climbed to a height of a few hundred metres. He then flattened out, and, it is thought, opened out the engine. The machine is stated by eye-witnesses to have “leapt forward” and to have proceeded at a great pace, judged to be over 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour. The fabric of the left wing was seen to lift and fly back from the wing. The machine heeled over to the left, but for a few seconds it looked as if de Romanet would regain control, as he managed to right the machine. It then, however, got into a dive, and is stated to have dived straight into the ground. Needless to say, the unfortunate pilot was killed instantly by the terrible shock.

     With regard to the cause of the accident, it is stated in our French contemporary L’Auto that it is though that the stitching of the fabric was at fault, the distances between the stitches which attached the fabric to the framework being 12 centimetres instead of the usual 2 centimetres.

     Le Marquis Bernard de Romanet came of a very old French family. He was born at Macon on January 28, 1894, and at the age of 18 he commenced his military service in the cavalry. He was made an officer during the War, and distinguished himself, first in the cavalry and later as a pilot. Bernard de Romanet was an officer of the Legion of Honour, and held the Croix de Guerre with 18 palms and the Medaille Militaire. At the end of the War he took to civil aviation, and was always a prominent figure in speed races, being the crack pilot of the Spad-Herbemont machines. At Monaco he won the speed race of 1920, and he put up a splendid flight in last year’s Gordon-Bennett race, in spite of a broken oil pipe which forced him to land smothered in oil.

     Some time ago de Romanet had a slight accident while testing a land machine with floatation gear. He alighted on the Seine, but the machine turned turtle instantly, and he was rescued by a motor-boat. While testing the de Monge machine for the Aerial Derby one of his wheels broke, without, however, causing serious damage to the machine. He was an interested spectator at the Derby, in which, but for the mishap, he would have been a competitor. His death will be regretted not only among his many friends, but in the world of aviation generally, for he was a great pilot, a great gentleman, and, last but not least, a real sportsman.

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 666 (No. 39, Vol. XIII), 29 September 1921, at Page 651

Lumière-de Monge.  (L’Aérophile, 15 September 1921, at Page 280)

Barny de Romanet’s racing airplane, the Lumière-de Monge, was designed by Vicomte Louis-Pierre de Monge de Franeau, and built by Establissements Lumière. It was a strut-braced biplane which could rapidly be converted to a monoplane. The airplane was 7 meters (22 feet, 11.6 inches) long, with an upper wing span of 8 meters (26 feet, 3.0 inches) and lower span of 6 meters (19 feet, 8.2 inches). Its height was 2.75 meters (9 feet, 0.3 inches). The chord of the upper wing was 2.60 meters (8 feet, 6.4 inches) at the root, narrowing to 1.40 meters (4 feet, 7.1 inches) at the tips. The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings was 1.10 meters (3 feet, 7.3 inches). The plan of the upper wing was distinctively trapezoidal and had an area of 15 square meters (161.46 square feet). The lower, 5 square meters (53.82 square feet). It weighed 950 kilograms (2,094 pounds).

Lumière-de Monge biplane racer (Les Ailes. Premiere Annee—Nº 10., Thursday, 25 August 1921, at Page 2, Columns 4–5)

The Lumière-de Monge was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 18.472 liter (1,127.265-cubic-inch-displacement) Hispano-Suiza 8Fb V-8 engine, with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The direct-drive engine had a normal power rating of 300 horsepower at 1,850 r.p.m., and could produce a maximum of 400 horsepower. The V-8 engine had a dry weight of 360 kilograms (793.663 pounds). A Lamblin cylindrical radiator was placed above the upper wing.

The de Monge V.a. (FLIGHT, No. 655 (Vol. XIII, No. 29), 21 July 1921, at Page 492)

Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was born at Saint-Maurice-de-Satonnay, Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France, 28 January 1894. He was the son of Léonard Jean Michel Barny de Romanet and Marie Noémie Isabelle de Veyssière. He descended from a very old French family.

Bernard Barny de Romanet joined the Cavalry at the age of 18 years, and was assigned to the 16º Regiment de Chasseaurs, 6 December 1912. During World War I, he served with both cavalry and infantry regiments as a Maréchel de Logis (master sergeant) before transferring to the Aéronautique Militaire in July 1915, as a photographer and observer.

After completing flight training in 1916, de Romanet was assigned as a pilot. In early 1918, de Romanet trained as a fighter pilot. He shot down his first enemy airplane 23 May 1918, for which he was awarded the Médaille Militaire, and was promoted to Adjutant (warrant officer). De Romanet was commissioned as a Sous-Lieutenant (equivalent to a second lieutenant in the United States military) several months later. After a fourth confirmed victory he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (first lieutenant).

By August 1918, Lieutenant de Romanet was in command of Escadrille 167. He was officially credited with having shot down 18 enemy aircraft, sharing credit for 12 with other pilots. He claimed an additional 6 airplanes destroyed.

Lieutenant de Romanet was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with three  étoiles en vermeil (silver gilt) stars and 10 palmes.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 September 1966

Ansett-ANA Vickers Vicount Type 832, VH-RMI. (The Airways Museum & Civil Aviation Historical Society)
Ansett-ANA Vickers Viscount Type 832, VH-RMI. (The Airways Museum & Civil Aviation Historical Society)

22 September 1966: Ansett-ANA Flight 149, a Vickers Viscount Type 832 medium-range airliner, registration VH-RMI, departed Mount Isa Airport (ISA) at 12:08 p.m., enroute to Longreach Airport (LRE), both located in Queensland, Australia. Captain John Kenneth Cooper was in command, with First Officer John Gillam. The two flight attendants (“air hostesses”) were Beverly Heeschen, aged 24, and Narell Davis, 19. There were twenty passengers aboard.

At 12:52 p.m., Flight 149 reported, “Longreach this is Romeo Mike India on emergency descent.” Two minutes later it reported that there were fire warnings for both the Number 1 and Number 2 engines. Captain Cooper radioed, “I have an engine on fire. The other is stopped and I can’t feather it. Request permission to divert to Winton.” [Winton Airport, WIN]

Wing of Vickers Vicount VH-RMI. (Flight Safety Australia)

While descending between 4,000 and 3,500 feet (1,200 and 1,067 meters) above ground level (AGL) at 170 knots, the airliner’s left wing failed between the Number 1 and Number 2 engines. The wing folded up and over, striking the top of fuselage which was cut open by the propeller of the Number 1 engine. The mid-cabin structure above the floor was torn away and the rear of the fuselage broke off. Air Hostesses Davis and Heeschen, along with several passengers, were pulled out of the cabin by the slipstream.

—The Sydney Morning Herald, No. 40,176, Friday, 23 September 1966, Page 1

The remainder of the airplane—the forward fuselage, lower mid fuselage, right wing with engines 3 and 4, impacted the ground 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) west southwest of Winton, Queensland. The wreck was engulfed in flames. All those aboard were killed.

The accident investigation determined that the probable cause of the crash was:

The means of securing the oil metering unit to the no.2 cabin blower became ineffective and this led to the initiation of a fire within the blower, which propagated to the wing fuel tank and substantially reduced the strength of the main spar upper boom. It is probable that the separation of the oil metering unit arose from an out-of-balance condition induced by rotor break-up but the source of the rotor break-up could not be determined.

Engine of Vickers Viscount VH-RMI. (Flight Safety Australia)

Captain Cooper had flown Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats with the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II. He joined Ansett-ANA in 1951. At the time of the accident, he had a total of approximately 14,300 flight hours. Captain Roland E. Black, who had conducted Cooper’s last airline proficiency check, described him as a “well above average pilot.”

The Vickers Viscount was a four-engine turboprop-powered civil transport which first flew in 1948. It was in production from 1948 to 1963 with 445 airplanes built. VH-RMI was a  Vickers Viscount Type 832, one of three built for Ansett-ANA in 1959 by Vickers-Armstrongs, Ltd., at Bournemouth-Hurn Airport, Dorset, England. It was operated by a flight crew of 2 and had 56 passenger seats, of which 4 were in a rear lounge. In the seven-and-a-half  years since its first flight, VH-RMI had accumulated 18,634 flight hours.

The airliner was 85 feet, 6 inches (26.060 meters) long with a wingspan of 93 feet, 8 inches (29.464 meters) and overall height of 26 feet, 9 inches (8.153 meters). Empty weight of the similar Type 810 was 41,276 pounds (18,723 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 67,500 pounds (30,618 kilograms).

The Type 832 Viscount was powered by four Rolls-Royce RB.53 Dart Mk.525 (RDa.7/1) turboprop engines. The Dart was an axial-flow engine with a 2-stage centrifugal compressor, 7 combustion chambers and a 3-stage turbine. The Mk.525 was rated at 1,910 shaft horsepower at 15,000 r.p.m., with 470 pounds of residual thrust (2.09 kilonewtons). It was derated to 1,800 s.h.p. for takeoff. The Dart Mk.525 is 8 feet, 1.6 inches (2.479 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.9 inches (0.963 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,207 pounds (547.5 kilograms). The turboprop engines drove four-bladed Rotol constant-speed propellers which had a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters).

The Viscount had a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour), range of 1,380 miles (2,221 kilometers) and service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

Wreckage of Ansett-ANA Flight 149 at Nadjayamba Station, Queensland, September 1966. (Unattributed)
Wreckage of the tail section  Ansett-ANA Flight 149 at Nadjayamba Station, Queensland, September 1966. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 September 1958

Avro Vulcan VX770.
The first of two prototypes, Avro Type 698 VX770. (BAE Systems)

20 September 1958: The first prototype Avro Vulcan strategic bomber, VX770, piloted by Rolls-Royce test pilot Keith Roland Sturt, was on a test flight from the Rolls-Royce Flight Test Establishment, RAF Hucknall, when it diverted to make a scheduled fly-past for an air show being held at RAF Syerston in Nottinghamshire. Also aboard were Co-Pilot Ronald W. Ward of Fairey Aviation; Rolls-Royce Flight Engineer William E. Howkins; and Navigator, Flight Lieutenant Raymond M. (“Polly”) Parrott, Royal Air Force.

VX770 approched RAF Syerstone at 12:57 p.m. (GMT) and flew east along Runway 07–25 at about 250 feet (76 meters). As the Vulcan passed the control tower at an estimated speed of 350 knots, it began a right turn.

Seen from below, VX770 shows the full delta wing of the prototype. Production aircraft used a modified wing with curved leading edges in order to delay compressibility effects at high speeds. (Unattributed)
Seen from below, VX770 shows the full delta wing of the prototypes. Production aircraft used a modified wing with curved leading edges in order to delay compressibility effects at high speeds. (Unattributed)

Witnesses saw a “kink” form in the leading edge of the Vulcan’s right wing, which then began to disintegrate from the leading edge aft. Wing surface panels could be seen being stripped off before the wing spar failed completely. Clouds of fuel from ruptured tanks trailed as the bomber rolled to the left. The top of the vertical fin came off, the nose pitched upward toward vertical, then straight down, and with both wings on fire, the airplane crashed near the east end of the runway.

All four crew members were killed, as were three RAF fire/rescue personnel on the ground. Several others were injured.

The right wing of Avro Vulcan VX770 disintegrates.
The right wing of Avro Vulcan VX770 disintegrates. (© Mary Evans/The National Archives, London, England)
Clouds of vaporized fuel trail the doomed bomber.
Clouds of vaporized fuel trail the doomed bomber. (Unattributed)
Vulcan VX770 crashed at the east end of Runway 07-25.
Vulcan VX770 crashed at the east end of Runway 07-25. Debris spread over 1,400 feet (427 meters). (MEV-10473694 © Mary Evans/The National Archives, London, England)

A short video clip of the fly-by and crash can be seen on You Tube:

The cause of the Vulcan’s wing failure was not determined. Metal fatigue was suspected. The airplane had been used in flight testing for six years and it is possible that it’s design limits may have been exceeded during that period. There was also speculation that vibrations from the new Rolls-Royce Conway “bypass turbojet” engine, which is now called a turbofan, may have weakened the wing.

According to the investigative report, Keith Sturt was considered to be an “above average” and “capable and careful” pilot. He had accumulated 1,644 hours of flight time over six years. He had flown VX770 for 91 hours, 40 minutes. Sturt was a former Flight Lieutenant of the Royal Air Force, having been inducted into the service in 1945.

VX770 was the first of two Type 698 prototypes built by A.V. Roe & Co., Ltd., at Woodford, Cheshire. It made its first flight 30 August 1951 with Chief Test Pilot R.J. “Roly” Falk. Originally equipped with Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.3 turbojet engines, these were soon replaced with more powerful Armstrong Siddely Sapphire A.S.Sa.6 engines. During modification in 1953, fuel cells were added to the wings. As production airplanes were built with Bristol Olympus Mk.102 engines, VX770 was modified accordingly. During its final flight, it was powered by Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.10 turbofans.

Keith Roland Sturt was born in Guildford, Surrey, England, 20 April 1929, the son of George Sturt and Daisy May Raveney Sturt. On 20 June 1957, Sturt married Mrs. Colin Weal Coulthard (née Norah Ellen Creighton) in Surrey.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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