Tag Archives: British Overseas Airways Corporation

19 May 1959

Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental N31241 (Associated Press)

19 May 1959: The first Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, FAA registration N31241, made a 1 hour, 11 minute first flight from Renton to Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington.  The -436 was a stretched version of the original 707-120, but with Rolls-Royce Conway 508 bypass turbojet engines (now called turbofans) in place of the standard Pratt & Whitney JT3C-6 turbojet engines.

The fuselage and wings of the Intercontinental were lengthened, allowing an increased load and greater fuel capacity. It could carry 189 passengers and had a range 1,600 miles further than the -120. Transoceanic flights without an intermediate fuel stop were possible.

This airplane was the first of 15 which had been ordered by British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1956. It was re-registered G-APFB and delivered to BOAC 9 May 1960.

Boeing 707 Intercontinental “hero shot” from Boeing website. (Boeing)

Initially, British aviation authorities refused to certify the -436 because of low-speed handling concerns. Boeing increased the height of the vertical fin 40 inches and added a ventral fin. These modifications became standard on all future 707s and were retro-fitted to those already manufactured.

G-APFB served BOAC until 1974, and then with other airlines. It was sold to Boeing Commercial Airplane Company in 1976. The forward fuselage and cabin was shipped to Renton for use in Boeing’s E-3A Sentry program. The remainder of the airliner was scrapped in 1978.

The Boeing 707-420 series airliners were 152 feet, 11 inches (46.609 meters) long, with a wingspan of 142 feet, 5 inches (43.409 meters) and overall height 42 feet, 2 inches (12.852 meters) at its operating empty weight. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces are swept 35°. The fuselage has a maximum diameter of 12 feet, 8.0 inches (3.759 meters). The 707 International has a typical empty weight of 142,600 pounds (64,682 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 312,000 pounds (141,700 kilograms). The usable fuel capacity is 23,820 gallons (90,169 liters).

All 707-series aircraft are powered by four jet engines installed in nacelles below and forward of the wings on pylons. The -420 Internationals were powered by Rolls-Royce Conway Mk. 508 engines. The Rolls-Royce Conway (R.Co.12) is a two-spool, axial-flow, low-bypass turbofan engine. The engine has a 7-stage low- and 9-stage high-pressure compressor section, 12 interconnected combustion liners, with a single-stage high- and 2-stage low-pressure turbine. The Mk. 508 has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 14,625 pounds of thrust (65.055 Kilonewtons), and 17,500 pounds of thrust (77.844 Kilonewtons) at 9,990 r.p.m., for Takeoff. The engine is 3 feet, 6.0 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter, 11 feet, 4.0 inches (3.454 meters) long, and weighs 4,542 pounds (2,060 kilograms).

The -420 series had a maximum cruise speed of 593 miles per hour 954 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)—0.87 Mach; and economical cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10668 meters).

Boeing built 1,010 Model 707 airplanes between 1957 and 1979. Of these, 37 were the 707-420 Intercontinental variant.

A British Overseas Airways Corporation Boeing 707 Intercontinental airliner, similar in appearance to G-APFB. (Travell Update)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

2 May 1952

B.O.A.C. de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, departs London, 2 May 1952. (British Airways)

2 May 1952: At 15:12 GMT, the British Overseas Airways Corporation’s de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, departed London for Johannesburg, South Africa, with 36 passengers and a crew of 7. The approximate 7,000 mile (11,265 kilometer) flight was expected to take 23 hours, 40 minutes with intermediate stops at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. There were crew changes at Beirut and Khartoum. BOAC’s chairman, Sir Miles Thomas, joined the flight at Livingstone for the final stage.

G-AYLP arrived at Johannesburg at 14:38 GMT, 3 May, fourteen minutes ahead of schedule. This was the very first regularly-scheduled revenue passenger flight for a jet airliner.

The AAP reported on the Comet’s arrival at Entebbe:

Record-shooting Comet nears end of long jet flight

KHARTOUM, Sat.: The Comet airliner opening the first jet passenger service is now hurtling across Africa at nearly 500 m.p.h. on the last stages of the London-Johannesburg flight.

The Comet arrived at Entebbe, Uganda at 3.30 p.m. Adelaide time, exactly on schedule.

The eight-miles-a-minute jet will stop next at Livingstone.

It is now on the fifth and second-last leg of its southward dash.

At Beirut the first crew, skippered by Capt. A.M. Majendie, handed the plane over to a fresh crew with Capt. J.T Marsden as skipper.

A third crew, commanded by Capt. R.C. Alabaster, took over at Khartoum.

Official air mileages on the plane’s route are:

London–Rome 930
Rome–Beirut, 1,385.
Beirut–Khartoum, 1,330.
Khartoum–Entebbe, 1,090.
Entebbe–Livingstone, 1,320.
Livingstone–Johannesburg, 608.
Total, 6,663 miles.

Reached 525 m.p.h.

Between Rome and Beirut, the plane established a new world record by reaching 525 m.p.h, beating its own previous trial performances.

The plane is carrying 36 fare-paying passengers and a crew of five.

During the flight, passengers relaxed luxuriously in the dove-grey and dark-blue pressurized cabin as the Comet, hurtling along at more than 230 yards a second, created an impression of motionless suspension.

One of the two women passengers sketched out during the flight the first music ever written in a jetliner.

“It is the ‘Comet Prelude,’ ” explained Miss Avril Coleridge-Taylor, who is the daughter of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, famous composer, who died in 1912.

Miss Taylor, who is in her early forties, is to conduct a symphony concert in South Africa.

The first man to book on the Comet, Mr. Albert Henshaw, 63, of Lincolnshire, has been flying since World War I.

“I’ve been in them all and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

“This may be as near to heaven as I’ll ever get—and it’s well worth it.”

Mother better

Another passenger is Steven Naude, a young South African who was given a mercy seat in the Comet to Johannesburg when he heard that his mother was lying dangerously ill in Bethlehem, Northwestern Free State.

The latest message from Cape Town reports a slight improvement. —AAP

The Mail, Adelaide, South Australia, Saturday, 3 May 1952, Page 2, Columns 2–4.

A BOAC de Havilland Comet jet airliner, en route to Johannesburg from London, breaks its journey at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, 1952. (Ministry of Information official photographer)
“A BOAC de Havilland Comet jet airliner, en route to Johannesburg from London, breaks its journey at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, 1952.” (Ministry of Information official photographer)

The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner and its introduction had revolutionized the industry.

DH.106 Comet 1 G-AYLP (Works No. 06003) was the first production airplane and was very similar to the two prototypes. It can be visually identified by its square passenger windows.

The Comet I was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator. The airliner could carry up to 44 passengers. (B.O.A.C. configured the airliner with 36 passenger seats.)

The airplane was 93 feet (28.346 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 27 feet, 10 inches (8.484 meters). The wings were swept 20°, as measured at ¼ chord. The fuselage had a maximum outside diameter of 10 feet, 3 inches (3.124 meters), and 9 feet, 9 inches (2.972 meters) inside. The Comet 1 had an authorised maximum all-up weight of 107,000 pounds (48,534 kilograms).

Cut-away illustration of de Havilland Comet I G-ALYP by artist Laurence Dunn. (Aerosurance)

The Comet I was powered by four de Havilland Engine Co., Ltd., Ghost 50 Mk.I turbojet engines. The Ghost was a single-shaft centrifugal-flow turbojet with a single-stage compressor, 10 combustion chambers and a single-stage turbine. It was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons) at 10,250 r.p.m. The Ghost 50 had a maximum diameter of 4 feet, 5 inches (1.346 meters), length of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters) and dry weight of 2,218 pounds (1,006 kilograms). When first placed in service, the engines required a combustion chamber inspection at 125 hour intervals. A complete overhaul was required every 375 hours. The Ghost was the first turbojet certified for civil airliner operations.

A de Havilland Engine Company advertisement in the Illustrated London News, circa 1950.

The Comet I had a maximum cruising speed of 490 miles per hour (789 kilometers per hour), True Air Speed, and operating altitude of 35,000 to 40,000 feet (10,668–12,192 meters). The airliner’s fuel capacity was 6,050 Imperial gallons (27,504 liters, or 7,266 U.S. gallons) giving a practical stage length of 2,140 miles (3,444 kilometers). The maximum range was 3,860 miles (6,212 kilometers).

Twelve DH.106 Comet 1 airliners were built.

G-ALYP suffered catastrophic explosive decompression while flying over the Mediterranean Sea, 10 January 1954. This was the first of two accidents caused by metal fatigue in the fuselage as a result of expansion and contraction during pressurization cycles. The DH.106 Comet I fleet was grounded and the aircraft were removed from service.

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

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

8 April 1968

Barbara Jane Harrison, GC
Miss Barbara Jane Harrison, British Overseas Airways Corporation
This photograph shows Speedbird 712 over Thorpe, Surrey. The Number two Engine is circled at the lower right.

8 April 1968: British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 712, call sign Speedbird 712, a Boeing 707-465 Intercontinental registered G-ARWE, departed London Heathrow for Sydney, Australia, with 116 passengers and 11 crew. Approximately 20 seconds after takeoff, there was a loud bang and severe shudder as the Number Two jet engine failed catastrophically. The flight crew started through emergency procedures while calling MAYDAY and turning back toward the airport. The failed engine fell off the left wing which then caught fire as fuel continued to flow. Three minutes, thirty-two seconds after takeoff, Speedbird 712 touched down on Runway 05 and rapidly came to a stop. Fuel continued to burn, and the airliner’s cabin crew began evacuating passengers.

Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison was among the crew members who helped passengers escape from the burning Boeing 707. The exit slide had not deployed correctly and Miss Harrison was encouraging passengers to jump to the runway surface, and in some cases, even pushed them out. She was seen standing in a doorway as the flames and smoke spread, and people below, including the airplane’s captain, Cliff Taylor, shouted at her to jump. Instead, she turned away and went back inside, presumably to help a disabled passenger in a wheelchair. She gave her life to help others. Later, the bodies of Miss Harrison and the disabled passenger were found together in the burned out wreck. Four other passengers also died.

For her gallantry in saving the lives of others at the cost of her own, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

Barbara Jane Harrison was 22 years old.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.1

8th August 1969.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.

GEORGE CROSS

Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.

     On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.

—Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969, Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8211, Column 1.

BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.
BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.

Only four women have been awarded the George Cross: Violet Szabó, Odette Sansom, Noor Inayat Khahn, all three secret intelligence agents for England’s Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) during World War II, and Barbara Jane Harrison.

Barbara Jane Harrison was born at Kingsdale Crescent, Bradford, Yorkshire, England, 14 May 1945. She was the second of two daughters of Alan Frederic Harrison, a police officer, and Lena Veronica Adlard Harrison. Her mother died when she was ten years old. Jane was educated at the Newby County Primary School, Scarborough High School for Girls and Doncaster High School for Girls.

Miss Harrison left the Doncaster School in May 1962 to accept employment with the Martins Bank Limited branch office at Baxter Gate, Doncaster. Later she was employed as a nanny in the United States and in Switzerland. She joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation in June 1966.

Miss Harrison’s remains were interred at Fulford Cemetery, Fulford, North Yorkshire, England. Her George Cross is on display at British Airways’ Speedbird Centre, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.

Marker at Fulford Cemetery.
Captain C. W. R. Taylor

Speedbird 712 was under the command of Captain Charles Wilson Ratcliffe Taylor, with Senior First Officer Francis Brendan Kirkland as copilot, and Acting First Officer John Chester Hutchinson as the third, relief, pilot. The flight engineer was Engineer Officer Thomas Charles Hicks. Also in the cockpit was Supervisory Captain Geoffrey Sidney Moss, who was conducting a periodic flight check of the crew.

Speedbird 712’s Chief Steward, Neville Cearl Davis-Gordon, was awarded the British Empire Medal for Gallantry (Civil Division) for his role in evacuating the passengers from the burning airliner.¹

Air Traffic Control Officer III John Michael Davis, who handled Speedbird 712’s emergency, was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for 1969.²

“Whiskey Echo” (G-ARWE) was a Boeing Model 707-465 Intercontinental airliner, serial number 18373, Boeing line number 302. The 707-465 was a variant of the 707-420 series, which was itself a version of the 707-320, with the primary change being the substitution of Rolls-Royce Conway Mk.508 turbofan engines in place of the standard Pratt & Whitney JT3C-6 turbojet engines. The airliner was operated by a minimum flight crew of three, and could carry 141 passengers with mixed-class seating, or a maximum of 189 passengers.

Boeing 707-465 G-ARWE in Cunard Eagle Airways livery, circa 1962. (www.britisheagle.net)

Whiskey Echo had originally been ordered by Cunard Eagle Airways and registered VR-BBZ (Bermuda). It made its first flight 27 June 1962. Cunard Eagle was taken over by BOAC as BOAC-Cunard in June 1962. Sisterships VR-BBW and VR-BBZ were reregistered in the United Kingdom as G-ARWD and G-ARWE.

A Boeing 707 Intercontinental (-420 series) airliner in BOAC-Cunard livery. (jjPostcards)

At the time of the accident, Whiskey Echo had flown 20,870 hours (TTAF).

Whiskey Echo’s  Number 2 engine was built in 1961 and had 14,917 hours total time since new (TTSN). It was last overhauled in March 1965 and had been flown 4,346 hours (TSIO) at the time of the accident. The engine had a normal time between overhauls (TBO) of 5,500 hours. The engine was removed from service due to excessive vibration in May 1965. Inspection revealed a fatigue failure of the Stage 8 high-pressure compressor stage. The engine was repaired, but during test runs, was still producing vibrations and was rejected based on BOAC standards. The vibrations did not exceed Rolls-Royce limits, though, and the engine was accepted for service. It was installed on another Boeing 707 and run for 1,415 hours, when it was removed for modification of turbine seals. The engine was installed at the Number 2 position on G-ARWE on 5 April 1968, three days before the accident.

The accident investigation found that the engine had suffered a fatigue failure of the Stage 5 low-pressure compressor wheel. Fragments of the wheel rim and blades were found inside the airport perimeter at the departure end of Runway 28 Left.

The engine’s 1¾-inch-diameter (44.45 millimeters) fuel supply line was severed by flying fragments. Jet fuel was pumped out of the open line at a rate of about 50 gallons (189 liters) per minute.

About 90 seconds after the fire started, Whiskey Echo’s Number 2 engine and part of its pylon fell away from the left wing.

According to the accident investigation report,

“Having initially started an Engine Failure Drill, the Flight Engineer changed directly to the Engine Fire Drill. According to his evidence, having completed Phase 1 of the Engine Fire Drill, which is required to be done from memory, he subsequently used his own copy of the check list to complete Phase II of the drill, including operation of the fire extinguisher transfer switch and pushing the discharge button for the second shot thirty seconds after the first. When the First Officer started to read the check list the Flight Engineer told him the check was already completed. . . .”

CIVIL AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT, Report on the Accident to Boeing 707-465 G-ARWE at Heathrow Airport, London, on 8th April 1968. ACCIDENTS INVESTIGATION BRANCH, Civil Accident Report No. EW/C/0203, Section 1.1 at Page 3

The engineer officer had failed to pull the fire fuel shut-off valve while following the emergency procedures check list. With the valve closed, the fuel in the supply line beyond the valve would have sustained the fire for only a few seconds. The airliner’s fire extinguisher bottles can only be discharged after the fire shut-off handle has been pulled.

Whiskey Echo had previously sustained an uncontained turbine blade failure. While taking off from Honolulu International Airport, Oahu, Hawaii, 21 November 1967, fragments of the turbine blades punctured a fuel tank, resulting in a fire. The takeoff was aborted, and emergency personnel at the airport put out the fire. The airplane was repaired, all four engines changed, and G-ARWE was returned to service.

A BOAC Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFD, similar in appearance to 707-465 G-ARWE. (Pinterest)

The Boeing 707-420 series airliners were 152 feet, 11 inches (46.609 meters) long, with a wingspan of 142 feet, 5 inches (43.409 meters) and overall height 42 feet, 2 inches (12.852 meters) at its operating empty weight. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces are swept 35°. The fuselage has a maximum diameter of 12 feet, 8.0 inches (3.759 meters). The 707 International has a typical empty weight of 142,600 pounds (64,682 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of  312,000 pounds (141,700 kilograms). The usable fuel capacity is 23,820 gallons (90,169 liters).

All 707-series aircraft are powered by four jet engines installed in nacelles below and forward of the wings on pylons. The -420 Internationals were powered by Rolls-Royce Conway Mk. 508 engines. The Rolls-Royce Conway (R.Co.12) is a two-spool, axial-flow, low-bypass turbofan engine. The engine has a 7-stage low- and 9-stage high-pressure compressor section, 12 interconnected combustion liners, with a single-stage high- and 2-stage low-pressure turbine. The Mk. 508 has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 14,625 pounds of thrust (65.055 Kilonewtons), and 17,500 pounds of thrust (77.844 Kilonewtons) at 9,990 r.p.m., for Takeoff. The engine is 3 feet, 6.0 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter, 11 feet, 4.0 inches (3.454 meters) long, and weighs 4,542 pounds (2,060 kilograms).

The -420 series had a maximum cruise speed of 593 miles per hour 954 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)—0.87 Mach; and economical cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10668 meters).

Boeing built 1,010 Model 707 airplanes between 1957 and 1979. Of these, 37 were the 707-420 International variant.

A British Overseas Airways Corporation Boeing 707 International (-420 series) airliner, similar in appearance to G-ARWE. (Travel Update)

¹ Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969. Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8212, Column 1.

² Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, 6th June 1969. Saturday, 14th June 1969, No. 44863, at Page 5975, Column 1

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

8 April 1954

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)

8 April 1954: South African Airways Flight 201, a chartered British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, aircraft registration G-ALYY, departed Rome at 1832 UTC, bound for Cairo. The Comet was under the command of Captain Wilhelm K. Mostert, with First Officer Barent J. Grove, Navigator Albert E. Sissing, Radio Officer Bertram E. Webstock, and Flight Engineer August R. Lagesen. Air Hostess Pamela L. Reitz and Flight Steward Jacobus B. Hok were in the passenger compartment with the 14 passengers.

As the airliner climbed toward 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), they made several position reports. Last heard from at 1907 UTC, radioing an expected arrival time at Cairo, the Comet disintegrated in flight and fell into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Searchers found a debris field and floating bodies the next day near the volcanic island of Stromboli. All 21 persons aboard were killed.

This was the second catastrophic failure of a DH.106 in just three months. BOAC immediately grounded its entire Comet fleet, and the British Air Ministry revoked the airliner’s certificate of airworthiness. Production of the airliner at de Havilland was halted.

The first crash had been presumed to be a result of an in-flight fire, and the second, an uncontained turbine engine failure. But an extensive investigation eventually determined that the cause of both crashes was the in-flight break up of the fuselage pressure hull. Metal fatigue of the fuselage was caused by the repeated expansion and contraction of pressurization cycles. Cracks in the aluminum skin formed at corners of the passenger compartment windows and then spread outward. This resulted in catastrophic explosive decompression.

The DH.106 Comet 1 was the first production version and was very similar to the two prototypes. It can be visually identified by its square passenger windows. It was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator. The airliner could carry up to 44 passengers.

The airplane was 93 feet (28.346 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992 meters). The Comet 1 had a maximum takeoff weight of 110,000 pounds (49,895 kilograms). It was powered by four de Havilland Engine Company Ghost 50 centrifugal flow turbojet engines, producing 5,000 pounds of thrust, each. This gave it a cruising speed of 460 miles per hour (740 kilometers per hour) and cruise altitude of 42,000 feet (12,802 meters). The airliner’s range was 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).

Twelve DH.106 Comet 1 airliners were built.

The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner and its introduction had revolutionized the industry. The two disasters were a blow from which the company never really recovered.

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. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

5 March 1966

British Overseas Airways Corporation's Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFE. (BOAC)
British Overseas Airways Corporation’s Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFE. (British Airways)

5 March 1966: British Overseas Airways Corporation Speedbird 911, an around-the-world flight, departed Tokyo-Haneda Airport (HND) at 1:58 p.m., enroute Hong Kong-Kai Tak (HKG), with 113 passengers and 11 crew members. The airliner was a Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, serial number 17706, with British registration G-APFE. It was nearly six years old, having been delivered 29 April 1960, and had 19,523 hours on the airframe.

Shortly before takeoff, the flight crew requested a change from an IFR flight plan to VFR, with a course that would take the airliner near Mount Fujiyama. The 707 climbed to an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,875 meters) as it approached the mountain from the southwest. The weather was very clear. A weather station on Mount Fuji recorded wind speeds of 60–70 knots (111–130 kilometers per hour).

Speedbird 911, Boeing 707 G-APFE, in a flat spin. The tail section and engines are missing, the right wing is broken and the airplane is trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks.
Speedbird 911, Boeing 707 G-APFE, in a flat spin. The tail section and engines are missing, the right wing is broken and the airplane is trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks. (JSDF)

Flying upwind toward Fujiyama at 320–370 knots (592–685 kilometers per hour), Speedbird 911 encountered severe Clear Air Turbulence that resulted in a catastrophic structural failure of the airframe. The vertical fin attachment failed and as it fell away, struck the left horizontal stabilizer, breaking it off. Next, the ventral fin and all four engine pylons failed due to extreme side loads. The 707 went in to a flat spin, trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks. The entire tail section broke away, the right wing failed, and the nose section came off.

The 707 left a debris field  that was 10 miles (16 kilometers) long. Speedbird 911 crashed in a forest on the lower flanks of Mount Fujiyama at about the 3,500 foot (1,066 meter) level. The forward section crashed about 1,000 feet (300 meters) away from the main wreckage. All 124 persons aboard were killed.

Disintegrating Speedbird 911 trails fuel vapor as it falls toward Mount Fujiyama, 5 March 1966.
Disintegrating Speedbird 911 trails fuel vapor as it falls toward Mount Fujiyama, 5 March 1966. (JSDF)

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The aircraft suddenly encountered abnormally severe turbulence over Gotemba City which imposed a gust load considerably in excess of the design limit.”

The accident was photographed by the Japanese Self Defense Forces from the East Fuji Maneuver Area, located in the foothills of the volcano. A passenger aboard Speedbird 911 had been filming with an 8 mm movie camera. The camera and film were recovered from the wreckage and the film was developed as part of the investigation. The film showed that the aircraft had experienced severe turbulence immediately before the accident.

A U.S. Navy Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was sent to look for the accident site. When the fighter approached Mount Fujiyama, it also encountered severe turbulence, to the point that the pilot feared the small fighter would break up in flight. After returning to base, the A-4 was grounded for inspection. Its accelerometer indicated that it had experienced acceleration forces ranging from +9 Gs to -4 Gs.

Mount Fujiyama, an active stratovolcano, i steh tallest mountain in Japan, at 12,389 feet (3,776.24 meters). It i sapproximately 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo on the island of Hinshu.
Mount Fujiyama, an active stratovolcano, is the tallest mountain in Japan, at 12,389 feet (3,776.24 meters). It is approximately 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo on the island of Honshu. (Alpsdake)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather