Tag Archives: Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 Mk. 101

6 September 1952

de Havilland DH.110 WG236
de Havilland DH.110 WG236. (U.S. Naval Aviation News)

6 September 1952: At the Farnborough Air Show, an annual event held at the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough, Hampshire, England, de Havilland test pilot John Douglas Derry, D.F.C., with flight test observer Anthony Max (“Tony”) Richards, put the prototype DH.110, WG236, into a supersonic dive from 40,000 feet (12,182 meters), pulling out just short of the airfield and the estimated 120,000 spectators.

John Douglas Derry, D.F.C. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Anthony Max Richards (Flight)

Derry then made a high-speed, low-level circuit of the airfield, and as he straightened out, the airplane broke apart and crashed onto Observation Hill.

Both Derry and Richards were killed, as were 29 spectators. Another 63 were injured.

Flight reported:

      This melancholy affair has, inevitably, received wide publicity, and several inaccurate reports have been printed. A member of the staff of Flight who witnessed the accident describes it as follows: “Two small white puffs of cloud appeared in a clear patch of sky north of the airfield, presumably showing where the D.H.110 had exceeded Mach 1 in its dive. After about a minute there were two loud reports in split-second succession. The lower part of the dive must have been near-sonic, for the aircraft appeared overhead—at about 1,000–1,500ft—at almost the same instant; the supersonic ‘bangs’ had scarcely overtaken the 110, although they had evidently been produced at least 12 miles away. The aircraft flew out of sight to turn and line-up for a low flight above the main runway, which it made from the south-west at a speed estimated as 600–650 m.p.h. It then turned left into the circuit and flew back over the northern boundary at about 400ft. The break-up appeared to begin just before a steep 90-degree turn towards the enclosures. Small fragments came away from the 110, which gained height as the two Avons and the nose became detached from the airframe. One engine fell on a crowded slope behind the caravan parks, causing most of the casualties; the other landed harmlessly farther south. The nose, following the same path as the power-units, hit the grass just in front of the packed enclosure parallel with the runway and broke up. A number of small pieces landed on the runway itself while the airframe, minus tail-unit, nose and engines, dropped comparatively gently into the north-west corner of the airfield.”

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2277, Vol. LXII. Friday, 12 September 1952, at Page 344, Column 1

This image shows the de Havilland DH-110 breaking up in flight. One of the engines has fallen free and is trailing smoke. (Unattributed)
This image shows the de Havilland DH.110 breaking up in flight. One of the engines has fallen free and is trailing smoke. (Unattributed)

Film taken from the ground showed that as the airplane came level, the starboard outboard wing separated, followed by the port outboard wing. The aircraft pitched violently upward with an acceleration of more than 12 Gs, and the cockpit, engines and tail then disintegrated.

The DH-110’s swept wings placed the ailerons well aft of the airplane’s center of gravity. When the pilot began his bank to the right, away from the crowd, he also began to climb. This caused the wing outer panels to twist, resulting in unexpected stresses. The right wing failed in torsion. The resulting roll then caused the left wing to fail.

The flight crew was not faulted.

Changes were made in the location of the spectators and maneuvering aircraft at the airshow from that time forward.

John Derry's crash, as his D,H,plane hits the ground after breaking the sound barrier in flight, Farnborough air display, 1952 (Photo by Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
The de Havilland DH.110 prototype impact at RAE Farnborough, 6 September 1952. This photograph was taken by a spectator, Herbert Orr. (Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
de Havilland DH.110 crash site. (Unattributed)
de Havilland DH.110 crash site. (Unattributed)
The scene of the 1952 Farnborough Air Show disaster. (Coventry Telegraph)
The scene of the 1952 Farnborough Air Show disaster. (Coventry Telegraph)

The de Havilland DH.110 was a prototype all-weather interceptor intended for operation by the Fleet Air Arm from the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers. It was a two-place, twin-engine swept-wing fighter capable of supersonic speed. WG236 was the first prototype, which made its first flight the previous year, 26 September 1951. At the time of the accident WG236 had flown approximately 125 hours. The second prototype, WG240, had been scheduled to fly the demonstration for the air show, but had to be replaced for maintenance reasons.

The DH.110 used the twin-tailboom configuration of de Havilland’s DH.100 Vampire and DH.112 Venom fighters, but the wings were swept to 45°.

WG236 was 51 feet, 8 inches (15.748 meters) long with a wingspan of 51 feet, 0 inches (15.545 meters) and height of approximately 11 feet (3.35 meters). Its maximum takeoff weight was 35,000 pounds (15,876 kilograms).

WG236 was powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 engines The RA.3 was a single-spool axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. It was rated at 6,500-pounds-thrust (28.91 kilonewtons). The second prototype used the more powerful RA.7.

The DH.110 had a maximum speed of 610 knots (0.924 Mach) at Sea Level, and 536 knots (0.936 Mach) at 40,000 feet (12,182 meters).

Planned armament for the production fighter was four 30 millimeter ADEN cannon.

De Havilland DH.110 WG236. (BAE Systems)

Both airmen were posthumously awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.


St. James’s Palace. S.W. 1

12th September, 1952

     The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to give orders for the publication of the names of the persons shown below as having received an expression of Commendation for valuable service in the air:—


John Douglas Derry, D.F.C. (deceased), Test Pilot, de Havilland Aircraft Company, Ltd.

Anthony Max Richards (deceased), Flight Test Observer, de Havilland Aircraft Company, Ltd.

For services when testing an experimental aircraft.

John Douglas Derry was born 5 December 1921 at Cairo, Egypt. He was one of four children of Douglas Erith Derry, M.C., M.B., Ch.B., Professor of Anatomy at the Government Medical School there, and Margaret G. Ramsay Derry.

Derry was educated at the Dragon School, a preparatory school for boys in Oxford, England, and at Charterhouse, in Surrey. In 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aerial gunner and radio operator. He was assigned as a crewman on Lockheed Hudson bombers with Coastal Command, before being sent to Canada for pilot training in 1943. On his return to England he was “seconded” to the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Hawker Typhoon

Derry returned to combat operations in October 1944, flying Hawker Typhoons on close air support missions with No. 182 Squadron. Shortly after, he was transferred to No. 181 Squadron as a flight commander. In March 1945, Derry returned to No. 182 as the squadron’s commanding officer.

Distinguished Flying Cross (RAF Museum)

On 29 June 1945, Acting Squadron Leader Derry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation, published in The London Gazette, reads:

This officer has participated in a large number of sorties as air gunner and later pilot. He has at all times displayed great determination and skill and his courage has been of the highest order. In April 1945, he led his squadron in an attack against enemy gun positions. Despite intense opposition the attack was pressed home with great accuracy. The success of this operation was due in no small measure to Squadron Leader Derry’s gallant and skillful leadership. This officer has set a fine example to all.

—Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 26th of JUNE, 1945, Numb. 37154, at Page 3405, Column 1.

Bronzen Leeuw

Her Majesty, Wilhelmina, The Queen of The Netherlands, awarded Acting Squadron Leader Derry the Bronzen Leeuw (Bronze Lion).

After No. 182 Squadron was disbanded 30 September 1945, Squadron Leader Derry was appointed commanding officer of the Day Fighter Leader School at the Central Flying School, flying the Hawker Tempest.

After being released from service, Derry became an experimental and production test pilot for Vickers Supermarine. In October 1947, he moved to de Havilland.

On 12 April 1948, Derry flew a de Havilland DH.108 to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers without Payload, averaging 974.026 kilometers per hour (605.232 miles per hour).¹ On 6 September 1948, Derry exceeded the speed of sound in the de Havilland DH.108. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Club. The Royal Automobile Society awarded Derry The Segrave Trophy, “for the most outstanding demonstration of transportation by land, air or water: The Spirit of Adventure.”

The Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Society. (RAS)

     More than one member of Flight‘s staff was proud to know John Derry—a fine-looking young man and an inspiring personality—and on occasions to talk of flying and testing with him. We recall his cheerful unassuming manner, his completely straightforward and natural approach to any topic, and his firm opinion upon matters which he himself had studied and investigated. He was undoubtedly one of what we now call the new generation of test pilots, men who must be able to back their flying experience and skill as pilots with a full technical understanding.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2277, Vol. LXII. Friday, 12 September 1952, at Page 344, Column 2

John Derry was married with two children.

“I am never happier than when I am in the air.”

—Squadron Leader John Douglas Derry, D.F.C.

John Douglas Derry, D.F.C.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8877

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

28 August 1957

English Electric Canberra B Mk.2 WK163 climbing under rocket power. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
English Electric Canberra B Mk.2 WK163 climbing under rocket power. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)

28 August 1957: Michael Randrup, Chief Test Pilot of D. Napier and Son, Ltd., and Walter Shirley, Deputy Chief Engineer, fly this Royal Air Force/English Electric Canberra B Mk.2, WK163, to an altitude of 21,430 meters (70,308 feet) over southern England.  This set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for altitude.¹

WK163 with rocket engine installed in its bomb bay. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
WK163 with rocket engine installed in its bomb bay. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)

The Canberra was being used to test Napier’s Double Scorpion NSc D1-2 rocket engine, which was used to drive the airplane far beyond its normal service ceiling of 48,000 feet (14,630 meters).

After taking off from Luton, Bedfordshire, at 5:26 p.m., Mike Randrup used the Canberra’s two 6,500-pounds-thrust (28.91 kilonewtons) Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 Mk. 101 turbojet engines to climb to 44,000 feet (13,411 meters), where he throttled the engines back to cruising r.p.m. and then ignited the Double Scorpion. The Canberra climbed at a very steep angle until reaching the peak altitude.

English Electric Canberra B Mk.2 WK163. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
English Electric Canberra B Mk.2 WK163. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)

At this high altitude, there is an extremely narrow margin between the airplane’s stall speed and it’s critical Mach number—the point at which supersonic shock waves start to form on the wings and fuselage. On an Airspeed Limitations Chart, this area is known as “Coffin Corner.” Aerodynamicists had calculated that Randrup needed to keep the Canberra within a 15-knot range of airspeed.

Though the Canberra’s cockpit was pressurized, both Mike Randrup and Walter Shirley wore pressure suits in case of emergency.

WK163 landed back at Luton at 6:12 p.m.

Flight of Canberra WK163, 27 August 1957. (Flight)

In 1958, the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain awarded the Britannia Trophy to Randrup and Shirley.

The English Electric Canberra B.2 was the first production variant of a twin-engine, turbojet powered light bomber. The bomber was operated by a pilot, navigator and bombardier. It was designed to operate at very high altitudes. The Canberra B.2 was 65 feet, 6 inches (19.964 meters) long with a wingspan of 64 feet, 0 inches (19.507 meters) and height of 15 feet, 7 inches (4.750 meters). The wing used a symmetrical airfoil and had 2° angle of incidence. The inner wing had 2° dihedral, and the outer wing, 4° 21′. The total wing area was 960 square feet (89.2 square meters). The variable-incidence tail plane ad 10° dihedral. The airplane’s maximum takeoff weight was 46,000 pounds ( kilograms).

The Canberra B.2 was powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 Mk. 101 engines. The RA.3 was a single-spool axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. It was rated at 6,500-pounds-thrust (28.91 kilonewtons).

The B.2 had a maximum speed of 450 knots (518 miles per hour/833 kilometers per hour). It was restricted to a maximum 0.75 Mach from Sea Level to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), and 0.79 Mach from 15,000 to 25,000 feet (7.620 meters). Above that altitude the speed was not restricted, but pilots were warned that they could expect compressibility effects at 0.82 Mach or higher.

The Canberra was produced in bomber, intruder, photo reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures and trainer variants by English Electric, Handley Page, A.V. Roe, and Short Brothers and Harland. In the United States, a licensed version, the B-57A Canberra, was built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. The various versions were operated by nearly 20 nations. The Canberra was the United Kingdom’s only jet-powered bomber for four years. The last one in RAF service, a Canberra PR.9, made its final flight on 28 July 2006.

WK163 was built under license by A.V. Roe at Woodford, Cheshire, in 1954, and accepted by the Royal Air Force 28 January 1955. Having spent its entire career as a research test bed, WK163 was declared surplus in 1994 and sold at auction to Classic Air Projects Ltd. It was assigned civil registration G-BVWC.

English Electric Canberra B Mk.2 WK163, 1997. (Mike Freer/Wikipedia)

G-BVWC last flew in 2007. As of December 2016, the record-setting Canberra was undergoing a full restoration at Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

English Electric Canberra B2 WK163 (G-BVWC). (Tony Hisgett, via Wikipedia)
English Electric Canberra B Mk.2 WK163, civil registration G-BVWC. The record-setting airplane has been painted in the standard Bomber Command scheme with markings of No. 617 Squadron. (Tony Hisgett, via Wikipedia)

Michael Randrup was born in Moscow, Imperial Russia, 20 April 1913. He was one of four children of Søren Revsgaard Randrup and Alexandra Pyatkova Randrup. He held Danish citizenship through his father, who had emigrated to Russia in 1899. Following the Russian revolution, the Randrup family relocated to England.

Michael was educated at The King’s School in Canterbury, Kent. He became interested in aviation in his early teens, and took his first flight as a passenger aboard an Avro 504K biplane. He began flight lessons at Bekesbourne Aerodrome in 1935, and soloed in June 1936. Randrup applied to join the Royal Air Force but was turned down because of his Danish citizenship. He then went to the Automobile Engineering College in Chelsea, West London, to study aeronautical engineering.

Randrup graduated in 1939, and along with a cousin, Ivan Christian Randrup, formed a small air charter company, AllFlights Ltd., at Heston Aerodrome, west of London. They operated a de Havilland DH.85 Leopard Moth, de Havilland DH.90 Dragonfly, and a Heston Type I Phoenix II (G-AEYX). The Phoenix was impressed into service by the R.A.F., 5 March 1940.

World War II bought their fledgling company to a close. (Ivan Randrup briefly flew for B.O.A.C. before going on to the Air Transport Auxiliary. First Officer Randrup died 29 January 1941.)

After Denmark fell to Nazi Germany in April 1940, Michael Randrup was accepted by the R.A.F. He received a commission as a Pilot Officer on probation, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 4 September 1940. One year later he was promoted to Flying Officer.

On completion of his military flight training, Pilot Officer Randrup was sent to a flying instructors school. For the next two years, he served as a military flight instructor in England and Southern Rhodesia. In 1942, Flying Officer Randrup was transferred from Training Command to Fighter Command and on 6 October, was assigned to No. 234 Squadron, then stationed at RAF Perranporth, flying the Supermarine Spitfire Vc. A number of Danish pilots had been assigned to No. 234. On 1 January 1943, Randrup was seconded to Air Service Training, Ltd., at Hamble, just southeast of Southampton, where he flight-tested new-production, repaired and overhauled Spitfire fighters.

In 1944, Randrup was assigned as a test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Among other assignments, he flight-tested a captured Heinkel He 177 A-5/R-6 twin-engine heavy bomber. In 1945, Randrup was appointed Officer Commanding, Engine Research and Development Flight. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader.

Following the war, Randrup went to work for D. Napier and Son Ltd. In 1946, he became the company’s Chief Test Pilot. The following year, he became a naturalized subject of the United Kingdom and the British Empire.

From 1966 until 1973, Randrup served as manager for the British Aircraft Corporation in Saudi Arabia. BAC provided aircraft and missiles to the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Michael Randrup was twice married, first to Florence May Dryden, and then to Betty Perry. They would have two children.

Michael Randrup died in February 1984 at the age of 70 years.

Walter Shirley, Napier Chief Development Engineer (left), and Michael Randrup, Chief Test Pilot, D. Napier and Son Ltd. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Walter Shirley was educated at the Blackpool Grammar School, a private boarding school in Blackpool, Lancashire, and St. Catherine’s College, University of Cambridge.

Shirley was employed as a scientific officer at RAE Farnborough from 1942 to 1946. It was while there that he first flew as a flight test engineer with Squadron Leader Randrup. Shirley was sent to an R.A.F. flight school for pilot training. In 1946, he was assigned to rocket engine development.

Shirley joined Napier in 1947, working on turbine engines. In 1952, he was appointed Chief Technician. In 1956, Shirley was made the Chief Development Engineer for the Scorpion engine. He later became the company’s Deputy Chief Engineer.

Walter Shirley died in 1993.

The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9843

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes