Tragedy Witnessed by the 68th Entry Brats.
A DH110 Breaks up at 1952 Farnborough Air Show.
The DH110 was one of the new breed of aircraft that captivated the minds of young lads at the time. Swept back wings, delta wings, reheat, supersonic flight and sonic booms were new exciting concepts. Amongst our heroes were test pilots John Derry and Neville Dukes. Many schoolboys, like myself, were determined to get involved in this aircraft revolution and one way was to become an RAF Apprentice at Halton.
Unfortunately it was a group of these Apprentices, from the 68th Entry, that witnessed a tragic event involving the DH110. At the end of the day out to the Farnborough Air Show all the Apprentices arrived safely back at Halton. Sadly the bus driver who took them had been killed.
The coach returning to Coventry with a group of Armstrong Siddeley apprentices had nine empty seats!
The Crowd Parted Like the Red Sea.
(But not fast enough!)
Thousands of spectators watched as a de Havilland 110 aircraft broke the sound barrier and then disintegrated in the sky above them and fell to earth.
Thirty-one people, including pilot John Derry, were killed. Dozens more were wounded at the Farnborough Air Show in Hampshire on 6 September 1952.
(John Derry had become the first British pilot to break the sound barrier, during a record attempt exactly four years before.)
After a delay test pilot Neville Dukes took off in a Hawker P1067 Hunter and diving from 40,000 feet over Salisbury Plain arrived with a very large double sonic bang. He then straightened, and swooped past in a victory-roll as a salute to a fallen friend.
68th Entry Brats Witnessed the Tragedy.
The New Zealand ex-RAF Apprentices Association Newsletter online contains the Halton Apprentices' story of that sad day in 1952.
The Post Mortum.
The Press got it Wrong.
The Press and hence the general public were to blame a faulty engine for the accident. The aircraft Derry had intended to fly had a history of over-heating in one of the engines, but it was later revealed that this aircraft was u/s (unserviceable) on the day.
So another aircraft was collected from Hatfield Airfield for the air show flight. It was this DH110 that broke up. Nothing to do with the engines and subsequent investigations showed that a wing had failed because it had only 64 per cent of its intended strength. A fact that was not realised at the time with the limited technology and knowledge available in those days.
Eye Witness Account from Dr. Donald Brown.
Dr Brown sent me the following information:
"I was not in the RAF but was at Farnborough in 1952 when the DH110, with John Derry as pilot, broke up. I was doing my national service in the RAMC at Crookham since I stated at my national service interview I wanted to become a Doctor- which I did after I left the service. A friend Hunter and I were mad about aeroplanes and went to Farnborough that day.
"The press reports about the accident were wrong. Derry had broken the sound barrier and had turned to fly over the crowd when one of the tail booms broke off and the two jet engines broke away from the body and headed for the crowd. The two Jet engines tore out of the fuselage and one landed in the crowd behind us. Because we were in uniform we had to stand round while they cleared the bodies of 35 people away. Both of us were naturally upset as 18 year olds and were sick later that night when we returned to barracks.
"Dr. Donald Brown "
Eye Witness Account from Tony Denton 72nd Entry.
In 1942 my family moved to Farnborough and I spent the next four years there, spending most if my free time with a pal who shared my interest in aeroplanes, of which there were many. Most were military, some were experimental and some were captured German aircraft. I remember seeing some strange sights including a Cierva Autogiro, an Me262 which came over our house inverted with the pilot trying to open the hood (he failed), a ME235 (?), the one with a propellor front, and back and the asymetric Heinkel reconnaisance aircraft. When the first jet engine was heard, our entire school class rushed outside and watched what I later learned was a DH Vampire flying over. After leaving there in 1946 I used to go back to visit my friend in the summer, and it was on such a visit in 1952 that we had watched a lot of the airshow from the back corner of the airfield, close to Cove where he lived, and which turned out to be near where the DH110 fuselage settled.
On that day I went into the show by bicycle, wanting to see the static displays. For the flying I got close to the railing where I had to look to my left to see the take-off and landing point. My memory of events was very definite in some respects, but I admit to having been upset by what happened and shaken.
The early flights were routine, with one exception. The Prestwick Pioneer was always flown in the same kind of way, to show off its STOL capabilities. The pilot ran up the engine then released the brakes. When the tail lifted, he pulled it down and the aircraft leapt into the air. On this day, the starboard brake did not release at first and the Pioneer swung to starboard across the runway then as it was pulled up into the air the tail hit one of the external runway lights. The aircraft appeared to be under control but one half of the elevator was hanging down, and the pilot immediately completed a 360 degree turn and landed at about the point where he took off. I have never seen this event reported except in one personal account like this one.
When the DH110 broke up I did not realise what had happened. My whole attention was fixed on the wings which were fluttering to the ground. The truth sank in, though I saw nothing of the engines and cockpit section. I cannot remember hearing anything on the PA. To add to the shock a vehicle appeared on the runway and out of it jumped men with brooms who started sweeping away pieces of metal from the runway. What I do remember, and have never seen verified, was that the first aircraft into the air was a DeHavilland Venom. Every report says that Neville Duke in a Hunter was first.
What happened after that I do not know, because I was upset enough to get my bicycle and get out and away. Two days later I reported to Halton. Even now, thinking about this day shakes me.
If anyone wants to talk directly to me, you are welcome to contact me:
Anthony Denton email firstname.lastname@example.org
How the DH110 Became the Sea Vixen.
The de Havilland DH110 was in competition with the Gloster Javelin to provide the RAF and Navy with a powerful radar and missile equipped all weather fighter capable of catching the new generation of fast jet bombers. There was an urgent need to replace the antiquated night-fighter version of the Gloster Meteor and de Havilland Venom and provide something more sophisticated than the Hunters.
The Sea Vixen first flew as the DH110 in September 1951 and soon found favour with admiralty over the Javelin. The 1952 accident, where prototype DH110 disintegrated over Farnborough, helped the RAF to choose the arguably inferior Javelin. The Navy stuck with the DH110 (de Havilland Sea Vixen) however, and the first proper Vixen flew in June 1955, with a first arrested deck landing in April 1956. The FAW1 entered service in 1958 armed with Firestreak missiles giving the Navy its first missile armed interceptor. 119 FAW1s were built.
Let's Hear Your Stories.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any stories about this aircraft; humorous, technical or historical. Please use the Feedback Form to contact me briefly, in the first instance.
Joe Bosher (74th).