Hunter accidents

This page contains reports on accidents sustained by Hunter aircraft, and in some cases the pilots, during operational service with the Middle East Air Force and were kindly contributed by former 8 Squadron Armourer, Alan Lowe. Extracts from Tony Haig-Thomas’s biography are also included by kind permission of the author.

Minor accident: 8 Squadron FGA.Mk.9 XF424 0n 29 March, 1960

A seagull struck the lower lip of the starboard air intake while at 250ft. The pilot made a safe landing back at Sharjah, but the aircraft was later declared a write off.

Fatal accident: 8 Squadron T.Mk.7 XL615 on 1 June, 1960 (Tony Haig-Thomas)

On June 1 1960 Andy Devine, who was due to go home shortly, and had been posted to a ground job in the UK (as Flight Commander at a recruit school which must have pleased him), kindly asked John Volkers and me if we would join him and his wife April for dinner. I had had a good day and at last flown two sorties in our twin seat Hunter with John Morris, so we much looked forward to a social evening with April and Andy. John and I arrived at 19:30 but Andy had not turned up as the Squadron had been night flying, so April gave us a couple of drinks and we waited. Suddenly there was a knock on the door and the Station Commander appeared; he said nothing to us, but John and I realising that this was not a social call, left at once. Andy was dead.

One of the new pilots, Mike Walley, had been having a dual night check and both he and Andy were used to flying the much higher performance Hunter FGA.9. They had climbed to what would have been 20,000ft, by time, in the Mark 9 single-seat aircraft but was in reality only 10,000ft in the T.7. Aden nights are dark and altitude can in any case only be determined by reference to an altimeter. As I have mentioned elsewhere, misreading of altimeters by 10,000ft was very common indeed in the Hunter era and came about due to the mismatch of power between the single-seaters, which were flown all the time, and the trainer version with the smaller 100-series Avon, flown very seldom. The standard let-down in those days was to home overhead at 20,000ft, be given an out-bound heading which was then followed by a steep descent to half the start height plus 2000ft. Hunter T.7 XL615 started its descent and called Turning left in-bound at 12,000. A few seconds later there was a big flash in the desert as the aircraft buried itself in the sand and exploded. It had actually been at 2000ft when it started its turn, and not 12,000ft.

Fatal accident: 8 Squadron FGA.Mk.9 XG128 on 13 January, 1961 (Tony Haig-Thomas)

Les Swain was the pilot of Hunter FGA.9, XG128, flying as No. 2 to Flt Lt ‘Porky’ Munro on a pairs recce in the Upper Yaffa district of the Western Aden Protectorate. The pair were flying at 500 Kts to minimise the risk of small arms fire when his aircraft hit the ground. It was probably an accident but could have been the first of many runaway tailplanes or a lucky rifle shot from a dissident below. The accident was particularly tragic as Flt Lt Swain’s wife had arrived in Aden only the previous evening by troopship. 

A second account of this tragedy is recalled by one of the airmen on the line - Roy Hollow:

We were on the early shift from 05:00 to 07:00 and two pilots came out to their aircraft and I strapped Les in. He was in one of his jovial moods as usual, always joking about, and we were talking quite a bit. He was always chatting about goblins and gremlins sitting out on the wing tip, so you had to laugh as he told you to take a look, so that was it.

The start-up was okay, although sometimes when they could be a wee bit naughty you had to wait until all of the wasted Avpin drained away before trying again. Check underneath for no fire, shut the starter bay door, chocks away and off they went.

I cant remember how long it was before we knew something was wrong, until the big boys and Wing Commander arrived and went straight into the office on the pan. We were then informed that one of the aircraft had gone in somewhere over the Yemen and when the second aircraft came home we knew it was Les Swain.

When his body was located the next day, it was clear that he had ejected from the aircraft but lost the bottom part of one of his legs. He had used part of his parachute as a tourniquet to stem the blood but he was not found in time.

Being one of the airmen who performed the pre-flight checks on the aircraft and was the last one to see him on the ground, I had to attend the court of enquiry, a very emotional time, and was also was one of the coffin bearers at his funeral.

Fatal accident: 208 Squadron FGA.Mk.9 XG134 on 11 July, 1961

While carrying out a series of simulated ground attacks on Army positions during the Kuwait crisis and in poor visibility, the aircraft hit the ground killing Fg Off F.Hennessy.

Fatal accident: 8 Squadron FR.10 XE579 on 8 August, 1961

Fg Off John Volkers was on his first tour after leaving RAF College Cranwell and was thought to have a bright career in front of him, when his aircraft flew into the ground when on the approach to a gunnery range near Zinjibar, Aden.

Major accident: 208 Squadron FGA.9 XE647 on 12 September, 1961

After a normal start up, the pilot started to taxi out of the dispersal area. This involved a 90° turn to starboard after moving straight forward for approximately 20 feet. Once the aircraft was moving the pilot made an uneventful brake check. When he applied starboard brake to turn out of the dispersal area, the starboard undercarriage leg collapsed, causing the pylon tank to break up and flood the dispersal with fuel. Before taxiing, the undercarriage was checked as selected down and three green lights were indicated.

On investigation it was found that the bolt that secures the starboard undercarriage forward pivot bearing cap had stripped threads. Although investigation at Kuwait New and Eastleigh failed to reveal recorded evidence of a recent heavy or short landing it is considered most likely to have been caused by severe drag loads on the undercarriage such as would be imposed by a heavy landing in the undershoot or by the wheel striking the lip of the runway. Examination of the damaged parts by the manufacturer confirms this opinion.

Failure to report a heavy or short landing can have serious consequences for the subsequent pilot – remember it may be you next time.

Command Cause Coding – 9.513 – Uncertain but suspect heavy landing or undershoot.

Fatal accident: 8 Squadron FGA.9 XE581 on 22 November, 1961 at Qatar Peninsula

Fg Off Dick Gaiger was authorised by his Flight Commander to lead Blue section of four Hunters to practice high level battle formation, followed by a pairs tail chase and an individual tail chase. The Flight Commander briefed the leader on the exercises and the leader subsequently briefed the pilots of his section on the sortie to be flown. Due to R/T unserviceability, only three aircraft became airborne from Bahrain and one of these left the formation shortly afterwards, also due to R/T trouble. The formation continued as a pair with Fg Off Gaiger still leading. After completing battle practice off the west coast of Qatar, the leader ordered No. 2 to take up position 800 yards line astern for a tail chase. The leader then made a gentle wing-over to port at about 30,000 feet and started a straight 30/40° dive. No.2 followed the leader into the dive and noticed nothing unusual except that he had some slight difficulty in depressing his gunsight pipper to bear on the leader as the dive developed. Between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, when the speed was M0.94, the leader suddenly transmitted; “Blue leader ejecting – now!!”. No.2 broke away to avoid the path of the leader’s ejection seat and climbed to make a ‘Mayday’ call. He saw smoke and flames on the ground and after descending located the aircraft wreckage but saw no sign of a parachute. A search and rescue operation was started from Bahrain and some 3½ hours later, the pilot, fatally injured, ejection seat and parachute were recovered from the desert in Qatar. The parachute canopy was found detached from the parachute harness, which was still attached to the pilot’s body.

Investigation was made difficult by the remote location of the crash, the vagueness of many of the eyewitnesses and the destruction or disappearance of many key parts of the aircraft.

The No.2 observed nothing unusual about the leader’s actions or the state of his aircraft except that he thought the dive was becoming more steep and recovery was being delayed. Although at this stage the dive was not dangerous he did think that if it continued much longer he would suggest to the leader that he should pull out of the dive. At this point the leader suddenly called “Blue Leader Ejecting - Now!”, in a clear and unexcited voice. After considering all known emergencies which might have arisen in the leader’s aircraft, it was concluded that the most likely cause leading to a decision to abandon the aircraft would be loss of longitudinal control resulting in the leader being unable to pull out from the dive. The leader would probably have made attempts to overcome the emergency before making an executive call “ejecting now”. The most likely explanation is that having failed to overcome the emergency, he made the executive call when he reached that altitude he considered to be the minimum for safe ejection in a dive at high Mach number.

An extensive search of the wreckage was made to determine reasons for the ejection. It was concluded from the sparse material recovered that the tailplane was probably in the fully nose down position when the aircraft struck the ground. There was no other evidence to suggest that any other emergency existed at the time of ejection. It was considered that the full nose down trim probably resulted from a runaway trim. In reaching this conclusion the gentle manner in which the aircraft entered the dive was taken into account. The aircraft was last seen in a 30-40 degree dive on a heading of approximately 060° between 15,000 and 20,000 feet. It eventually struck the ground inverted on a heading of 280 degrees, the tail fin striking first. There were no eye witnesses to describe the aircraft’s manoeuvres subsequent to No.2 breaking away. The most likely explanation for the change in aircraft attitude and direction is that when the pilot released the control column to eject, the aircraft started to roll and made an outside turn away from the down-going wing under the influence of full nose down trim. As the aircraft rolled to the inverted position, the trim effect would tend to bring the aircraft’s nose back towards the horizon. This would also explain why the aircraft hit the ground in a shallow dive, inverted.

The ejection

There was no evidence to show at what altitude the pilot ejected or the aircraft’s attitude at the time. However, since the aircraft canopy, ejection seat, pilot’s body and personal equipment were found one mile from the wreckage back along the final approach path of the aircraft, it was concluded that the ejection took place after the aircraft had turned onto an approximate heading of 280°. For some reason, therefore, the actual ejection was delayed after the pilot transmitted that he was ejecting immediately. A possible cause is that the effect of negative ‘g’ caused by full nose down trim, made it difficult for the pilot to operate the ejection seat handle.

The ejection seat pan of the Mark 2H seat had collapsed. It was concluded that the seat pan collapsed at the start of ejection. The sequence of events is thought to be as follows:- After pulling the blind, the canopy blew off and one second later the seat cartridges fired and the seat started moving up the guide rails, at this point the seat pan collapsed sheared off the snubbing units and also tore the metal thigh guards. The bottom of the seat pan also tore the lower half of one of the leg restraining lines since this was found in the aircraft wreckage. At this stage with the seat pan collapsed the pilot fell down in his seat thus pulling the parachute out of the seat container. As the seat entered the airstream, air-blast pulled out the parachute pack pins and started to stream the parachute. The black seat apron was torn off at this point and was never found. The parachute rigging lines burst when the full air-blast stress was applied to them. Sometime after this the barometric time release operated and the scissor shackle opened, allowing the drogues, which had deployed normally, to become detached from the seat and fall away connected to the parachute canopy only. At the same time the barometric time release unlocked the seat harness and the pilot with only the parachute harness and it’s broken rigging lines attached to him left the seat in a free fall to the ground. The seat landed about 40 yards from him and the left thigh guard was torn off when the seat first entered the airstream. The main attachment to the right hand side of the Mae West was severed and as the pilot did not have his two side attachments connected to the Mae West the dinghy pack came out of the harness at some stage and fell away independently. The pilot was wearing civilian type shoes and these fell off at the time of ejection.

Investigation revealed that Mod 1129 (Strengthening of the Seat Pan) was not embodied. At the time of the accident Mod 1129 had not finally been introduced and was not, therefore awaiting embodiment. Mod kits have since been received and all seats in the Command are now modified.

Mod 907 (Standby Trim Switch Cover) to the tailplane standby system was not embodied on this aircraft and this may well be the reason why the pilot was not able to recover from the emergency. Under negative ‘g’ it is extremely difficult to reach the tailplane main actuator circuit breaker. Mod kits have since arrived and all aircraft within the command have been modified.

Survival aspects

Tragically in this case the seat failed because a modification to strengthen a known weakness had not reached the stage where it could be incorporated. There is bound to be a time delay between discovery of a defect and production of the mod kit and leaflets to the final issue to the service. The accident occurred at the point when the leaflets and kits were about to be issued.

Providing the seat functions correctly, survival will depend to a large extent on the action of the pilot prior to and subsequent to successful ejection. In this case the pilot was wearing civilian type shoes which were lost on ejection and he had not fastened his dingy side attachments. Since in this case the ejection was not successful these points have no bearing but had the ejection been successful the pilot could have been poorly placed for the subsequent landing. Without shoes the landing would be hazardous and could well result in broken ankles, toes or legs making walking virtually impossible. Hardly likely to enhance a pilot’s chances of survival, particularly in the type of terrain encountered in this theatre.

Loss of the dingy, particularly in an ejection over the sea, also reduces the chances of survival. Even over the land the dingy contains items vital to successful survival.

Proper flying clothing and safety equipment is provided to give you the best possible chance of survival. There is little point in taking it with you on every sortie unless you can use it when most needed. Strap in correctly every time and wear proper clothing, it is well worth the time and effort - you never know when, but it could happen to you.

The following accident bears a close resemblance to the accident to Hunter XE581 on 22 November, 1961, reported above.

Minor accident: 208 Squadron FGA.9 XE643 on 9 December, 1961

When the aircraft lost power during take-off run at Mombassa, the take-off was abandoned. Raising the undercarriage could not prevent the aircraft from overshooting and it sustained Cat 5 damage.

Minor accident: 8 Squadron FGA.9 XE620 on 12 December, 1961

Fg Off Peter Webbon was authorised and properly briefed for a battle, close formation and tail chase sortie. He took off from Bahrain as second aircraft in a pair. After 15 minutes formation, the pilot was following the leader in a tail chase. While in a nose down attitude at 28,000 feet at an estimated speed of M0.7, he felt the aircraft become nose heavy. He pulled the control column back without effect. He throttled back and noticed that the tail trim needle was showing 2° nose down and was moving further down. The aircraft was by this time in a steep dive. The pilot checked that the flaps were up, lifted the standby trim switch cover and selected standby nose up trim for an estimated 2 seconds. This had no apparent effect. In a near vertical position at an estimated M0.9 and 20,000 feet and when experiencing strong negative ‘g’ effects the pilot tried both hands on the control column without effect on the aircraft’s attitude. He attempted a distress call but got no response from his R/T. The pilot then attempted to eject but was unable to locate the ejection seat handle. He placed both hands and feet on the control column and pushed which brought the aircraft into a horizontal inverted position at about 4,000 feet. He then rolled the aircraft and achieved a gentle climbing attitude which he was able to hold. He again tried the standby trim and was able to trim the aircraft. He reconnected his R/T lead which he had found disconnected, regained contact with his leader and returned to base making a normal landing. The aircraft had been exposed to plus 4½ ‘g’ and negative ‘g’ in excess of 5. Damage to the aircraft was minor and was caused by the fin coming off a 100 gallon drop tank.

The pilot states that the aircraft started a diving manoeuvre without conscious assistance from himself and that the tail trim indication needle was moving to the nose down position, leading to the obvious conclusion that the diving manoeuvre was initiated by movement of the variable incidence tailplane. Inadvertent trim selection by the pilot was rejected in view of the continued movement of the indicator needle after he took action to regain control. However, technical investigation reveals that tailplane runaway is most likely to be initiated, in the first place, by a trim selection. It is very easy during a tail chase, when pushing the aircraft over the top of a ‘switchback’ to exert negative ‘g’. If the pilot’s thumb happens to be near the trim switch it is possible to trim nose down inadvertently. However, it is not implied that such a possible action accounted for all the nose down trim experienced, only that this may have been the initiating action to a runaway.

The initial factor in the chain of events was, without doubt, a main tail trim running away to the nose down position. The second factor was the lifting of the standby trim switch cover by the pilot. This action should have operated the main tail trim circuit breaker. The pilot states that it did not do so.
The technical investigation eliminated un-serviceability of practically every component of the tailplane variable incidence assembly except the reversing contactor. This showed definite evidence of a momentary tack weld. It is also technically possible that should tack welding occur a trim selection in the opposite direction will unstick the welding. This pilot did not attempt to trim back on the main trim as part of his actions to correct the dive. Investigation also revealed that welding of the reversing contactor will short out the limit switches thereby allowing the tailplane to overrun the normal nose down limit set by these switches. It was established that this overrun amounted to some 23 minutes of angular movement or 1.6 divisions on the trim indicator. The aerodynamic effects of such excessive tailplane incidence have not, so far as is known, been investigated. The likely result, however, is a very strong nose down movement at high IAS, making recovery virtually impossible by backward movement of the control column.

Examination of the standby trim switch cover (post mod 907) revealed it to be very stiff to move. The tripping of the main tail trim circuit breaker took place in the last few degrees of movement when the cover was lifted. This is in contrast to the operation of the circuit breaker on pre-mod 907 standby trim covers which takes place early in the angular movement of the cover. Examination of the circuit breaker on this aircraft revealed that it was serviceable. In view of the circumstances described by the pilot, the fact that his arm was at full stretch and the stiffness of the standby trim cover, it is likely that the cover was not opened sufficiently to trip the main circuit breaker when he first attempted to use the standby trim. With the cover about fully opened the circuit breaker can remain unoperated and can be tripped thereafter by a minimal movement of the cover. This fact was not widely known by pilots at the time. Such a movement would explain the apparent rehabilitation of the standby trim when the pilot tried it a second time. Although mod 907 is considered an asset in that it reduces the action required by the pilot in the event of a main actuator runaway, it is considered unsatisfactory in it’s present forms. The cover is difficult to move and does not trip the circuit breaker until very late in it’s movement. In these circumstances it is possible to motor the standby trim in opposition to the main trim motor. The cover on post Mod 907 Standby Trim Switch needs to be stiffer to move than on the pre-mod type in order that it does not inadvertently fly open under negative ‘g’ during manoeuvres and thereby cut the main trim circuit power supply, A reasonable amount of stiffness is acceptable providing the Standby Trim Switch Toggle cannot be operated before the cover has cut off the main supply.

It has been recommended that:-

(a) Mod 907 be altered to eliminate it’s shortcomings.
(b) Technical investigation be initiated to establish whether the reversing contactor can be modified, to reduce the possibility of tack welding.
(c) Technical investigation of the possibility of preventing the tail-plane from overrunning the limit set by the limit switches.

Fatal accident: 8 Squadron FGA.9 XE607 at Khormaksar on 30 March, 1962

The main Royal Air Force contribution to Aden Forces Week was the Open Day at Khormaksar on 30 March, 1962. The flying display was to be opened at 15:15 by a sonic boom followed by a high speed, low level flypast.

Three Hunters took off in formation at 15:04 and, once out of sight of the crowd, separated. No.3 was to do a flypast from West to East on the South side of the main runway. Nos.1 and 2 were to aim a sonic boom at the centre of the airfield, throttle back to subsonic speed and steepen their dive before pulling out to fly across the airfield from East to West on the North side of the main runway. The three aircraft were to pass the control tower at the same time at 250 feet.

A delay of one minute in getting off the ground gave Nos.1 and 2 slightly reduced entry speed from that used in practice but the timing was perfect. The pair dived at 0.98M, reduced speed and increased the angle of dive as planned and at 7,000 feet started pulling out from the 45 degree dive. During the pull out the leader did no exceed 3 ‘g’ . No.2 in XE607 never fully recovered from the dive and struck the ground at an angle of about 25 degrees. The aircraft exploded on impact. Half the wreckage was buried in the sides and bottom of the 20 foot crater and the remainder in small fragments carried forward along the line of flight for up to 3,000 feet.

Although 60,000 people saw the crash, comparatively few of them realized what had happened. HMS Centaur was in Aden at the time and many thought the RAF had borrowed the ‘Atomic Explosion’ pyrotechnic from the Royal Navy. Eye-witness accounts showed a wide diversity of opinion but fortunately Cpl T. Edmondson of 37 Squadron, came forward with an 8mm film showing the last second of the dive. This valuable piece of evidence gave a positive indication of the angle of impact and supported the evidence of the most reliably placed eye witnesses that the aircraft had made an appreciable recovery from the dive. The force of the explosion destroyed the majority of the evidence that might have proved the cause of the accident. However, the tailplane actuator ram was recovered and indicated that, at the time of impact, the aircraft had a 2° 15’ nose down trim. The recovery of an elevator hydraulic jack showed that the main hydraulic supply had not failed.

The briefing was that the tailplane interconnection should be on. Subsequent flight tests along a similar profile with the interconnection ON showed that during pull-out the tail trim was between zero and ½° nose up. Tests also showed that at 0.95M with full nose down trim, an aircraft remained in the dive with the control column held fully back and that at 0.95M with 2¼° nose down trim, a slow recovery was possible.

The Board examined a number of possible causes of the crash ranging from structural failure to hyperventilation. The only theory consistent with the facts was that the tail trim ran fully nose down during the dive which would become apparent to the pilot at or about the time the pull-out commenced (7,000 feet). He would find that he could not trim back on the main trim and would use the standby trim. Due to it’s slower motoring rate insufficient nose up change of trim could be made to effect the pull-out, but sufficient recovery would be made to lead the pilot to think that he might make it, hence no attempt at ejection. An estimate of the flight profile suggests that another 300 feet of height might have been sufficient.

Half the wreckage was buried in the sides and bottom of the 20-foot crater. An investigation into the causes of and cures for ‘runaway’ trim on the Hunter is being made by the Air Ministry. Our own investigations suggest a possibility of a ‘stray positive’ in the multi-pin plug at the leg panel socket and a modification to completely isolate the trim tail control wiring has been drafted.

For want of conclusive evidence, the accident must be Cause-Coded – Unknown – possible short circuit in electric wiring or plug welding of contacts.

Major accident: 8 Squadron FR.10 XF436 at Khormaksar on 20 June, 1962

Fg Off Barry Stott in Hunter FR.10 XF436 was authorised and briefed to carry out interceptions and simulated attacks from the rear quarter on a section of four other Hunters. The object was to exercise the lookout capabilities of the latter section. Attacks were to be gentle, no evasive action was to be taken and the break-off distance laid down was 500 yards.

The pilot planned that his first attack should be very shortly after the four took off; he was airborne five minutes before them and climbed in a gentle left hand orbit to 6,000 feet just south east of the airfield. Strutted 230 gallon drop tanks each less than half full were carried on the inboard pylons and there were no other external stores. The limitation in this configuration is 7 ‘g’ with half lateral movement of the stick when aileron gear is normal; the pilot in his wisdom resolved to keep well inside this limit.

When he saw the other Hunters starting their take-off run he eased gently into a dive towards them with 6,500 rpm and allowed the speed to build up to 450 knots. XF436 was spotted by the others when they were at 1,000 feet and as it pulled up Nos. 1 and 2 to their horror, saw its starboard tank come away and hurtle towards them. Fortunately it missed and fell into the sea off the end of the runway. The equally horrified pilot of ‘436 saw that not only the tank, but its pylon and part of his wing tip were missing as well. A report by another pilot after an airborne inspection confirmed that this was the limit of the damage. The remaining tank was jettisoned at 250 knots in a clear area, and a low speed check down to 140 knots IAS with undercarriage and 40 degree flap down was carried out. Everything appeared normal, but all precautions were taken during the subsequent uneventful landing.

Inspection showed that the thread on eleven of the twelve anchoring pylon nuts had been stripped and the twelfth bolt had sheared. Mods 964 and 965 introduce thicker nuts and correspondingly longer bolts respectively, but one is ineffective without the other. The longer bolts are easily fitted and kits were available; Mod 964, however, takes 130 man hours per aircraft and, aggravated by an organisational fault in progressing the demand, no kits had arrived in the Command. Our house has been put in order and the programme is now under way; Hunters without the modification have been limited to 4 ‘g’ when fuel is being carried in 230 gallon tanks.

The pilot was in no way to blame for this accident, on the contrary he is to be congratulated for the cool correct way he handled an unpleasant situation.

Major accident: 208 Squadron FGA.9 XJ688 at Jeb-a-Jib range on 22 June, 1962

The pilot of XJ688 was firing R/P with concrete heads on the new range at Jeb-a-Jib. The first five rockets fired without incident, although two of them were noticeably late in releasing. The sixth failed to fire and the normal hang-up procedure was taken. ‘Ripple’ was selected for the last dive and the button held pressed from before to after normal firing point. The rocket still appeared hung-up and the pilot having gone below his safety height eased gently out of the dive. During this recovery, the rocket fired and the rocket head or other debris was thrown up and hit the aircraft causing extensive damage in the shape of a rectangle 5 x 8 inches on the starboard leading edge.

The range at Jeb-a-Jib was of undulating sand with some scrub and isolated well buried rock. The depth of the sand cover varied according to the degree of drifting, but from the surface grading aspect this was our best range.

The pilot was entirely to blame for this accident through coming below his safety height and for not recovering from his dive more quickly. A press-on spirit is accepted in a fighter pilot, but it should not be regardless.

Fatal accident: 8 Squadron FGA.9 XE600 at Khormaksar range on 25 June, 1962

The pilot of XE600 was No.2 on an R/P cine, live air to ground firing exercise at Khormaksar Range. No.1 completed firing first and returned home to base, the pilot of XE600 received two low warnings and was sent home by the Range Safety Officer. He asked for and was given permission to do a further safety height run. The aircraft was then flown close to the RSO at a height of 5 feet with undercarriage and flaps fully extended and at a speed of about 150 knots. When level with the RSO, the throttle was opened and the aircraft climbed steeply. At about 150 feet it stalled and crashed, killing the pilot, Fg Off Peter Webbon.

Presumably the attack on the RSO was in a fit of pique and this configuration selected to produce greatest disturbance of surface sand in giving discomfort to him. The engine would have been throttled well back during the reduction in height and speed. The slow engine acceleration below 4,500 rpm and the configuration selected produced control difficulties which this inexperienced pilot could not cope with.

Such flagrant indiscipline usually has some history; it did. If an accident is predictable, it should not merely be avoided, it should NEVER be allowed to happen.

Major accident: 8 Squadron FGA.9 XE649 at Khormaksar on 17 August, 1962

The pilot of XE649, Lt Tim Notley RN, undergoing conversion training, was taking off in the maximum all-up weight configuration with an experienced Hunter pilot on the port side as his No. 2. Half way along the 8,000 feet runway, No. 1 had no airspeed indication, so his take-off was abandoned, engine stopcocked and braking chute streamed. No. 2 who was indicating 145 knots at this time continued to take-off.

The emergency stopping capability of the Hunter in this configuration is not good, being assessed as about 5,000 feet. The pilot was aware that the barrier was inoperative and, to avoid a possibility of going into the sea, swung the aircraft to port. It struck the partially erected barrier (standby position) which was being adjusted, and came to rest with undercarriage leg collapsed.

The cause of the accident was the pilot’s wrong decision to abandon take-off, contributed to by a poor pre-flight inspection - he forgot to take the pitot head cover off!!

There was no warning flag on the cover when the aircraft finally came to rest. It had been taxied for 2,000 yards; both No. 2 and the runway controller were on the pitot head side of the aircraft, yet no one had noticed a flag. In the doubtful possibility that a flag had been on earlier, it must, have been exceedingly dirty. Without four full overload tanks the aircraft could probably have been stopped in the 4,000 feet available. In the circumstances it is recommended that tanks be jettisoned, but not in the last 1,000 feet of run.

Minor accident: 208 Squadron FGA.9 XE544 on 17 September, 1962

Pilot abandoned take-off at Embakasi after a fire warning light came on. When a tyre then burst the undercarriage was raised and the aircraft swung off the runway and sustained Cat 5 damage.

Major accident: 1 Squadron FGA.9 XG253 on 28 October, 1962

During a squadron detachment to the Middle East from the UK, Flt Lt B Scotford safely ejected from the XG253 when the engine flamed-out due to loss of oil some 37 nm north-east of Khormaksar.

Fatal accident: 43 Squadron FGA.9 XG136, 120 miles from Khormaksar on 17 April, 1964 (Roger Wilkins)

This is an account of the accident written by John Batty, who was flying number 2 to Fg Off Martin Herring in a four-ship practice ground attack formation.

The briefing was for four of us, with Fg Off Martin Herring in XG136 in the lead, Flt Lt John Batty in XG296 as number two, Fg Off John Thomson as number three and Flt Lt Glyn Chapman as number four as senior man, to go on a low level navex and practise RP strike on a target about 120 miles East North East of Khormaksar. The briefing was to use a conventional Initial Point but to then try a new manoeuvre involving flying directly over the target at low level, in low level battle formation, flying for approximately one minute thirty seconds, pull up into a loop, spacing out to about 1,000 yards then roll out diving back on a reciprocal heading towards the target. The height above ground level at the top of the manoeuvre would be approximately 5,000 ft. I commenced filming on lifting the RP switch on the control column with the bottom diamond in the vicinity of the target. The exercise was normal until Martin commenced his pull out at which stage I was about 1200 yards in trail. As Martin pulled out, his aircraft rolled very rapidly to the right and dove into the ground. I noticed what appeared to be smoke (probably fuel vapour) coming from the right wing during this time and saw no sign of Martin ejecting. As I flew over the crash site, debris from the aircraft was flying forward covering a sizeable area. I then climbed up and on Glyn’s instruction put out a ‘Mayday’ call to Operations in Khormaksar. The other two aircraft circled the crash site whilst I relayed messages from about 10,000 to 12,000 ft or maybe higher. I vividly remember one of the questions I was asked by operations being were there any survivors, to which I replied it was most unlikely. On Glyn’s instructions I then returned to base independently to be met by the Squadron Commander, Sqn Ldr Phil Champniss and the Station Commander Gp Capt Blythe. Subsequent to the crash my cine film was developed and I believe that the film was of great help to the investigators in establishing the cause of the crash. The aircraft were fitted with 230-gallon drop tanks and I do not believe at that time that they had been modified with the re-enforcing strut. Also it was worked out that we would not have burned-off enough fuel to empty the drop tanks. There were no baffles in the tanks at that time to prevent the fuel sloshing forward in the dive. It appeared that the fuel had moved forward and in the pull out Martin had put such a load on the tanks that one had come off the pylon, gone under the wing, and the rear of the tank had flown up hitting the right aileron forcing it fully up, causing the aircraft to roll violently to the right. At the height the aircraft was above the ground (less than 500 feet) the aircraft was put in an irrecoverable position with no time or height to eject”.

On the 18th, a 37 Squadron Shackleton was used to provide an R/T link between 26 Squadron Belvederes on the ground at the scene of the crash, and Tactical Operations back at Khormaksar.

Major accident: 208 Squadron FGA.9 XE647 on 30 June, 1964

On 30 June 1964, Hunter FGA.9, XE647-H of 208 Squadron Hunter FGA.9, XK139-J, collided and crashed during a practice ground attack strike on a disused lightship near Dasa Island in the Persian Gulf. Flt Lt Mike Gibson in XE647 ejected at 6,000 ft., and at an IAS of 290kts. with aircraft in level flight. As he could not reach the overhead ejection handle (with its protective face blind), his bone-dome being in contact with the canopy, and with insufficient time to lower his seat, Flt Lt Gibson used the seat pan handle to initiate his ejection. Under these circumstances there would have been no facial protection on entering the air-stream.

Ken Parry, who knew both pilots and was later on 8 Squadron, recalls that, the other pilot was Fg Off Tony Willcocks. He and Mike Gibson and I were all on the same Vampire course at 4 FTS, Valley, in 1962 - 63. Mike went through Chivenor on 92 DF/GA Course and Tony on 93 Course, and both went to 208 Sqn. My understanding of the collision (from a later meeting with Mike) was that for some reason the two aircraft were on converging headings onto the target, both pilots head-down on their gunsights, and neither saw the other.

XK139 also crashed and Tony Willcocks was killed. Whether he attempted to eject I dont know, but my recollection of talking to Mike is that probably he did not.

Fatal accident: 208 Squadron FGA.9 XK139 on 30 June, 1964

After a mid-air collision with XE647, XK139 crashed, killing the pilot, Fg Off A Willcocks.

Major accident: 8/43 Squadron FGA.9 XE623 on 11 August, 1964

On August the 11 1964, Fg Off Ron Burrows of 43 Squadron was flying as No. 2 in a formation led by Flt Lt John Osborne. After take-off they turned to fly at low level up the coast to the north east in battle formation. At about ten miles from Khormaksar, Ron experienced an engine flame-out caused by a failed fuel pump. He immediately pulled up to 2,500ft and turned back towards the airfield. Several attempts at re-lighting were unsuccessful and he was obliged to eject when down to 800 ft. The aircraft, XE623, crashed in the station aerial farm and was remarkably intact for a pilot-less landing. Ron suffered the usual ‘Martin Baker’ back but made a quick recover and was back on flying after only three weeks.

The following sequence, contributed by Roger Wilkins, depicts the aftermath of XE623’s crash near the Khormaksar Aerial Farm. Judging by what remained of the wreck and the length of the skid across the bondu, it must have hit the ground nigh on straight and level.

Fatal accident: 8/43 Squadron FGA.9 XE592, Masirah Island on 16 October, 1964 (Roger Wilkins)

There was a short detachment to Masirah Island involving six aircraft of the Khormaksar strike wing. The pilots were from both 8 and 43 Squadrons, which was unusual in that they rarely ever flew together. At the end of the detachment, a six-ship formation took off and, during the join into battle formation, commenced a climbing turn onto the track back to Khormaksar. The weather was fine. Unfortunately in the turn Fg Off Ian Stephens, who was flying XE592, flew into the sea and was killed.

Major accident: 1417 Flight FR.10 XE589, near Khormaksar on 9 May, 1966 (Ken Simpson)

Suffered a bird strike with a Griffin Vulture but the pilot managed to return to base at Khormaksar. The huge bird entered the intake and although much of it smashed its way out through the upper skin of the wing, sufficient went into the engine causing it to surge. As the rpm stabilised in mid-range, the throttle was left in the position when the accident occurred and by dropping the external tanks, the pilot managed to nurse the aircraft up to 10,000 ft on a heading back to Khormaksar where he carried out an emergency landing.

Due to severe damage to the wing root and air intake, the damage was assessed as Cat 4 and XE589 was transferred to 131 MU for several weeks for rebuild. It was subsequently shipped back to the UK and rebuilt by Hawkers as Abu Dhabi as 701.

Major accident: 8/43 Squadron FGA.9, XE530 on 6 February, 1967

Aircraft damaged in a flying incident, the details of which are not known. It was sold back to Hawker’s and rebuilt as two-seat trainer for Kuwait Air Force.

Major accident: 8/43 Squadron FGA.9 XF440 on 20 February, 1967

Flying as one of a pair in XF440 low over the village of Dhi Surrah, it was believed that Fg Off Sowler’s aircraft was hit by ground-fire as his aircraft began to lose its services one by one. As he reached Al Ittihad he decided to eject, the ejection being the first on 43 Squadron for 2½ years.

Major accident: 8/43 Squadron FGA.9 XF421 on 23 March, 1967

The aircraft overshot the runway and ran into the sea after an engine-off landing at Khormaksar. Aircraft declared a write-off.

Fatal accident: 8 Squadron FGA.9 XE654 on 20 November, 1967

The aircraft flew into the ground during a practice low-level attack over Oman, killing the pilot Flt Lt Roger Patterson.