Firstly, may I point out
that in creating this feature on the Biggin incident, I thought long and hard about the possible repercussions arising from
bringing this event to life from the archives of aviation history.
On perusing the various aviation forums, I found that there were
those self opinionated sorts, that hit the "don't go there" button when questions regarding this accident had been raised.
I feel the incident warrants an in depth look at what really occured
on that fateful day and I also feel a duty to those not only killed in the tragedy but to all the relatives and onlookers,
who still to this day suffer from trauma associated with experiencing the crash.
No one will ever know for sure, what made Don Bullock perform that disastrous
manoeuvre and we may never know why the accident actually happened, but in creating this feature, I have at considerable
time to myself managed to collate all the information available, be it from the web the NTSB or via my own investigation,
so that you can come to your own conclusions.
There are people who think the subject should be put to bed and
bringing it all to the surface again is ghoulish and unnecessary.
I felt that there was enough on-going data in the public
domain, accessible by the general public, to safetly create a summary of the accident using both "eye witness" reports
and "official documentation" and thus bring an end to the discussion on the topic.
This article is not based on my opinions or speculation.
I have only created this feature because this is a site dedicated
to the A-26 Invader, so all stories and events connected with the A-26 are relevent and had my passion lay in another
aircraft type, then this would all be academic.
I would like to thank, the Inspector
Support Unit at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, Farnborough
House, Berkshire Copse Road, Aldershot, Hampshire, GU11 2HH, for their invaluable help and assistance in supplying
data on the accident
All information presented on this subject is for
general reference only. While every effort has and will be made to insure its accuracy, the information should not be
used or relied on for any research or similar use without consulting the writer of the article or the webmaster. Anyone making
use of this information does so at his or her own risk and assumes any and all liability resulting from such use. The entire
risk as to quality or usability of the information contained within is with the reader. In no event will I be held liable
for the use of the information contained within this article.
Tragedy is part of history and it is certainly part of Biggin
Hill's history. Since the airfield was first opened in 1917 scores of pilots have died in accidents, as opposed to war time
exploits, each one adding to the concerns of those who argue that the flight path today should not go over a hospital, school
and hundreds of homes.
June 1918: Lieutenant Pownall of 141 Squadron takes off on a routine searchlight exercise
on a clear warm night in June 1918, minutes later his colleagues hear a loud explosion from the valley. Pownall is dead
among the mangled remains of his BE2 and so is a pigeon which caused the tragedy.
"He is the first pilot to die in an accident at Biggin Hill."
Clarification: Re the above
I had a mail from Martin Kent who wrote,
Hi, I have have information that
the first pilot to be killed at Biggin Hill as a result of an accident was Captain Francis Reginald Hudson 141 Squadron flying
a BE12 6534 on 21st March 1918. If you can help with any details of the circumstances of the accident that would be greatly
Lets start at the begining: The accident
The pilot was Don Bullock, a noted pilot of several thousand
hours who not only carried his business associate Peter Warren along with 6 passengers
in the A-26, but tried to Barrell Roll the Invader on that fateful day at Biggin Hill on September 21st 1980.
There were no maintenance problems found, but the official sources
( Douglas ) say, you "do not" attempt to roll an Invader, let alone at low-level and definately
not with 6 passengers on board.
Note: Following the accident, the CAA ruled that only
"essential crew" would be carried during air shows and "no passengers".
If anyone was found flouting this rule, they risked having their
display permit withdrawn.
Fact: Don Bullock had asked to practice the fatal roll
before the show but was refused.
Fact: An eye witness report stated, that the
Invader flew past the crowd right to left, heading south, and as it did so, it climbed and rolled left. When the roll reached
the inverted position the nose dropped sharply, and the aircraft continued rolling left before it disappeared flying vertically
into the valley. There was no sound of an explosion but a large puff of smoke. The Invader was carrying little fuel, so the
onset of stall on this aircraft might have been due to the laminar wing design, which must have been sudden and unforgiving.
(see video on page 2.)
Fact: Don Bullock attempted the same manoeuvre on take
off at Mildenhall Air Fete the previous May, as he attempted to barrel roll he changed his mind and managed to pull it into
a climbing turn, the commentator went very quiet then made some comment to the effect of 'He shouldn't have tried that'.
Fact: Don Bullock also barrel rolled the Invader at the 1980
Leicestershire Aero Club Air Show in late August. It was completed without any problem.
Fact: Bullock had practised with an A-26 instructor during
the year prior to the accident and had flown the manouevre at shows earlier that season, prior to which he had said
that he would not introduce it into his routine until he was thoroughly satisfied that he had perfected it.
Fact: On the day of the crash, a B-25 flew in low and
fast over the field, piloted by John 'Jeff'
Hawke and Rodney Small, he was also carrying passengers and one young lad in particular had jumped
out of the B-25's hatch and ran over to Bullock to ask him if he could take a flight in the Invader as he had never flown
in that type.
He died along with six other people.
Also, I have included some shots of Don Bullock flying ' Sally B ' and
as you can see, his display routine was unorthodox, at least for todays standards.
Those killed in the Accident:
Don Bullock ( Pilot )
Warren ( Associate )
Heath of Broadwalk, Heston, Middlesex ( Director of F&H Aircraft )
CMSgt Don Thompson ( Ground engineer for the A-26 ) Upper
Heyford USAF ground crew.
Sgt Mechanic Kevin Vince
( assistant to Thompson ) Upper Heyford USAF ground crew.
Gary French of Brighton Close Hillingdon.
Russell of Firglen Drive, Yately Hampshire.
Chief Master Sergeant
(CMSgt) Don Thompson
( Ground engineer for the
A-26 ) Upper Heyford USAF ground crew.
Above left, CMSGT Don Thompson
During the month September 1980 I visited an Air Show at Biggin
Hill, Kent. I photographed Chief Master Sgt Donald Thompson, 20th TFW, who later in the day lost his life as a passenger in
what I believe to be an ancient WW II plane. Scant details were published in the national press but later I confirmed the
details with the Deputy Commander at Upper Heyford. This photo has laid dormant in my collection ever since and has now been
filed digitally on my PC.
I would very much like the family of CMS Thompson to have this shot, which was taken moments
before his death. I have written twice to the authorities at Shaw, their base in Sumter SC and have had no response whatsoever.
Would you know of an organisation in the US that could assist me in my quest. I am, of course, aware of the time lapse but
feel the family would be happy to have this last picture in their collection. I would appreciate your advice and assistance.
The attached file shows two airmen, perhaps discussing the ensuing
flight, certainly the last in respect of CMSgt Thompson shown on the left.
I do not have any details of the guy on the right or if he was
on the fateful flight in question.
From Dwayne A. Thompson
I am the son of
Duane L. Thompson, the youngest brother of Chief Master Sargeant Donald L. Thompson. Your website giving
the details of that fatefull flight of the A-26 Intruder has been a welcome relief for the Thompson family. We did not have
much information regarding this accident. My Uncle gave me his E-8 uniforms when he was promoted to E-9, when I was a boy.
He was a hero to me, even though I met him twice. His time served in England kept him from his family in Michigan, USA. Thank
you, again for your website. I have shared your website with the rest of the Thompson family, and they are grateful. We do
not know the location of his wife, and three children, but I am researching.
Above, another shot of CMSGT Don Thompson
( left )
Regarding the above two shots
I would like to thank you for posting the second photograph of
CMSGT Donald Thompson on top of the A-26 Invader. As mentioned in a previous message, Donald Thompson was my uncle. I can
confirm that is him on the left. The young gentleman on the right side of the photograph is his only son, Paul Robert Thompson.
I have included a photograph of CMSGT Thompson's military funeral in Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, United
States. This photograph captures the airmen preparing to fold the American flag. Seated on the bench in the forefront is Paul
Robert, next to his mother, and CMSGT Thompson's widow, Jean Thompson. My father, Duane L. Thompson
Dwayne A. Thompson
Thank you for your response. I have shared your
website link with my family members. We are very appreciative of the work you have compiled. We are still searching to locate
Uncle Don's children. We understand his oldest child, Gretchen and son, Paul were living in the states. Paul entered the military
shortly after his Dad's death. Uncle Don's widow, Jean stayed in England, along with his youngest child, Cynthia. My mother
gave me some old contact information that my father received from Aunt Jean many years, ago. My father passed away August
15, 2011, and my found this information among his belongings.
Thank you, again,
If anyone out there can help Dwayne track down his family he would
be extremely greatful
pilot - Don Bullock
Below, Bullock at
the controls of "Sally B"
Above is Don Bullock and his associate Peter Warren (who also
died in the crash) prior to the incident.
Below are a series of articles/arguements, for
and against the defence of Don Bullock
defence of Don Bullock
FLIGHT International, 12 November 1980
SIR—After reading your editorial on Air Show Safety (Flight,
October 25), I
felt that it cast an oblique slur on Don Bullock, the pilot
of the A-26 which crashed at the Biggin Hill Display. In
view of the fact that a dead man cannot defend himself, perhaps
I may be permitted to comment.
I flew withDon
at a good many air shows, and I never saw him do anything
which I considered reckless or dangerous. He thought far too much of the aeroplanes to risk them. The A-26 crashed
whilst Don was carrying out a simple manoeuvre in an aircraft with which he was thoroughly familiar. The cause of t he accident has not yet been established, and until the official enquiry by the CAA has reported its findings, neither the editorir! staff of Flight nor anyone else is in a position to
A. R. MORRIS
Pilots medical history cited in air display
FLIGHT International, 31 January
A PILOT who crashed during a display is said to have had a history
of psychiatric illness and, in at least one doctor's judgment, should not have been flying—allegations which brought
swift reaction from British aviation authorities and commentators. In an inquest on the seven people who died when a Douglas
A-26 Invader crashed at Biggin Hill last September (see Flight, September 27, page 1243), a consultant physician has testified
that pilot Capt Don Bullock suffered from depression for many years and received treatment in 1975 and 1976.
of accidental death was recorded on Bullock and verdicts of unlawful killing were returned on four of the six passengers;
two further passengers—both US Servicemen—are subject to American inquiries.
The aircraft came down at the
end of a barrel roll, striking the ground in a valley at a level much lower than the adjacent airfield. The Invader was not
registered in the UK and was maintained under US regulations limiting its use to aerial survey work.
Dr Anthony Hall of London's Hospital for Tropical Diseases provided Bullock with a certificate for insurance to show that
he had been temporarily unfit to fly for medical reasons in 1976. "I wish now that I had given him a certificate that he was
unfit to fly for ever, because of his gross exhaustion and depression," Dr Hall told the inquest.
"I could say he was mentally
disturbed and that should have precluded him from flying. I was very shocked that he should be flying at all." UK Civil Aviation
Authority (CAA) chief medical officer Dr Geoffrey Bennett said that the CAA had known of Bullock's psychiatric history and
that he took tranquillisers. Senior CAA consultant psychiatrist AVM O'Connor reported that Bullock had been symptom-free,
off medication for a month and was fit to fly before his licence was renewed in July I960. Coroner Dr Mary McHugh said that
she would invite the CAA. to establish a committee to monitor airdisplay programmes and standards.
Dr Hall went on record
afterwards as saying that his clinical experience indicated that a high proportion of pilots were physically and/or mentally
unfit to fly. He was not satisfied that CAA medical checks were sufficiently stringent. "Pilots should be grounded if they
drink or smoke more than small quantities," he is reported as saying, since "smoking and alcohol can each impair visual acuity."
Obese pilots should be grounded, he said.
CAA senior aircrew medical examiner and aviation-medicine
specialist Dr Ian Perry does not agree with Dr Hall's conclusions about Bullock's state of health or his sweeping generalisations
about "inadequacies" in present pilot medical screening.
Hall "has no aviation medicine background and is therefore unfit
to comment in detail on these subjects," says Perry. Pilots who are referred to Hall see him only for tropical diseases screening.
Dr Perry, who has examined Bullock, says that he did not have depression, but had been on tranquillisers to help him sleep
during a period of overwork. He adds that Hall has made statements before "which indicate an obsession with alcoholism," a
disease and the effects of which, Perry insists, will be discovered by any experienced CAA examiner during normal six-monthly
medical checks. Though the best of safety nets will let through a few who should not pass, "pilots have continuously to prove
themselves on flying checks; this catches any the medical net misses," says Perry.
Dr Hall has remarked that some pilots sent for checks had symptoms
of "partial blindness." Perry says this description can be applied to pilots who are tested without spectacles, but are cleared
to fly using them. The general feeling at the CAA and at the British Airline Pilots' Association is that Hall has taken isolated
medical cases out of context, exaggerates the significance of the detail, and implied that present checks take no account
of certain cases. Dr Hall has spoken on subjects in which he is not a specialist, including non-medical ones: "stunt flying
should be banned," he pronounced in a BBC radio interview.
The Invader accident: in defence of the pilot
FLIGHT International, 14 March 1981
SIR—One of the most striking aspects of the Invader accident has been the inordinate amount of publicity given to it, much of which has been inaccurate and emotive. Dr Anthony Hall (Flight, February 21) adds fuel to the fires of meaningless discussion
with his inflammatory and grossly erroneous statements. The jury's verdict was not in any way related
to the question of mental health, but was specifically concerned with the absence of appropriate
"paperwork." Although this aircraft was not expressly cleared for aerobatics, that does not necessarily
mean that it was unsuitable for, or incapable of, limited aerobatics such as barrel rolls. This is borne
out by the fact that this particular aeroplane had performed this manoeuvre many times before, both in
practise and during air shows, and I understand that the type is similarly flown at displays in the Americas,
just as it was on occasion when in military service. It seems likely that if application had been made
to the FAA some form of approval for limited aerobatics would have been given.
It was made clear at the inquest that the unfortunate
verdict arrived at by the jury was based effectively on a technical point of legality. The only "mental"
aspect one can possibly construe from this is the oversight of the owner/operator/pilot in not ensuring
that the "paperwork" was appropriate to the intended flight. In this "paper-shuffling" world of
ours, how many of those of us who fly have not been guilty of some such oversight at some time
During the past two air show seasons there have been four
major accidents in addition to the Invader, all involving relatively
high-performance military aircraft of four different types operated by as many different air forces. All occurred in this
country and yet not one resulted in the hue and cry which has followed the A-26 crash, not even the Red Arrow Hawk which hit
a yacht's mast at Brighton. Yet each one was as potentially catastrophic as the Invader could have been. The reason must be
that the Invader carried passengers and crashed in the full glare of the cameras, resulting in emotive reports on such things
as low-flying, old aeroplanes, aerobatics, passengers, the Biggin valley and other side issues irrelevant to this accident.
The Invader did not crash because it was low-flying; this aircraft can gain height easily during the rolling manoeuvre. Many
older aircraft are regularly flown at air displays and some are "aerobatted." The Invader was not manoeuvring in the valley—it
crashed in it because the valley was underneath it at the time of trouble. Additional restrictions at air shows arising from
these aspects would be over-reactive and fortunately seem unlikely.
The most important factor in this accident is the question
of passengers and sensibly it is this feature which has preoccupied those involved in air show affairs. Again, one must be
wary of "blanket" rules. An aerobatic routine is obviously different from an "historic type presentation" and thus the risk
factor is different, justifying different rules. In certain cases carrying a "non-operating" crew member such as an engineer
is reasonable, and provision must be made for this in the new rules which are bound to apply by next season. In fairness it
must be said that some of those on board the A-26 were engineers who dedicated a considerable amount of their spare time to
that aircraft and a flight was recompense for their devotion. Several of them had flown and been rolled previously in the
A-26 and they knew quite well that they were not due for a sober saunter round the circuit.
The implications suggested in Dr Hall's letter are obvious, but
that fatal roll was not an unrehearsed sudden notion. Bullock had practised with an A-26 instructor during the previous year
and had flown the manoeuvre at shows earlier that season, prior to which he had told me that he would not introduce it into
his routine until he was thoroughly satisfied that he had perfected it. At the Biggin briefing and at lunch before the show,
the Don Bullock I talked and joked with was the same Don Bullock I had known for years. At briefing the early takeoff he requested
was refused, but his "slot" time was still adequate for the barrel-roll provided that he reduced his other "passes." As he
virtually went straight into a climb for the roll, presumably this is what he intended.
Only the Department of Trade investigators
can come to the most realistic conclusion, but with no survivor or flight recorder it will hardly be positive. In the meantime
Dr Hall's misleading statements are merely a time-wasting hindrance which serve no purpose except to rub salt into a deep
wound already felt by Bullock's family and Jriends.
Sussex TN31 7NL
.....But was the aeroplane really suitable for
FLIGHT International, 14 March 1981
SIR—The continuing investigation of the fatal B-26
(A-26) crash at Biggin Hill seems to ricochet from one extreme to another without pausing to examine the basic characteristics
of the aircraft involved- The description of the pilot has run from that of an unflappable ace to borderline psychotic, and
the basic fault charged to the aircraft has been that of being registered and maintained as an American aircraft and not British
with a limited permit to fly. What surprises me the most are the casual references made to the fatal barrel role.
was licensed under Type Certificate LTG-3, which sets the operating limitations to those found in the applicable flight handbook.
pilot has been described as being thoroughly familiar with the aircraft and performing a simple manoeuvre. This familiarity
seems to cover only the location of all the taps, levers and hooters. The applicable USAF Flight Handbook, T.O. IB-26-1, clearly
states in Flight Characteristics, section VI, page 6-3, Manoeuvring Flight, that acrobatics are prohibited, and in section
V, Operating Limitations, page 5-4, Prohibited Manoeuvres that rolls are strictly prohibited. It makes no difference who is
the pilot or what agency inspects the aircraft if the basic capabilities are ignored.
David M Kubista
2245 E 3rd Tucson
Pilot fitness—the debate continues
FLIGHT International, 25 April 1981
The Invader Accident As reported in Flight on March 14 (page 711),
the UK Department of Trade Accidents Investigation Branch air-safety bulletin points out that Capt Don Bullock "had undergone
treatment for a depressive illness in June 1980. He was subsequently examined by an aviation psychiatrist and issued with
a Class 1 medical certificate in July 1980." This is believed to be the first time that an official body has referred to a
pilot's mental health in an accident report. The medical and physical fitness of pilots continues to be a topic for correspondents:
SIR—You are performing a public service by allowing full
debate in your columns on the Invader accident at Biggin Hill, in which Donald Bullock and his six passengers died. Keith
Sissons (March 14), an airline pilot, claims that the Jury's verdict that the four UK passengers were unlawfully killed "was
not in any way related to the question of mental health, but was specifically concerned with the absence of appropriate paperwork." the
Jury was not asked to explain its verdict, but probably returned the verdict of unlawful killing because Dr Geoffrey Bennett
of the CAA, three other witnesses and I gave evidence that Bullock had been mentally ill, seen psychiatrists over many years
and had been taking tranquilliser drugs. Also, the Coroner, Dr Mary McHugh, told them that Bullock, having accepted that he
could not have time for the roll, appeared to carry out the manoeuvre in a "rather stubborn manner." She told the Jury: "We
know that he was a controversial pilot and not an experienced acrobatic pilot. The plane was only registered for surveying purposes and other pilots knew this.
That may, in your mind, suggest recklessness."
Bullock had refused to join the Historic Aircraft Association, a voluntary body, because he would not
be bound by its rules on flying and had been warned for low flying
at displays. Dr McHugh added: "He
was anti-authority in that he refused the restrictions
of the Historic Aircraft Association and perhaps that says
something of his personality." My
detailed notes at the Inquest reveal that one witness (whose father
died in the crash) said: "Don's health was a problem, all his friends knew this.
He was very upset by the recent death of his father, and his friends
decided to talk him into safety." It is unfortunate that legal proceedings (including
Inquests) are not taperecorded and published. The book Aviation Medicine (vol 2,
p 216) says "Disregard for Society's rules is a cardinal symptom of personality defect
. . . the great majority of personality disorders will not respond
to treatment, so that once a man is adjudged unfit by reason of personality
disorder, the embargo is permanent."
CAA statistics show that mental illness is second only to cardiovascular disease in
the premature career termination league. I criticise' John Biflen, the Secretary of State for Trade, for refusing my request
for a Public Inquiry where all doctors and pilots who knew Bullock could have been crossexamined and all his flying and medical
records been published. I claim that there has been a cover-up with respect to Bullock, the Invader and their safety of air
shows. During my tour in Vietnam in the US Army, I was a doctor for many brave men wounded in battle.
Bravery by pilots
in battle is totally distinct from the antics of pilots who do dangerous stunt flying for cheap thrills.
Dangerous stunt flying,
like public hangings, appeals to the mentally immature and should also be abolished.
DR ANTHONY HALL
London NW1 OPE
The Invader accident, no medical cover-up .
FLIGHT International, 16 May 1981
SIR—I feel that the time has come to stop all the nonsense concerning this tragic accident.
Certain persons' vitriolic attacks on a dead man's personality and character give the impression that these people
knew Capt Bullock well. They had, in fact, not se«n Don Bullock
for many years, and base all their comments on other people's observations, many
of which are erroneous.
Don Bullock had been misdiagnosed, mistreated
and was not suffering from any illness at the time of the accident. He was, in fact, better than
he had been feeling for a long time. It can be clinically proven that he did not have a depressive illness
at all, so certain persons are quite professionally out of order and wrong on that score. He did
not have a personality defect, and his health was not a problem to anyone except a certain Dr Hall.
Aeroplanes will stunt fly for as long as t h e r e are aeroplanes, and sadly accidents will continue to
occur. Should we stop car racing, motor-cycling, hang gliding, autocross, parachuting, etc?
I understand from those who know that an Invader will happily roll all day
well within its operating envelope. What we will never know
is whether one of those passengers came loose and fell on to one of the control systems at a critical moment in that fatal
roll. This would seem to make sense in light of the films
taken and subsequent analysis by those who know more about it than Dr Hall or I.
There have been other fatal accidents in recent times which deserve more
fuss and bother than this sad affair has caused. There has
been no cover-up to. my knowledge: why should there be? There
have been, however, too many unqualified people making unqualified
and unprofessional remarks about subjects they know very little about.
Empty vessels always makethe most noise.
Dr Ian Perry
19 Cliveden Place
London SW1W 8HD
.....and unconstructive generalisations
FLIGHT International, 16 May 1981
SIR—While considering myself unqualified to comment on the aeromedical aspects of Dr Hall's various statements
and letters concerning the Invader accident, it would seem to me
that there are many people greatly more qualified than he on those
areas of aviation medicine in which he seems to consider himself something
of an expert.
But he is totally over-reaching those areas of his professional or technical
competence when he writes "Dangerous stunt flying appeals to the mentally immature and should be abolished."
If anything is immature,
it is making these bald statements of such fantastic generality that it is difficult
to see what he might be trying to get at. Is he trying to say that all display flying
should be banned, whether for the demonstration of aircraft or for
public entertainment? Since any display is intrinsically more dangerous than straight
and level flying at height, he probably is. If so, let us not confine the vital lessons which must
be learned from the Invader accident within the much broader suggestions he is making. Of
course display flying is dangerous, as is, to a certain extent, anything
to do with flying. But it
is unnecessarily emotive to bandy around expressions
such as "dangerous stunt flying," particularly at a time when various groups of notably mature and sensible pilots and show organisers are meeting to make all
forms of flying display as safe as possible. By all means we must learn from Biggin
Hill, but the ill-informed and emotional approach of Dr Hall in non-medical areas is unconstructive, not
to' say unnecessary, when much is being done that is constructive.
1 Manchester Square
What the experts say ( Douglas Aircraft Company
Pilot's Handbook for Army Models A-26B and A-26C airplanes.
Section II, NORMAL OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS
(4) Inverted Flight
Acrobatics are stictly prohibited.
T.O. 1A-26A-1 (Formerly T.O. 1B-26K-1)
5, Operating Limitations
Spins or acrobatic maneuvers are prohibited.
The symmetrical load
factor capability is 4.4G from the minimum flying weight to 33,000 pounds, decreases linearly to 3.75G at 36,000 pounds, then
is constant to the maximum gross weight. Etc. Etc.
The rolling pullout load factor capability is 3.2G from the minimum
flying weight to 33,000 pounds, constant to the maximum gross weight.
Section VI, Flight Characteristics
Acrobatics are prohibited in this aircraft.
Air Accidents Investigation Branch full Report with associated Photos
Air accident investigation report summary
Bulletin 2/81 EW/C717
Aircraft: Douglas A-26C (Invader) N3710G
and time (GMT): 21 September 1980 at 1514 hrs
Location: 1/3 mile beyond end of runway 21 at Biggin
Type of flight: Display
Persons on board: Crew - 1 Passengers
Injuries: Crew - 1 (fatal) Passengers - 6 (fatal)
Nature of damage: Aircraft destroyed
Licence: Commercial Pilot's Licence (UK)
Commercial Pilot's Licence (USA)
Commander's total flying
experience: Over 8,000 hours (+200 hours on type)
The aircraft was due to take part in a Battle of Britain
Air Display and was programmed to take-off and go straight into a display lasting eight minutes.
During the display briefing, which was held on the morning of
the show, the pilot of the Invader asked if he could take-off early prior to the commencement of his display. No explanation
was given for this request, nor did the pilot give any indication at the briefing as to what manoeuvres he intended to include
in his display.
A suitable time in the programme for an earlier take-off could
not be found and the pilot accepted the arrangements as originally scheduled."
Accidents at Biggin Hill over the years.
January 1924: A Vickers Vimy, disguised as an
enemy bomber, takes off in a re-enactment of a 1914-18 war dog fight for a film company. The Vimy crash lands in a wood near
Cudham, the pilot having misjudged the height. Three men die. The cameraman, in a following aircraft, continues to film what
he believes to be "an astonishing piece of realism".
August 1939: Flying Officer Olding volunteers
for black-out patrol on a night of poor visibility. The Merlin engine of his Hurricane cuts out and he crashes into the hill
at Tatsfield. Minutes later Flying Officer Robin Buchanan-Woolaston is ordered to drop a flare by Olding's crash site. He
too flies into the side of the hill less than 100 yards from the previous wreck. Both men are killed
1942: Group Captain Philip Barwell, station commander, takes off from Biggin Hill in thick haze. Minutes later he
is shot down by two Spitfires from the Tangmere sector, one of whom is on his first operational sortie. It is an early tragic
example of friendly fire.
Jan 1943: Two NCO pilots, both Australian, are killed in a collision above
Biggin Hill. Two months later a Typhoon, piloted by George Whitmore with Frazer Harris as navigator, crash in Kent. They both
April 1945: Group Captain Gordon Raphael, commanding officer at Biggin Hill, collides with a
Dakota and comes down in the village of Appledore - the second CO to lose his life in a flying accident.
1951: In a dramatic and horrifying chain of events, three Meteors crash within an area of 100 yards during a visit
to Biggin Hill by Queen Elizabeth. The first aircraft skims the roof and crashes into a bungalow on the Bromley Road. Two
other Meteors circling above the crash collide. One comes down in Victoria Gardens. It is a tragedy which surpasses anything
which has gone on before.
May 1977: A Ferranti helicopter taking passengers on a 10-minute joy ride
collides with a Tiger Moth during the Biggin Hill Air Fair. All five people in the helicopter died as well as the pilot of
the Tiger Moth.
September 1980: A second world war Douglas Invader bomber crashes into the hillside
beyond the airfield, the pilot, Captain Don Bullock, having failed to pull out of a barrell roll. Four British passengers,
two American servicemen and the pilot are killed.
June 2-3 2001: Three aviators die in two crashes
during the annual Air Fair. On the Saturday evening a Vampire, piloted by Sir Kenneth Hayr with Jonathan Kerr as co-pilot,
inexplicably loses control and crashes in open ground at Keston. The following day a King Cobra, piloted by Guy Bancroft-Wilson,
comes down just south of the Control Tower in a tragedy witnessed by thousands of spectators.
Two people are killed when a private helicopter crashes shortly after take-off down in open land near the village of Cudham
The Bell 206 Jet Ranger had taken off from Biggin Hill airfield and was heading for Southend in Essex. The helicopter pilot
is hailed a hero after swerving his stricken craft away from houses before it plunges to the ground, killing him and his passenger,
October 2005: A light aircraft, a Piper Cherokee, crashes into Victoria Gardens, less than
half a mile from the airport, narrowly missing several houses. Two people die in the crash - the pilot and a pupil. An investigation
finds that the engine had failed because water had leaked into a fuel tank.
March 2008: Five people
are killed when a private Cessna 501 jet crashes into a residential estate at Farnborough, bursting into flames and destroying
the home of a couple who were hours from returning from holiday. The pilot, Mike Roberts, 63, averted further tragedy by fighting
to fly the Cessna clear of a cul-de-sac. The tragedy comes just days before the 90th anniversary of the RAF.
documented here relate to just a few of the incidents in Biggin Hill's dramatic history. Tragedies and the subsequent funerals
have been a way of life for the people of Biggin Hill ever since it was first earmarked as an airfield 90 years ago. Practically
every airfield in the country, big and small, has experienced its share of fatal accidents and everywhere there are pressure
groups and campaigners calling for a halt to the suffering.
By Bob Ogley