Douglas A/B-26 Invader

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Hi Martin, Feb 2014

Browsing the internet re Invaders and came across your site. Not sure whether this is of interest to you, however the crash at Biggin Hill witnessed by me often springs to mind and I felt compelled to write.
I was 23 years old, a warbird fanatic and went to every show I could. I can still remember watching Don and the crew fussing around the nose leg of the A26 a couple of hours before he took off and being envious of them.

Understanding how aircraft fly I was slightly surprised that he started the barrel roll so low and soon realised all was lost as the nose dropped in the inverted position. I can still hear the engines roaring and the con trails coming of the wing tips as he went out of sight in the dive at the end of runway 21. It seemed like ages before the brown mushroom cloud appeared confirming the obvious. The crowd for a few seconds seemed to go silent.

If my memory serves me well the commentator announced that he couldn't disguise what we had all witnessed but the show would continue. Three Pitt Specials from the Royal Jordanian Airforce then took off and displayed, sometimes flying through the smoke cloud from the crash. I remember thinking how brave they were displaying under those conditions.

I left the show shortly after that completely deflated and shocked at what I had witnessed. It still surprises me to this day how often the incident is in my thoughts.

I'm still an air show fan, love flying and all things associated with aviation. Great and informative site.

Best Regards, Steve Rolph 

Chelmsford Essex

Hi Martin,
I just stumbled onto your Invader website. As a 74 year old aviation enthusiast and flying instructor it was so nice to read about your own enthusiasm for flying. Your story about the tragedy of your son Duncan tugged at my heart strings. There but for the grace of God go any family in this day and age. Undoubtedly he was a victim of the great curse of our modern society. It made me realise just how lucky my wife and I are that our three children managed to negotiate their way through early life and the drug culture unscathed. We can claim no credit for this. We were just lucky.
With reference to Don Bullock’s Invader crash at Biggin. I knew Don fairly well as we both stared out learning to fly at Croydon Aerodrome in the mid to late 50s. Don was slightly ahead of me and was flying with Rex Nichols at the Experimental Flying Group, flying Miles Magisters (Miles Hawk 3). I was learning with Don Pertch and Alan Wilson at Croydon Flying Club/Group flying Tiger Moths. We also had an Auster. I still have a photograph of Don as a young man fueling a Magister from a drum at one of Expermintal’s summer camps that they used to go on.
Later when Croydon closed down and all the clubs went to Biggin I got to know Don even better. I have so say that he never presented as depressive as far as I could detect. As regards a drinking problem, I think that anyone from today looking back at the Biggin Hill culture of the sixties would say that we all had a drinking problem. This was the sixties. We were young, indestructible and we were pilots, in my case an instructor, flying from the most famous war time airfield in Britain. It was just 15 short years after the war and you could still almost hear the Spitfires coming back from a sortie with open gun ports whistling, or at least I could. I’m sure Don could too. We were a wild bunch and most of us mad keen on aerobatics. We all used to drink in the Surrey and Kent Club bar and Don would be there with everyone else, but he was not a heavy drinker by the standards of the day.
I got a flying job in Africa (Kenya and later Rhodesia) in 1967 and lost touch with the Biggin crowd, including Don. On fleeing Rhodesia with my family in 1980 I returned  to Biggin, on that Bad Day, for my first visit in thirteen  years . I was hoping to bump into some of my old flying buddies from the sixties. The first person I bumped into was Mark Campbell who arranged for me, my wife and three young children to get into the pilots enclosure near the main runway  up near the Westerham Road end. Mark had been a young re-fueler in my day but was now part of the airshow team at Biggin. Sadly he was to be killed in a Harvard accident at an air show in Malta a few years later.
The second person was Don. I seem to remember that he was dressed in an old leather flying jacket but your photograph taken prior to the accident shows him in flying overalls. One thing is for sure, I certainly remember that he looked quite haggard. I knew Don was on the program to fly the Invader and as a war bird enthusiast I hoped that I might score a ride in it with Don during the display. I didn’t want to embarrass myself or him by asking outright for a seat during his display only for him to have to refuse. Instead I took to dropping some pretty unambiguous hints in that direction. I sensed that he was about to offer me a seat so plucking up courage I thought I would ask anyway.  Just as I was opening my mouth to ask, someone came up to us and told Don, quite sharply, to get down to the aeroplane or he would be late for his air show slot. The moment passed and my first flight in an Invader and my last flight ever, never happened. I think that the person who told Don that he was running late may well have been Peter Warren. As Don turned away his last words to me were “See you in the bar this evening Bob ”. I would have been amongst the last few people to talk to Don. Ten minutes later he was dead. 
This may or may not have a bearing on the accident but during the course of our conversation Don Told me that he had been doing a lot of air show flying recently and said to me, and I quote verbatim, “I’m absolutely dog tired Bob, buggered, I’ll be glad when the air show season is over”.
Now the creepy bit. As Don started the fatal barrel roll a person behind me was taking a video of it. At the very start of the actual rolling part of the barrel  I shouted out “Shit he’s lost it” . I later saw that video on TV and heard my voice shouting that he had lost it, but at that moment on the video the maneuver still seemed to be under control.  Voice slippage or premonition. I will never know.
In closing - Don Bullock was an aviation enthusiast, a great airshow pilot, a bloody good bloke and good friend.  We should all let him rest in peace now.
Look after yourselves. There’s not many of the good ones left!!
Cheers for now.
Bob Needham (Ex Biggin Hill Flying Club and County Flying Club)
14th April 2013

I was with my Dad and younger brother during this display. I guess I was about 14 years old at the time.....It haunts me to this day...My urge to run and 'help'....Dad stopped me running saying 'There's nothing you can do.'.....I understand that.....But that's not the point?
Andrew Ash



Thanks for the information on your site. I realise that it is now old history but I would like to add to the information regarding the accident at Biggin Hill in 1980. I was there as a ten-year old having been taken by my grandfather. My interest in the accident has recently been reawakened; I am a fire fighter and have just undertaken a training course on dealing with incidents involving military aircraft. Although this was a tragic incident is helpful to have first-hand experience of how an incident like this feels.

My grandfather and I were at the front of the crowd near to the southern end of the runway watching the displays. My grandfather had actually lifted me over the temporary wooden fence and I was sitting leaning against this right at the front of the crowd. I remember the A26 coming past us, from right to left, and entering the barrel roll. The nose came steeply down with con trails spiralling off the wingtips. My grandfather, a former engineer on Short Sunderlands, said ‘He’s not going to make it’ and grabbed me back over the fence. It may be that my Grandfather, Peter Sparkes, is the older gentleman referred to by Chris Keltie.

I don’t recall any noise of explosion, rather a dull thud and a feeling of vibration followed by rising dark smoke. At this point people around us began to move in the direction of the incident but my grandfather carried me in the other direction, away from the fence. My last memory is hearing the sound of sirens and seeing a fire truck moving along a nearby road. I also remember the commentator pausing, and saying something like ‘ they seem to be having some trouble down there’. My next recollection is of us stopping some distance away from the fence and the next display starting which was a team of Pitts Specials. Even in my 10-year old head I remember being aware that something terrible had just happened and being impressed with the bravery and professionalism of the pilots in performing a high-speed aerobatic routine just a few minutes after the disaster.

Tom Ladds


Hi Martin,                                                              

21st Nov 2011

My name is Chris Keltie I came across your website by chance whilst researching a book I am writing called “Riding In The Shadow Of Death”. The book is the life story of my next-door neighbour F/Lt Bill North who flew Lancaster Bombers with 61 Squadron during WW2. The story is going to be featured in The Mirror this week by Richard Smith who has taken a keen interest in the book after I contacted him. I will forward you the e-mail that I sent him and it will give you an idea of what I have been working on with Bill North for the last 3 and a half years. The book is nearly finished and we hope to have it available in the next few weeks. I have just set up a website for people to contact us on and receive info about it. ( There is also a possibility that there will be a launch at the RAF Museum at Hendon as well.

As you will see in the e-mail I met Bill North and his family in 1970 when I was 7 years old and my family moved into the house next door. In Bill’s living room was a picture of him and his crew standing next to a Stirling Bomber at RAF Winthorpe in 1944, I was instantly fascinated. Bill shared many wartime experiences with me as I was growing up and he allowed me to look at his unique collection of documents many many times. Ever since that day when we first met I have been fascinated by WW2 and the aircraft of that time. During my childhood and teenage years I was constantly building model aircraft, visiting air shows and learning about WW2.

On the 21st of Sept 1980 my father and I went to the Biggin Hill air show, I was 16 years old and a keen photographer and took my camera with me. We wondered around the air strip looking at the various aircraft that were on display, I was in my element I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day. The sounds of the engines, the smell of the aircraft and to actually touch them and get up close was sensational. One of the aircraft I came across was the A26 Douglas Invader N3710G. I stood in front of this aircraft and was enthralled by it. My nose was pressed up against the bomb aimers glass as I stared down inside the aircraft wondering what it would be like looking out the other way as it was in flight. I also thought and I’m not sure why, wouldn’t it be awful to be looking out of that glass nose section if it was about to crash into the ground. My thoughts were interrupted by somebody saying “It’s a fantastic aircraft isn’t it?” I replied “Yes it is.” The man I was talking to was one of a few men who seemed to be in charge of or looking after the wonderful machine. I later realised that this must have been Don Bullock and I only knew this later, because when I asked him if he was something to do with the aircraft he replied that he was the Pilot and would be flying it shortly. I stepped back from the nose of the Invader and was about to take a picture looking up into the glass of the nose when somebody bumped into me and for some reason or other I didn’t take that picture.

However when the invader took off I was awestruck, the sound of the engines especially throbbing through the air and through my chest. My father and I watched closely as it flew past the crowd and then started to climb into a barrel roll, as it reached the top of the roll the nose dropped and an older gentleman standing next to us said “He’s not going to make it.” I looked over at him curiously and wondered what he meant. We then watched as it dived into the valley at the end of the runway, there was a pause and we saw a slight orange flash and then a huge pall of smoke. There was an awful silence which seemed to last forever, then I heard a woman say “Oh my God it’s crashed” and the silence was broken. I immediately started to take pictures with my camera and rushed off towards the end of the runway, eventually getting right up close to the crash zone where I took more pictures.

This whole sequence of events has stayed with me all these years and what has moved me especially is that I was standing right in front of the A26 and spoke to Don Bullock just minutes before this tragedy. I noticed that your website has a blog with peoples eyewitness accounts on and wondered if you would like to include my experiences that day and the set of pictures I took? The crash is mentioned in my book about Bill North as well, which is what led me to your website in the first place.

Look forward to speaking with you,

Kind Regards

Chris Keltie


These are the pictures I took on the 21st September 1980 of the A26 Invader Crash at Biggin Hill that was Piloted by Don Bullock. You and anybody else are welcome to use them so long as I get mentioned as the originator of the photo’s. There is an extra shot of the Red Arrows crossing over the top of an ice-cream van too which I thought you might enjoy.

I hope these come out ok Martin. I haven’t looked at these pictures for 30 years; so they bring back some happy, but mostly sad memories of that day.

Kind Regards

Chris Keltie


Below, Just after the fireball.


From the end of the runway looking down into the valley, showing just how close to the houses it was.


Debris in the field, there is a film crew walking from left to right.


Taken from the road adjacent to the crash site, also showing how close the spectators were. The skeleton of one wing is visible.


This was as close as I could get, the spectators were being ushered back behind the Policeman. Again the wing is clearly visible next to the Ambulance.


Chris also wrote:

I have dug up a comment from my notes that Bill North made to me many years ago a few days after the crash at Biggin Hill, would you be interested in reading what he said to me when I told him about what I witnessed that day.

This is the extract from the book on OTU (Operational Training Units) where Bill had two nearly fatal crash landings in Stirlings. There are eyewitness accounts from his Bomb Aimer and Bill, also the crew all witnessed a Stirling going straight into the ground from 1000ft right in front of them; as you probably know there were over 5,000 deaths in the RAF during OTU. I have spoken with Bill many times about these experiences he had and at the time of the Biggin Hill crash I explained what I had seen that day to him; this was his answer quoted from the book.

This whole sequence of events has stayed with me all these years and what has moved me especially is that I was standing right in front of the A26 and spoke to Don Bullock just minutes before this tragedy.

I remember speaking to Bill a few days later back at Regal Way about the crash and his view on it was this.

“When Pilot’s perform stunts at a low altitude especially at air shows and the aircraft malfunction, there is no time to recover the machines. If this particular manoeuvre had been implemented higher up there is a strong possibility it would not have crashed or could have had a more controlled crash landing; but it probably should not have been tried in the first place.”

Chris later wrote on 4th January 2012

I have some very sad news to pass on to you, early on Thursday  morning 15th Dec 2011 at 00.15 Bill North passed away. Bill had been poorly for a few weeks and slowly faded whilst in hospital. His family and friends fortunately all had time to see him and share similar farewell experiences. Alun his son rang me on Thursday morning at 9.20am to let me know that Bill had died. I had a funny feeling all of Wednesday and felt the end was near.


I took his Mid-Upper Gunner Dennis Bartlett to see him on 11/11/11 and they both had some time together as well which was extremely touching. I saw Bill again on the 1st Dec at Basingstoke Hospital and I read The Daily Mirror feature to him and showed him some old photos of his Bomb Aimer F/Sgt Norman Jarvis. He was very pleased with the feature and got a bit emotional as he reminisced and looked at the pictures of Norman Jarvis (which nobody over here had seen since the end of the War). I spent about 3 hours with him and every time I got up to go he asked  me not to leave him. When I finally left we had a hug and said goodbye to each other and he said “Thank-you for coming”. I was really happy and sad to have spent this time with him and it felt like we had said our final goodbye; I feel honoured to have known him for the last 40 years.


Click below, to visit Chris Kelties feature on
RAF Lancaster pilot, F/Lt Bill North, 61 squadron.

The F/Lt Bill North story




I have signed your guest book also, just to let you know that I think that the picture of the crash has my family and friends in the foreground. I have never seen this picture before. My father was quoted on the second page of the Daily Mail as a first hand witness to the crash. He still believes that Don Bulloch had an opportunity to pull up further than he did, but because he saw all of the people in the field where we were he put it in sooner! I was only 6 at the time but remember vividly the noise of the crash sounding like lots of boxes of eggs smashing and then the heat of the explosion and then a wheel bouncing off to the left. Also the man taking the picture on the right is a friend of ours and he has a shot of the fireball moments after. I have forwarded the website details to my family and I'm sure it will evoke many more memories.

Thank you for documenting all that you have.

Stephen Pressdee


The above photo shows the the debris field down in the valley. I took that last picture from the road above
Paul van der Horst

Martin Steers wrote
Hi there my name is Martin and im from Royal Tunbridge Wells 
I remember my grandpearents takeing me to Biggin Hill that day.

All the cars were parked at the back of the field and we had headed over to a grassy part to sit n picnic ,it was all very exciting
the noise , the exotic aircraft the history the feeling the aircraft put in your belly as they flew past , it was my first airshow 
I was in my element .

Then I remember feeling the ground tremble and hearing a huge thump and seeing a flame and lots of thick black smoke, we were close enough to make out detail and feel heat it shook me .

People started gasping and crying oh my god no and the suchlike, running and pointing. 
I was sent back to the car and was told to lock myself in because they didnt want me seeing the crashsite , I was only 6-7 at the time.

On the way to the car I could hear people talking about what had just happend and discussing what and how. 

I tuned the radio in to the local police band being a bright lad and listend to the details while my grandpearents went to see if there was anything they could do to help .

I remember randomly crying for weeks after that I found it very sad
its left me with a deep apreciation for aircraft and the brave people that fly them . 

I especialy remember that photograph from the front of just about every single paper back in the day .
my grandfather kept all the comemorative stamps and newpaper clipping .

Not shure this is worthy of being posted on your site 
I just wanted to reach out and say something because its a moment of my life that has stayed with me forever .

Best reguards

Martin Steers.

Nigel Allinson wrote

Dear Martin
I was very interested to find the information you have collected about the fatal A26 crash at Biggin Hill Airshow in 1980.  I was an eye witness to this very sad event and was sitting under some trees on the side of the valley opposite the end of the runway - for the simple reason that I wanted to watch the show but didn't have any spare money to go in.  N3710G hit the ground around 80 yards from where I was sitting.
I was 23 at the time and had been a keen aviation enthusiast for several years, attending many displays in the UK.  I do remember some of Don Bullock's enthusiastic low flying of the B17.
My thoughts of the event at the time were that, once inverted in the barrel roll, the aircraft seemed to be attempting a half-loop to fly up out of the valley (from the crowdline perspective).  The valley at Biggin Hill was renowned for aircraft wanting to play hide and seek with the display crowd and I remember Ray Hannah's Spitfire display showing this off a couple of years earlier.
I vividly remember the wingtip vortices creating condensation trails throughout the last few seconds and this is supported in the pictures on your website.  It was a warm, sunny day, not especially humid, which is why I though the pilot was pulling very hard on the controls.  But in retrospect my first thought was not at all sensible, so I now believe a stall is more likely.  It wasn't possible to tell, as the aeroplane did not seem to me to lose so much speed as to cause a stall while inverted.
The A26 came down half way between the groups of people sitting on one side of the valley and the housing estate covering the other side.  If Don Bullock had lost lift during the barrel roll then he surely must have been in control of both the aircraft and his own thought processes in terms of where he was going to hit the ground.
Unlike your other eye witness account on your website my recollection of the impact was of the sound of a very large drum being struck once.  I felt the wave of heat from the fireball which dispersed within a few seconds.  There was silence from the watching group.  Then a child started to cry and a man shouted "Stay where you are".  Not necessary, as we were all paralysed.  After a while one man, wearing a raincoat, wandered down the hill and into the still smoldering wreckage, taking photographs.
29 years later I still have the occasional dream of an aircraft crashing unexpectedly.  It is often an airliner, although I do not have a fear of flying.  The crash is always accompanied by a large, spreading, orange fireball.  Sometimes the burning fuel chases me and I wake up in a sweat.  Sometimes I witness it from a distance and repeat the words I uttered on that day.  "Oh, no.  Oh no."
Best regards,
Nigel Allinson
Bedfordshire, UK


John Mansfield wrote
I saw the A26 crash at Biggin whilst at the stables in nearby Leaves Green I remember at the top of the roll the nose of the A26 drop sharply at that poimt my gandad {x ww2 raf pilot}said his dead at that point the plane was in the valley and for one moment i remember the plane raising a bit as if it was going to climb out of this at the last moment i remeber saying to my grandad no his not when unfortunately the plane sunk into the ground and all i remeber was a sound i have never forgot which as i can only descibe sounding like Ba Boom and a black cloud rising I remember being so upset and ever since then I have tried to find out what happened on that sad day. Since then i have witnessed 2 other crashes at Biggin. I came across your site whilst trying to find out about that day and think that it is informative and unbiaskeep up the good work.
.........And he concluded with
Thankyou for your response Martin, even though this incident did happen nearly 27 years ago it is something that does remain with you. Even though this was a sad and tragic accident I believe that something good did come from it in that rules were put in place to avoid this kind of thing happening again and although i have witnessed 2 futher tragic incidences at The Biggin Air Fair I would say that Warbird Flying is probably the safest form of flying in the UK today. I would also add that this incident actually increased my interest not only in avation but alsomore to the point in ww2 aviation.
Thank you for your Reply and Keep up  the good work
Kind Regards John

Paul van der Horst wrote
Hi, I attended the Biggin show on that fateful day and witnessed the A-26 stall out while inverted during the roll. On your site you mention that the B-25 (which by the way is at Hendon now) performed a barrel roll. This is in fact not true, although it was a spectacular display and it rolled well beyond 90 degrees. The B-25 was flown by John 'Jeff' Hawke and Rodney Small. What surprised me most, was the fact that some pilots kept on flying low through the valley (and over the still smouldering wreckage)while the show continued. Times have changed indeed.
Best regards Paul


Bad day at Biggin - Video 1

Bad day at Biggin - Video 2

For the above video's - "Right click and save target as"

The above video's was kindy sent to me by Michael, who took this film on his VHS camera.
Michael wrote: I remember this day well, I lived in Croydon at the time and managed to borrow one of the very first domestic VHS portable camera/recorders.
I have the accident on tape somewhere in my archives I expect. As stated in the reports of the accident I recall there was no sound of an explosion from where I was standing on the airfield when the plane crashed. I remember following the aircraft along the length of the runway at very low level from right to left and climbing steeply, having the plane in close-up in the view finder.
The air vortices at the edge of the wings were very prominent as the plane turned and disappeared from view behind the fair ground - followed by a large cloud of black smoke.
It took hours to get off the airfield after flying was suspended.

Pete Pilbeam wrote:
Dear Martin,

Could I start by thanking you for website regarding the A26 Invader but more so with all the information relating to the unfortunate events of 21st September 1980 at Biggin Hill. Although this incident occured over 30 years ago I still remember it well.
I was 10 years old at the time and had been taken to see the airshow along with my brother by my parents. We watched the airshow from the field opposite the end of the runway (just in front of where some of the photos were taken from) and I only have a few recolections now of the day.
One thing I will always remember is seeing people playing football in the field prior to the accident which they had been doing most of the day. Fortunatly at the time of the accident they had given up on their game and the field was empty. The only part of the Invader display I can recall is that final roll and the moments that followed.

After breaking over the top of the roll I can still remember someone shouting "He's going to Crash" and others to "Get down" despite to me still seeming as though he was going to pull out ok, everything seemed to go into slow motion at this point. It always seemed to me as though the pilot when obviously realising that a crash was inevitable that he attempted to direct the plane from the crowds as it appeared to abort trying to pull out at the last moment and instead pushed the nose down into the ground avoiding a field full of parked cars, houses and spectators.
It sounds odd but I can still recall seeing the overhead lines being caught by the wing and being cut. The invader then bounced as it hit the ground with one engine and the nose impacting at the same time the explosion happening within a split second of this. It seemed to take forever for the fire trucks and ambulances to get to the scene but in reality it must have just been a couple of minutes as they made their way down from the airfield.

I know the pilot was found to be at fault and was reportedly responsable for the deaths of his passengers, but recalling that slight move which put him into the ground in a clear area avoiding a field full of parked cars and people, a row of houses and the people in the field I was watching from, then to me through the eyes of a 10 year old he did indeed save the lives of others.

Kind regards

Pete Pilbeam

After asking Pete if I could add his comments to the site, he wrote back:
Hi Martin,

I am more than happy for you to use my previous comments on your website. Although it happend a long time ago that day has never left me and it is in a way comforting to see how other people recall the accident and how it affected some of them. It is also interesting to see that others have also said with regard to Don possibility of going in sooner to avoid further casualties and also with regard to the show still going on directly overhead afterwards.
I remember being terrified of what might have been the Rothmans aerobatic team performing a loop over the crash site thinking they were also going to crash.