Updated 20 May 2011

The Funny Noise

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The Funny Noise

In 1962 in Hertfordshire, England, a tractor driver working on a tomato farm heard a funny noise behind him, and turned round to look. A photographer was going to photo the tractor but got a better shot....

DID YOU GUESS???
What a terrific photo!!!!
Read the story of what happened
and the tractor driver's email


Test pilot George Aird - flying a English Electric Lightning F1 - ejected from his English Electric Lightning F1 aircraft at a fantastically low altitude in Hatfield, Hertfordshire 13th September 1962 (Thanks to Daily Mirror Reference MP_0018484.)


Mr G P Aird AFC a test pilot with the He Havilland Aircraft Company, ejecting from Lightning P1B XG 332 on 13 September 1962. He was on finals for an emergency landing at Hatfield, following A double reheat fire warning occurred about 15 miles North East of Hatfield. George was making a normal powered approach, unfortunately he had to position for runway 06 as the wind was from the northeast. His approach to Hatfield was from the NE. The runway was short by Service standards so the manually operated barrier had been erected at the northeast end of 06. At about 10 seconds from touchdown, at about 100 ft, the aircraft suddenly pitched nose up and, since there was no response to the controls, he ejected. The aircraft crashed on the airfield, broke up and caught fire.


The wreckage of the Lightning can be seen above just on the airfield short of runway 06 and just beyond the greenhouses in which George landed. Fire damage was the cause of this accident; the anchorage for the tail plane actuator jack had burned away, hence the loss of elevator control.
George landed in a greenhouse sustaining several fractures. The hole where George and the ejection seat went through the glass roof can be seen in the above picture in the near end of the roof of the second greenhouse from the left. They landed in adjoining rows of tomatoes! The damage at the far end of the greenhouse was made by the arrival of the Lightning canopy. The remains of the Lightning can be seen on the left just into the airfield. George was back flying again within six months and on Lightnings a year after the accident.

The Culprit!
George retired from de Havillands (British Aerospace) in 1983 but continued executive and airline flying until his 65th birthday in 1993. He now has an NPPL.

emails

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Mick Sutterby (the Tractor driver) writes:
From: Mick Sutterby
Subject: Re: Lightning aircraft crash at Hatfield
Date: Thu, 19 May 2011 20:16:41 +0100

Dear John,
I followed my father into work at de Havilland, Hatfield in 1954 when I was 15. My father was the foreman in charge of the aerodrome and gardens. My job in the summer was gang-mowing the airfield and at the time of the crash in 1962 the grass had stopped growing and we were trimming round the 'overshoot' of the runway with a 'side-mower'. I stopped to talk to a chap with a camera who was walking up a ditch to the overshoot. I stopped to tell him that he should n't be here, I heard a roar and turned round and he took the picture! He turned out to be a friend of the pilot and had walked up the ditch to photograph his friend in the Lightning. I saw some bits fly off the plane before it crashed but it was the photographer who told me he had ejected. There was not a big explosion when it crashed, just a loud 'whhooooof'. I was about 200 yards from the crash scene. I saw men running out of the greenhouses and checking the scene of the crash. The works fire brigade were on the scene within a minute. Somewhere at home I have a picture of it burning. Although the picture shows it nose diving to the ground, in fact it was slowly turning over and it hit the ground upside down nose first. I was later told that if the pilot had ejected a split second later he would have ejected himself into the ground. I was very lucky. If I had known he was coming into land, I would have been positioned near the ILS (Instrument Landing System) aerial which was only 20 yards or so from the crash site! I believe the photographer had his photo restricted by the Air Ministry for - I think - about 3 months because the plane was secret. He then took it to the Daily Mail who said it was a fake. The photo was eventually published by the Daily Mirror. From there it went round the world, and I remember seeing a copy in the RAF museum at Hendon. I recollect the photographer usually photographed hunting scenes for magazines like The Field. I recollect that the pilot broke his legs but really was very lucky. I hope this is interesting. All from memory!
Best wishes, Mick Sutterby .

Internet

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From www.aviationclassics.co.uk/news/issue-5-english-electric-lightning-eject-eject
"The story behind a famous photograph of an ejection from a Lightning. - The photograph opposite was taken by Jim Meads on 13 September 1962. It was published in newspapers all around the world at the time and, as it was so widely seen, it naturally caught the attention of manufacturer Martin-Baker.

At the time Jim lived next door to de Havilland test pilot Bob Sowray in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and on this day both of their wives had gone clothes shopping in London. Bob had mentioned that he was due to fly a Lightning that day, and later Jimís children asked if they could go to watch the flight. Although Jim was a photographer, he wouldnít usually take his camera on an outing like this. However, on this occasion he decided he would get a picture of his neighbour flying. The camera he took had just two exposures on it.

The spectators found a good vantage point close to the threshold of de Havillandís Hatfield airfield, and waited for the Lightning to return. As XG332 came in on final approach, at around 200ft high its nose pitched up and the pilot ejected. The Lightning had become uncontrollable after an engine fire had weakened a tailplane actuator.

Jim took one photo soon after the ejection, and as can be seen caught the pilot inverted with his parachute still unopened and the Lightning plummeting earthwards close to him. The tractor driver heard the bang of the ejection seat and is seen after quickly turning around to look at what was going on, no doubt very relieved he wasnít working further over in the field. Jimís one remaining picture recorded the subsequent plume of thick black smoke after the jet had crashed.

Fortunately the pilot survived after coming down in a greenhouse full of tomatoes. He suffered multiple breaks of his limbs and cuts from the shower of glass that rained down on him after going through the roof of the greenhouse. However, it hadnít been Bob Sowray at the controls; he had decided to let fellow test pilot George Aird carry out the flight.

XG332 was one of 20 pre-production Lightnings and first flew on 29 May 1959. It was used throughout its flying life by BAC and de Havilland for Firestreak and Red Top trials, and its crash occurred while it was on latter programme.

With many thanks to Jim Meads for kindly supplying original prints of the images."

Compiled, formatted, hyperlinked, encoded, and copyright © 2010, John Palmer All Rights Reserved.