by Chuck Stanley
There was a crash with fatalities at the Shoreham Airshow in West Sussex, England Saturday afternoon. A Hawker Hunter jet fighter was performing a loop, when it did not recover at the bottom of the loop.
The Hawker Hunter is a first generation jet fighter designed and built in England shortly after WW2. It was operational by the RAF in the 1950s and 1960s. The RAF retired the Hunter from combat roles in the mid-1970s, although some two-seat models remained in service as trainers. Hunters were also used as one of the first military airshow display teams, such as the RAF “Black Diamonds.” The RAF finally retired the last variant of this sturdy little jet fighter in the mid-1990s as a result of the end of the cold war.
A number of airworthy examples still exist, some in private hands, and some by the air forces of small nations.
At about 1:20 PM local time (13:20 Zulu) Saturday, a Hawker Hunter T.Mk.7 crashed and burned during the Shoreham Airshow in West Sussex, England.
Graham Peacock, a wealthy oil businessman, owned the plane. He kept it at North Weald Airfield in Essex, England. The airshow pilot flying the plane at the time of the crash was Andy Hill, a British Airways captain and a former RAF flight instructor. Hill survived the crash and is listed in critical condition.
Seven people on the ground are confirmed dead. About fourteen more were injured. Officials said some of the injured might not survive their injuries. A search is still underway for more victims.
The plane did not crash on the airfield, but flew well behind the flight line away from the crowd. It crashed onto the A27 motorway, and all those killed were driving on the motorway. He avoided hitting a nearby college campus by crashing on the A27.
Frankly, I am amazed that Andy Hill survived the impact. Witnesses said he did not eject, but rode the plane all the way to the ground. Those first on the scene found him in the wreckage and pulled him out.
After watching a number of videos taken from different points of view, and of varying quality, it appears he was pulling hard as the plane bottomed out of the loop, because he is at a higher than normal angle of attack. That means the plane was in a nose-high position relative to its line of flight. He tried to pull out right up until the moment of impact.
Amateur video from different angles. Two cameras identified as Cam 1 and Cam 2:
This is not the first time this sort of accident has happened. All four of the USAF Thunderbirds were lost in a similar crash.
The most cringeworthy observation from some witnesses said the plane appeared to “lose power” just before the crash. When an airplane is headed straight down, it is normal for the pilot to pull back on the power. The last thing one needs on the “downhill” side of a loop is more power.
I am sure there will be calls from the frustrati for abolishing airshows, or worse, so what do you think?