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Airshow tragedy: Aviation expert Byron Bailey looks at pilot’s role in Shoreham crash - The Daily Te

AS the last of the 11 victims was named this week, answers to why a Hawker Hunter fighter jet crashed at the Shoreham Airshow in England last month will take some time.

This is the second-worst death toll since the 1952 Farnborough Airshow when 29 spectators died after a high-speed, in-flight breakup of an aircraft as it attempted a sonic boom.

A preliminary inquest has started in West Sussex but coroner Penelope Schofield said it could take almost a year before the findings are released.

Announcing the terms of the inquest, she addressed the families of the deceased who had chosen to attend, and acknowledged their need for answers as soon as possible.

But she took pause to explain that the process will be exhaustive and hence take some time.

Shoreham airfield in Sussex is one of many ex-World War II fighter airfields in southern England, the most famous being Tangmere in Sussex, near where I was born and went to school, and Biggin Hill in Kent.

From these airfields, the Hurricanes and Spitfires of 11 Group Fighter Command led by Kiwi Sir Keith Park rose to challenge the might of the Luftwaffe during the dark days of that balmy summer of 1940.

From July to October, the ferocious conflict known as the Battle of Britain raged over southern England.

By the end of October, 1887 German planes were shot down versus 1023 Royal Air Force aircraft destroyed but with 544 RAF pilots killed.

A large number of Australian, Kiwi, South African and Polish pilots served in the RAF.

Pat Hughes was the highest-scoring Australian “ace’’ with 14 confirmed “kills’’ but the highest-scoring “ace’’ of the Battle of Britain was Czech Josef Frantisek with 17 confirmed kills, flying for a RAF Polish Hurricane Squadron.

This most important WW2 air battle was pivotal, as it secured the national survival of Britain, which led later to the freedom of Europe and changed the outcome of the war.

Summer in England is airshow season with a show nearly every weekend at a different airfield.

I went to some when I was living in England, flying Boeing B727s for a British Airline in the 1980s.

It was thrilling to see a huge delta wing Vulcan bomber perform a loop and the Fighter Meet at Duxford for ex-WW2 fighters was a fighter pilot’s delight.

Regarding the Shoreham crash — how did it come to this?

That a very experienced airshow pilot, a former fighter pilot and British Airways captain, should crash a Hawker Hunter Fighter at the bottom of a loop.

It appears to me to be an error of judgment on his part.

In the early 70s, No 3 Squadron RAAF used to deploy regularly from Butterworth Malaysia, down to RAF Base Tengah Singapore to practise air combat tactics against RAF Lightnings and Singapore Air Force Hunters led by RAF instructors.

We used to super cruise our Mirages in loose battle formation at 43,000 feet and Mach 1.3 (supersonic) in minimum afterburner at 317 nautical miles.

In 1973 I even had a fly of a Hunter and was impressed with its smooth handling qualities but, without afterburner, it lacked the punch of our Mirage.


The Hunter was designed in the 1950s but in its FGA6 final version became the most popular ground attack fighter operated by scores of air forces in the 1960s and 70s.

One airline colleague, an ex-RAF instructor on loan to the Royal Jordanian Air Force flying Hunters, participated in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 against the Israelis whose Mirages and Phantoms obliterated the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces.

Consecutive loops in a glider is a classic case of K.E. converting to P.E. and back to K.E.

For a loop, the Hunter would need a minimum of 400 knots (approximately 750km/h) entry speed and a smooth pull to about 4.5G on entry.

If you commence a loop too slowly, you will not have the energy required for the pullout. (I was in the 1975 No. 77 Sqn Mirage aerobatic display team led by Sqn Ldr Geoff Warrener).

It appears to me that the Shoreham pilot perhaps started too low and perhaps a little slowly because as he approached the pullout phase of the loop he was not fast enough to give the wing sufficient bite on the air to effect recovery.

The automatic combat flap was also extended suggesting a slower than normal speed and, although the nose attitude was level, the aircraft was obviously in a downward trajectory.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has withdrawn approval for ex-military warbirds to participate in airshows.

Our CASA will probably be having a review of our warbird participation as well.

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