Royal Air Force
Hawker Hunter F6
RAF Chivenor, Devon
|Flying Officer Ian Gordon Ord|
Loss of Black 4
A Routine Training Flight
I was No. 4 in a 4-ship of Hunter 6’s. We briefed up that we were to do a pairs formation take-off, a snake climb through cloud as pairs, then battle practice at 40,000 feet followed by a pairs tail chase and some medium level battle practice and a 4’s (As two pairs) instrument recovery to base.
There was about a 1200 feet cloud base – with fairly thick cloud to about 7 or 8,000 feet and clear above and below. We climbed up through cloud and formed battle on top as we climbed to altitude. After completing our battle practice at 40,000 feet we descended a little and No.3 and I dropped back on the lead pair for the pairs tail chase.
Mid Air Collision
We started fairly gently at first but then Lead wound up the manoeuvres, increasing the ‘g’ to simulate 2v2 combat. My brief was to stick as a wingman to No.3 in fighting wing, search, and report. All went well until a sudden reversal was made by the lead pair when I was sitting a little high on the left of No.3 and about 45 deg swept. I was about 200 metres from No.3. Our altitude was around 15,000 feet. No.3 reversed hard left towards me to follow the lead pair. This threw me because I immediately lost sight of him underneath me. I delayed my turn slightly and then reversed left to follow what I judged to be the position of No.3. As I turned I looked down to where I thought No.3 should have been – no sign!! – Oh S…. After a couple of seconds I reversed right and pulled up slightly – now looking down and right – still no sign. At that instant there was an almighty impact on the right and to the rear of my aircraft. My Hunter lost all it’s nice flight characteristics and began to spin very fast and violently to the right – I think. The stick was completely loose and flailing around madly. The cockpit was filled with dust and bits and was a blur and my head was being thrown from side to side up against the side of the canopy and down towards the instrument panel. There was no doubt in my mind about what to do next and it certainly wasn’t anything to do with assessing the situation and chatting on the radio.
Ejection at 15,000 feet
I tried to reach the top ejection handle. It had been drummed into us through training to go for the top handle because it gives the best face protection and ejection posture, so the immediate reaction to go for the top handle was instinctive. I couldn’t reach this handle because I was being thrown about so much and I could not move my head and shoulders backwards. It was common practice when doing combat in the Hunter to loosen the top seat straps and slip them off the shoulder so one could turn around to check 6 [go forward levers had not been incorporated on the Mk 2 Martin Baker seat] – this I had done. I had now involuntarily adopted the very worst ejection posture imaginable and I was secured in the seat only by the negative 'g' and lap straps. The separate parachute straps remained secure and in place. I attempted to reach the top handle a couple more times. I was beginning to black out and it was all getting a bit violent. At last - but probably only after about 10 -15 secs from the initial impact - I grabbed the seat pan handle and pulled it hard with one hand. Immediately there was a rush of cold air as the canopy left the aircraft, followed shortly by me in the seat.
I felt a sharp pain in my back as I was thrust out of the aircraft at 80 feet per sec.
(No gentle rocket seats in those days). I could actually see the aircraft momentarily as it rushed away from me between my feet. The seat tumbled a bit and then I fell for a time until separation took place at 10,000 feet. The parachute deployed with a painful jerk that did not help my back. It was really quiet now apart from the distant sound of the lead pair. I couldn’t see them but I did see the remains of my aircraft, the canopy and my seat just before they entered cloud beneath me. My aircraft had both wings intact and the nose/cockpit area attached but there was nothing left behind the trailing edge of the wings – no rear fuselage or tail. I searched frantically for signs of No.3. Nothing. I shouted several times. No response. I then entered damp cloud.
Down about 3 nautical miles off the coast near Tintagel Head
I was not sure if I was over the land or the sea. Nav aids in those days were fairly primitive. I knew we had been fairly close to the coast when the accident occurred. I would have to wait until I broke cloud to find out. My back was really hurting badly now but I managed to relieve some of my pain by sitting on my Personal Survival Pack (PSP). As I descended through the cloud I began to get very cold. I only wore a lightweight flying suit and an aircrew sweater. (The sea temperature was above 10 deg C - the temperature below which one was required to wear immersion suits). At about 1000 feet I broke out underneath into the clear air – over the sea. I looked around for No.3 and then for ships/boats etc. Nothing! I was about 4 miles from the coast. At about 300 feet I released the fasteners on the PSP and let it down on its lanyard. The water looked dark, choppy and uninviting.
I hit the cold water and submerged for longer than I thought was normal - for reasons which will become apparent. Once on the surface I quickly inflated the dinghy and clambered painfully inside. I managed to do all the correct drills and after about 15 minutes I was fully covered inside a reasonably dry dinghy with the Sarbe going and flares at the ready. However, I was very cold and my back did not feel good at all. I was also beginning to feel seasick. It was only at this point that I realised that my life jacket had not been inflated! (eighth error). I left it that way and threw up with some intensity inside the dinghy.
I now had some time to consider the events that had just taken place. I was not at all happy as you can imagine - although thankful to be alive. I had been very very lucky – undeservedly so. Where was No. 3? After about 40 minutes of misery I spotted a fishing trawler about a mile away. I let off a parachute flare and then the day portion of a day-night-flare. It turned towards me. I had been spotted – relief!!
The Quiet Waters
The fishing boat was ‘The Quiet Waters’ from Padstow. We had an interesting and amusing (on reflection only) conversation about 'what I was up to' and 'would I like to come aboard'. I was hooked onto the deck with the help of a large vicious looking fishing gaff. Once aboard I informed them about No. 3 and asked them to inform the coastguard etc. I was given sympathy and soup, the latter of which I regret to say I managed to spray around the inside of the cabin. Eventually, a Whirlwind (SAR helicopter) and the Doc from Chivenor arrived overhead and I was duly winched off in a stretcher for Plymouth Royal Naval Hospital where I spent some time flat on my back.
Loss of a Friend
Tragically No. 3, Flt Lt ‘Podge’ Page, did not survive. He was never found. Just his map, about 3 miles inland.
“Lost Visual !”
A new SOP was written in the RAF as a result of the accident. It can apply to any aircraft flying in close proximity to another:
‘In clear air - if you are in close proximity to another aircraft and lose sight – manoeuvre hard into a known clear area and call on the radio immediately. If you are unsure about a clear area – fly the aircraft predictably away from the last sighting – but call “lost visual” immediately.’
Officer Ian Gordon Ord
From the Chester Chronicle