Royal Air Force

31 Sqn 

Phantom FGR2


11th October 1974

RAF Bruggen


Flight Lieutenant Ray Pilley
Flight Lieutenant Kevin Toal


The Loss of XV431

An Accident Waiting to Happen

"If ever there was an accident waiting to happen it was this one. Having bought the Phantom as a stop gap measure the Brits managed to double the price and make it go slower. Principally this feat was achieved by cramming into the fuselage the Rolls Royce Spey engine.

One other way was to make the wings fold manually so there existed  a situation where the wings were down but needed locking by an engineer with a brace and socket. A really nice added touch was to remove the wing pin warning lights in the cockpit so that not only could the wings be down and unlocked but there was nothing to warn a pilot as he lined up for take off.

All the warning lights were out.!
In the case of XV 431 the tiny wing spigots had been oversprayed green which blended in perfectly with the camouflaged wing."

The Ejection

"The ejection was interesting. The aircraft became airborne but immediately pitched to the vertical and I was sure it was going over on its back. Full forward pressure on the stick did nothing and at about a hundred feet rolling slightly to port I ordered my navigator to eject.

In the event I left the aircraft about 0.6 of a second ahead of him which in the event saved both our lives. 

In those days there were no explosive bolts on the canopies and the seat would not fire until the canopy interlock had been removed. My canopy went over Kevin's canopy just as his was leaving, and I passed over Kevin just as he was rising up the rails.

My rocket motor lit at the advertised 6 feet and lightly toasted Kevin.

No time to lower the personal survival pack and without a full parachute we both hit the ground very hard just as XV431 blew up 100 feet from the QRA pen housing 4 nuclear loaded F4's.

Shortly afterwards the canopies were fitted with explosive bolts and the operating procedure in a time critical situation was changed so that the pilot left without warning, save for a loud bang, which would catch the attention of the most docile navigator.

Alas nothing was done about those little old warning lights and eight years later only the sharp eyes of a caravan controller saved yet another one of Her Majesty"s precious Phantoms."

Ray Pilley
July 2008




    Kevin Toal passed away in 2006