Royal Saudi Air Force
6 Squadron

BAC Lightning F52

612

Saturday 2nd May 1970
around 11:00

Khamis Mushayt
Charles Lorimer "Vic" Wightman

 

High Speed, High Altitude Ejection in Saudi Arabia
by


Vic Wightman


What follows are the recollections of Vic Wightman who, as a civilian, was helping provide support for the integration of BAC Lightnings into the Saudi AIr Force

Lightnings for he Royal Saudi Air Force

To facilitate the sale of these aeroplanes it was necessary to provide some initial pilot support and the RAF was asked to release some Lightning instructors. This they were reluctant to do because typically Lightning pilots were the cream and had been very expensive to train. But instead they released me and Pete Hay who joined up with Don Creswick who had left the RAF some years earlier and we were given the operational conversion course at Coltishall.

Once we were in Saudi we were joined by Dick Ingham who had also recently left the RAF, but was a real Lightning pilot (though not an instructor). At that stage we were all employed by Airwork Services Ltd who were tasked with the initial maintenance and setting up of the the systems. Not long after we were contracted directly to the Saudi government through the ministry of labour in order that we might take part in hostilities if necessary, without upsetting Airwork or other interested party.

Saturday 2nd May 1970

On the 2nd May Vic took off from Khamis Mushayt . The weather conditions were fine, hot  and with 20 knot surface wind. He and his fellow pilot and  friend Vorn were to stage a demonstration high level interception for a visiting dignitary.

My task was to be a target for a practice interception by another Lightning so I was airborne first.

The interceptor was to be flown by Thomas Vaughan "Vorn" Radford, was to be 'scrambled' once Vic had reached sufficient altitude and had turned back on a heading towards the airfield and picked up by the radar unit.

Hydraulic Problems

Shortly after take off both flying control hydraulic systems failed. There is no manual backup on this aeroplane.

One of the checks is to make sure the ventral tank fuel is flowing into the wings.  On this occasion it wasn't, which likely meant a sticking fuel/no air valve. 

In the Lightning there are 3 accumulators for the flying controls, one each for aileron, tail plane and rudder, each protected by a non return valve.

In my case the tail plane accumulator ran out almost right away but I was able to maintain pitch control using differential power on the engines which are mounted one above the other. The aileron accumulator ran out at 26000 feet and the aircraft slowly rolled over and pointed towards the ground.

I had anticipated this during the climb, and to avoid an ejection at supersonic speed I throttled back and extended the airbrakes and adopted a climbing attitude as quickly as possible.

I knew a guy who ejected over the Irish Sea at supersonic speed and he was badly injured."

 [on 1st October 1959, English Electric test pilot, Johnny Squiers ejected from  a T4Lightning,  XL628 at a speed of 1,250 m.p.h. and an altitude of 40,000 feet]
" which is why I was so hasty after losing control giving out a quick mayday call with very little info and [then] pulled the face blind handle [of the Martin-Baker Mk.BS4B ejection seat].

The canopy was automatically jettisoned and Vic ejected from the aircraft approximately 30 miles north east of Khamis Mushayt.

Falling from 26,000 feet

Vic remembers that the events of his ejection appeared to unfold in slow motion, experiencing temporal distortion, a phenomena reported by so many other ejectees. He also recalls he did not escape injury free.

A hiss of air and sudden decompression was followed by what seemed an age before a severe kick in the pants sent me into the 460 knot airstream.

The seat free fell from 26k ft to 16k ft, during which time a high speed spin developed. Vic considered a manual separation to avoid the nausea he was experiencing when the parachute deployed automatically

"Discarding the face blind, I noticed the seat and I were doing about 120 RPM in an uncontrollable spin. No amount of arm and leg waving made the slightest difference, and as I felt like vomiting I started mentally going through the manual separation procedure, when suddenly the chute opened with a jerk and I was left dangling at 16,500 feet with a lovely view over the desert.  Making a note of the time, I started to prepare mentally for the landing.

Below him the hilly terrain was stony, desert, covered with rocks

This area to the east of Khamis Mushayt is made up of gentle hills with no visible vegetation, but covered with sharp, spiky rocks 6 feet or more in height like a Martian landscape.  On this day the surface wind was 20 knots which, combined with the 10,000 foot density altitude, filled me with some misgivings about the landing, particularly in view of the rocks.  Needless to say I was swinging like a pendulum in about an 80 degree arc despite my best efforts at pulling on the shroud lines and hit the ground right at the bottom of the arc ensuring maximum downward speed.  But my luck was in because I landed smack in the middle of a smooth, hard goat trail between the rocks.

From parachute deployment to landing was 10 minutes at a height of 7,000 feet AMSL. After landing it was easy to disentangle myself from the parachute using the quick release box. I think the canopy collapsed right away anyway.

Bad landing

"My legs went blue from the leg restrainers downwards from bruising caused by the high speed ejection. Near the ground the surface wind and turbulent air caused a severe pendulum effect which, together with the high density altitude and high rate of descent made me land badly (luckily on a goat track) with legs astride.

Both ankles sprained, a rib broke off from the spine and my face hit the ground between the legs causing a blood nose."

The landing was observed by a young shepherdess. She quickly disappeared followed by her flock. Not long after, probably her relative, arrived in a red  Ford pick up who offered help. This was declined in the view that the rescue teams would soon locate the downed pilot and the driver went on his way.

He spread out the parachute on the ground and although hampered by his injuries made his way to high ground to plant his rescue beacon. He was unable to make the downhill return journey to his rescue pack and settled down awaiting rescue

Vic's SARBE was however set to a training frequency meaning the signal not being picked up.  So he sat and waited. A few hours later he and his parachute were spotted by a RSAF Augusta Bell 212 helicopter flown by his friend Farouk. Pilot and crew carried the injured ejecteec down the hill

The aircraft continued to fly after being abandoned for about 15 minutes before it descending in a shallow glide as witnessed by the people operating the airfield radar.

It would have been nice not to throw away such a valuable machine and also not to have damaged my ankles and back.

When the wreck was inspected one of the flying control systems was found to be full of hydraulic fluid and apparently intact, which makes me think if I had stuck with aircraft the hydraulics would have recovered and I could have landed safely.

If the same thing happened to me again I would not change any of the actions I took.
Anyway in exactly a fortnight I was back in the air and life went on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below - "As a 3 year old, living in Saudi Arabia, in 1970, I recall going with my Dad on his motorcycle to sift through the wreckage of a Lightning he had ejected from." 
Matt Wightman


Martin-Baker Mk.BS4B

    The majority of the details that appear on this page are the result of correspondence between Charles Wightman, his son Matt and extracted from the Project Questionnaire. I am extremely grateful at being allowed to share this information, and photos from Vic's personal album, on the website.
See also more details of Vic's experiences by following this LINK