Vulcan XA897 Crashes during round the world attempt 1956







On 1st October, 1956, Vulcan B.1 XA 897, captained by Squadron Leader D.R. Howard, with Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst as co-pilot and a crew of four, left ADEN at 0250 hours G.M.T. with the intention of landing at LONDON AIRPORT at 1008 G.M.T.
The flight was normal. The forecast landing weather at LONDON AIRPORT was passed to the aircraft when it reached EPSOM at about 0958 hours G.M.T. as; 2/8ths cloud at 300 feet; 7/8ths cloud at 700 feet; main cloud base 5,000 feet; visibility 1,100 yards; heavy rain and little wind. This proved to be an accurate description of the subsequent weather experienced.
The Vulcan had ample fuel to divert and the weather at WADDINGTON, which was considered as a diversion, was forecast as; 1/8th cloud at 600 feet; 3/8ths at 8,000 feet; main base 13,000 feet; visibility 3 nautical miles.
The Captain after R/T discussion with Bomber Command Operations, and with the agreement of the co-pilot – who emphasised to him that if he was dissatisfied with the weather conditions prevailing he should divert – decided to make one attempt to land at LONDON AIRPORT. The break off height which the captain set himself for this approach was 300 feet indicated above sea level (touch down height at LONDON AIRPORT 80 feet). [This makes the 300 feet ASL only 220 feet above ground level AGL. J Dillon]
At 1004 hours G.M.T. the Vulcan was 1,500 feet five miles from touch down on Runway 10 Left, and began its descent under G.C.A. (LONDON TALK DOWN) with a Q.N.H. of 1017 millibars set on both the Captain’s and co-pilot’s altimeters, which was the correct setting. [Q.N.H. is the pressure at sea level, at that time, so with this set, when the aircraft is on the ground at London the altimeter will read 80 feet. J Dillon]
The Captain remembered in the initial stages of the approach going above the glide path by 80 feet, then over correcting and going 100 feet too low. This latter was in fact only shown as 50 feet low by G.C.A. Then having established the power required, he believed he remained sensibly on the glide path throughout the descent; the latter part of which was made through well broken cloud, but in extremely heavy rain which, despite the use of windscreen wipers, made forward vision practically nil.
In fact, as shown by the G.C.A. Talkdown, the Vulcan again went above the glide path, and then at 1¾ miles from touch down had descended to 100 feet below it. The aircraft had, however, regained the glide path at 1½ miles and was advised 80 feet above it a little before ¾ mile from touch down. The Captain continued his descent under G.C.A. Talkdown and at 1,030 yards from touch down the Vulcan made initial contact with the ground, removing both main undercarriage units. Neither of the pilots considered that this impact was heavy, though the airspeed during the approach was proved to be about 150 knots.
At no time after the ¾ mile on the approach did the G.C.A. Talkdown Controller warn the Captain that he was below the glide path.
Just after the first impact occurred, the phrase “You’re quite clear to land on this approach” was used by G.C.A. Talkdown Controller, which the Captain may have interpreted to be final clearance to look ahead and make his landing, because at that moment he asked the co-pilot for lights.
The co-pilot, who could see the ground below the aircraft, but nothing ahead through the windscreen, at first saw no lights. He then discerned a glow, and finally advised: “Lights fine on starboard bow”. The Captain looked out and saw the lights, but could not interpret them; although LONDON AIRPORT’S high intensity lighting was on, and at 100% power. The co-pilot at that point realising that the aircraft was much too low called “Up, up”, or something similar, whereupon the Captain began to pull up and increased power very quickly just as the aircraft touched the ground at about 140 knot. He believed that his altimeter read about 300 feet A.S.L. when the aircraft touched, but just before contact the co-pilot gave the reading of his altimeter as 250 feet A.S.L.
After impact the aircraft left the ground very quickly and the Captain reverted to instruments. The co-pilot said “You can still make it”, or words to that effect, but the Captain replied “Negative, I am going round again”. Full power was on and acceleration had been achieved, apparently beyond 160 knots. The Vulcan began to climb away in a steep attitude.
During this climb the Captain found he could not control the aircraft, which was trying to roll to the right, though he had the control column hard over to the left. He thought he might manage to check the roll, and believed he had some elevator control. It soon became apparent to him that he could not regain control of the aircraft because, though the controls felt normal force wise they did not seem to be taking effect. He felt that the aircraft was both yawing and side-slipping; though he determined this by feel rather than by reference to his instruments.
The pilot was positive that the aircraft was not stalled, and thought that the initial impact had in fact damaged the controls, though he saw no red warning lights indicating Power Flying Control failure, nor did he notice the position of his Control Surface Indicators at the time.
He gave the order to abandon the aircraft and himself ejected. The co-pilot took the controls instinctively, but as soon as he pushed the control column forward and applied port aileron he realised that the controls were not responding. To him the bank appeared to increase to about 750, and the speed to fall off to 150 or 160 knots. He repeated the order to abandon the aircraft and then ejected.
The ejections, which were within a second or so of each other, probably occurred at about 200 to 300 feet and, according to eyewitnesses, when the aircraft was either in a slight turn to port or in straight and level flight. The aircraft had passed the Runway Caravan and was about 1,000 yards down the runway when the ejections occurred.
The Runway Controller Under Training in the Runway Caravan was listening to the G.C.A. Talkdown and watching the Vulcan approach at the same time. He is categoric that the G.C.A. Talkdown Controller gave “400 yards from the runway: talkdown complete” when the Vulcan had passed the Runway Caravan by about 100 yards.
The Runway Controller in the Caravan was also watching the aircraft and listening to the G.C.A. Talkdown. He confirmed that the last message “400 yards from the runway: talkdown complete” was given late. In fact, he stated that the last word coincided with the pilots’ ejection which was about 1,000 yards down the runway past the Runway Caravan.
After the ejections the Vulcan banked steeply to starboard, the nose dropped, and it crashed on the right-hand side of the runway at the far end and burned out. The remaining crew of the aircraft – Squadron Leader Stroud, Squadron Leader Eames, Squadron Leader Gamble, and Mr. Bassett, were killed instantaneously.
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