By Steve Vessey, Aug 1995
We reproduce here a very interesting letter from Mr Steve Vessey who has also taken the trouble to detail his own recollections of two Victors, one with a tragically short service history together with last issue’s gate guardian, XH673. Many thanks Steve for sending in the following:
Dear Mr. McGill, Although not a member of the Victor Association (being an ex-Shackleton man) I sometimes have the opportunity to read your newsletter and up-date myself on the current state of Victor preservation. Looking through the July edition I came across the details of XH673, and was reminded of a short piece which I wrote in 1989 for the Lincolnshire Aviation Society newsletter “Air Link” about this aircraft, and about XL159 which crashed in the county in 1962. I doubt if any of this information will be of any use to you, but enclose a photo-copy just in case.
In the early 60s I was a traffic patrol policeman based at Sleaford (mid-Lincolnshire) and in that capacity attended both of the incidents referred to. I had the opportunity to watch Johnny Allam make his perfect landing on the foam carpet at Waddington. At Stubton there was little useful work for anyone to do, apart from the Fire Brigade whose officers damped down the wreckage of the aircraft and the farmhouse.
Yours sincerely, Steve Vessey
THE SAD FATE OF VICTOR B2 XL159
In an editorial a few months ago I mentioned a Boeing 747 which had completed 67,000 flying hours before disaster struck it. An aircraft which crashed in Lincolnshire in 1962 was at the other end of the scale. XL159 was a Handley Page Victor B2 which was delivered to Boscombe Down on the 28th February 1961, for work in connection with the Blue Steel programme. Because the 17,250-lb. Conway Co 11 engines were not adequate to lift the Victor with Blue Steel and the associated avionics to the service altitude of 60,000’, XL159 was later given Co l7s of 20,000 lbs. thrust.
The aircraft did not do much flying during the year, but in February 1962 started work on a programme of tests of a revised leading edge flap system. Early results around the stall were promising and on Friday the 23rd. March 1962 the aircraft left Boscombe Down for further low-speed trials. The crew consisted of the Handley Page test pilot Philip Murphy (28) the A.E.E. pilot, Flt. Lt. Waterton (30), the Navigator Michael Evans (26) and two Handley Page Flight Test Observers, John Tank (25) and Peter Ellwood (23).
At about 1.30 p.m. the aircraft was at 15,000ft. over Lincolnshire carrying out trials with the gear and flaps down, in Phillip Murphy’s hands. Control was then passed to Flt. Lt. Waterton to continue the programme. Shortly afterwards the aircraft entered a stable stall, from which a flat spin developed. Waterton handed control back to Murphy who took recovery action but was unable to regain control, most probably because the elevators were blanketed by the turbulent air above the stalled wing. The aircraft descended almost vertically, but in a relatively horizontal plane, and resisted all attempts to get it back under control.
At 9,000 ft. Murphy gave the order to abandon the aircraft and shortly afterwards the two pilots ejected. Waterton was attempting to make a ‘Mayday’ call, but on hearing his Captain say “out you go” decided that it would be imprudent to wait. The flight crew were having difficulty in overcoming ‘g’ forces associated with the spin and only John Tank succeeded in getting out of the aircraft. He and the two pilots parachuted to safety. Underneath the Victor, now spinning rapidly out of the sky, lay the quiet village of Stubton, looking out from a slight rise in the ground, northwards towards Newark, and southwards towards the Lincolnshire Cliff around Barkestone.
On the corner where the roads from Beckingham and Claypole join and turn towards Brandon, stood Home Farm the home of Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Burtt, members of the farming family known in this part of Lincolnshire as “Burtts of Brandon”. Mr. and Mrs. Burtt were in their dining room probably having just finished lunch, when, according to local information, they heard the noise of an aircraft nearby, followed by the clear reports of the two ejector seats. Providentially they were curious enough to go to the French Window to see what they could see, and were still looking out when some ninety tons of Victor landed on the house.
Mr. and Mrs. Burtt were blown through the window and onto the lawn, sustaining a broken leg and burns respectively. Less fortunate were their housekeeper, Mrs. Annie Gibson and nursemaid, Cecily Gibson, both of whom were in the farm kitchen. They died in the flattened heap of masonry and aircraft, together with Michael Evans and Peter Ellwood, neither of whom had been able to get out of the Victor in time. Evidence of the aircraft’s lack of forward speed came from the fact that both ejector seat buckets landed within 100 yards of the wrecked farmhouse. A thick pall of black smoke rose above the village as the Victor’s fuel load and the combustible material in the house burned. The only recognisable remnant of the aircraft was its distinctive tail-plane.
At the inquest held in Claypole on the 14th. May, the Coroner was told that the aircraft had only completed eleven flying hours since it was built. It had the previous day been used for similar tests, which had been completely successful. The jury did not need to retire to consider their verdict which was “Accidental Death” in respect of all four deceased. I am happy to be able to record that Mr. and Mrs. Burtt made a good recovery in R.A.F. Hospital Nocton Hall, and that Home Farm was subsequently
re-built. One fringe-benefit was that the inability of two of the flight-test crew to overcome ‘g’ forces and escape from the aircraft, contributed to the pressure which had already been generated about escape facilities in V-Bombers.
This lead to the introduction of the lnflatable seat cushion which physically pushed crewmen out of their seats and towards the hatch. After the accident there was some speculation that the aircraft might have been tipped out of its stall by the deployment of the brake parachute, but these ideas do not always occur, even to experienced and competent people who are faced by immediate and frightening events. Given the B.2s unusual attitude, it is also possible that the chute might have wrapped itself around the tailplane, although I suppose it could be argued that this would not have made the situation worse than it was.
01/56 – Contract 6/Acft/123996/CB6(a)
20/02/61 – Awaiting Collection
28/02/61 – Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment
23/03/62 – Flying Accident
31/10/62 – Struck off Charge
VICTOR XH673’S WADDINGTON “FOAMER”
Not all Victor emergencies involving Lincolnshire had such catastrophic results. On the 5th December 1960, the Radlett test-pilot Johnny Allam with Sqdn. Ldr. R. Bates as his co-pilot, and three test observers “down the back” conducted a series of tests at 50,000 feet with Victor B2 XH673. One of the tests involved opening the bomb-doors, which unfortunately refused to close again! Even worse when the aircraft got back to Radlett the undercarriage would not lower, even when the emergency system was used. Allam decided to divert to Waddington and land on the then-available “foam carpet” on Runway 21.
The landing was almost a text-book classic since the Victor touched down smoothly on the foam and remained straight and level even after it had come to rest on the runway. Unfortunately it over-ran the foam by a small margin and friction started a small fire, which happily was quickly extinguished. The aircraft was only slightly damaged and went on to make a full recovery, and serve as a tanker with 57 Squadron. When last heard of, it was doing duty as Gate Guardian at Marham, the home of the surviving Victors*.
* See XH673 – WHAT NEXT? Issue 11 P.9. I can confirm that Steve’s information was indeed of interest to the V.A. and it shows what can be done when people contribute to a newsletter. Whether you are a member or not, we are here amongst other things to help preserve V memories and history, being grateful always for stories like the above.
We would also like to thank the website www.stubtonvillage.com for its permission to use the ‘Derbyshire Times’ front page image, while mention is also given to the websites’ original donator Mrs J Burt, whose family were tragically affected by the crash back in 1962. (The link to the crash being reported in the Derbyshire Times, was the fact that the family affected originated from the Chesterfield area in Derbyshire). Ed.