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The Royal Air Force as seen by John Cooper

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Hastings Elevator Problems


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On the tailplane the right side line is the housing for the trim tab operating mechanism, there is a centre hinge bracket between the two drawn lines and a third bracket is inboard of the trim box.

The Handley Page Hastings was by far and large a very robust and successful aircraft giving 30 years of service in the RAF/RNZAF. The serviceability of the aircraft was generally good and often a flight engineer would not have too many 'snags' to report to a 'grease monkey' upon an afterflight inspection.

However one cause for concern over the lifetime of the Hastings was in the tailplane section where the elevator hinge section was attached to the tailplane, in fact for the majority of the Hastings built it was the 'end of the line' for the Hastybird when TG577 took off with a total of 41 crew and parachutists on board on 06/07/1965. Within minutes of being airborne TG577 plummeted to earth with sadly the loss of all on board. A couple of days later all Hastings were temporarily grounded pending a Court of Inquiry report, this resulted in the failure of the hinge bolt bracket that connected the elevator to the tailplane being fatigued. Subsequent checks found at least 3 other bracket failures and modifications were put into place immediately and within 2 years most of the Hastings were replaced by Lockheed Hercules transport aircraft. My last flight was in one such Hastings of Strike Command in 1968 from Wattisham to Coningsby and return supporting 29 (F) Lightning Squadron.

It is known that over the years that at least 5 Hastings crashed due to elevator problems, some of these accident reports and other Hastings accidents, where the cause is unknown, have their accident record cards missing. The mystery surrounding the lack of information regarding the TG579 crash at Gan raises doubts on what or who was to blame for this accident.

I will state here and now that I have no proof that TG579's demise was caused by elevator or any other technical malfunction, the answer here lies at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, but consider the possibilities:-

1> The pilot of TG579 F/L Bob Scott was a highly experienced pilot with over 5000 flying hours experience with 3500 of those hours in flying Hastings type, he was classified as an above average pilot and held a Master Green Rated Certificate for instrument flying.

2> Two eyewitness reports, one the Duty Officer at Gan on the night of the accident saw the aircraft suddenly drop from 400 ft, the other who helped set up the Board of Inquiry from 224 Group Headquarters recalls the sudden drop from near 500 ft.

3> There was no intention of ditching the aircraft into the sea as the undercarriage was down and locked. The visibility was 1.5 nautical miles so the refraction theory that so many have spoken about could not have existed as the SAR Shackleton took off, searched and found survivors and landed again in the same conditions as Scott was experiencing.

4> The accident report (and newspaper reports from that time) states that the pilot was blinded by a brilliant flash of lightning (most lightning is brilliant!) but it does not state that the co-pilot was affected by this flash so why did TG579 drop like a stone.

5> My theory is that the aircraft was under extreme buffeting from the storm and it must have been difficult for the pilots to control the stability of the aircraft but did this buffeting weaken the elevator hinge bracket to such an extent that the bracket failed and the aircraft dropped.

6> The accident card shows that the aircraft was flying at 420 ft., and at a speed of 125 knots which means that 2 seconds would have elapsed from the time of failure to the aircraft hitting the sea, not even time for the aircraft to have taken a nose down attitude and hardly enough time for the pilots to draw breath!

7> None of the passengers and two of the crew were not aware of any problem until we had hit the sea.

Two airframe fitters recall the modifications made to the hinge bracket mechanism, over a ten year period and both worked at Changi on ASF or 48 Squadron so it is known that there was an ongoing problem, it is also interesting to note that TG577 with the fatalities, that the hinge bracket was strengthened just after the demise of TG579! One of the fitters recalls " The modification that I carried out consisted of fitting preshaped doubler plates at the rearmost point of the elevator outrigger bracket. Which in itself was a light alloy forging bolted to the rear spar of the tailplane. It was about 15 inches long, about 7 inches deep at the spar end tapering to about 3 inches at the end where the elevators were hinged. There were possibly two lightening holes over its length. It was rigid in its vertical plane but it could be flexed if sideways pressure was applied. I think the original failure had been at the point on this outrigger where the attachment bolt was fitted, joining this to the elevator. We fitted doubler plates to top and bottom flanges of this bit and I think fitted longer, high tensile bolts".

A groundcrew member working on one such Hastings on a turn round of 48 Squadron in 1960 at RAF Gan happened to touch the elevator which then swung lose, it is thought that if this aircraft had taken off without rectification/modification taking place then another fatal accident would have occurred, this is recalled by Keith Greenwood on Gan at that time.
 
A similar incident happened to a Flight Engineer from 24 Squadron at Fayid in Egypt in the early 1950's, when checking the tailplane on a before flight examination, he feels sure that had he not put his shoulder under the tailplane to check for movement his next flight could have ended in a disaster, as one of the bolts had sheared off. 
 
TG577 Crash near Abingdon July 1965. I have had several people get in touch with me regarding this accident including four family members of the deceased crew, if you do have information regarding this crash please forward it on the 'contact me' address on the title bar.

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Sent in by Doug Adams in October 2005




Having read most of the material about the Hastings and its elevator problem(s),

and working out that this issue was known about or at least suspected for a number of

years, it seems a little odd (cavalier) that these aircraft were being used to provide

large groups of teenagers (Air Training Corps specifically) with flying experience certainly

up to 1960.   I know, because I went on one from RAF Colerne!    I was going to use

the expression 'joy ride' but this it certainly was not.   Cold, noisy, rattly and facing

backwards (safe I know), it was like an old (1940's) bus going slowly up a steep hill

for two and a half hours!

 

Ah well, I'm here to tell the tale!

 

Doug Adams

 

Updating 19th November 2011

 

I am in contact with a family member whose grandfather was one of the nine who died aboard Hastings TG602 on January 12th 1953 in the Suez Canal Zone. This accident happened near Shallufa after taking off from RAF Fayid. Can anyone please help here?

 

I am also looking for information regarding anyone who undertook Modification 801 where 1/4" elevator bolts were replaced by 5/16" bolts, or any other information relating to the elevators/bolts on the tailplane of any Hastings aircraft

 

This incident is being discussed here registration and log in is required

 


 

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Some incidents relating to elevators/locks

 

  16/06/1952 TG603 NO ACCIDENT RECORD CARD EXISTS. I have sinced received information that this aircraft was 'Blown Off the Runway' at RAF Luqa, Malta and that there were no survivors, understand that Elevator Bolts could have sheared off.

12/01/1953 TG602 Elevator problems over Egypt, crashed 9 died.
Received January 22nd 2006
HI John,
My name is Robin "Ernie" Berkshire I served at RAF Fayid Egypt On (at that time 204 Sqdn, shortly after to become 84 Sqdn) and remember this crash well, The aircraft was part of the 'Hastings Flight' that was on detachment at Fayid for the Mau-Mau emergency. One of my non-trade tasks was as a member of 'RAF Fayid Permanent Funeral Party' and I remember this funeral well.

In 2002 I went back to the Canal Zone with the Suez Veterans Association, and we visited Fayid Cemetary, I found it very emotional looking at those 9 graves, I have photographs of the headstones if any one would like a copy of one or all. I might comment that both Fayid and Moascar cemetaries are beautifully kept.
(See story below)

Further to the above re TG 602 B J Dawson sent the following through

I was in Air Traffic Control at Fayid and a
colleague and I had arranged to go on an air test with this aircraft -
at the last minute we were called to the Air Traffic Tower and missed
the flight. The Hastings took off from Fayid and lost its elevator etc. near to RAF Shallufa, where it finally crashed killing the nine people on board.
This may not be associated but it concerns elevator locks
22/06/1953 WJ335 Stalled on take off at Abingdon, 6 died with what was thought to be the elevator locks still in or that had been reapplied.


WJ335

On 22nd June 1953 was ready for take off at RAF Abingdon with a crew of six onboard. It has been stated that WJ335 rose to approximately 300' when it stalled and crashed with the loss of the six crew.

The report suggests that the elevator control locks had been in the engaged position or reapplied after release, there had been an apparent modification to prevent this from occuring.

I received these two emails from Brian Collins this week mid February 2009

Dear Mr Cooper,

I believe that I can correct the brief report on this crash that you include in your website. I was a newly commissioned Army Second Lieutenant at the time. I had volunteered for service in Airborne Forces and in June 1953 was a member of a class of about 30 soldiers on the Parachute Course at RAF Abingdon.

On 22 June we were scheduled to make our first jump from an aircraft and while we were waiting in the "Sweat-box", a hut on the edge of the airfield, the RAF Officer in charge of our course came in and told us that there would be a short delay because "a Hastings from Lyneham was on its way to pick us up"

Sure enough, a few minutes later, he came back and told us to line up outside the hut and watch the plane arrive. I clearly remember seeing the Hastings come in low from the West, and it seemed to land heavily tail wheel first. It then cart-wheeled forward over onto its back and burst into flames.

The RAF Officer, with amazing coolness said something like "Sorry about that, chaps, but we will have another plane here for you soonest". He was quite right, a second Hastings arrived very quickly and we emplaned, took off and all jumped safely at RAF Watchfield.

You will see therefore why I know that the reason that you give for this accident, namely "crashed on take off" is incorrect. The plane crashed while coming into land.

Please let me know if I can help further.

Brian Collins

.....a further email in response to my reply

John,

Thank you for your response.

It certainly was a day to remember, especially as I had never flown in a plane before (our two previous jumps had been from a balloon). I can also add that we were told that three of the fatal casualties were a spare crew that was hitching a ride from Lyneham to Abingdon. The narrative in the link that you gave me is a puzzle. It certainly does not tally with what I saw on that June morning. Please use my account if you wish.

Regards.

Brian Collins



22/06/1953 WJ335 Stalled on take off at Abingdon, 6 died with what was thought to be the elevator locks still in or that had been reapplied.


WJ335

On 22nd June 1953 was ready for take off at RAF Abingdon with a crew of six onboard. It has been stated that WJ335 rose to approximately 300' when it stalled and crashed with the loss of the six crew.

The report suggests that the elevator control locks had been in the engaged position or reapplied after release, there had been an apparent modification to prevent this from occuring.

I received these two emails from Brian Collins this week mid February 2009

Dear Mr Cooper,

I believe that I can correct the brief report on this crash that you include in your website. I was a newly commissioned Army Second Lieutenant at the time. I had volunteered for service in Airborne Forces and in June 1953 was a member of a class of about 30 soldiers on the Parachute Course at RAF Abingdon.

On 22 June we were scheduled to make our first jump from an aircraft and while we were waiting in the "Sweat-box", a hut on the edge of the airfield, the RAF Officer in charge of our course came in and told us that there would be a short delay because "a Hastings from Lyneham was on its way to pick us up"
 
Sure enough, a few minutes later, he came back and told us to line up outside the hut and watch the plane arrive. I clearly remember seeing the Hastings come in low from the West, and it seemed to land heavily tail wheel first. It then cart-wheeled forward over onto its back and burst into flames.
 
The RAF Officer, with amazing coolness said something like "Sorry about that, chaps, but we will have another plane here for you soonest". He was quite right, a second Hastings arrived very quickly and we emplaned, took off and all jumped safely at RAF Watchfield.
 
You will see therefore why I know that the reason that you give for this accident, namely "crashed on take off" is incorrect. The plane crashed while coming into land.
 
Please let me know if I can help further.
 
Brian Collins

.....a further email in response to my reply

John,
 
Thank you for your response.
 
It certainly was a day to remember, especially as I had never flown in a plane before (our two previous jumps had been from a balloon). I can also add that we were told that three of the fatal casualties were a spare crew that was hitching a ride from Lyneham to Abingdon. The narrative in the link that you gave me is a puzzle. It certainly does not tally with what I saw on that June morning. Please use my account if you wish.

Regards.
 
Brian Collins


Further update July 2009 from Gordon Clack, Hastings Pilot


John:

 

I can give an eye-witness account of the Hastings crash at Abingdon on 22 June 1953.  I was then serving as a co-pilot on 53 Squadron at Lyneham and three Hastings had left Lyneham that morning to collect parachutists from No 1 PTS (then at Abingdon) and to drop them on an exercise.  All three crews were from 53 but the aircraft were pooled for the Lyneham Wing comprising 53, 99 and 511 Squadrons.

 

We arrived at Abingdon but were told that the wind-strength was too high for dropping the paras so we waited for a while in the hope it would decrease. After some time we were told it did not seem to be decreasing and we may as well return to Lyneham.  There was a little rivalry between Lyneham and Abingdon where 24 and 47 (Hastings) squadrons were based so the three captains agreed to take off in turn but to form up into a V overhead and do a pass over the airfield before returning to base.

 

The first Hastings took  off (captained by Flt Lt Geoff Bolton and co-pilot Fg Off Don Butterworth) and circled overhead.  The second aircraft (WJ335) captained by Flt Lt Jimmy Dodds and co-pilot Sgt Mead) started to roll down Runway 18 as we (TG610, captain Fg. Off Angus MaClean and self co-pilot) lined up behind, so we had a clear view as it left the ground. Alarmingly, it commenced a steep climb, seemed to hesitate and then stalled into the ground opposite the Fire Section. There was an explosion followed by a fire and it was fairly obvious that no-one would be able to get out although we heard later that the engineer was found on the wing-root, having presumably managed to escape from a hatch but did not survive.

 

At the time it was common knowledge that although the control-lock lever could be released, unless the control-column was pulled right back ("Full and Free controls check"), the weight of the elevators prevented the locking bolt from coming out.  It was therefore possible that the control-lock lever to be released but the elevators still locked in a slightly  "up" position, in which case the aircraft would immediately go into a climb with airflow over the elevators.    

 

Hope this may add something to the sad story.  I later served with No. 6 AEF (Chipmunks) at Abingdon and whenever I lined up on Runway 18 I was reminded of the earlier sight  of the plan-view of Hastings WJ335 just before it stalled.

 

Gordon "Nobby" Clack

Flight Lieutenant, RAF/RAFVR, Rtd   


 





02/03/1955 WD484 Crashed on take off from Boscombe Down, elevator locks in, 4 died [some reports say 2 crew died].

01/03/1960 TG579 Crashed in sea on approach to Gan. (See story on home page)

06/07/1965 TG577 Elevator failed shortly after take off from Abingdon, 41 died. (There is an entry on my guestbook from Matthew Flory dd 04/08/2002 if anyone can help with this)


 

 




 

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Copyright John Cooper


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