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Newsletter 18
Autumn 2007
Updated on 5Nov2007
Contents
Editorial
Association Ties
Book Reviews
Burmese Sea Fury Incidents
Committee News
Daydreams
EDO To Project Office Part 2
F-35 Lightning II News
Flight Testing Early Jets
Harrier News
Hawk News
Joint Force Harrier Operations
Members
Neville Duke Appreciation
RAF Harrier Story
RAF Museum Visit

Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Copyright 2007. All rights reserved Hawker Association
 
    David Lockspeiser writes that he and John Gale set off in September 1959 to visit the Hunter users of the Middle East and India, starting in Jordan...
    The Jordanians were very sharp under the excellent leadership of Erik Bennet, an RAF exchange Squadron Leader. Flying in low level battle formation with them over the Dead Sea I saw minus 1100ft on my altimeter; unusual. The Lebanese didn't benefit from the same quality of RAF representation so were short on operating procedures as well as spares; there was more of a flying club atmosphere. I had been to Iraq the previous year to give an armament demonstration to King Fiesal. He was assassinated only a few weeks later - only eighteen, poor chap - when Khasim led a cruel Communist revolution; so we weren't going there. It wasn't until after another revolution in May 1963 that Alf Black (a great chap; does anyone know if he is still around?) and I went back in G-APUX and stayed to do conversion training.
Burmese Sea Fury Incidents

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    We next visited our last port of call, we thought; John with the engineers and I with the pilots at Ambala and Poona, India. They had some problems but they were mostly interested in having spinning demo's. I remember staying in a hotel on Bombay which had a large wrought iron arch above the entrance with a notice stating: "Dogs and South Africans Not Admitted." Also they had an alcohol ban (of all places to have one!). When I went to the bar before dinner, staffed by a barman and an armed policeman, I was told I could only have a drink if I got a permit from the police station stating that I was an alcoholic. So I accepted the challenge and eventually got a drink. The sad thing is I've lost this magnificent document; green and about half as large again as A4. It was while in India that we got the message from Stranks and JTL (John Lidbury) of problems with the Burmese Sea Furys. We managed to get a flight and bummed a ride on a BOAC crew bus to Palam airport, arriving at Rangoon some hours later. It was October 20th 1959.
    The Burmese Air Force had grounded their Sea Furies after suffering a number of fatalities without any clue as to the cause of these seemingly mysterious accidents. Hawkers, I think, had an agent there but it was the Air Attache, Grp Capt Teddy Pippet, who gave us a full briefing and provided an enormous amount of help and hospitality over the whole period. He took us to see Clift, the CAS, and a senior staff officer, Saw Pru, who gave us carte blanche to do whatever was necessary to get the Furys airborne again. As it happened I knew Saw Pru as we had both been on the same RAF course at Leconfield in 1952.
    We were driven out to the Air Force base at Hmawbi, discussed the accidents with the Squadron Commander, looked at the remains of a Fury, and got an engineer to translate the court of enquiry report on UB469. The accidents all had one thing in common; none of the pilots uttered a sound, let alone a word, and it seemed most likely that they were either dead or unconscious before the aircraft hit the ground. Most crashed in paddy fields and we were taken by Piaseki helicopter to UB464's crash site where there was no evidence at all, except from the large and vocal local farming community who pointed to an area of the paddy and said it was "down there." Two villagers said there was a bang, black smoke and a small fire; some said it was smoking when it crashed.
    My diary note records, "I think it possible that petrol fumes from a loose pipe or filter started a fire - fumes and smoke entered the cockpit causing unconsciousness of pilot." Bristols had an engine rep. out there and we worked together on that assumption. On the fourth day John received a message to return to India as soon as he was able, to help with investigating a recent fatal Hunter accident there.
    It seemed most likely that the cause of these Fury accidents was from carbon monoxide poisoning, and further evidence for that theory was the very poor state of servicing; oil and hydraulic leaks, missing panel fasteners and poor safety (not really an appropriate word) equipment. From the cockpit air intake in the starboard wing root, air passed an oil union which, if loose, could add to the problem. They did not use oxygen (didn't fly high enough - unquote) and some oxygen masks were attached with a safety pin. The senior engineering officer, a nice fellow, had a supernumerary job as messing officer, a task which he carried out with great diligence at the local meat and vegetable markets.
    The pilots were clearly apprehensive about the thought of getting into the air again, augmented by another cause that I learned about with a certain amount of dismay. The pilots had consulted a Phongyi (soothsayer) who put the fear of hell into them by saying the accidents were caused by the ghosts of dead pilots. Some pilots showed interest in their aircraft, but little by most and least of all by the Squadron Commander who seemed to spend most of his time playing Mahjong.
    The plan of action was to get the aircraft comprehensively serviced, not once, but twice using separate teams. The oxygen system was to be made operational and all other safety equipment carefully inspected. Rangoon University was contacted to get some evacuated flasks with which to take samples of cockpit air. This worked well and three enthusiastic, learned gents, with a PhD and MSc, from the chemistry department, arrived. It took them a bit longer than I had hoped so, before they returned, I did some flying on UB456 after the servicing programme had been carried out. When they did it was not only with evacuated flasks but also with crystals and CO sensitive paper with which I could decorate the cockpit. UB456 was the aircraft picked for the job, and also 454 when the professors who had really entered into the spirit of things, turned up again some days later, with even more evacuated flasks.
    There was no change of colour on the paper or in the crystals and the results from the University of these tests which, with drop tanks fitted, consisted of a sightseeing tour of southern Burma, Rangoon, the Gulf of Martaban up country, and around the bay of Bengal, were that there was a very small amount of CO present, not dangerous, and the content did not vary between samples taken at the beginning, the middle or the end of the flight.
    On the 26th I visited the War Office and persuaded them to lift the flying ban on four single- and one two-seater, which had all been fully serviced and which I had flown and cleared. As I feared this was not met with much enthusiasm at the squadron, to whom I gave a lecture, air and ground crew, explaining the cause of the accidents, stressing the importance of following procedures, both technical and operational, and trying to inject some confidence. I felt sorry for these lads who mostly came from a rural background and had only flown piston Provosts, as I recall, and had not had the benefit which we all have of being brought up with things mechanical, so, not surprisingly, they could be easily intimidated by an aircraft with the potency of the Fury. Earlier I had offered to fly the youngest pilot, who had ten hours on the Fury, in a T.20, but he was not keen. I'm sure he would have been had the leadership he experienced been different.
    The Air Staff had, of course, been kept aware of all that was going on, and I submitted a report of recommendations which Teddy Pippet had typed for me, and which they said they would action. They did fly their Furys again and had a section of four airborne over Rangoon, but not all that long after they swapped fixed for rotary wings.