|Summary Pilot error|
Aircraft type Avro Vulcan
Date 1 October 1956
Destination Heathrow Airport
Site Heathrow Airport
Number of deaths 4
Operator Royal Air Force
|Passengers 1 (Technical advisor from the Avro company)|
Location Heathrow Airport, Longford, United Kingdom
Similar 1958 Syerston Avro Vulc, 1956 Atlantic R6D‑1 di, 1956 Hawker Hunter m, 1956 Scottish Airlines M, Northwest Orient Airlines Fl
The 1956 London Heathrow Avro Vulcan crash was a military aviation accident that occurred at Heathrow Airport on 1 October 1956 when Avro Vulcan B.1 XA897 crashed whilst attempting to land at the airport in poor weather. The pilot and co-pilot ejected to safety but the remaining four crew were killed.
XA897 was the first Vulcan bomber delivered to the Royal Air Force; after arriving at RAF Waddington, the aircraft was loaned to C-in-C Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst and Squadron Leader Donald "Podge" Howard for a 26,000 mi (42,000 km; 23,000 nmi) round the world trip to showcase the aircraft's advanced design. Between 9 September and 1 October 1956, XA897 flew to Australia and New Zealand and was accompanied by three Avro Shackletons containing ground-crew and parts to service the Vulcan.
Following Australia, the Vulcan flew to RAF Khormaksar in Aden and left from there at 02:50 hours GMT en route to arrive shortly after 10 o'clock in the morning at London Heathrow.
The Vulcan had been fitted with bomb bay fuel tanks to cover the great distance from Aden and the aircraft approached Heathrow in torrential rain. At the controls were Squadron Leader Howard and the co-pilot was Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst. In the rear of the aircraft were three RAF crewmen and a civilian technical advisor from the Avro company.
Due to the heavy rain and visibility reduced to 500 ft (150 m), XA897 was on a ground controlled approach (GCA) and was informed by Heathrow's air traffic controller that they were above the glide slope (GS) and needed to lose altitude. However, the crew reduced their height too much, with their air speed close to the minimum drag point for a gear down configuration. As a result, the Vulcan was 1,030 yd (940 m) short of the runway and the initial contact with the ground removed the aircraft's undercarriage.
The pilot attempted to regain control but was unable to and he and the co-pilot both ejected. The low level made it impossible for Squadron Leader Stroud (Howard's regular co-pilot who was in the aircraft's radar navigator's seat), Squadron Leader Eames, Squadron Leader Gamble, and Frederick Bassett to exit the aircraft and they were killed.
The court of inquiry convened to review the crash determined that XA897's approach was affected by poor visibility due to heavy rain (three Russian TU-104 aircraft carrying the Bolshoi Ballet had already been diverted away from Heathrow to RAF Manston that morning) and that the aircraft was not equipped to use the instrument landing system (ILS) installed at Heathrow. The approach was undertaken using a ground controlled approach (GCA) (the first time Howard had done this). Howard attempted to abort the landing at Runway 01 Left, believing he was at 150 ft (46 m) he applied power but his aircraft collided with the ground which removed his undercarriage and severely damaged the Vulcan's control surfaces. The aircraft's port wing was almost vertical and with no prospect of recovery he and Broadhurst ejected. The low level made it impossible for Squadron Leader Stroud, Squadron Leader Eames, Squadron Leader Gamble, and Mr. Bassett to exit the aircraft and they were killed.
Later claims of accident cause
In his book The Hidden Truth (ISBN 9781784079314) Maurice Hamlin, a former member of the RAF on duty the day of the crash, claims that Harry Broadhurst ignored three direct orders to divert away from Heathrow due to the poor weather conditions (noting other aircraft had already been diverted). Pilots, he goes on to say, cannot ignore these orders but Hamlin believes that Broadhurst continued to attempt to land due to the waiting press and dignitaries. He further claims a fifty-year D-Notice was placed on the incident (that has now expired).