The loss of Lightning F.6 XS894 - The RAF Findings.

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19 years 9 months

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A while ago a thread was started regarding the loss of this Lightning whilst it was being flown by an American exchange pilot, tales of UFO involvement were blamed for the loss in the local press, well last night I was looking through my Lightning stuff and came across the following - which I'd forgotten I'd got. The pilot of the accident aircraft was a USAF exchange officer who had completed 2 tours on the USAF F-102 all weather fighter. He had accumulated 121 hours on the Lightning, of which 18 were at night. He had been declared Limited Combat Ready after only 8 weeks on the squadron; this unusually short period of time was based on his previous operational status as well as his performance thus far on the Lightning. The limitation on his operational status was partially due to the requirement to complete all the stages of the visident profiles; at the time of the accident, he was qualified in 2 of the 3 phases of visident, which meant that he would be capable of carrying out shadowing and shepherding tasks only if he was in visual contact with the target. The Squadron was participating in a Taceval at RAF Binbrook and the squadron Cdr had authorised this pilot to participate, in the belief that he would not be involved in a shadowing or shepherding mission. However, unbeknown to the station or squadron, the Taceval team had just changed the exercise scenario from normal interceptions to shadowing or shepherding on slow speed low-flying targets. The targets were Shackletons flying at 160kts at the minimum authorised height of 1,500ft. After maintaining one hour at cockpit readiness, the pilot was scrambled. While he was taxying, the scramble was cancelled and he returned to the dispersal, ordering fuel only and no turnround servicing. This was contrary to standing instructions and the engineering officer ordered a full turnround. The turnround was delayed and, during this delay, the pilot was warned that he would be scrambled as soon as he was ready. He told the groundcrew to expedite the servicing but started his engines and taxied before the servicing was complete. He got airborne at 20:30. The pilot climbed to FL 100 and was handed over to GCI; he was then given a shadowing task against a 160kt target at 1,500ft. At a range of 28nm, he was told to accelerate to M.95 in order to expedite the take over from another Lightning. He called that he was in contact with the lights but would have to manoeuvre to slow down; his voice was strained, as though he was being affected by 'g'. His aircraft was seen by the other Lightning pilot; it appeared to be about 2,000yds astern and 500-1,000ft above the Shackleton, in a port turn. The Shackleton crew then saw the aircraft, apparently very low. Shortly afterwards, the Lightning pilot failed to acknowledge instructions and emergency procedures were initiated. A search by the Shackleton, and a further air/sea search the following day, failed to detect any trace of the aircraft or pilot. The wreckage was located nearly 2 months later with surprisingly little damage. The canopy was attached and closed, and there was no sign of the pilot. The aircraft appeared to have struck the sea at a low speed, planed the surface and come to rest comparitively slowly. The ejection seat handle had been pulled to the full extent allowed by the interruptor link in the main gun sear. (The interruptor link ensures that the seat does not fire unless the canopy has gone). The canopy gun sear had been withdrawn but the cartridge had not been struck with sufficient force to fire it (during servicing the firing unit had been incorrectly seated because of damaged screw heads). The canopy had been opened normally, the QRB was undone, as was the PEC, and the PSP lanyard had been released from the life jacket. It was concluded that the difficult task, carried out in rushed circumstances, combined with a lack of training in this profile, led to the pilot failing to monitor his height while slowing down. He had inadvertantly flown into the sea but had attempted to recover the situation by selecting reheat; this was ineffective with the tail skimming the water. He attempted to eject, but this was unsuccessful due to the canopy failing to jettison. He then manually abandoned the aircraft, but was never found. He was, therefore, presumed to have drowned during or after his escape. Wing Commander Spry says. There are a number of points which are raised by this article, the first of which is do not believe all you read in the newspapers! Among the serious points to consider are the distractions and stress cuased by the false scramble and interrupted turnround, as well as the supervisory failure of allowing a LCR pilot to participate in a Teceval by night. Close supervision during exercise conditions, in a single seat environment, is almost impossible. Minimum qualifications are laid down for a reason! Regards, Dazza.
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