Here is a part of the blog I posted on this site’s blog. and its associated websites has always maintained the principle of factually correct and unambiguous information to help fearful flyers. We strive to use language and descriptions that are consistent with those values and also explains aspects of aviation in a way that helps fearful flyers to overcome their fears.

The descriptions and eye witness accounts of the crash of the 1960′s fighter jet at a flying display are the opposite of what we try to do. It is inevitable that witnesses to an accident of any type are likely to be in a state of shock and their recall of events is going to be influenced by ignorance, emotion and the the views of other witnesses.

Here is a quote used in the news coverage of this accident, it concerns the R.A.F. Red Arrows formation display team.

A former Red Arrows pilot said the team could not perform at Shoreham because its display could not be varied and would take the aircraft over built-up areas.

This does not mean that there is anything intrinsically unsafe about the airport … it just means that it doesn’t meet the criteria for a formation of nine planes … which would be different from the requirements of a single aircraft. In any case even it the airport were ‘dangerous’ it still doesn’t make it a cause of this particular accident. Here is a more informed view which I am inclined to agree with at this stage.

Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, a former Fleet Air Arm test pilot who has flown Hunters and was at the air show, said the most likely cause of the crash was pilot error. He said:

At this stage if I had to make a guess I would say it was totally pilot error. I think he started the loop too low, which meant he didn’t have time to pull out when he completed the loop.
As I was watching it I was thinking he had started to pull up too low. I’ve seen it happen two or three times at air days, it’s a pretty common pilot’s error.
When he got to the bottom of the loop he had run out of space and he was ‘mushing in’, in other words the nose of the aircraft was pointing up but it was still falling because he had lost lift.
It’s a flat stall and you will drop like a stone when that happens.

Just a brief note on what he means by mushing in and a flat stall.

A plane stalls when the air passing over the wings is at an angle where it doesn’t flow smoothly and doesn’t follow the contours (the shape) of the wing. The wing gets lift by speeding up the airflow over the wings and causing a suction effect. This suction supports the weight of the plane. When stalled the wing cannot support the weight of the plane.

In a heavy and fast plane like the one that crashed it is possible to change the way the plane is pointing … whilst still going in the original direction. Imagine a car on a slippery surface … you could move the steering wheel quickly … but the car will continue in the original direction. Quite
Often you see Formula One racing cars doing this under heavy breaking. The cars goes in a straight line and the wheel are pointing somewhere else!

This is what Eric Brown means when he says ‘mushing’. The pilot moved the stick backwards to raise the nose to avoid the ground but the plane didn’t have time to respond to the new control movements.

A quick guide to flying a loop

A loop ( not a loop the loop) is one of the simplest aerobatic manoeuvres to fly. At a safe height the plane’s speed is set to that recommended for the loop. A high performance plane may be able to do this from level flight, lower powered planes usually need to lower the nose to gain the speed.
When at the correct speed the control column (the stick) is moved backwards to raise the nose, when the plane slows … as it will when going up steeply the ‘stick’ has to be moved further back, usually in a continuous movement to keep the nose moving upwards. The plane will pass through the vertically up position and eventually be upside down.
Usually, tho’ not always the engine power is reduced so that the plane isn’t being ‘driven’ downhill and losing valuable height unnecessarily. Because the stick is still in the back position the plane will continue around the circle. To the controls and to the plane moving the stick back moves the nose in a line which is normally upwards.
When the plane is upside down the nose will move towards the ground. As the plane gradually increases speed as it comes down the second half of the loop the speed keep increasing until the nose is level again.
As the speed of the plane increases the size of the circle it is making gets bigger and so it takes more height to complete the loop. It’s vital therefore to start with enough height … because there’s a limit to how much you can control the height loss on the way down again.


in a plane like a fighter you can actually move the stick backwards more and more to limit this height loss


even though the nose of the plane will eventually be above the level position … the plane could still be descending.

This may be what happened on this occasion

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