Hunter XG236

Hawker Hunter F6 XG236 (N), 66 Squadron, RAF Acklington
crashed Wainhope, Kielder on 14th February 1958

Crew

PositionRank/TitleFull NameAgeService NumberInjury
PilotF/OBryan Walter Schooling23607573Fatal

Accident Details

At 0745 hrs on Friday, 14th February 1958 F/O Bryan Walter Schooling, having had breakfast in the mess, attended the daily weather briefing and afterward went to the squadron crew room and prepared for the day’s work. He was briefed for the first flight of the day, Hunter Mission 38, a local aerobatic exercise in aircraft N, Hunter F6 XG236.

The weather for the day was not ideal, with rain and low cloud forecast for much of the region. Bryan was authorised for local flying practise with inboard drop tanks fitted. He was told to do aerobatics if the weather was suitable but not to do loops because cloud tops were above 18,000ft. Visibility was no more than ½ a mile; because of this the use of instruments would be essential when flying through cloud. Bryan was also briefed that on his return leg he would be guided to base from the ground, a term known as Ground Controlled Approach (GCA). To inform the base that he was ready for a GCA, he was briefed to transmit a QGH, a ground interpreted homing and let down procedure using direction finding equipment which was used to home the aircraft to overhead the airfield. It was then directed into a safe sector to descend through cloud to a height were the ground control radar could see it and guide it into a GCA.

Bryan took off in XG236 at 0907 hrs and climbed to his briefed altitude of 25,000ft, however in order to break cloud and enter clear air it is assumed he climbed another 15,000ft. Shortly afterwards, at 0912 hrs, two pairs of Hunters took off for Battle Formation Flying, two of the pilots being Fred Richardson and Peter “Oscar” Wilde. They broke cloud at 33,000ft, but due to the lack of a visible horizon, climbed an additional 5,000ft. The two pairs began their exercise and had been doing so for about five minutes when they were attacked by a loan Hunter carrying inboard drop tanks.

The leader countered the attack by turning and diving into cloud, which was 7,000ft below. The attacking aircraft was around 500 yards behind him when he selected airbrakes out and recovered from his dive on instruments, levelling out at just over Mach 0.9 at 22,000ft.

At 0928 hrs Walter Beattie was tending to his stock on the 324 acre farm of Wainhope, part of the recently planted Kielder Forest, when he heard the sound of an aircraft flying very low and fast overhead in the cloud. The noise was followed immediately by a loud explosion coming from the hillside to the north. Local postman, David Daley, was in Plashetts when he heard the explosion. Wainhope was the last stop on his round and on reaching the farm he was informed by Walter what had happened. He immediately set off back to Plashetts to raise the alarm.

At the same time Acklington were trying frantically to contact Hunter Mission 38 after contact had been lost. At 1010 hrs Acklington were informed that a bang had been heard in the Bellingham area, and by 1030 hrs a helicopter had been scrambled to search an area north of Plashetts Station. In the meantime, Forestry workers had made their way up to the scene. They were busy searching for signs of the pilot when the helicopter was observed flying overhead. The helicopter circled some distance away before flying off.

By 1105 hrs Police and Fire Brigade were making their way to the area from Bellingham, and at 1228 hrs Acklington were informed that the pilots’ body had been located in the wreckage. Later the aircraft was identified by its survival equipment as Hunter XG236. At 1250 hrs a 275 Squadron Bristol Sycamore Helicopter was on its way from RAF Ouston with a medical officer on board.

The accident was subject to a Board of Enquiry which was opened and adjourned on Monday, February 17th 1958. The technical evidence indicated that the aircraft had 30° of flap down and airbrakes in when it crashed. It was also established that the hood was in place at the time of impact which confirmed that F/O Schooling had made no attempt to vacate the aircraft. XG236 struck the ground at an altitude of 1,200ft, as cloud base in that area was 1,000ft, it was noted that F/O Schooling was in cloud almost immediately after entering his dive right up to the point of impact.

The Board considered that on carrying out the unauthorised attack, F/O Schooling quickly reached a speed at which the elevator control becomes inadequate. To recover from such a position in cloud whilst on instruments would have been very difficult. The final conclusion was entered on the Air Ministry Form 1180 as follows.

‘The pilot was directly responsible for the accident in that he carried out an unauthorised attack on another aircraft, and followed it into cloud using 30° of flap in a high speed dive. He then became disorientated and failed to regain control on instruments.’

There was a 300 knot, Mach 0.9 limitation on the use of the flap in the Hunter. RAF records state that the attacked aircraft took evasive action by diving steeply and recovered by applying airbrakes and levelling out at just over Mach 0.9 at 22,000ft. If XG236 was chasing 500 yards behind then the dive it entered must have reached a speed of over Mach 0.9.

When it was required to turn the aircraft with minimum radius, as in a dog fight, it was common practice to use a small amount of flap to enhance the lift from the wing; thus giving a better turning performance. [Terry Kingsley, former 66 Sqn Pilot] It is possible that Bryan had lowered the flaps for this purpose but forgot the raise them again on entering the dive. In such a high speed dive and in cloud it would be quite easy to become disorientated. This, combined with the problem with the flaps, made recovery almost impossible.

With the technical evidence from the inquest stating that XG236 had 30° of flap down when it crashed, it must be assumed that tailplane actuator clutch slip resulting in longitudinal control becoming lost caused XG236 to crash. When control is lost in such circumstances recovery action must be immediate and can only be achieved by raising the flaps and reducing speed.

It must also be noted that Bryan was a relatively inexperienced Hunter pilot, having being flying Venom’s at RAF Celle until November 1957. There is a considerable difference between the Venom and the Hunter both in performance and control. At the time of his death Bryan had accumulated 50 hours on Hunters only 3 of which were in the previous month.

Therefore it seems harsh to place direct responsibility of the accident on a pilot who was not only inexperienced on type, but may not have been fully aware of its quirks, especially its erratic behavior with flaps down at high Mach.

The Crash Site

The crash site is situated on private Forestry Commission land approximately 1 mile north of Wainhope Bothy among an area of recently felled and replanted trees. Here a large water filled crater clearly marks the point of impact with some small pieces of the aircraft scattered around in the vicinity.

During an excavation of the site in June 2001 & 2002 the crater was drained revealing large quantities of wreckage to a depth of around 15 feet. Due to problems encountered with the mud it was impossible to drain all of the water from the hole, because of this it is not known whether the engine is still present.

The aircraft crashed at a steep angle on a heading of 253°, on impact the wreckage continued in the direction of travel for another half mile. A furrow on the eastern side of the crater indicates that a substantial part of the aircraft struck the ground just prior to the main impact. Forestry worker David Armstrong recalls that a member of the RAF team sent up to investigate the crash stated that the aircraft was inverted on impact. The position of various components unearthed during the excavation backs this up this claim.