Farnborough Air Show Disaster
Such was the strength of the British aviation industry post- WWII that still in 1952 only British-built aircraft were shown at the Farnborough Air Show. Though the major highlight for most enthusiasts was to be a glimpse of the shiny new Vulcan bomber, other aircraft generated great interest, including the doomed Princess Flying Boat, the Gloster Javelin, and the De Havilland DH-110 fighter prototype.
The DH-110 was still in development. Piloted by John Derry, the second version, WG240, had to turn back to Hatfield because of technical problems, much to the disappointment of a crowd numbering about 125,000. They were delighted, however, when the first prototype, WG236, replaced it, again piloted by Derry, the first Briton to break the sound barrier. After a run where the silver machine broke the sound barrier as hoped, it banked left at about 500mph and headed towards ‘observation hill’, where the majority of spectators were standing.
Suddenly the crowd saw the outer sections of both wings break off, then the two Rolls Royce Avon engines separated from the wings; the rest of the airplane rapidly disintegrated in mid-air. One engine fell in the coach-park area; the other ploughed into the main crowd; the cockpit smashed into more spectators, and the fuselage struck near the marquee of the President of the Royal Aeronautical Society. In all 31 died, including the pilot and his observer; there were also more than 60 injured.
Investigations found faulty wing design had caused the break-up of the plane. Following the disaster the rules for aircraft displays in Britain were changed radically to avoid the recurrence of such an event.
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