Culdrose Air Day Pilot Is Awarded Air Force Cross
A Royal Navy pilot who avoided crashing a 60-year-old aircraft with a failed engine into a packed crowd of spectators at RNAS Culdrose air day has been awarded the Air Force Cross.
Lieutenant Commander Chris Götke was flying a Sea Fury T20 as part of the Historic Flight display at the 2014 Air Day when the plane began to lose power during his aerobatic display. As a crowd of over 21,000 people watched, the Sea Fury began billowing smoke and started to lose altitude rapidly leaving Lt Cdr Götke with the unenviable choice of bailing out or staying with the aircraft.
“For about 15 seconds I felt pure terror,” he said. “The engine had begun to vibrate as I came out of a loop but I wasn’t unduly concerned – thinking that it was a minor rough running engine. I also couldn’t see the smoke coming out of the back of the aircraft.
“I was at about 1800 feet when I put the power on and nothing happened – it was the most horrible shock in the world. I pulled up the gear, reducing drag and when the aircraft started to fly I decided that I would stay with the aircraft and try and get her down in the best landing possible.”
Despite the loss of the engine, Lt Cdr Götke employed all of his flying skill and knowledge by raising the undercarriage and reducing drag as he came close to the ground. Attempting to land on the runway he got one wheel down while the other locked, resulting in the Sea Fury’s undercarriage collapsing and it veering off the runway.
Harmlessly coming to a rest on the grass, the aircraft sustained only minor external damage while Lt Cdr Gotke had no significant injuries.
His citation reads: “His extraordinary and instinctive flying skills prevented the very real chance of a catastrophic civilian loss of life and minimised damage to a historically important aircraft in one of the finest examples of gallantry in the air during peacetime.”
Lt Cdr Götke, who is the Commanding Officer of the Historic Flight based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton said: “I am honoured to be awarded the Air Force Cross – I was shocked but extremely pleased when I was told. It was a terrifying experience and there were conflicting thoughts in my head at first about what I should do but once I decided I could get the aircraft down safely I knew that was the choice I was going to make. It makes me very proud to be recognised in this way.”
Commanding Officer of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, Captain Adrian Orchard said: “Royal Navy pilots are trained to fly in dangerous situations, making vital decisions under extreme pressure. At the Culdrose Air Day last year, Lt Cdr Chris Gotke proved himself to be an outstanding aviator showing incredible skill and bravery. Well done Chris, the award of the Air Force Cross is well deserved and we hope to see you flying again at this year’s event.”
The Historic Flight has only one serving person as part of its team – the Commanding Officer – and consists of volunteer pilots who take its aircraft to displays around the country. It has Swordfish aircraft, Sea Fury, Sea hawk and a Chipmunk training aircraft.
The Air Force Cross is a military decoration awarded for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy. The medal is a silver cross representing aircraft propeller blades, with wings between the arms. The obverse depicts Hermes riding on the wings of a hawk holding a laurel wreath. At the top of the upper arm is the royal crown, while the other three arms bear the royal cypher of the reigning monarch at the time of issue
Lt Cdr Götke was one of 26 Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel recognised at the Tri-Service Operational Honours & Awards event held at Lancaster House inLondon. The latest operational honours list is for actions roughly between October 2013 to 30 June 2014. He is married with two daughters and lives inSomerset.