Exemplary airmanship saves historic Sea Fury
Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy Historic Flight, Lt Cdr Chris Götke Royal Navy displayed exemplary airmanship when the Fly Navy Heritage Trust historic Hawker Sea Fury T20 G-RNHF (VX281) lost power during a display manoeuvre at RNAS Culdrose Air Day on 31 July, forcing him to take swift action and carry out a dramatic emergency landing.
Lt Cdr Götke’s quick thinking and skilful handling of a complex and potentially highly dangerous situation averted disaster, not only putting the aircraft on the ground safely and avoiding injury to the 33,000 crowd – but undoubtedly saving the aircraft as well as himself.
A witness on the display line said “I have complete and utter respect for the pilot for being so professional. It was a text book forced landing in extremely difficult circumstances.”
“The aircraft lost power at a critical point in the display” said Commodore Bill Covington, a Trustee of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust. “Chris did a fantastic job. He only had 250-280 knots and couldn’t complete the manoeuvre as intended. He initially thought he would land in a nearby field but when he realised he didn’t have enough power to make it, he exercised superb judgment and landed the aircraft on the runway as soon as possible. Carrying out a successful forced landing in one of these heavy fast heritage aircraft is extremely difficult. It is hard enough to get it right even in practice – let alone from the middle of an air display. His quick reactions and calm decision-making protected the public and saved a rare and historically significant Navy Heritage aircraft.”
The aircraft, which is based at RNAS Yeovilton with the Royal Navy Historic Flight, landed with the gear down but one wheel didn’t lock in time causing the aircraft to collapse on its undercarriage and skid along the runway. The accident and emergency services at RNAS Culdrose were on the scene immediately and Lt Cdr Götke escaped injury and climbed out of the aircraft unhurt.
Speaking after the incident Mike Nixon, Chief Executive of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust said “The Sea Fury is a big, high performance aircraft and Lt Cdr Götke ably displayed his skills as a Navy Empire Test Pilot, quickly assessing the situation and controlling a fast, but impeccably gentle landing, ensuring minimum damage to the aircraft. We are very grateful for the professionalism and speed of response shown by everyone at RNAS Culdrose especially the Royal Navy Fire Crews, who were outstanding.”
A photographer who witnessed the crash said “I was filming the display when I noticed smoke billowing from the Sea Fury’s engine. The pilot diverted around the edge of the crowd and was obviously heading in to make a swift landing. Great skill and calm was shown by the pilot. There was an audible sigh of relief and a spontaneous round of applause when the pilot quickly emerged from the aircraft.”
An investigation is currently underway to establish the cause of the incident and the Trust is working closely with the Royal Navy and military investigators to piece together what happened and get her repaired and flying again as soon as possible.
An early assessment of the damage by the specialists at Weald Aviation who maintain the Sea Fury T20 is that she is eminently repairable. “We have the specialists and the spares to rebuild her and get her back in the air again as soon as possible” said Tim Manna. “The offers of help from Fly Navy Heritage Ambassadors and Supporters have been incredible. A beautiful historic aircraft like the Sea Fury needs to be flying - and as soon as the investigation is complete we will be devoting all resources to repairing and restoring her to full serviceability again.”
Lt Cdr Chris Götke (above) pictured with Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE DSC AFC Royal Navy (95) the Royal Navy’s most decorated and distinguished Naval Test Pilot, in front of Sea Fury T20 just before he took off to fly to the Air Day at RNAS Culdrose. Captain Eric Brown who has flown 487 different aircraft types, more than any other pilot in the world and also holds the world record for carrier deck landings at 2407, said of Chris’ skilful emergency landing “it was a pretty amazing piece of flying. There couldn’t have been a better person at the controls and the entire Fleet Air Arm community salutes him!”
Images from Bob Sharples/ bobsharplesphotography.blogspot.co.uk
Video of forced landing.