Air Force Cross - Presented by Prince Charles
The Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy Historic Flight, Lieutenant Commander Chris Götke Royal Navy was presented with the Air Force Cross by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace on 12 June 2015.
Chris, who was awarded the AFC for heroically landing a historic Fleet Air Arm Sea Fury after suffering engine failure during an air display, faced the deeply unenviable choice of jumping out of the aircraft or crash landing in a field. Despite rapidly losing altitude, Chris bravely chose to stay with the aircraft, pulling the plane out of a steep dive and managing to glide the heavy fighter back over the airfield boundary. His text book emergency landing in front of a crowd of 21,000 at RNAS Culdrose Air Day last July has been viewed by over half a million viewers on YouTube.
“I effectively put the aircraft into the equivalent of neutral gear, allowing it to lose power and glide” said Chris. “The thought that I would have to jump out was a horrible, horrible feeling. I had already lowered the landing gear and started to position the aircraft for a precautionary landing but I thought I still had power. A few seconds later the engine failed completely and my options diminished rapidly. Cornish fields are very small and surrounded by dry stone walls! And it was far too dangerous to land in a field with the undercarriage down so I rapidly raised the undercarriage again to reduce drag and improve the glide angle. It all happened in split-second timing but I managed to improve the situation just sufficiently to make it over the airfield boundary and onto the end of the runway.”
Götke, an experienced Navy Test Pilot, rightly delayed increasing drag by lowering his wheels again, until the last possible moment. He was also fully aware that hydraulic pressure might be reduced due to the failed engine. As expected, the undercarriage motored slowly as he held the aircraft off the ground perilously close to the stall speed, while adjusting his approach to land on the runway. Although the port wheel locked, the starboard failed to latch as the Sea Fury landed, resulting in the under carriage collapsing and the aircraft veering off the runway onto the grass. With no heritage aircraft simulators in which to train for emergency procedures, Götke’s smooth handling of the situation was all the more conspicuous and courageous.
His citation praised his ‘extraordinary and instinctive flying skills which averted disaster and prevented the very real chance of a catastrophic civilian loss of life.’ He minimised damaged to a historically important aircraft and his ‘quick thinking and exemplary airmanship was one of the finest examples of gallantry in the air in peacetime.’
The Fly Navy Heritage Trust Sea Fury Appeal has raised over £140K towards the cost of a new Centaurus engine but still needs a further £55K to reach its target. “We hope to have her flying again for the 2016 season” said Sue Eagles, Campaign Director. “Every donation makes a real difference so please donate today to help get this magnificent piston fighter back in the air.”