Shoreham air display accident – interim report

According to the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch’s interim factual report on the Shoreham air show crash, nothing detectable was wrong with the Hawker Hunter at any point in the display.

It has been confirmed that the aircraft entered the fatal vertical manoeuvre at a height of 200ft when 500ft would have been the normal minimum – and certainly wiser – thus leaving very little room for misjudgement in a trajectory that is frighteningly easy to get wrong, even for a skillful and experienced pilot.

The intent in a normal vertical manoeuvre like this loop-with-roll would be to complete it at the entry height, but certainly not less when the aircraft began the manoeuvre close to the ground. In fact the aircraft began to pull up from 200ft above ground level and finished by impacting the surface.

There may yet be more to this story than the AAIB has just revealed, but there were cameras and a microphone in the cockpit which should confirm most of what it is possible to know.

Air displays contain risk, like Formula 1 and other sports do. If they didn’t, nobody would go to watch them. But they are not intended to extend the risk to non-participants. That is the part that needs examination.

13 thoughts on “Shoreham air display accident – interim report

  1. Having been there and witnessed the whole event, it seemed clear to me and many around me that the engine failed and the pilot was unable to recover the aircraft. As a skilled and experienced pilot he had the option to roll out of the loop had he felt that height was an issue.


  2. It’s hard to understand why aerobatics are allowed in the vicinity of the magnificent Lancing College Chapel.


  3. I know you’ve never actually been a proper pilot David so you might not understand this fully. Pulling up into a manoeuvre can be done at any height so long as you don’t exceed 30 degrees nose up before passing your entry height gate.

    Why don’t you leave your “opinions” to yourself and let the AAIB decide on what has happened and then we can all discuss this as adults so we can learn from this?


    • Pilotparkes, I will go along with your statement about my background, on the grounds that you are entitled to judge my years as an RAF Hercules pilot and as a QFI on Jet Provosts as not being “proper piloting”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s democracy for you. The worst system, with the exception of all the others, to paraphrase Winston. I admire your contrived restraint of reply. I take it on board, as apt ammunition, for when-and it’s only a matter of time- such insults are leveled at me too, in less than straight and level flight. I suspect, such keyboard Pilotparked-dead-end, cul de sac courage is partially a result of site hosts tolerating lazy “nom de plumes”, such as that employed by “Pilotparkes”. If he was Korean, he could call himself, “Park Plane tu Soon!”


  4. You might want to check when the aerobatic manoeuvre actually began. For a loop, the aerobatic phase begins when the pitch is greater than 30 deg. It is fine to begin pitching into a looping manoeuvre from fly past as long as the pitch doesn’t exceed 30deg below 500ft.


    • Guidelines like the 30deg you mention, Rich, have their place in aerobatic technique, but the cruel fact about manoeuvres with a vertical component carried out close to the ground is that they always have been the biggest killer of pilots displaying vintage warbirds. They go in at one height, and come out lower – unintentionally – than the entry height.

      One of the common factors among the pilots of vintage warbirds is that they are very experienced and talented pilots, but although the number of hours on type and their currency on type may be legal, it’s never very much.

      In this Hunter case the pilot had about 40h on type spread over a long period (see report). That’s the reason why 500ft is the recommended minimum height for the entire display – all pilots doing a job like this need just a little margin for small errors. 500ft is only a small margin, 200ft is even less.


  5. David

    I read with interest, your Shoreham Unravelled analysis, which predated the AAIB interim report. In it, you refer to the fuel load and the presence of drop tanks on G-BXFI. This issue was immediately picked up on after the accident, in discussion with a former colleague & test pilot at Cranfield, whom I think you may have known from RAF days as a QFI.

    As a former RAF Hunter display pilot, he said it was normal to keep the aircraft load as light as feasible for displays and could not understand why drop tanks were fitted to G-BXFI. It’s now known, of course, that the drop tanks *were* filled and no doubt enhanced the resulting conflagration. I’m unsure why a full fuel load was required for transit to & from North Weald to Shoreham plus the display itself?

    My former colleague, also said it was normal to fly Hunter displays with a couple of notches of flap set to improve low speed handling upto 300 kts, which was also commented upon in your blog.

    A quick scan of my photos taken of civilian-operated Hunters displaying over the years and scanning online collections, however, would seem to indicate that the majority of these aircraft routinely fly with drop tanks attached.


    Les Oswald


    • Just as an observation, the same aircraft displayed at Shoreham last year with a different pilot, but the drop tanks were fitted then, too. I have no idea whether the tanks were full then because no-one had cause to ask. I, too, have asked myself why the Hunter would need a full fuel load for North Weald-Shoreham display-North Weald. Maybe the pilot was intending to go on somewhere else? I’m sure the AAIB will answer these questions in their final report.


  6. 19 January 2019 – To all potential commenters:

    The court case examining the Hunter pilot’s role in the accident began a few days ago, and to avoid accusations of contempt of court by this public site I will – respectfully – not be approving any comments on the Shoreham accident or the associated court case on this blog post or the other related ones on the site until the court case is completely finished and has delivered a verdict. My action to block any comment will not indicate my disagreement or disapproval, just respect for the judicial process.

    Thanks for your patience.

    David Learmount


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s