View Full Version : Urban legend or true story?
22nd Aug 2008, 14:44
Can anybody tell me whether the following is a true story or just urban legend? I heard it from somebody in the bar at RAF Binbrook, about 1982.
The story as told to me as far as I can remember was that an FE was sitting in the cockpit doing some run up checks in a Lightning in one of the QR sheds at the end of the runway. One engine (or maybe both) ran away, the Lightning powered over its chocks and launched itself down the runway. The engineer was not strapped in so could not eject. As the aircraft accelerated he realised he had no choice but to take off. His only flying experience was supposedly a few hours in a Chipmunk, but he managed to guide the Lightning around the circuit and onto long finals, then turn off the fuel cocks, and glide it in. After that he allegedly had a nervous breakdown and had to leave the RAF.
Now I probably believed it at the time being young and impressionable but I am not so convinced now!
Final 3 Greens
22nd Aug 2008, 14:50
I remember a similar story being reported in the press, when i was a kid.
Sorry, don't have a reference, but IIRC it happened.
22nd Aug 2008, 14:51
22nd Aug 2008, 14:57
Lightning XM135, inadvertant flight by W/Cdr Holden [Archive] - Key Publishing Ltd Aviation Forums (http://forum.keypublishing.co.uk/archive/index.php?t-20807.html)
...scroll down to the post from "L10Mike" :ok:
22nd Aug 2008, 15:02
It certainly did happen, although I don't have any references to hand. It was actually OC Eng Wg in the cockpit, and not only wasn't he strapped in, but the seat was either inert or had been replaced with a makeshift stand-in (stories vary), the canopy had been removed and he had no radio. Apparently he was helping attempts to find a sporadic fault that only showed up during take-off, accidentally got one engine into reheat, and found himself heading towards a bowser that was crossing the runway. He landed under power after a couple of circuits and did indeed have a nervous breakdown, but as I understand it eventually returned to duty.
Hopefully having learned that 'management by getting stuck in with the troops', whilst usually admirable, does have its limits...
EDIT Ah, several other people have posted much more detailed and accurate versions of the story, including Wg Cdr Holden's own words.
22nd Aug 2008, 15:08
Thanks for those links - fascinating to find that it is actually a true story!
22nd Aug 2008, 15:16
He was Wg Cdr Walter 'Taffy' Holden, and was CO of No.33 MU at Lyneham. He was an Eng branch officer, but had done a flying course (on Chipmunks and Harvards) so wore wings.
Lyneham was about to close as an MU, and the last (or one of the last) 'inmates' (XM135, the Lightning now at Duxford) had a persistant snag that only showed itself under acceleration. Lyneham then had no TP, and had to wait for someone to pitch up from elsewhere, so the decision was taken that Holden himself would make a couple of runs along the runway.....
Which is why he did it in blues, with no helmet, not strapped in, and with pins still in the seat. So when he inadvertently pushed the throttles past the detent into reheat and was not immediately able to disengage, he had no option other than to take off, and once airborne, had no option other than to try to land.
Mercifully, he got down safely (after two circuits, IIRC).
He ended his career as OC Basic Studies Wing (again IIRC) in the late 1970s.
22nd Aug 2008, 17:44
Yes, It's a true story - look at the airbus berks trying much the same thing runnning up an A3--with huge power.
While the chap in the Lighting got it down, he took several attempts - as one would ! Before a succesful landing - he had no seat,( just a box to sit on ) canopy or harness - simulate that !
Personaly I think he deservered a medal, as did the ground crew-chief who flew a Spitfire back to a safe base in I think Malta or some sandy wartime spot... both were met by 'rollockings' instead of ' Well done '...
The Lightning chap suffered considerably afterwards.
22nd Aug 2008, 21:41
I arrived at Lyneham about May 68 and heard obout all this sort of stuff trom the SATCO at the time one Sqn Ldr "Happy" Day. OC the MU earned a Green Endorsement and an AOC's interview.
Gosh such good times.
22nd Aug 2008, 21:46
Of COURSE it's true - you heard it in the bar!!!! :}
23rd Aug 2008, 15:17
I understand that the aircraft suffered some sort of 'tail scrape' but this in no way reduces my admiration for the feat achieved in getting it back on the ground at all! My guess is that AOA was too high/airspeed too low; did he even know what the correct speed was?! Even experienced Lightning pilots were known to scrape the tail, never mind OC the MU! Well done Sir!
24th Aug 2008, 01:41
I understand that the aircraft suffered some sort of 'tail scrape' but this in no way reduces my admiration for the feat achieved in getting it back on the ground at all! Even experienced Lightning pilots were known to scrape the tail, never mind OC the MU! Well done Sir!
I think the tailscrape occurred because his only piloting experience had been on tailwheel aircraft and he "three pointed" it, as he knew no better.
In the Lightning the chute cables were routed through the tail bumper and so a tailscrape usually led to a chute failure as the cables got severed - as happened in this case. Just another complication ...........
24th Aug 2008, 02:55
I heard about the tailscrape too.
I'd have been very proud to get away with just that, and the debriefing guys could find me by the sprint footprints to the 'loo then bar !
24th Aug 2008, 14:00
The Wattisham Lightning Story may have come from this:
HANSARD 1803–2005 (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/) → 1950s (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/sittings/1950s)→ 1956 (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/sittings/1956)→ February 1956 (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/sittings/1956/feb)→ 9 February 1956 (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/sittings/1956/feb/09)→ Commons Sitting (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/sittings/1956/feb/09#commons)HUNTER AIRCRAFT (CRASHES)§ (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1956/feb/09/hunter-aircraft-crashes#S5CV0548P0-05560) Mr. George Wigg (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/members/mr-george-wigg) (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will make a statement on the circumstances which caused six Hunter aircraft to crash on Wednesday, 8th February, 1956. § (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1956/feb/09/hunter-aircraft-crashes#S5CV0548P0-05561) The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Nigel Birch) (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/members/mr-nigel-birch) Yesterday morning eight Hunter aircraft from the Central Fighter Establishment at West Raynham took off on an exercise. The exercise took place over the base. By the time the aircraft were due to return the weather had deteriorated and they were diverted to Marham. Two landed safely. A third overshot the runway and crashed beyond it. The fourth aircraft crashed near the airfield, and the pilot was killed. The pilots of the remaining four aircraft baled out and the aircraft crashed in open country. There were no civilian casualties.LF
24th Aug 2008, 20:39
I first read the Lightning story in a copy of Playboy/Mayfair that was stashed in my dads bottom drawer, around the early 80's. IIRC, they mentioned the canopy was missing and he was sat on a milk crate as the seat had been removed.
24th Aug 2008, 20:58
Hear it first hand:
YouTube - Lightning XM135 inadvertant flight by W/Cdr "Taffy" Holden (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=5iKFYaXDivs)
25th Aug 2008, 10:24
dirtygc - What were you doing reading aircraft articles in Mayfair??!! :}
25th Aug 2008, 13:10
He didn't get it from Mayfair. His copy was camouflaged by a Flight Safety magazine and he was confused about which pages he was reading.
25th Aug 2008, 17:50
Which pages where sticky?
25th Aug 2008, 23:27
I was wandering around Duxford this afternoon and there she was. The actual Lightning with a short account of the event on the placard.
26th Aug 2008, 04:34
The you tube interview with Taffy Holden, cited earlier, includes the following Although the tests I did and the ensuing flight did not immediately provide a reason for the initial electrical fault, my electrical staff, with additional assistance from English Electric, Salmesbury eventually did. Apparently, in early versions of the Lightning, there was to be a ground test button fitted into the standby inverter circuit. It was never fitted to the Mk1A but the wires were left in the looms. It was one of these redundant wires which shorted on to the UHF radio as it moved on its trunnions when the aircraft nudged forward on take off. Who would have thought I should risk my life to find it, in the way I did?" :ouch:
26th Aug 2008, 09:03
Wg Cdr Holden came to the final closing down party at Binbrook in 1988...open to those who had "flown" the Lightning
26th Aug 2008, 09:41
And the large scrapes left in the runway on landing turned out to be his balls,
B$ST$RD great big steel ones they were too. I can't even imagine the input of adrenaline into his system. I would have left a large brown trail....
That is an absolute beauty.