Doesn’t time go quickly. It’s almost unbelievable that it was five years ago today, day and date, that my good friend Mark Hanna died.
Mark was very seriously injured on Saturday 25th September in an accident on approach to landing at Sabadell near Barcelona where he was to fly the Hispano Buchon (Spanish Me 109) in a major airshow. He passed away the following evening, Sunday 26th.
Mark was one of Britain’s most experienced display pilots of historic military aircraft. Taught to fly at sixteen by his father, the great Ray Hanna, in a T-34 from a small coral strip in the Philippines, he had a successful career as a fighter pilot, flying Hunters and then F4-Phantoms with 111, 56, 29 and 23 squadrons - including a tour in the Falklands.
Mark left the RAF in 1988 to run the Old Flying Machine Company which he and Ray set up in 1981 and, as well as earning a justified reputation as one of the best display pilots on the airshow circuit, he was aerial advisor and chief pilot for numerous films, including Empire of the Sun, Air America, Tomorrow Never Dies, Memphis Belle, Piece of Cake and Saving Private Ryan. He’d flown over 4000 hours (2300 historic aircraft) and had flown more than 100 different types.
Mark was undoubtedly a natural, but his widely-admired outstanding skill wasn’t just the product of his God-given talent but of total dedication to flying which was his greatest passion.
By the time he came to fly 434 for the first time, he’d not only proved himself in the Harvard we shared but had probably read everything there was to read about flying a Spitfire – and knew the Mk 9's Pilots Notes backwards. He waited patiently (or, more accurately, ‘quietly’) for Ray to say he was ready. I vividly remember him almost bursting with excitement when he told me ‘Father says I can fly the Spitfire on Sunday evening after the show if the wind’s OK.’ How we watched the weather that afternoon! Mark’s luck was in – conditions were near perfect – and he flew a faultless first flight.
The ‘Golden Boy’ of historic aviation was a legend in his own lifetime and the historic airshow world lost an outstanding pilot five years ago, but he was more than just an outstanding pilot. Mark's fine qualities as a man were as worthy of admiration as his skills in the air. He was a son and brother of whom the Hanna family were and are entitled to feel very proud, and a sadly-missed friend of whom I have many fond, happy memories.
The anniversary of Mark's tragic accident has been much in my thoughts this weekend. Fortunately, I have many enduring memories of some great, fun flying with a wonderful friend. He is sadly missed. Fondest wishes to all of the Hanna family at this sad time.
Thanks for the nice words and reminder Tudor. It dosn't seem possible that five years have passed since Mark's untimely death. He was a very special flyer who thrilled everyone with his exiting displays. We miss him, and remember him.
I’m sure Ray won’t mind me saying that when we spoke on the phone a few days after the accident both he and I had trouble just accepting that Mark stalled on final through simple inattention or lack of skill.
When I asked Ray about what manoeuvres Mark had done before turning final it seemed to me that there was a chance that a residual vortex from his high g pull could have been lurking in the area. I put Ray in touch with the RAE guys I used to work with on the behaviour of such trailing vortices close to the surface and was pleased to see the Spanish report did not rule out the possibility that Mark might have tripped over one.
I read the current Aeroplane Monthly and was greatly impressed by the letter from Alex Henshaw on accident investigation findings. It was written following the publication of the Spanish reports on Mark's tragic accident but concerned another fatal accident that happened during Alex's time at Castle Bromwich during the war.
I miss Mark enormously. We had a few run ins over the years but he was always transparently honest and took the odd rocket with good grace. His talent as a display pilot was enormous and he reached that select body of immortals who have thrilled us all over so many years. Too few in Mark's case.
From time to time, and especially on the 26th September 2004 at Sywell, I remember him and his infectious enthusiasm for all types if vintage aircraft and especially the fighters of all ages. Rest in peace Mark. When we meet again it will indeed be a happy occasion, for me at least.............!!!!!!!!!!!
As I remember, they were when you were wearing your gamekeeper's hat, not your poacher's hat. I agree about the good grace. Mark was always impeccably courteous, even in circumstances like that - whatever he actually thought.
I think Mark learned the knack (trick?) of showing 'good grace' in such circumstances from his father. On occasions I've heard people having 'a word' with Ray about his display, I've always had mixed feelings - a mixture of amusement and of admiration for Ray's good grace in resisting the temptation to point out that he knew a thousand times more than they did about what was safe and what wasn't.
I spent a number of years of the display circuit but not in the same class as Mark and Ray Hanna, as well as many others too. Mark and Ray were in a class of their own - Ray was IMHO peerless - still is - Mark was seriously close to father in that respect also.
However much they were above us all, they always had the good grace to chat and to respect those of us not endowed with their fantastic skills. Indeed, if Ray or Mark were given a so-called rocket I would have like to have been there afterwards. They would have quitely smiled to themselves and walked away.
Personally, whatever doubtful position I held that gave me the 'right' to berate either of them, I would not have had the cheek. To do so, when they knew more about display flying than any other person, has a distinct sense of absurdity to me.
I too miss Mark. I will miss Ray too, when he finally gives his gloves away - to me please sir. Their visit here has been recorded and archived for others to see in years to come.
I never knew Mark Hanna but like us all, could not help but admire is flying skills.
A sad loss to aviation.
On the subject of wake vortices I am reminded of an accident in NZ in the early '70's.
Mid morning, an agricultural pilot was returning to his base strip. The owner had decided to graze some young cattle on the airstrip, consequently they took some "shifting" by flying over and to one side to clear an area to land. The weather was perfect, frosty and still air (light drift). After 2 - 3 of these runs, just before commencing a "pull up" for a turn, the A/C inexplicably rolled violently though some 70° and the wing tip struck a woolshed, with fatal consequences. The A/C would have been at relatively high speed at the time (i.e. good control response.) The pilot was also very experienced.
The only rational explanation was lurking wake vortices, from previous runs.
When Ray finally hangs up his helmet an era of display flying will end the likes of which we will never see again.
Some super comments re Mark Hanna, much missed. Did'nt agree though with the recent comments in Aeroplane in response to the Spainish report, ok authority of the investigators is unknown but they had a great deal of visual and eye witness evidence. Very dangerous precidament to see an individual as 'above making an error'.
"It is therefore concluded that it is not possible to accurately determine the exact cause of the accident. The most probable cause was a conjunction of some of the hypotheses mentioned ........ ."
Sometimes the cause of an accident cannot be determined and, as in this instance, the one person who might be able to give the answer sadly isn't alive to do so. If accident investigation experts who've considered all the evidence can't conclusively determine the cause(s), it's curious that people who read their report think they know better.
In the absence of conclusive evidence a pilot did make an error, implying or speculating that he did is not only silly but grossly unfair, especially when the pilot is no longer with us to defend himself.
You don't change. You still haven't learnt wearing a CAA 'I'm Important' hat might give you power to "rocket" people who know more than you but it doesn't truly cut any ice with them, and some of us remember it came off a bit suddenly as well.