View Full Version : Flying through Tower Bridge

11th Sep 2009, 16:29
On the 25th November 1951 an aircraft was flown through Tower Bridge (Flight Magazine reported the following week but did not have a name). The info I have is that it was a chemist from Chingford. Can anyone help with an aircraft type and the name of the pilot please? Have tried some searching on the web but the info has alluded me so far.
Many thanks.

11th Sep 2009, 16:37
I think it was an Auster and he flew under something like 14 bridges on the Thames.

11th Sep 2009, 16:56
Most probably it was when the Mad Major flew under most of the Thames bridges in Auster G-AGYD from Herts & Essex Aero Club at broxbourne Herts -- he was fined & expelled from the club.
More info if you want

11th Sep 2009, 19:17
As reported in the press at the time in 1951:


11th Sep 2009, 20:26
Am I dreaming, or did an HS-125 go through Tower Bridge in the 1960's ?


11th Sep 2009, 20:57
thought i remembered something similar to this, found this on Wiki.
Hawker Hunter Tower Bridge incident - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_Hunter_Tower_Bridge_incident)

B Fraser
11th Sep 2009, 21:20
A Hawker Hunter was flown through the central span and the pilot was at the receiving end of a one way conversation sans biccies before his departure from the RAF. The only reported casualty was a cyclist who fell off his bike and ripped his trousers. He most probably rendered them unwearable too but only his dry cleaner would be able to verify that.

There isn't a photo AFAIK however there was a commemorative painting. Could a Ppruner possibly post an image ?

I understand that the pilot paid for the repair to the trousers.....so that's ok then.

11th Sep 2009, 21:49
Hunter Tower Bridge fly-through.

Flt. Lt. Alan Richard Pollock the pilot of the Hunter that flew through Tower Bridge in April 1968 wrote an article " Why I Flew my Hunter Through Tower Bridge - 5th April 1968" for "Flypast" magazine.

His article can be seen here: Jever Steam Laundry - 4 Sqn personnel Pollock 004 (http://www.rafjever.org/4sqnper004.htm)

mike rondot
11th Sep 2009, 22:07
There are photos of my 2 tower bridge Hunter paintings out there somewhere. The first painting was commissioned by "The Brawdy Balloonists" and presented to the squadron in 1975. The second version was commissioned by the pilot, Al Pollock, after seeing the original and is in his private collection.
This post is my permission to use the copyright images on PRuNe if anyone can scan them in.

11th Sep 2009, 23:06

12th Sep 2009, 08:36
Thanks for all the responses people, had read about the Mad Major and the gentleman in the Hunter. The info that Warmtoast posted seems to hit the mark. If Al Pollock flew through once, the Mad Major twice and the "Chigwell Chemist" once by my (admittedly rudimentary) maths that makes 4. Was the other one the Dominie in 1964 or is there another name in the frame out there to make the 5?

Many thanks. BL

12th Sep 2009, 08:46
The original question asked about the 1951 incident that involved Taylorcraft Plus D (Auster I) G-AHBO which, although owned by The Wycombe Flying Club at the time, was hired for the flight at Denham.

In 1954 an American, Gene Thompson, performed a similar feat using Plus D G-AHAI also hired from Denham.

The more celebrated/infamous incident involved Auster J/1 Autocrat G-AGYD flown by Draper who had advised the press of his intentions beforehand.

12th Sep 2009, 09:22
I have a recollection that an aircraft went through Tower Bridge in the early 70s. The pilot then taking the aircraft up to the Lakes. Can anyone provide details?
Just googled it. August 73 and a Beagle Pup.

Lightning Mate
12th Sep 2009, 14:32
Hello Roundout.

"There are photos of my 2 tower bridge Hunter paintings..."

Not seen you since the Colt Jag Reunion.

Double Zero
12th Sep 2009, 18:31
Al Pollock did this in his Hunter, I understand it was after a Royal fly-past and a form of demonstration against defence cuts.

He also joined the circuit inverted at 200' at some airfields on the way back !

There is an artist's impression of the event at the museum, though it sadly does not illustrate the cyclist.

Apparently A.P. Was hoping to have his say at a Court Martial; the RAF got around this by retiring him on medical grounds, which I must say I tend to agree with, considering the risk to the public he took ( the story goes, he went through at full throttle ).

At Tangmere Museum there are 2 pretty good ' simulators ' each offering one to try flying a Hunter through Tower Bridge, and add-on software to stich onto F.S.2004 for sale ( with other aircraft such as the world speed record Meteor & record reheated Hunter as well as the Tower Bridge escapade; both real speed record aircraft are on display there among others).

As the saying goes, I'm not on commission...

I have not personally met Al Pollock yet, but he visits now & again for a recreation of his flight !

Brian N
12th Sep 2009, 20:40
Never heard of this story before, but i must say i was fascinated by it!

Sorry to hear that the pilot involved never really had his say & never flew with the RAF again. After reading the various acounts of the incident, including Mr Pollock's, i can't help thinking that the RAF must have been under political pressure to "quietly get rid of him", i also really hope that within the RAF they were very proud of him!

Putting aside the safety aspects for a moment, for someone to be able to fly a high performance jet aircraft under Tower Bridge, totally unplanned according to the various reports, must speak volumes for the standard of RAF flying training & the calibre of its pilots:ok:

To do this in a light aircraft is one thing, but to do it in a Hunter is quite another. I realise only to well that there are plenty who will say "if it had gone wrong, dozens died, not clever" etc, and on that point i can't argue, but what sort of world would we live in if noboby ever took any risks? :bored:

12th Sep 2009, 20:53
Double Zero
considering the risk to the public he tookI don't know anything about the incident apart from what I've read here. What was the risk to the public? ie Actual risk, not fanciful risk.

The width between the two towers is more than 200 feet and the height between the bridge span (road) and the upper walkways is about 100 feet.
A Hunter wingspan is just over 33 feet.At Tangmere Museum there are 2 pretty good ' simulators ' each offering one to try flying a Hunter through Tower Bridge
Has any former Hunter pilot (or any other fast jet pilot) failed to get safely through Tower Bridge when flying the sim?

13th Sep 2009, 07:36
Chris Draper reckoned he could easily have taken a formation of three light aircraft safely through Tower Bridge on both occasions that he did it.

13th Sep 2009, 10:04
I don't know anything about the incident apart from what I've read here. What was the risk to the public? ie Actual risk, not fanciful risk

..... up to a point Heliport. But surely you (in particular!) should recognise that the Thames at Tower Bridge is - and was in 1968 - part of the London Helilanes. And (IIRC) in them days that part of the lanes had a maximum height of 700' agl....... could have ruined yer whole day ....

One was a fresh-faced trainee at the time, but ISTR the buzz was (and I haven't yet read the linked article) that Pollock was protesting that there wasn't a Royal (or any other) flypast in London to mark the RAF's 50th birthday ....

The very airframe was in Bahrein in 70/71 (8 or 208 Sqn), and was identified by a dayglo Tower Bridge zap!

13th Sep 2009, 10:49
The width between the two towers is more than 200 feet and the height between the bridge span (road) and the upper walkways is about 100 feet. - on that basis, we could fly a 747 through there. Where would you like this to stop? I think you should talk to someone with legal background - Flying Lawyer, perhaps - about 'actual risk' - isn't all 'risk' when no accident occurs, 'fanciful'? With someone of Al's abilities, I would say 'minimal' ACTUAL risk, but............ what if's -

There was a cable or whatever hanging down from the top for construction work and a blokey hanging on to it?

The pilot mis-judged the flying? Al himself says he was quite concerned he might have taken off his fin as he went through?

What about 'shock' for those on the bridge and any ensuing road accident?

What about the (very small) risk of aircraft malfunction?

What about jet blast?

What about 'teetering's' helis?

etc etc?

I met Al in 1970 at Chivenor, and he seemed a pretty 'normal' RAF fighter pilot to me - whatever that is:) As a serving RAF pilot in 1968 I must say he boosted moral just a touch for us at the time!

Tim McLelland
13th Sep 2009, 13:27
Al says that there was no intention of flying through the bridge spans until he saw the bridge appear in front of him. His intention was to overfly Parliament and London because of the way in which the RAF brass were heroically ignoring their own anniversary. He did this, but on the outbound route he saw the bridge and suddenly realised that he could fly through it. His only excuse for such wild thinking was that he had a cold at the time and was suitably medicated!

It's fine to look at all the risks involved but my view is that he showed some flair and enthusiasm and wasn't afraid to take a calculated risk. These days, in a country where it'll probably be declared illegal to get out of bed without a Health & Safety assessment soon, we need more people like him.

13th Sep 2009, 16:25

It's fine to look at all the risks involved but my view is that he showed some flair and enthusiasm and wasn't afraid to take a calculated risk.Taking a calculated risk to fly under / through a bridge is fine, but the calculator of risks often ignores the probability that Murphy's Law will apply to his considered assessment.

I feel sure that the pilot who crashed into a bank of the River Avon after having flown under Clifton suspension bridge in 1957 made all the right risk assessments, but it didn’t stop his assessments of the risks being proved wrong and killing himself in the process. See quote below.

Similarly the spectators were all were appreciative of Neil Williams flying inverted in his Zlin Trener just 20-30ft above their heads at a 1960’s BoB display at Biggin Hill as shown in the screen grabs below from my 8 mm cine film of his inverted fly past. It worked then, but what if Murphy came along and it hadn’t?

Personally if I was a pedestrian on or near Tower Bridge at the time I’d much prefer the risk assessor deciding to fly over rather than through the bridge.


An hour before the Duke of Gloucester was due to take the salute at the disbandment parade of 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, at Filton, Bristol, yesterday [Sunday, Feb 03, 1957], a Vampire jet fighter attached to the squadron crashed into a bank of the River Avon after having flown under Clifton suspension bridge.

The pilot, Flying Officer J. G. Crossley, aged 28, was killed. The suspension bridge spans the Avon Gorge and carries a road 245ft. above the river. The aircraft narrowly missed the bridge, according to eye witnesses, and dived into a steep slope on the Somerset side of the river, near Pill, about two miles from the bridge. The impact caused a slight landslide which almost reached a railway line below. No trains were run on the line, which connects Bristol and Portishead, for several hours. The wreckage of the aircraft caught fire and Bristol and Somerset firemen had to lay a hose for more than a quarter of a mile across the hillside. The body of the pilot was found among the wreckage.

Flying Officer Crossley, a single man, was employed by the flight test department of a subsidiary of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. He lived in Bristol, but his home was at Blackburn.

Mr. William Rodgers, prospective Labour candidate in the forthcoming by-election at Bristol West, said last night that he was admiring the view from the suspension bridge when he heard the scream of jet engines. “The aircraft came in very low” he said. He watched it disappear up the gorge and round a bend. There was a loud explosion and immediately smoke billowed up."
Mr. A. H. Fenn, proprietor of a kiosk on the bridge, said: “There was a strong wind, and as the aircraft continued up the gorge it appeared to roll or bank to the left I imagine the strong cross-wind must have caught him as he was banking."

Squadron Leader M. C. Collings, officer commanding the squadron, said the aircraft was being tested as a reserve for the parade fly-past No route had been laid down for it, but the pilot had not permission to attempt to fly under the bridge.

The Duke of Gloucester, who is honorary Air Commodore of the squadron, knew nothing of the crash until after the parade He was told of it by Air Marshal Sir Thomas Pike, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief. Fighter Command.

At the parade, the first to be held by a Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron since the recent disbandment announcement, the Duke said: The reasons for the Government’s decision have been given and we must however difficult it is, loyally accept them. I can only say that I fully understand and sympathize most sincerely with your feelings at this moment. The fame of your squadron and of the rest of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force will, I know, live on long after disbandment.”

He recalled that 501 Squadron went quickly to France when the last war began and one morning “bagged” 18 enemy aircraft before breakfast. Later the squadron played a distinguished part in the Battle of Britain, and it was Sergeant James Lacy, a member of the squadron, who shot down the Heinkel which bombed Buckingham Palace.

The parade included both personnel of 501 Squadron and of 2501 Field Squadron. Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment. A solitary Vampire jet fighter flew past as the Duke took the salute.

Flying Officer John Greenwood Crossley, aged 28, the pilot who crashed and died in the Avon Gorge after flying a Vampire aircraft under the Clifton suspension bridge last Sunday, was on an unauthorized flight, it was stated at the inquest yesterday at Flax Bourton, near Bristol.
Corporal Robert Charles Troll, of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, stationed with 501 Squadron at Filton, said that at 10.30 a.m. on Sunday he saw Crossley sitting in a Vampire starting the engines[sic]. “He then climbed out, dashed round to the starboard side, disconnected the starting appliance, and then climbed back into the aircraft as if he was in a hurry. ... I made signs to prevent him from taking off because the nose wheel chock was behind the wheel and danger might ensue. He ignored me completely”
The inquest was adjourned until February 26.

Approaching inverted


Flying by - Inverted


Climbing away, still inverted.

13th Sep 2009, 19:25
I take your point about the risk of there being a helicopter in the Helilanes. I assumed Double Zero was referring to the public on the ground.

BOAC “on that basis, we could fly a 747 through there”No.
Not a –400; even a -100, -200 or –300 would have literally just a few feet width clearance so there would be a real risk of colliding with one of the towers.

“isn't all 'risk' when no accident occurs, 'fanciful'?”No.
eg If a drunk driver drives along a crowded shopping street at 70 mph there is a real risk he may cause injury or damage. Even if neither damage nor injury was actually caused, the risk was nonetheless real and not fanciful.
'Fanciful' means over-imaginative. We frequently see fanciful (or unrealistic or hypothetical) risks alleged in melodramatic tabloid press reports (and in some posts on PPRuNe) about aviation incidents. They often include the ‘What if ………..’ variety.

Tim McLelland These days, in a country where it'll probably be declared illegal to get out of bed without a Health & Safety assessment soon, we need more people like him. :ok:

Warmtoast Personally if I was a pedestrian on or near Tower Bridge at the time I’d much prefer the risk assessor deciding to fly over rather than through the bridge. Personally, I would love to have seen it, whether from the bridge or (very) near.

All your Vampire at Bristol story illustrates is that accidents do happen. Nobody can deny that's true but it's no reason IMHO to try to eliminate all risks. If we spent our lives worrying about Murphy coming along, the world would be a dull place. We seem to be moving in that direction worryingly quickly. (See TM's post.)

If Neil Williams was actually doing that over the crowd (difficult to tell from the photographs) then I agree with your criticism.
His ability to fly accurately when inverted saved his life in 1970: Zlin wing Structural Failure Report - Neil Williams (http://www.aerobatics.org.uk/repeats/zlin_wing_failure.htm)
That said, he did have a bit of a reputation for taking risks which were too great. Some say that's what eventually killed him; whether it was 'pressonitis' leading him to take a weather risk or a simple navigation error, it was a ferry flight not a display.


mike rondot
13th Sep 2009, 21:55
Not seen you since the Colt Jag Reunion
That was a good bash at Colt, I still have occasional headaches from it, even now. There is another this Saturday in London. Why don't you drop everything and come along and get sh*tfaced with your mates?
Cannot possibly comment on the org and publicity for this, the first "Jaguar Reunion" since the chop, but it is to be found on the Jag Assoc website.

If you came, the numbers would be up by a significant percentage, not to mention the quality of the banter.

14th Sep 2009, 07:45

A couple of queries re the Neil Williams flying over the crowd incident at Biggin Hill. Is the date 1960 accurate? By my reckoning no Trener Masters were rigisterd in Britain at the time. If the date is correct it must have been a foreign registerd one.

Incidentally the first Trener Master registered was Neville Browning's
G-ASIM Registered 25 June 63.I recall seing it at a Biggin Hill Air Fair, possibly either '63 or '64......


14th Sep 2009, 08:50
We are well away from Al's 'demonstration' now and into fine semantics, but I believe the RAF's actions on that event were taken not on perceived 'risk' of any kind but purely on disciplinary grounds.

I wonder if Heliport recognises that in aviation a very high percentage of risk, actual and not fanciful (indeed demonstated) has arisen from unplanned and impulsive manouevres conducted by pilots? I have, sadly, a few friends who have damaged aircraft and some indeed killed themselves in such manouevres. Others, not of my acquaintance, have killed by-standers. Risk becoming event.

Does he indeed know that the life of an experienced pilot revolves around the 'what if'? Why are engine failures on take-off briefed? After all, they are extremely rare, though they have indeed occurred. Is that 'fanciful'? Do not all aircraft accidents happen when the 'what if' becomes the 'it did'?

I have in my life taken 'risks' with aircraft (hopefully well-considered), am fully supportive of the Tim's desire to avoid the 'nanny state' and get fearlessly out of bed (most) mornings. Is it not just a question of balance and necessary risk? Everything we do has an element of risk. Do we actually have a god-given right to impose an element of risk on others in the interests of keeping the 'free spirit' alive? To take Heliport's driving analogy a stage further - is there a risk to others, actual or fanciful, if we exceed the speed limit in a built-up area, just because we want to?

14th Sep 2009, 10:27

My post re-Neil Williams inverted at Biggin states: "at a 1960’s BoB display" (my emphasis) so it was taken any time onwards from 1960 when I acquired my first cine camera which I used regularly until the early 1970's.

I can’t be precise about the date as my cine camera had no facility to date and time-stamp when a particular clip was taken, as with modern camcorders.

ISTR that Neil's Zlin was sponsored, but by whom I can't recall, and it was painted as part of this sponsorship deal. The markings on the surface of the wings is similar to other photos I've seen of Neil's Zlin in various publications.

FWIW the film was definitley shot at a September Biggin BoB display, not at an Air Fair, which I never once attended.

14th Sep 2009, 11:13
Re the hunter and Tower bridge:

I used to go to school in central London, just South of the Thames. At the time of the incident, I was in the advanced chemistry lab, doing something involving a test tube and nitric acid......very nearly dropped the bottle as the aircraft went past at some speed (and a lot of noise).

14th Sep 2009, 19:22

Apologies, should have read it more carefully........!!!


14th Sep 2009, 21:27
OK - let's raise the stakes - who has been under Sydney Harbour bridge in a 734 and looped off it?:)

Brian Abraham
15th Sep 2009, 01:47
Been under the Sydney bridge with a formation of 1 or 2 dozen. Sorry no loop, helicopters and all that.

15th Sep 2009, 04:55
I went for a tootle under the Sinneyarborbrige in 1976 in an 'elicopter but no ensuing loop though. :ok:


Albert Driver
8th Dec 2012, 08:51
Al Pollock just recounted his story on Radio 4 Saturday Live.

I didn't know there was a double decker bus crossing the bridge at the time ....

9th Dec 2012, 13:25
What a fascinating subject. I didn't realize these events had happened at Tower Bridge, whow ! Thanks for the info Albert D, I just heard the recording of the Radio 4 programme. You can download the programme here :

BBC - Podcasts and Downloads - Saturday Live (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/satlive)

and the actual part with Al Pollock is from the 14.00 mins point to 21.00 mins.

14th Dec 2012, 17:34
An eye-witness account I posted in the "Flying under bridges, what and where?" thread:

Re. the Hunter and Tower Bridge, I actually had a good view of the event in central London. I was working as a site engineer supervising building of a block of flats near Vauxhall Bridge, in early April 1968. While checking the steel reinforcement of the highest floor slab before concreting, with my eye level about 50 feet above ground level, the Hunter roared past travelling downriver approximately 300 yards away.

I saw it pass over Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges, and very close to the then-new Vickers Millbank tower block. Anyone on the upper floors would definitely have been looking down onto it, and from my own vantage point I saw its full side view! Other tallish buildings then blocked my view of it as it swept towards Tower Bridge, so I didn't see it passing between the lower road deck and the upper pedestrian deck level, but the news media were full of it afterwards.

The newspaper accounts next day claimed that the pilot was due to leave the RAF quite soon anyway, and that he and colleagues were very dissatisfied with the half-hearted way in which the service was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its formation on 1st April 1918. He had accordingly decided to mark the occasion in a more robust and appropriate manner!

16th Dec 2012, 12:16
I can confirm the state of morale in the Royal Air Force in 1968. I was a corporal A.Fitt.E at RAF Waddington at the time, but we ground crew took massive pride in our ability to get the job done to the highest standards despite all the crap thrown at us. The same can be said of our aircrews, splendid men who were prepared to fight and die at a few minutes' notice despite the infamous dining-in night.

Truly Per Ardua Ad Astra in the best traditions of the service.

16th Dec 2012, 16:26
Of course, for the opening ceremony of the Olympics it was no trouble to get authorisation for TWO aircraft to do it.

Helicopters fly through Tower Bridge - YouTube

17th Dec 2012, 18:12
I had not heard the story and found reading it via the link highly enjoyable, as it had much more detail than he could get into the radio time allowed.

My father served at both Tangmere (29 in the start of his service) and West Raynham (141 for the main part) and he also served at some of the other stations that were beaten up. Pity I can't ask him his thoughts about this event. Nor, for that matter, his pilot who was working his way up to Air Commodore at the time of the incident and was closely involved in the introduction of the Hunter. Checking his record, he was officer Commanding RAF Buchan at the time of this Hunter event.

With regards to the two rotating wing things (thanks for the link WHBM) one wonders what the CAA answer would have been if HMQ actually was in the leading machine? I guess that, if she wanted to take the ride, she could!

19th Dec 2012, 21:25
Found an old copy of Flying Review with his reasoning for the bridge run...

http://img19.imageshack.us/img19/4369/img571fj.jpg (http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/19/img571fj.jpg/)

22nd Dec 2012, 20:48
I know that a certain 18 year old (PPL from RAF flying scholarship!) flew a Cherokee (from Biggin Hill) through Tower Bridge in 1970. He was emigrating the next day, but when he returned to the UK five years later, the CAA prosecuted him. I won't name him but I attended school with him in Kingston, Surrey.

23rd Dec 2012, 06:51
Was this a 'through' the bridge or low flying across the bridge,as i do not recall any 'media' reports for the time,nor does it seem to feature in Biggin Hill folklore.

23rd Dec 2012, 08:12
Flying through the bridge is nothing new:


Video clip here: TOWER BRIDGE - British Pathé (http://www.britishpathe.com/video/tower-bridge-3/query/01362000)

23rd Dec 2012, 22:04
Tower Bridge PA28
Was this a 'through' the bridge or low flying across the bridge,as i do not recall any 'media' reports for the time,nor does it seem to feature in Biggin Hill folklore.

Probably this one from Blackbushe on 21st September 1969 as reported in the press at the time.


And fined in May 1970.

24th Dec 2012, 20:18
It looks like the Judge took a lenient view of this escapade,or the pilots took a chance on the 'max fine' bit.
I suspect a similar occurrence today would see some 'time' being served.
Either way it seems to have escaped a mass media exposure,so thanks Possel for letting us know.
Did they become Airline Pilots somewhere !!!

29th Dec 2012, 10:24
Was this a 'through' the bridge or low flying across the bridge,as i do not recall any 'media' reports for the time,nor does it seem to feature in Biggin Hill folklore.The pilot's name was Chris Francis and his passenger was Ashley Wilkin (from the same year at school), from whom I heard the story. I know it was June/July 1970 as that's when we did our A-Levels and left school. The aircraft was (I think) from the Surrey and Kent Flying Club.

Afer emigrating to Australia to join their Army (don't ask why!), Chris returned to the UK in about 1975/6. I saw details of the prosecution in a flying magazine in 1976/7 which corroborated the story that I had been told, that it was under Tower Bridge. I recall that the heading was "The CAA always gets its man!" or something very similar; he was fined a lot.