View Full Version : Spitfire bent at Biggin.

1st Aug 2015, 14:59
"Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar Ltd

Spitfire MK912 this afternoon suffered a loss of power after takeoff and forced landed back on the airfield. The aircraft is badly damaged but Pilot Dan Griffith carried out a text book forced landing and is OK."

1st Aug 2015, 15:26
Well done Dan. Legend.

1st Aug 2015, 23:20
I often see a Spitfire flying around the village near Biggin where my parents live when I visit. It's a beautiful aircraft to see passing overhead. Very sad to hear this but very glad nobody was hurt.

2nd Aug 2015, 13:38
Since when was a 180 turn, trading altitude for runway behind you, a textbook procedue for engine failure on takeoff? Surely 30 degrees either side of dead ahead is where you look to land. Is the Spitfire any different in this regard?

2nd Aug 2015, 13:40
That's the investigation done, no need for the AAIB here.........

2nd Aug 2015, 17:08
Poor little Spitfire :(

More in the fail: BREAKING NEWS: Spitfire crashes at Biggin Hill Airport after 'losing power while taking off' | Daily Mail Online (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3182325/Spitfire-crashes-Biggin-Hill-Airport-losing-power-taking-off.html)

John Farley
2nd Aug 2015, 17:35

As with any trade or profession 'textbook procedures' are there to standardise team work and assist/protect others as they build experience.

Since we do not have any information about where the loss of power happened, or what speed or height was involved, anybody who suggests that what the pilot did may not have been for the best are saying more about themselves than the event.


Allan Lupton
2nd Aug 2015, 17:41
Sadly, John, there are a lot of folk on this forum who claim to know more than the poor chap on the spot.

2nd Aug 2015, 18:10
Looking at pilot Dan Griffith's resume I'd think twice before second guessing his decision making!

2nd Aug 2015, 18:20
Looking at pilot Dan Griffith's resume I'd think twice before second guessing his decision making!

Quite so.

Mr Griffiths is the current Chief Test Pilot at Light Aircraft Association. He is also is a former RAF Harrier jump jet pilot and former chief test pilot with the Civil Aviation Authority

However, the few pics I've seen show it will need a little more than some bodge tape and a polishing cloth! (The aircraft, not Dan!)

John Farley
2nd Aug 2015, 19:20
The good news is that I have had an email from Dan and while he is a bit sore in places he sees no reason why he will not be flying in a couple of weeks.


2nd Aug 2015, 20:38
Not much if anything to land on 30 degrees either side of the south-westerly climb out from Biggin apart from a big valley full of houses and trees. In the other direction isn't much better, what with the majority of it being tree-lined small fields with lots of hills and a fairly substantial 400kV pylon line.

Very well done that man for the landing.

2nd Aug 2015, 21:00
Where does the Spitfire come from? Not Boultbee I hope; unless it is a single seater.

3rd Aug 2015, 07:06
RAT 5 it's a single seater, one of about half a dozen flying or under restoration at Biggin Hill.

500 above
3rd Aug 2015, 07:27
It was the Heritage Flight Spit. Parked in the Rizon Jet hangar next to our aircraft. I saw the takeoff, but not the prang. The incident was handled well by the airport and the emergency services by all accounts. We only had a 1.5 hour delay for our departure as the ATZ was closed. Glad Dan's OK.

3rd Aug 2015, 10:41
Good news JF

All the best Dan, very well performed - of course.

3rd Aug 2015, 11:01

The turn back procedure was taught in RN elementary training in to the early 80s.

By the time I was back there instructing in 1989, it had been dropped from the syllabus, reason being it was thought more dangerous for inexperienced pilots to fly this manoeuvre than to accept what terrain lies ahead.

Key word is inexperienced.

This Spit was not being flown by such a man.

It, and he will fly again. Had he followed your text book, I doubt either would.

3rd Aug 2015, 11:12
Dan & John

Thanks for the good news. Per Ardua...and get back in the air again ASAP.

3rd Aug 2015, 17:16
I'm renewing my PPL again so I can indulge in the more adventurous type of aviating than remaining 1g and erect most of the time. EFATO's have been thrown at me. Surely the adage of 'no turn back' depends on many parameters; e..g height, speed, type of a/c, wind velocity, experience of PF etc. etc. It's not a 'one size fits all' rule. It is a rule of thumb.

3rd Aug 2015, 17:40
Of the many occasions over the last 5 years I've used Biggin, the Spitfire likes to use the Crosswind runway, so does anyone actually know what runway this bird used on the day, For those of who fly out of Biggin on a regular basis. Departing Runway 21, we put it down in the Valley. A turn back is very risky, due to the Village and wooded areas.

Departing RWY 11 and this would make sense, that area is just north of the RWY 29 threshold near the back of the airport, how he ended up in that position I don't know, but it would have made sense if it was a turnback from 11.

3rd Aug 2015, 18:36
Yes, sometimes you don't have a choice of good or bad, sometimes it's between bad or worse. I'm always interested in the details. It looks like he took off on Rwy 11, made a left 180 turn and came down just north of the Alouette Flying Club, on the east side of the airport. Go to Google Maps and search for "Alouette Flying Club, Biggin Hill, United Kingdom", then select Earth view to see the situation. A forced landing off the end of Rwy 11 looks bad, a lot of forest and small fields bordered by trees, and according to locals, he was only airborne for ~90 seconds. Now zoom in on Rwy 11 for a treat- a Spitfire is turning onto it from a taxiway on the west end.

Dave's brother
3rd Aug 2015, 19:03
zoom in on Rwy 11 for a treat- a Spitfire is turning onto it from a taxiway on the west end.
V cool! Well spotted, PrivtPilotRadarTech! :D

4th Aug 2015, 13:12
Whereas on the apple maps app there are all sorts of aircraft that appear to have been cut out by a ten year old and pasted on

5th Aug 2015, 15:51
If I may be permitted a little thread creep here, there has been a few comments on this thread regarding turnbacks. We do not know whether or not Dan attempted a turnback or whether such a manoeuvre was an appropriate action following the failure that he suffered. Therefore, none of what I have written below is a comment on the recent Spitfire accident. However, it is a timely reminder for all of us who fly single engine aircraft of some considerations for potentially attempting such a manoeuvre.

At the dawn of aviation, "Never turn back" was a mantra and for a very good reason. Early aeroplanes had low power and high drag. Therefore, climb gradient was less than glide ratio and so if runway heading was maintained after take-off the aircraft would, following a total loss of power, never be able to glide back to the take-off airfield (unless it had turned off runway heading).

High performance aircraft, such as the Spitfire, accelerate to climb speed quickly and then have a climb gradient that is greater than the glide ratio. Therefore (and again assuming that runway heading is maintained) a height/speed combination will relatively quickly be reached which is high enough above the return-to-airfield glide profile to allow a turn to be made to point at and glide towards the airfield then fly positioning turns to align with the reciprocal of the take-off runway with sufficient height to lower the gear and flaps to make a controlled touchdown; that is a turnback. To use the Tucano as an example (an aircraft with similar but slightly less power:weight ratio than the Spitfire), from 150 KIAS and 500 ft a turnback can be made to the reciprocal of the take-off runway. At Linton-on-Ouse, which has a cross runway with a mid-point intersection, it is possible to turn back to the cross runway from 130 KIAS and 500 ft. However, making a successful landing from such a manoeuvre is not guaranteed and at least in the Tucano you have the option to eject if you judge (by 300 ft) that you are not going to land safely on the runway. If you do not have an ejection seat, such as in the Spitfire, you are committed to an off-runway landing, hopefully within the airfield boundary, but for which you really want the gear to be up as per an off-airfield forced landing.

The actual turnback manoeuvre should normally be a hard turn into wind. This is because one of the main factors in order to achieve a successful landing is minimising the lateral separation from the runway centreline. The problem now is that the nose needs to be lowered significantly in order to maintain manoeuvring glide speed and one of the biggest risks is losing speed and stalling. I believe that this is the main reason that such manoeuvres have never been taught to students undergoing flying training. If the take-off roll has been very short and the initial climb out steep, the required manoeuvre is a turn downwind through approximately a 45 deg heading change then a reversal to dumbbell back to the runway. Up to a point, the greater the crosswind component the greater the chance of a successful turnback because it helps to minimise the lateral displacement from the runway centreline during the turn. There are parallels to these manoeuvres with cable-break procedures for gliding winch launches.

Having said all of the above, once you turn off runway heading after take-off you just have to apply judgement as per any engine failure. But next time you fly and plan a straight climb from take-off, it is worth thinking about what height and speed you need in order to fly a turnback and which way you will turn.

5th Aug 2015, 19:18

Looking at pilot Dan Griffith's resume I'd think twice before second guessing his decision making!

Absolutely. My first thought when I heard of this was that the problem must have been serious and urgent.

Even as an amateur flyer my first assumption was that they don't just let anybody fly those machines.

I hope that the pilot is doing well. It's also weirdly interesting that they'll have to do a modern style accident analysis on such an old machine.

old,not bold
6th Aug 2015, 16:46
One fine day in the 1960s, I was taking off for my final check ride with the CFI, Les Phillips, before going solo at Sleap in an Auster Autocrat. (This was a club requirement, and a very good idea.)

At 400' or so, just crossing the boundary, the engine stopped. Before I had even realised that it wasn't Les chopping the power as a training exercise/test, and while I was still pushing the nose down without turning, he shouted "I have control", did a diving 180 turn without losing any airspeed, rolled out and touched down on the grass, downwind. (I then did my first solo, 10 minutes later, in the other club Autocrat.)

Landing anywhere in the "approved" area straight ahead would almost certainly have killed us both, as it usually will ever since airfields are no longer placed in open countryside.

He was an ex-RAF pilot and instructor, and I believe flew Spifires during WWII.

Ever since then I have preached the gospel that the mantra "Land straight ahead" should have been replaced decades ago by teaching ab initio pilots when and how to turn back after an engine failure on takeoff in a single.

The word "When" is important; part of the lesson is calculating a minimum height for the 180 diving turn, and knowing not to attempt the manouevre below that height. Given that, the manouevre should be taught and practised.

So I'm with Lomcevak.

Stand by for incoming!

Above The Clouds
6th Aug 2015, 21:21
old,not bold
Stand by for incoming!

The only incoming from me is that I that fully agree.

7th Aug 2015, 05:07
While it probably shouldn't, the value & rarity of the aircraft possibly had some affect on the decision making process as well.

7th Aug 2015, 06:43
One thing I have practised is the turn back after T/0 with an engine failure, do it at various heights until you are confident of the height needed I concur with all said, but I have found a steep turn back with extra speed is best, initially the ground looks close but once the turn is complete you can trade A/S for distance
I believe most ab initios forget the stalling speed goes up dramatically with a steep turn, hence they stall.

John Farley
7th Aug 2015, 10:15
Not surprisingly it would be hard to find a better general brief than LOMCEVAC’s on the issue of turnbacks.

But if I may I would like to add some other food for thought.

I know it is stating the obvious but there are two very important specific issues that are relevant to any actual EFATO:

The pilot
The aircraft type

The pilot issues are all about experience and currency. Does the pilot realise how very very quickly and hard you need to shove the nose down and roll on the bank before you pull? Is the manoeuvre regularly practiced? Is the pilot good at doing very tight turns without stalling?

Is the aircraft type one that has a benign stall in a turn where it just gently drops the outside wing, or one where it rolls violently into the turn?

Finally don’t forget that if you start a turnback then realise it will fail, you can always change your mind and land what serves as straight ahead at that point.

Loose rivets
7th Aug 2015, 10:31
Has anyone tried pulling the nose up while kicking the rudder and applying full flap?

You may not believe it, but it's a serious question.

7th Aug 2015, 10:52
Has anyone tried pulling the nose up while kicking the rudder and applying full flap?

You may not believe it, but it's a serious question.Sounds like the procedure for a full flap snap roll??
Can you explain further?

Loose rivets
7th Aug 2015, 11:13
It was a claim made in the early 60. A DC3. Loooong time to get flaps and I don't recall where the wheels were.

In those days one could practice all sorts of things and I did get some way with replicating this scenario. I hasten to add I had a very comfortable simulated height above touchdown.

However, I've often wondered, if all was lost and there Vicarages, schools and hospitals ahead, just what one might pull out of the bag if say, you had 400' plus.

Some of the guys that had flown through the war showed me things that I wouldn't have believed possible. My requests to have a bash we usually denied . . . but not always.

Tee Emm
7th Aug 2015, 11:41
Quote: The pilot issues are all about experience and currency. Does the pilot realise how very very quickly and hard you need to shove the nose down and roll on the bank before you pull? Is the manoeuvre regularly practiced? Is the pilot good at doing very tight turns without stalling?
Is the aircraft type one that has a benign stall in a turn where it just gently drops the outside wing, or one where it rolls violently into the turn? Unquote.
............................................................ ............................................................ ............................................................ ........................

I was the investigator of a fatal practice turn back of a RAAF Winjeel (both occupants survived the crash but died in the fire). A few years later at the same airfield the same thing happened this time to a Tiger Moth with same fatal results. Another time I studied the investigation into a RAAF dual Vampire turn back attempt with real engine failure; Both pilots killed when they landed well short and hit a ditch. The take off direction was over wide open fields and into wind. Both pilots had earlier been taught turn backs on a Vampire instructor course. One of those pilots made the snap (and fatal) decision to try a turn back when the engine failed, no doubt influenced by several practice turn backs with the engine operating normally, a few days earlier.

Another time I was a QFI testing a senior officer in a Winjeel and gave him a simulated engine failure after airborne on an 8000 ft runway. He was also a QFI on type and I expected him to simply lower the nose and land straight ahead with several thousand feet of runway available.

Instead from 500 ft he lowered the nose and whipped into the steepest reverse turn I have ever seen while I watched horrified and helpless to stop him landing brilliantly back the way we came.

So three fatal crashes during turn backs and one very close call, utterly convinced me that landing straight ahead is by far statistically the safest decision. Besides the lower energy of touch down impact into wind and good forward vision to avoid obstacles, people sometimes forget that in a steep 180 or 270 reversal turn at low speed bordering on the stall, forward and side vision is seriously compromised, especially in a high wing Cessna type trainer and the flaps are down.

7th Aug 2015, 11:54
For the weekend flyers who may be tempted to turn back, let this horrible example help form your turnback decision.

For those of you who are completely on top of your game, carry on.

7th Aug 2015, 13:36
I'd a share in a Jungmann, the only biplane I've flown, and I thought the high drag and glide ratio worryingly poor. It's good to see those with experience publicising the differences on here.
Great flick performance which itself gives food for thought.

7th Aug 2015, 13:49

Very valid extra points, thanks. In the Tucano I always select mid flap as soon as I commence the manoeuvre so that the stick shaker is active and I then have tactile stall warning. And experience and practise are fundamental as you say.

I am fairly sure that, just like practise asymmetric flying in the Canberra, there have been far more accidents caused by practising turnbacks than there have been real EFATOs with a successful outcome as a result of mitigation by practise. It is all a judgement call based on overall experience, experience on type, recency and aircraft type characteristics. Personally, I do not practise turnbacks in aircraft such as the Spitfire because big piston engines do not like sudden power reductions from take-off power to idle, and with the big radials you cannot do that without causing serious damage to the engine due to underboosting. However, I have been very fortunate in having the opportunity over many years to practise (and teach) turnbacks in the Tucano that, I hope, will stand me in good stead if, God forbid, I have a real EFATO in one of the warbird types.

And I will re-iterate that a controlled turn as soon as feasible after take-off such that you can see the airfield and are reducing the rate at which you are travelling away from the airfield will, if the engine then fails, significantly improve your chances on carrying out a successful forced landing on the airfield if you have the energy to do so.

If I am flying an airtest with an unproven powerplant I (and most other warbird pilots that I know) always plan to fly a climbing turn back through the overhead and perhaps fly an orbit overhead before continuing away from the airfield - just in case!

Loose rivets
7th Aug 2015, 15:20
I suppose for me, the thought of being as vertical as possible and kicking the tail over comes from being taught by a crop-spraying-VC, retired-Wing Commander. 'It's a good plane to crash in', he said . . . more than once.
At astonishing weights, he'd pull the thing so near the vertical that there was not much difference. When pointing down again, it seemed as though the next track was a matter of choice. The point being, there was no wing loading until he pulled out. So, the question has to be, Is it better to use up one's energy pulling out of the dive, or pulling g in a 180-ish turn?

Hence the flaps. The DC3 for example, felt like it had released a drag chute and was hanging on it. With no loading, the flaps went down quickly, but with a double engine failure . . .

There's a horrible sequel to the Tiger crashes. Said instructor, who was becoming a friend, purchased a specialist crop-spraying aircraft from Spain. He flicked in a died very soon after.

8th Aug 2015, 11:19
And what about the A400-M turn back in Seville ? I posted the question but my post was deleted.

8th Aug 2015, 14:02
In a previous life as an RAF QFI we were required to carry out practice turnbacks at least once a month.

Turnbacks most certainly shouldn't be the first choice of action, unless there is no other safe option.

We used to pre-brief every departure regarding actions in the event of engine failure. We considered landing into wind as the first option, unless this wasn't safe (i.e. congested area ahead, or unsuitable for other reasons, wind velocity, altitude already gained?).

So, turnbacks do need practice until the actual flying technique becomes second nature (notice I said second...) and due consideration/pre-briefed "in the event of"...

From the point of personal preservation, the idea is to risk assess whether it's better to attempt a downwind, or partially downwind landing near the fire engine, or possibly a better landing away from it...

11th Aug 2015, 13:34
"From the point of personal preservation, the idea is to risk assess whether it's better to attempt a downwind, or partially downwind landing near the fire engine, or possibly a better landing away from it..."

That's a REALLY good point Shy - and to continue in a similar vein, (and I'll admit that my thinking has been coloured after having witnessed two fatal accidents when the pilot decided to turn back,) if you decide to go straight ahead and get it wrong; well IMHO as long as you're strapped in, hit wings level at minimum flying speed and into wind and (to quote Bob Hoover) "fly it as far into the crash as possible" and are prepared to sacrifice the aircraft by, for example, deliberately aiming at a gate and thus missing a wall - you really do have a good chance of surviving in most straight-wing single engine aircraft.
Conversely, if you decide to turnback and get it wrong you'll almost certainly die.

NOTE this isn't an observation on the accident to the Spitfire that started this thread. I believe Dan to be an exceptional pilot (we've never met) and am sure that he would've chosen the best option.

14th Aug 2015, 14:25
Not a comment on this accident or Dan's decision, however, just in case folks are tempted to put a turn-back in their 'repertoire' a word of caution.. please think carefully about doing turnbacks in GA piston aircraft.. Unless you actually stop the engine I believe any practice turnback training is unrealistic and may lead to false expectations in a real failure. There can be significantly more drag from a windmilling prop than from a prop being driven by an engine at idle. If you have a fixed pitch prop there is not a lot you can do in the real situation, if its a VP prop you could try to reduce the RPM which will reduce drag a little. If the prop is stopped (ie engine is siezed) you are probably best off, but will still glide more steeply than if it were driven by an idling engine.. Add 'startle factor' and the fact that most GA aircraft are not equipped with AoA indication nor are pilots trained to understand its significance, then the chances of pulling off a successful turnback following an EFATO are slim..

14th Aug 2015, 16:11
Wind milling props produce oodles of drag! (think what an autogyro can do)
They also wreck the airflow over the tail.
Rule of thumb- keep straight on take offs and landings.
Or clean trousers please.

14th Aug 2015, 18:48
From the previous 2 posts about prop drag I would expect the PF to stuff the nose down, assess the glide angle & height and make a decision. Every situation is different. It is not a one size fits all. Much depends, as has been said, on height, a/c & experience.

18th Aug 2015, 15:58
RFC manual:
"In the event of engine failure on take off, pilots will land straight ahead regardless of obstacles".

19th Aug 2015, 01:11
RFC manual:
"In the event of engine failure on take off, pilots will land straight ahead regardless of obstacles".

That has to be one of the most foolish policies I have ever seen. I can see a policy of no turnarounds having logic but to mandate a straight ahead landing when 30 degrees to the right could be a field versus apartment buildings is dangerous.

19th Aug 2015, 06:37
RFC manualThat has to be one of the most foolish policies I have ever seen.I suspect it made more sense in a B.E.2 or a Sopwith Camel ...

19th Aug 2015, 09:54
I suspect it made more sense in a B.E.2 or a Sopwith Camel ...
Almost as much sense as the no parachute policy.

19th Aug 2015, 10:31
Sorry to hear it. Has the cause of the failure been determined yet?

deefer dog
19th Aug 2015, 12:43
Is it true that he was attempting to get the gear down while at the same time trying to get back to the field?

29th Aug 2015, 09:41
impressive contributions have been made regarding turnbacks and technique

but the slipping turn has not been mentioned as such ?
iirc Brian Lecomber recommended this as giving the least height loss

my impression is that steep slipping top-rudder turns in the circuit were normal pre WW2
in the USA there's tight 700' circuits
in the Pitts 50deg bank letting the stick forward to maintain AoA seemed to get the job done
especially turning final
my instructor was ex Air Corps ie an 'old school' glide approach type
the plane is made (via its power/trim characteristics) to do the job if given a chance

3rd Jun 2016, 16:23
When the initial report is an accident happened because "the engine lost power" I'm always interested in exactly what caused the engine failure. From AAIB Bulletin: 3/2016 G-BRRA:

The aircraft took off from Runway 29 at Biggin Hill Airport. The pilot retracted the landing gear and reduced power to 2,400 rpm and +4 boost but, one or two seconds later, he heard the engine ‘cough’. This caused him some concern, so he turned the aircraft back towards the airfield, intending to climb overhead to investigate before proceeding en-route. A few seconds later, the engine lost power and the pilot could see flames coming from the right-hand exhaust pipes....
A limited examination of the engine after the accident suggested that a cylinder in the right bank had a broken inlet valve spring with a penetration of the associated induction flame trap.