Pilot error sighted in Shoreham Hunter accident
The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has released the final report into the 2015 crash of a Hawker Hunter at the Shoreham Airshow in the U.K
On 22 August 2015, Hawker Hunter G-BXFI crashed into a public road while performing a loop at the annual Shoreham Airshow in the United Kingdom, killing 11 people on the ground and injuring dozens more, with the pilot somewhat remarkably surviving the crash. The fallout from the crash sent sweeping regulation changes crashing through the entire U.K airshow industry, and the investigation has been followed closely by many airshow professionals since it started in 2015.
After more than a year, the AAIB has finally concluded its investigation, sighting pilot error as the cause of the incident. According to the report, the Hunter commenced what the pilot referred to as a “bent loop”, which is essentially a loop with a rolling manoeuvre at the apex, with the aircraft exiting the loop at a different heading. The entry speed for the loop would have been 350 knots at an altitude of 500 feet, with the pilot applying maximum thrust while pulling into the vertical, topping out at 3500 feet. This would have ensured sufficient energy and altitude in order to complete the manoeuvre. On the day of the accident, the aircraft entered the loop at 185 feet and 310 knots. This according to the report, coupled with the fact that maximum thrust was not maintained near the apex of the loop, resulted in an inevitable collision with the ground unless the pilot was able to perform an exit manoeuvre.
As part of the investigation, a pilot from the Empire Test Pilot School (ETPS) flew tests to confirm that the Hunter would lose between 2600 and 2950 feet during the second half of the loop. The ETPS feedback also indicated that in the configuration flown on the day, the pilot could have performed a successful exit manoeuvre if planned.
Another potential factor cited by the AAIB was the fact that the pilot was known to be current of both the Hawker Hunter and Jet Provost, with the latter aircraft needing less speed and altitude if a similar manoeuvre was flown. This could have contributed to the accident if the pilot momentarily mistook the airspeed and altitude requirements of the Hunter with those required by the smaller jet.
The investigation now puts to bed more than a year of speculation, and the final report includes 10 further recommendations to the U.K CAA and one to the Department for Transport.
In the aftermath of the accident and subsequent investigation, regulations and standards, specifically pertaining to pilots flying at airshows will likely be tightened significantly.
Main Image courtesy of Jim Calow
Final Report can be found HERE