Venom Bomber WK.390. February 1954

At 12.21 pm on the 22nd of February 1954 Venom WK.390 climbed away from the runway at Ringway near Manchester. The aircraft had been recently constructed and had flown for less than three hours. Mr Kenneth Forbes, a civilian test pilot, was at the controls to take the aircraft for its fifth test flight.

Photo of Venom Aircraft

The purpose of the test flight was to re-check how the aircraft behaved in a dive at .82 mach from 30,000 feet and secondly to carry out an “all down” power off stall at a height of 5000 feet. The pilot had selected his own route to a suitable area to carry out the tests. He contacted Air Traffic Control at Ringway at 12.45pm but then all contact was lost with the aircraft.

Mrs Ethel Edwards was in her kitchen at Intakes Farm near to the village of Caverswall when she heard the sound of an approaching jet aircraft. She was sure that something was wrong. The aircraft was making a terrible noise and she went to the farmhouse door to look outside. As she opened the door she saw an aircraft hit the ground in a nearby field. There was a very loud bang and pieces of the aircraft were thrown into the air. Some of the debris fell on to the roof of the farmhouse. Mrs Edwards had witnessed the tragic end to the test flight of WK.390.

Alfred Spooner was working in the yard at Roughcote Hall Farm and heard the sound of the aircraft. He saw the jet emerge from the low cloud before it crashed into a field. He recalls that the aircraft did not break up in the air and was intact until it struck the ground. Nearby at Cookshill, Nathan Atkinson was making his way across a field when he heard the sound of the aircraft coming from the direction of Meir. A few moments later he saw the aircraft strike the ground and explode in flames.

Ken Hughes had just arrived home for his lunch at Pinewood Crescent in Meir when he heard the sound of a low flying jet. He estimated that the aircraft was flying at 200 feet above the ground towards Caverswall. Ken recalled seeing a flash of flame rise into the sky in the general direction of Cookshill. Albert Robinson was another witness, from his home at Caverswall Common, he thought that the aircraft was travelling at a terrific speed in the direction of Dilhorne before disappearing in a bright flash of flames and smoke.

Police Constable Walter Pickin was on duty at Caverswall at the time and he heard the sound of the aircraft passing overhead followed by a large explosion. After notifying the Sectional Office at Blythe Bridge he rushed to the scene and was later joined by several other Police Officers including Inspector Brittle from Stone, Inspector Mitchell from Cheadle and Sergeant Jones.

In his report P.C. Picken stated that the crash had created a crater 15 feet deep and 20 yards across. The pilot had clearly been killed instantly and the aircraft had been completely destroyed by the impact. Fire Services from Cheadle and Stoke on Trent attended the scene and tackled the remaining fires. The site was completely cleared shortly afterwards. However another witness recalls that the crash site remained fenced off for a while because the ground had been contaminated by the fuel from the aircraft.

The Accident Investigation Team noted that the aircraft had struck the ground in an inverted attitude at a high speed. They determined that the engine had been running at a high RPM and that the air-brakes were extended. As the flaps and the undercarriage were retracted it did not appear that the pilot was carrying out the “all down” power off stall test immediately prior to the accident. The cockpit area itself and the instruments and gauges sustained substantial damage, this was one of the factors that reduced the amount of information available to the crash investigators. The pilots flight test note pad was apparently lost in the flames. The Accident Report concluded that `the primary cause of the accident remains obscure.`

The de Havilland Venom was designed as a successor to the Vampire. The prototype first flew in 1949. The FB1 was a single seat Fighter Bomber armed with four 20mm guns and provision for a bomb load of 2000 pounds. The aircraft was powered by the Rolls Royce Ghost Engine and had an operating speed of over 590 mph.

It was not until the Night Fighter version came into service that crews had the benefit of ejection seats. The crash at Intakes Farm may have had a very different outcome if Mr Forbes had been able to `bang-out`.

(Acknowledgements : Incident Report and Records – The National Archives, Kew, Surrey. The National ArchivesTechnical information and Photograph of a Venom FB1 – kindly provided by Vic Flintham. Vic has produced a comprehensive website featuring Cold War Military Aviation)

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