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15 May 2014, 12:40
An inquest is to resume today into the death of a pilot who died when his replica historic aircraft crashed in a field.
One of the most qualified pilots of First World War aircraft in the country died after he lost control of his rare replica plane during a rehearsal flight for a display team, an inquest has heard.
John Day, 68, of Horsham, West Sussex, died at the scene of the crash at the Army Aviation Centre in Middle Wallop, Hampshire - where Prince Harry underwent his flight training - on April 27 last year.
The inquest in Winchester was told that Mr Day had built the Fokker Eindekker III (EIII), a single-engine, single-wing replica, completing it in 2012. T
he plane, one of only a handful in the world and the only one in use in the UK, was notoriously difficult to fly because of its use of the antiquated wing-warping system rather than ailerons to control the turn of the wings.
David Linney, a retired RAF and civilian pilot, told the hearing that the Great War Display Team had gathered at the airfield to rehearse its routine ahead of the display season.
They had completed a successful fly-through of the routine earlier that day in windy conditions, but the weather had improved during the second practice that afternoon, when the incident happened, he said.
Mr Linney described how Mr Day was carrying out a 180-degree turn but the aircraft continued to turn before nose-diving into the ground from a height of about 150ft. He said:
"This turn steepened, nose low, until the aircraft struck the ground. Shortly after it hadn't rolled out I realised something was wrong, I could do nothing but watch."
"On impact it almost immediately caught on fire. The fire was very rapid, it almost obliterated the aircraft."
John Hoblyn, a friend and pilot who was watching as an observer, said Mr Day had been happy with his aircraft and felt he was learning how to handle it having completed about 10 hours of flight time. He said:
"He talked about it, he said it was very difficult but he was quite happy with it, he was getting used to it.''
He said Mr Day was possibly one of only two people who had flown that type of aircraft in the UK. He added:
"John's building was first class, the aircraft was superbly built. He was very meticulous in both his building and his flying and over the years he had built up as many hours of anyone in the team, he was one of the most experienced fliers of First World War aircraft in the country."
The incident was investigated by Hampshire Police and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). Nicholas Dan, AAIB accident investigator, said no cause for the accident had been found but added that the difficulty of flying the aircraft combined with Mr Day's relative inexperience of this particular plane might have been contributory factors.
He added that a distraction such as a slipped pair of goggles or a bee flying into a pilot's mouth could cause problems in such circumstances. He said:
"Whilst it is not possible to identify a conclusive cause for the accident, it is probable that it developed a roll that could not be reversed by its wing-warping control system."
"It only takes one distraction for the chain of events to unfold."
Coroner Graham Short recorded a verdict of accidental death and said:
"This was a very unusual aircraft, there may only be one or two others in the world, one in the Science Museum in London.
"The unusual design feature was the lack of ailerons and the wing-warping mechanism used to distort the shape of the wings to assist with some manoeuvres.
"It's worth noting this method of control was subsequently obsolete, this is due to the advance of ailerons.
"Although John was an experienced pilot he had only flown this particular aircraft for about 10 hours. It would be fair to say he was less familiar with the handling of the EIII as he was with other planes with more conventional controls."
"You shouldn't underestimate the degree of concentration required and the physical aspect of manoeuvring a turn of this sort.
"I think it is significant that John did not use his radio to tell other members of the team of the problems, which reinforces my view he suddenly found he couldn't control the plane and was desperately trying to do that rather than call others."
Mr Short said Mr Day died instantaneously of multiple injuries and would have died before the fire caught hold.
He said there had been criticism of the fire service's slow response to the incident but added this would not have affected the outcome for Mr Day. In a statement, members of his display team said:
"John was a superb aircraft builder, excellent display pilot and a lovely man who will be missed by all in the team.''