1952 Farnborough Airshow crash

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Farnborough Airshow DH.110 crash
De Havilland DH.110 WG236 in flight c1952.jpg
The DH.110 prototype, WG236
Accident summary
Date 6 September 1952
Summary Structural failure
Site Farnborough Airport Hampshire, England
51°16′33″N 000°46′35″W / 51.27583°N 0.77639°W / 51.27583; -0.77639
Crew 2
Fatalities 31 (2 on board plus 29 on ground)
Injuries (non-fatal) 60 spectators
Survivors 0
Aircraft type DH.110
Operator de Havilland
Registration WG236

The 1952 Farnborough Airshow crash was an air show accident involving a de Havilland DH.110 prototype plane at the Farnborough Airshow in Farnborough, Hampshire, England on 6 September 1952.[1][2] The DH.110 was being demonstrated when it broke up during a manoeuvre, killing pilot John Derry and onboard flight test observer Anthony Richards; debris from the plane killing 29 spectators.

The remaining DH.110 were grounded until the cause of the break-up was determined to be a structural failure due to a faulty wing leading edge design. The DH.110 eventually entered service with the Royal Navy as the de Havilland Sea Vixen after modifications to the design. Strict safety procedures were subsequently enacted for UK air shows and there were no further spectator fatalities until the 2015 Shoreham Airshow crash in which 11 people died.[3][4]


The planned demonstration of the DH.110 on that day was nearly cancelled when the aircraft at Farnborough, WG 240, an all-black night fighter prototype, became unserviceable. It was de Havilland's second DH.110 prototype, and had been taken supersonic over the show on the opening day.[5] Pilot John Derry and onboard flight test observer Anthony Richards left Farnborough to collect WG 236, the first prototype, and flew it from Hatfield, Hertfordshire to Farnborough with just enough time to start their slot.

Following a low-level supersonic flypast and during a left bank at about 450 knots (830 km/h) toward the air show's 120,000 spectators, the pilot started a climb. The outer starboard wing and, immediately afterward, the outer port wing broke off the aircraft, followed by both engines and the cockpit - the latter injuring several spectators.[6] One engine broke into two sections and "ploughed into ... Observation Hill", injuring and killing many other spectators.[6]

One eyewitness was Richard Gardner, then five years old. He recalled in adulthood:[7]

I'll never forget, it looked like confetti, looked like silver confetti. The remaining airframe floated down right in front of us. It just came down like a leaf. And then the two engines, like two missiles, shot out of the airframe and hurtled in the direction of the airshow. There was a sort of silence, then people, one or two people screamed but mostly it was just a sort of shock. You could hear some people sort of whimpering which was quite shocking.

Sixty-three years later, speaking on the BBC Today radio programme in the wake of the Shoreham air disaster, author Moyra Bremner recalled her own traumatic experience. A huge bang silenced the crowd and was followed by "My God, look out" from the commentator. Bremner, standing on the roof of her parents' car, realised that an engine was heading straight towards her. It passed a few feet over her head, a "massive shining cylinder", and then plunged into the crowd on the hill behind.[8]

Following the accident the air display programme continued once the debris was cleared from the runway, with Neville Duke exhibiting the prototype Hawker Hunter and taking it supersonic over the show later that day.


Queen Elizabeth II and Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Supply, both sent messages of condolence, and jets at air shows were obliged to keep at least 230 m (750 ft) from crowds if flying straight and 450 m (1,480 ft) when performing manoeuvres and always at an altitude of at least 150 m (490 ft).[2] The coroner's jury recorded that Derry and Richards had "died accidentally in the normal course of their duty."

The jury recorded that "the deaths [of the spectators] were accidental", adding that "no blame is attached to Mr. John Derry".[9] The accident report of 8 April 1953 stated the manoeuvring had caused an airframe instability because of a faulty D-nose leading edge arrangement (which had successfully been used in the lighter subsonic de Havilland Vampire). The redesigned DH.110 resumed flights in June 1953 and was eventually developed into the de Havilland Sea Vixen naval fighter.[10]


  1. ^ Rivas, Brian; Bullen, Annie; Duke, Neville (forward) (1982). John Derry: The Story of Britain's First Supersonic Pilot. William Kimber. ISBN 0-7183-0099-8. 
  2. ^ a b "6 September 1952: Dozens die in air show tragedy". BBC News. 6 September 1952. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  3. ^ "Shoreham air crash death toll 'rises to 11'". BBC News. 23 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  4. ^ "2/1978 Agusta Bell 206B, G-AVSN and DH82A Tiger Moth, G-ANDE, 15 May 1977". aaib.gov.uk. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "Farnborough Review", Flight: 357, 12 September 1952, retrieved 22 August 2015 
  6. ^ a b "On this day: September 6, 1952: 'The crowd parted like the Red Sea'". BBC News. 6 September 1952. Retrieved 3 May 2010. This caused a sudden change in the centre of gravity, causing the plane to rear up with such force that the cockpit section, with Derry and Richards still inside, broke off at 12g while the two engines tore loose from the airframe and the tailplane ripped off. One engine ploughed into spectators on the so-called Observation Hill and the other crashed harmlessly, while the cockpit fell right in front of spectators nearest the runway, injuring several people. The main airframe fluttered down and landed on the other side of the airfield. 
  7. ^ Jet! When Britain Ruled the Skies. 1. Military Marvels. First broadcast BBC Four 22 August 2012
  8. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Today". 75 minutes in. 
  9. ^ "The Farnborough Accident", Flight: 377, 19 September 1952, retrieved 22 August 2015 
  10. ^ Buttler, Tony. "Sea Vixen". Aeroplane Naval Aircraft Archive. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2007. 

Further reading

  • "The Farnborough Tragedy" Flight, 12 September 1952

External links

External image
Photos with eyewitness narrative
  • "Death at Farnborough". Time. 15 September 1952. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2007. 
  • The Farnborough Tragedy newsreel
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