On this day in history : 6th September 1952 – A de Havilland jet fighter disintegrates at the Farnborough Air Show – 31 people, including the pilot and the onboard flight test observer, are killed….

The prototype De Havilland DH.110 – Image : USN – US Navy Naval Aviation News July 1952 – Public domain

Pilot John Derry and flight observer Anthony Richards had collected the DH.110 prototype aircraft from de Havilland’s factory at Hatfield, Hertfordshire and had flown it to Farnborough, arriving just in time for their slot in the airshow’s schedule…. The plan had been to fly another prototype which had been used for the airshow the previous day – but it had developed technical faults…. The September 6th de Havilland display had nearly been cancelled….

Derry had been the first pilot in Britain to exceed the speed of sound, when flying a DH108 research aircraft in 1948…. During the performance at Farnborough he flew the DH110 in a supersonic dive, creating a sonic ‘boom’ and continued on a fly past at 40,000 feet…. He then completed a left bank, travelling at around 520mph and flew towards the 120,000 spectators at the airshow…. Next he pulled the jet into a climb – but within a second the aircraft had disintegrated – the outer wing sections, both engines and the cockpit separating from the airframe…. The cockpit landed, with both men still inside, in front of the crowd near to the runway – several spectators were injured….

Pilot John Douglas Derry – National Library of Australia – Public domain

One engine crashed harmlessly…. The other carried on and ploughed into the crowd that had gathered on ‘Observation Hill’ – a vantage point outside of the airfield used by many locals to watch the display…. It was here that most of the fatalities occurred….

The emergency services were on the scene within minutes and after only a short break the air display continued! In total 31 people lost their lives, with many more injured….

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