Tag Archives: RAE

Valiant Disaster


A short section from my dads book about his air accident investigation work at Farnborough, Hampshire, England.

This is regarding the Vickers Valiant disaster.

In 1956, one of the V-Bombers was being used at Farnborough in a variety of roles. It was instrumented and equipped for measuring such things as structural vibrations and deflections and other parameters of interest to aerodynamicists and structural engineers. One such experiment required the use of electrical energy, and conveniently this was drawn from one of the bomber’s domestic services at the navigator’s station.

It must be pointed out that this particular type of aeroplane was rather unique; its controls were fully electrically operated and not by some form of hydraulic power assistance as with other contemporary aeroplanes of such a large size.

As a type, this bomber has been flying quite successfully and had never experienced loss of control due to major electrical failure. As far as possible, the designer incorporated safeguards against all possible eventualities. The safeguards included not only the usual fuses – much like those used domestically in the home, only larger – but also circuit breakers. These are spring loaded switches which ‘pop out’ under excessive electrical loading, thereby protecting the associated circuit and equipment.

On Friday 11 May 1956, just after lunch, the bomber left Farnborough to carry out a flight, primarily for a scientist to conduct the experiment connected to the electrical outlet at the navigator’s station. The aeroplane had full fuel tanks and was likely to be airborne for several hours. On the way to the south coast, the scientist switched on the experiment. Almost immediately the appropriate circuit breaker ‘popped out’. Imprudently, the scientist reset it, and it again ‘popped out’. The scientist reported the situation to the pilot that his experiment could not be carried out, and because this was the main purpose of the flight, the pilot decided to abort the flight. However, before returning to Farnborough he had to use up a large quantity of fuel to bring the landing weight to an acceptable figure. He had taken off fully laden and was now returning very much earlier than originally intended.

The pilot set up a low level flight pattern over the sea off the south coast with conditions set for maximum fuel consumption. The flight continued quite satisfactorily for some considerable time. During this, the bomber was flying in and out of low cloud near to Shoreham and Brighton.
Now it seems that while this was being done, the scientist could not leave well alone, and in went the circuit breaker, not once by several times. Suddenly the pilot felt a stiffening of the controls and saw indications on the instrument panel of an electrical failure of major proportions. He immediately eased the bomber into a climb to make height for he now had a major emergency on his hands.

The bomber emerged from cloud at about 1,000 feet over Shoreham. Due to the electrical failure the flying controls were completely unresponsive. The pilot ordered everybody to eject.

They were now descending fast towards Shoreham railway station. At almost the last second, one ejector seat was seen to leave and its occupant made a short but safe descent, landing not more than fifty yards from where the bomber struck the railway embankment, near the station. All other crew members perished in the crash although the escape hatch was found away from the bomber. The aircraft disintegrated upon impact and debris was strewn for hundreds of yards across the playing fields of a nearby school. Mercifully, the fields were clear of pupils at the time.

Within an hour I was being flow down to Shoreham from Farnborough, and as it was only twenty minutes flying time, I was to make this trip several times in the next few days. Discussing the accident with the manufacturer’s design staff as we walked around the wreckage, some of the story of the flight began to emerge. A certain amount of information had already filtered through from Farnborough Control Tower and of course there was the surviving co-pilot. It was clear that there had been a major electrical failure and in company with the manufacturer’s chief electrical engineer, we paid special attention to the state of any electrical components that we could see.

The engineer appeared next morning having spent much of the night working on a hypothesis to account for much of what we knew. Could the wreckage evidence support his theory, or would it produce some other explanation?

We isolated as much of the electrical material as possible from the wreckage and this was sent to Farnborough. The remainder of the wreckage was to follow. There was an air of supreme urgency as other aeroplanes of the type could have been at risk. Our searching and examinations, along with the work of the electrical design staff at the manufacturer’s works, had shortened the list dramatically. It now transpired that if, as we suspected, the circuit breaker had been repeatedly reset, then the consequences must have included the ‘blowing’ of many fuses, but one in particular – the navigator’s station equipment circuit – would really prove the theory.

My priority task became the search for that one fuse to determine if it had ‘blown’ electrically. The fuse in question was about three quarters of an inch in diameter, and about one and a quarter inches long. It consisted of a heavy ceramic body, with metal end caps, attached by bolts to heavier items known as bus bars. There were many such fuses fitted in banks or rows in the bomber and although originally marked with paint for identification purposes they were broken and now devoid of such identify. They were also mixed with tons of twisted and burnt looms of wire and metal.

My fuse, either intact or in pieces was in the large mound of wreckage now at Farnborough. It was the Whit Monday holiday and I planned an assault on that mound. I had the help of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled people. The approach was simple. I formed a pyramid of searchers with the unskilled at the mound. They were briefed to sort out all wreckage of a certain character. I made sure they would include more material than I wanted to ensure that the right stuff would come through for searching. Unwanted wreckage was discarded and required material passed back to a second row of helpers who had been briefed in more detail. They in turn passed back this selected material, and so the search continued. Each row of searchers was more qualified to select than the one before, and I was at the apex of the pyramid to make the final decision.

By patience, persistence and careful search and study, we discovered the first of the end caps after only two hours. It was still bolted to a piece of identifiable bus bar, although this itself had been badly damaged. An hour later the other end cap was found. Both caps contained pieces of ceramic body protruding but not mating to make up the body. We found other odd pieces of ceramic and one of these made the link between the end caps: I had my fuse.

I took the end caps to my microscope and there was the evidence that I sought. Traces of fuse wire had been electrically overloaded. The wire ends had formed into globules – a tell-tale sign of a fuse melted by electrical overheating and not by crash fire burning.

We now knew that the electrical supplies in the bomber had been disrupted by the repeated resetting of the circuit breaker – a senseless, illogical action which had led to tragedy and loss of life, including the life of the instigator of the situation. The repeated resetting of the circuit breaker was akin to tackling the symptom and not the cause of the experiment failure.

However, the accident prompted a long hard look at the electrical circuitry of all the large bombers and some shortcomings were brought to light. As I have said on other occasions, regretfully, in aviation someone must suffer, it seems, if aeroplanes are to be made safer.

This passage was extracted from the book “Air Crash” The Clues in the Wreckage.
ISBN 0-86379-094-1. Published in 1986. This book was written by Mr. Fred Jones ©.

Amazing Find…

I just stumbled across a short story someone wrote…


It features my dad (Fred Jones)… and yes, his role in the V2 saga is accurate.

Author’s Note: The following owes much to ‘Air Crash’ written by Fred Jones.

Mr Jones was employed in the English government services between 1935 and 1980.

Mr Jones worked out of Farnborough and specialised in Air Accident Analysis. Fortunately for me he was there during WW2 and was involved in one very particular bit of analysis which is mentioned below…and yes, he did have ring-ins for the job, but he doesn’t say who or where from. This being the case I took a minor liberty and added one of my own people.

August 1st 1944 – Weybridge, England

I take a simple view of life: Keep your eyes open and get on with it. – Sir Laurence Olivier

Hope had been staring at the telephone in perplexity for over five minutes…Mac had been timing it. It was an odd expression of her face and Mac was less than comforted by it. It was an expression she tended to wear when something had gone wildly wrong with an aeroplane. It was an expression which had been becoming more frequent ever since work had begun on the jets. No one knew what happened with high speed flight, the casualties were mounting and the problems becoming increasingly bizarre and senseless.

“Hope?” There was complete silence and Hope continued to stare at the telephone.

“Hope!” A little more volume drew no more response.

“HOPE!” Mac settled for a yell and was relieved to see Hope twitch, it would take a moment or two before her full attention returned from where ever it was though.

“Something up?” Hope looked around and blinked rather owlishly.

“You’ve been staring at the telephone as if it’s a particularly nasty crash.”

“Oh.” Hope moved away from the telephone and found a chair. “It was Jones from Farnborough, seems to think he’s got an interesting job on hand and wanted me to show up because of something to do with the recent crashes we’ve had here.”

“Our crashes have been remarkably boring…except for the fact that we seem to be studying how many pieces you can separate an aeroplane into.”

“That’s what worries me.” Hope twisted restlessly and frowned out the window. “Fred has seven others over there and all they do is spend their time dissecting smashed planes. Why me?”

“Did you tell him no?”

“He said it would be interesting.” Hope was frowning at the counter top.

“Then go pack.” Mac settled himself down carefully. “Me and the twins will endeavour not to destroy ourselves, or the house, before whatever interesting problem has passed and I trust the big sneeze doesn’t mind letting you go.”

“It’ll probably come out of my leave.”

“You haven’t had leave in years.”

“Take it up with him, not me.” Hope was frowning at the bookcase, one book in hand and her intention clearly to obtain another one. “I really…no, no, no…possibly not…maybe…is it at all important?” Hope turned away from the bookshelf with a perplexed expression.


“It coming out of my leave. Is it an important matter?”

“No one else given such an invitation or request would have it taken out of their leave.”

“Oh.” Hope turned back to the bookshelf and pulled a book out. “Fred’s usually reliable…or at least if not reliable he’s not boring…that Halifax…”

“Which Halifax?” Mac looked up from the book he had acquired.

“Oh, it was back at the beginning of the war.” Hope returned the book she held and grabbed another. “Rocket assisted bombs or something like that. The Halifax blew up and no one knew why.” Hope began to flick through the book. “It was really rather idiotic because they loaded the plane for multiple tests and one of the bombs fired but wasn’t released…it was rather bad for the aeroplane.”

“Really?” Mac carefully swallowed a smile as he noticed that Hope now had seven books and was searching for more.

“I wonder…” Hope had pulled yet another book from the shelf and was thoughtfully thumbing through the pages. Mac smiled quietly to himself and went back to his book, the house could blow up and Hope wouldn’t hear it now.

Hope knelt among the litter of metals and knew a moment of awe. They’d been working for days now, simply sorting the different fragments into their individual metal types. There were days more work to do before they even began attempting to assemble this mess, and they intended to compress the assembly time and analysis time as well. It was the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. It was also a secret which Germany undoubtedly considered to be safe…to any sane person this was the outcome of obliteration. The people gathered at Farnborough were not sane though, mathematicians were already working on the trajectory information balanced by the mass of metal which had been collected. This mess was a gift from Sweden, a high altitude explosion and many fragmentary scraps of metal…well, hardly a gift, the Swedes got Spitfires in return. This and some mathematics were all they had to work with, but Hope knew no doubt, they would know success before Hitler ever used it against them. Hope fingered a sharp-edged piece of metal and pondered which of the millions available to choose from would actually have once joined it. The clues were sometimes subtle, sometimes glaringly obvious, but always there. Explosions sometimes actually made the job easier, for explosions marked the metals. This was going to be fun…long, hard, fun.

“I trust your absence for the past couple of weeks has been suitably interesting.” Mac glanced up from some cheap paperback as Hope let herself in through the back door. Hope noted with faint curiousity that there was actually quite a significant stack of books next to Mac’s chair.

“Yes.” Hope sank into another chair with a sigh. “Marmelade and Marine?”

“Upstairs and asleep.” Mac laid the book aside and rubbed his forehead. “Very hush-hush?”

“Hmm?” Hope blinked in momentary bewilderment. “Oh, yes.” Hope gave her head a small shake. “Some rocket which came out of Germany and detonated. We think we got it sorted…but we may be wrong.”

“That is always a possibility.” Mac smiled faintly and then it slowly widened. “Payload?”

“Nasty…also a whole sudload of senseless electronic stuff. At a guess we assume they’ll start arriving in London within the next couple of months…but we’ve got their flight trajectories, ranges…we know where to look for the launch sites even if we can do nothing about them.”

“Nice.” Mac picked his book up again.

“Mac?” Hope had finally managed to bring her mind back to the present and that pile of books was bothering her.

“Mm?” Mac looked up from his book.

“It’s two o’clock in the morning and you have eight thrillers piled next to your chair.”

“Oh.” Mac glanced at the pile with a faint frown. “Obviously I only thought about aski…” Mac stopped what he was saying and turned back to his book.

“Mac?” Hope’s brows had risen questioningly.

“Picked a fight with the back door and lost…resulted in some enforced rest I’m afraid…the kitchen is the most shocking mess.”

“When?” Hope was feeling distinctly resigned.

“Ten..twelve days ago.” Mac gave a slight shrug. “Just something else I’ll have to get the hang of not doing.”

“Why do you usually seem to save your best attempts at killing yourself until my back is turned?”

“Skill.” Mac gave a tired smile. “Marmelade’s managing the dogs so you needn’t worry about that this time…though I might have to worry about finding a new job…he’s good with them.”

“Well…try not to get one in London.” Hope gave a tiny smile.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Mac returned the smile and then picked up his book. “I’m not sleeping much courtesy of pain, there’s no need to wait up.”

“Am I allowed to sit and chat with a husband for a bit after not seeing him for twenty days?”

“Certainly…said husband felt his company was pretty rotten though.”

“Well, said husband is not made up of crumpled pieces of duralumin I’m trying to piece together and is therefore a very welcome change.”

“Oh.” Mac laid his book aside again. “That being the case said husband will stop imitating being a piece of stuffed furniture.” Mac rubbed the back of his neck and then yawned. “You’ve been offered a week of leave.”

“Good.” Hope kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up. “Such an odd fin formation on that thing…must have a chat to someone about the effects of such variations…might be a…” Hope trailed off her eyes fixed on something in the infinite distance outside the window. Mac smiled quietly to himself and picked up his book once more. Life was good.

A/N: September 8th 1944, the first V2 Rockets arrived in Kent with specifications exactly matching those predicted by RAE…the senseless electronics were absent though, they were a remote flight control system which had never received permission to use a rocket.

Fred Jones OBE, MRAeS, C.Eng

Not many people are lucky enough to have a Hero and a Father rolled into one…

I haven’t written much about the greatest man I ever knew – simply because if I start I fear that I would not be able to stop. As such I hand over to the tribute from The Times.

This report, a montage of information published by the broadsheets upon his passing. This is from The Times, and a few other additions.

In a career of 50 years at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, during which he became an expert in wreckage analysis, Fred Jones was involved in some of the most important accident investigations of the early years of jet-powered flight. Among his most telling assignments was the leading role he played in the intensive investigation that followed the — at first seemingly mysterious — series of Comet disasters of the early 1950s, events which gave the death blow to Britain’s hopes of leading the world in civil aviation.

Before that, Jones had studied the fragmented remnants of the swept-wing, twin-boom DH110 prototype, and his findings enabled the aircraft to be modified in such a way that it was subsequently able to enter service as the Sea Vixen naval fighter.

During the 1952 Farnborough Air Show. When he saw the aircraft pitch violently upwards, he already had some idea of what might have happened to it, even before getting among the wreckage. His investigation confirmed that the skin of the leading edge of the wing had separated from it, causing the plane to rear upwards with such violence that the engines broke from their mountings, ripping their way out of the fuselage and ploughing into the crowd. It was a catastrophe that claimed the lives of 28 spectators, as well as those of the pilot, John Derry, and his navigator, Tony Richards.

Fred Jones was born in 1920 in Cove, Hampshire, within earshot of the roar of engines from nearby Farnborough. Educated locally, he left school at 14 to join the Royal Aircraft Establishment as an apprentice.

In 1941, at the end of his apprenticeship, he became a member of the newly founded accidents section at RAE, thereafter working as a “disaster detective” on cases occurring both in Britain and abroad. At RAE his habitual place of work was the “Aeroplanes’ Graveyard”, three sombre black hangars to which the mortal remains of crashed aircraft were brought from all over the world for reconstruction and examination.

The war provided a flood of work for the new section. Jones’s first assignment was to investigate the reasons for the crash of a Stirling bomber. But the age of high-speed and hypersonic flight was just around the corner. The jet age brought stresses to aircraft skins and airframes that could scarcely have been envisaged in the era of the piston engine. In early 1944 Jones worked on the first Gloster Meteor (Britain’s only operational wartime jet fighter, though it never saw combat) to crash. Later, the remnants of the V1 flying bomb, and the V2 ballistic missile, came under the scrutiny of the section, as Air Defence of Great Britain — as Fighter Command had been renamed in June 1944 — sought solutions to these terrifying new weapons.

In the early 1950s, with Jones now in a senior position in accident investigation at Farnborough, his department was soon to be confronted by RAE’s most serious challenge. No problem to hit British aviation was to prove more damaging than that which dogged the Comet, the world’s first jet airliner, in 1953 and 1954. On May 2, 1952, BOAC had inaugurated the world’s first passenger jet service, with flights from London to Johannesburg. Travellers who experienced the smooth, swift and and silent ride at 40,000ft declared that they would never return to lurching through storm clouds at half that height in noisy piston-engined aircraft, which took twice as long to reach their destination.

The British aircraft industry seemed to have stolen a march on America and to be on the way to complete domination of the civil aviation market. Then, on May 2, 1953, a year to the day after its introduction into airline service, a Comet broke up in the air during a thunderstorm over Calcutta. On that occasion the storm was blamed for the aircraft’s structural failure. On January 10, 1954, a second Comet apparently disintegrated in mid-air and disappeared into the Mediterranean Sea off the isle of Elba, 20 minutes after taking off from Rome.

Yet after this second crash, the type was put back into service after modifications. The decision was a source of deep unease to Jones, who found it incredible that service could be resumed after two such serious accidents whose cause was simply not known. “But mine was a lone voice in the wildrness among all the experts,” he was subsequently to say.

It was to take a third crash, on April 8, 1954, this time of a Comet flying from Cairo to Rome, before civil flights were suspended indefinitely and RAE’s accident investigation team was ordered to swing into action. While one of its teams took an entire Comet fuselage and subjected it to fatigue tests in a huge water tank, Jones headed another team examining every single piece of the wreckage that had been retrieved from the bed of the Tyrrhenian Sea, north of Sicily.

This operation eventually established that the pressurised fuselages of the Comets had simply burst as they climbed to cruising height, weakened by repeated pressurisation and depressurisation. After examining the fragments, Jones’s team noted that the fuselage had started to crack at the corner of one of the automatic direction-finder aerial cutouts. Meanwhile, the fuselage testing team found that cracks developed at the corner of one window and rapidly spread throughout the already dangerously fatigued structure.

Such fundamental discoveries meant that the Comet had to undergo radical redesign of many of its features, a process that enabled Boeing to overtake De Havilland in design and production. By the time the new Comet 4 went into service on the transatlantic route in October 1958 the technically superior Boeing 707 was ready to capture the world market, as it did from its introduction only a month later.

Among Jones’s other aircraft investigations was that of a Handley Page Victor bomber, which mysterious disappeared on a test flight over the Irish Sea in August 1959. On that occasion it was impossible to be certain about the precise reason for the aircraft’s destruction. Evidence pointed to the failure of a pitot tube, resulting in the involuntary extension of a Mach trim strut, causing a dive at more than Mach1 into the sea.

Jones also investigated a number of non-aircraft structural disasters. Notable among these was the collapse of a box- girder bridge, while under construction, at Milford Haven in 1970. Jones’s findings led to a rigorous reappraisal of the structure of such bridges, both in this country and abroad.

Jones was appointed OBE for his work in 1980. He retired as a principal scientific officer in the airworthiness division of the structures department at RAE in 1985.

Jones had always been a keen shot, and was a member of the National Small-Bore Rifle Association. He often shot at Bisley. Among his many prizes was the Hampshire Small Bore Rifle and Pistol Association trophy for 200 yards, which he won in 1976.

His book Air Crash: The Clues In The Wreckage, was published in Hardback by HALE, and softback by COMET.

Fred Jones, OBE, aircraft accident investigator, was born on September 4, 1920. He died on August 22, 2003, aged 82

The name: I changed my name due to family politics (due to an evil mother – Trust me on that one).

My Dad always knew that I was a Jones in my blood, and that the name didn’t change that. My son, Alex is Alex Henry in respect for my Father and his Father.

After the family politics issue I did think of changing back to my original name (Fred Jones Jnr), but I have the family now, so putting them through that name change hassle is not something I want to do – It was hard enough just for me.

I am still a Jones in all but name.

Assume nothing ~ Change it up

There are not many people who have had a great influence on me (besides teachers and instructors of course!), on how I am and the way I view things – as a person in myself and my career. The few that have had a fundamental influence are worth mentioning (especially in these troubled times).

Firstly, my Dad. He was a Scientist, Engineer and before retiring to run a private consultancy, he was Head of the Royal Aircraft Establishments Accident Section. Not only did I look up to him as my father, but as a role model and engineer. I was lucky enough that he was my Dad and Hero all in one.

He had a motto that has stuck with me:


Although he used this in his wreckage analysis role, it is also worth thinking about in other situations – e.g: World financial crisis/radiation leaks from Japan’s tsunami aftermath/continued wars – people are getting worried (as am I), but mostly they are worried about “What ifs“.

Yes, things might get better or worse BUT there is no point worrying about these things, or pinning hopes on things that haven’t materialised yet – that would be irrational, as no-one knows the future. You can’t assume the worse or best case, you can only be as prepared as you can be.

Why fret over things that have not happened? You are suffering fear of nothing!



There is a litany to fear written by Frank Herbert (Dune 1965):

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Fear feeds on itself and starts to play with your mind and perception, which is why you should ASSUME NOTHING – JUST BE CERTAIN. Although I like this litany, I would change the last two lines. I believe that if you are going through difficulties – or just strolling through life, then you should leave gained knowledge and wisdom in your path. You need to learn from your actions, not just blindly go through life. As such, Herbert’s litany would be changed to the following for me:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be wisdom.
And I will be stronger.

Okay – so that tells me “Why worry?” – Find out the facts first, get tangible information, then you have something to deal with – but what should you do to get the facts? How do you find out where you are?

rollinsHenry Rollins holds the answer. I had an email conversation with him several years back, and then a brief chat in the flesh after a gig. I had just lost a friend – a guy who was more like a brother to me than just a friend (I am still very close to his family – I see them as an extension of my family in a way). My friend passed away in his early 20’s – just days after saying he’s be my best man. I was beside myself and had no idea what to do. I knew Rollins had lost a best friend when he was young, so I sent him an email – I didn’t think he’d reply, but I had written done some of my thoughts and questions, and that was a therapy in itself.

Rollins did reply – and his response was both one of compassion and in true Rollins spirit, a big dose of “Suck it up”.

His response was very similar to the Billy Connolly statement:

The cemetery is full of people who would love your problems

Rollins basically said that I still have my life, so I should live it, as I was still able to – sure I should remember my friend, but don’t get sucked down and dwell on the bad stuff.

Wise words indeed -and later whilst listening to his song “Change It Up” I picked out another fine view to live by…

You say your job is a pain
It’s pulling you down the drain
I think you’d rather complain
Than quit it

Now the words in this verse are about a job, but they work in all situations. People would rather complain about things dragging them down, or how unlucky they are and how shitty life is… but what are they doing about it? I say you only have a right to complain IF you are bothering to do something about your situation.

Don’t whine about your job, and then go in day after day and do nothing about it. If you are looking to get a new job, if you are really trying to better your situation, then sure, you have the right vent now and then. It’s the same with anything in life – If you aren’t trying to progress the situation, then don’t moan about it.

This old phrase comes to mind:

If you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem

Got a problem, then shut up or sort it out.

Okay… that’s the main ingredients building up for a way to approach these tricky times, Hell, in any times…

Assume nothing, just be certain: Don’t get wound up if you don’t know all the facts.

If you know all the facts, still don’t get wound up – there are many people who would love to swap their problems with yours.

Don’t moan and complain once you have the facts – just get out there and do something about the situation. Get reactive – get proactive – just get active.

If you find yourself neither going backwards or forwards, then you fall into another category all together. The phrase my late, great friend Ryan Brown used to use was this:

“If you ain’t making waves ~ you ain’t kicking hard enough…”

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