18th February 1944.
Last updated 16.11.2010
Note: This incident is of particular interest as although the aircraft was declared beyond repair at the Lockheed facility, a P-51B bearing this serial number - 43-6623 - became a station "hack" aircraft at BAD2, Warton known as "Spare Parts".
310th Ferrying Squadron
On the 18th February 1944, 2nd Lieutenant Langhorne S Gee of the 310th Ferrying Squadron was tasked with ferrying P-51B No 43-6623 to Warton after being newly assembled and test flown at the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's Factory at Speke. However all did not go according to plan as described in the pilots own words:
- "The run up check was satisfactory, but I failed to switch the coolant shutter control from 'full open' to 'automatic'.
- Straightened out on the runway, ran engine up to 2,400 rpm, released brakes and started down runway.
- The ship became airborne and I pulled up my wheels, at about 10-15 feet, she stalled out on the left wing and struck the ground before I could recover. The ship hit on the left wing and cart wheeled off the runway. When she stopped I cut the switches unfastened my safety belt and jumped out.
- When the crash truck arrived I went back and cut off the fuel boosters and fuel shut off valve".
A number of station personnel witnessed the accident as follows:Sergeant Gravell was the Duty Airfield Controller, RAF Speke at the time of the incident, and stated the following:
Mr W H Sutcliffe was the senior examiner of the AID flight shed Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at the time of the incident and stated the following:
"The pilot took a longer time than is usual in completing his cockpit drill. On taking off the aircraft, when about 6 feet from the ground, developed an unsteady motion and immediately banked to port at an angle of approximately 40 degrees, whereupon the port wing appeared to hit the ground and the aircraft eventually came to rest some 30 yards West of the runway in use, No 04 and 200 yards South of No 26 runway. The visibility at the time of the accident was not too good, added to which there is a slight mound in the runway and as the incident occurred just over the top of it, exact observations were difficult to make. The runway in use was straight into wind".
A somewhat battered 43-6623 lies just off the runway at Speke.
"While proceeding from main office to Douglas Hanger I paused to watch the above aircraft take off. At 16:28 hours aircraft made normal take off run down centre of runway, became airborne and commenced to fly, when undercarriage was approximately one third retracted at about 15-20 feet, the port wing appeared to stall and aircraft swung left handed into ground, tearing up ground for approximately 50-60 yards. I ran to the machine and found the pilot had climbed out unhurt. After ascertaining the ignition, battery and fuel was shut off I proceeded back to the flight shed with Pilot Lt Gee. Damage to aircraft roughly assessed is left hand undercarriage unserviceable, port wing badly stressed, prop and reduction gear torn out of engine and general damage to underside of aircraft".
The statement of the Aircraft Accident Committee found: "It is the opinion of the Investigating Board that the pilot, in taking off did not obtain sufficient air speed, thus causing aircraft to stall and crash".
|2nd Lt. Langhorne S. Gee (0-667060)
P-51B No 43-6623 was built by North American at its Inglewood, California plant, the aircraft was accepted by the USAAF on 30th October 1943 and shipped across the Atlantic arriving at the Lockheed facility on the 2nd February 1944. It was degreased, reassembled and test flown on the 15th February 1944, no serious snags were encountered and the history card showed that every stage was covered by inspection. Final inspection of the aircraft was carried out by the A.I.D. on the 15th February 1944 and this was satisfactory. An inspection for delivery was made prior to the issuing of a 1090 to the collecting pilot. Following the accident, the aircraft was declared beyond repair at the Lockheed facility and was relegated to local salvage.
P-51B 43-6623 "Spare Parts"
However this is not the end of the story, as a P-51B aircraft bearing the serial number 43-6623, became a station hack at Warton known as "Spare Parts" the story of which follows:
The aircraft arrived at Warton in early March 1944 and was placed in the corner of No 5 hanger here it was left untouched as there was a plentiful supply of spare parts. After seeing the aircraft was unwanted a number of the ground crew approached Colonel Moore for permission to rebuild the aircraft in their own time, they were convinced with an extensive overhaul the aircraft could be made to fly again, even to enter a combat unit, permission was granted providing every stage of the operation was inspected.
The aircraft was completely stripped down with the badly damaged sections being removed and rebuilt or replaced. The aircraft was given permission to fly by the inspectors after its rebuild which Colonel Moore duly granted, although the aircraft was not to be issued to a fighter squadron but to remain as a station hack. It was estimated that the parts of five aircraft went into the rebuild and then it only seemed natural to name the aircraft "Spare Parts" The aircraft was test flown for the first time during July.
During its time at Warton "Spare Parts" was used for many tasks including VIP transport, spares delivery, taxi training and many other jobs, its most important jobs were training flights to Renfew near Glasgow were, somewhat conveniently, there was a nearby distillery that would supply bottles of Whiskey at wholesale prices. The aircraft was believed to have been lost due to a major engine failure in late 1944 possibly over the South of England or the Irish Sea, though no official report has been traced to date.
Approx. position of where 43-6623 came to grief today.
Note: It was originally thought that the original P-51B bearing the serial number 43-6623 had fallen into Liverpool docks on the morning of 20th February 1944 after being unloaded from the US cargo ship "Spica" which arrived at the port with a cargo of twelve P-51B's the previous night. It is possible that this aircraft, along with the wreck of 43-6623 may have been delivered to Warton at about the same time, as there are only two days between the incidents and this could have lead to some confusion - especially when taking into account that five aircraft were used to rebuild "Spare Parts"!
Mark Gaskell, Mike Stowe - Accident-Reports, Harry Holmes.
USAAF Report of Aircraft Incident, USAAF Individual Aircraft Record Card, The World's Greatest Air Depot.
This page Copyright © Mark Gaskell & Nick Wotherspoon 2001