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2 Comments | Vintage
"The aircraft is an English Electric Lightning F1. It was designed and created by the English Electric Aviation Company, who’d been contracted to develop a jet bomber at the end of World War II.
The ER103 design study was sufficiently impressive for English Electric to be awarded the contract for two prototypes and a structural-test airframe. The early prototypes evolved into the Lightning, an aeroplane which was to span the time from when the Spitfire was our primary front-line fighter to the end of the Cold War.
The Lightning was the only British designed and built fighter capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2 to serve with the Royal Air Force.
However, the very last photograph taken of XG332, in 1962, is deservedly the most famous one. How does someone manage to take a photograph like this? Planning, quick wits and a healthy dose of luck.
Jim Meads is the man who took the picture. He was a professional photographer who lived near the airfield, next door to de Havilland test pilot Bob Sowray.
So, the story goes: Bob Sowray mentioned to Jim Meads that he was going to fly the Lightning that day. When Meads took his kids for a walk, he took his camera along, hoping to get a shot of the plane.
His plan was to take a photograph of the children with the airfield in the background as the Lightning came in to land. They found a good view of the final approach path and waited for the Lightning to return.
As it happened, Bob Sowray didn’t fly the Lightning that day. The pilot was George Aird, another test pilot working for De Havilland.
George Aird was involved in the Red Top Air-to-Air Missile programme and seems to have been a well-respected test pilot.
The aircraft pitched up violently just as Aird was coming up to land. Aird lost control of the aircraft and ejected.
Luckily, because the nose pitched up he had just enough time to eject.
The tractor in the photograph was a Fordson Super Major. If you look closely at the grill, you’ll see it reads D H Goblin, as in the de Havilland Goblin jet engine.
The tractor driver was 15-year-old Mick Sutterby, who spent that summer working on the airfield. He wasn’t posing for the camera. In fact, he was telling the photographer, Jim Mead, to move on, because he shouldn’t be there.
Mead saw the plane coming in and the nose pitch up. Then Aird ejected and Mead says he had just enough time to line up the shot as the Lightning came down nose first.
Meanwhile, George Aird landed on a greenhouse and fell through the roof, breaking both legs as he landed unconscious on the ground. The water from the sprinkler system for the tomatoes woke him. He’s reported to have said that his first thought was that he must be in heaven.
George landed in a greenhouse sustaining several fractures. The remains of the Lightning can be seen on the left just into the airfield. George was back flying again within six months and on Lightnings a year after the accident".
The photo was taken at Hatfield and the site had an aircraft and a missile section. My Grandfather worked on aircraft during the war until he retired. I worked at the Dynamics factory during the 80’s and there were redtop and fire streak missiles there on display.