04.05.1942 137 Squadron Whirlwind I P7103 Plt.Off. Robert E.D. Wright
Operation: Dog fighting practice
Date: 4th May 1942
Unit: 137 Squadron
Type: Whirlwind I
Base: RAF Matlaske, Norfolk
Location: Aylsham, Norfolk
Pilot: Plt.Off. Robert Elmer Douglas Wright J15147 RCAF Age 26. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off from RAF Matlaske, a satellite airfield to RAF Coltishall in Norfolk at 15:50 hrs with one other aircraft from the squadron on a dog fighting practice.
When they reached about 1,000 ft the other aircraft reported that he had a defect in his engine and returned to base. About 10 minutes into his flight Plt.Off. Wright was in the process of recovering from a dive from about 4,000 ft. A major structural failure involving the fuselage and main planes occurred - with the fuselage and aircraft detached the Whirlwind fell to the ground at 16:00 hrs. No attempt was made to abandon the aircraft by parachute and sadly Plt.Off Robert Wright was killed.
Aircraft details: Built by Westland Aircraft Ltd and allocated to the RAF in August 1941. Delivered to the squadron on the 27th November 1941 and at the time of loss had logged some 154 flying hours. A 150 hour inspection had been carried out on the 01st May 1942. Engines; Port - Peregrine I 473/150201, Starboard - Peregrine I 51/149990.
Pilot details: Began his flying training in March 1941 at No. 7 EFTS at Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Awarded his ‘wings’ on the 29th July 1941, posted to 56 OTU and passed out with an ‘average’ assessment. Joined 137 Squadron in November 1941. Total solo flying time amounted to about 132 hours with 90 of these on the Whirlwind.
Weather details: 12 miles visibilty, clouds 8/10 at 2,500 ft, wind calm.
Initial inspection: (05.05.1941) The aircraft was found in a meadow at Abbots Hall Farm near to the river Bure on the north side of Aylsham, Norfolk. Wreckage being spread over a distance of 312 yards. The main parts of the aircraft which were discovered separately consisted of the tail unit, with part of the fuselage and cockpit, centre section, flaps and the two main planes. No outbreak of fire occurred prior or during impact.
The aircraft was then shipped to RAE at Farnborough for closer inspection but main interest was on the riveted joints between the cockpit skin and the centre section Longeron.
Report from RAE Farnborough: A heavy tail down loading was applied to the tail during, say, the initial movement of the elevator to pull out from a dive. The cockpit joint failed, the wings with engines etc were twisted rapidly to a large negative incidence by the CPB loading of the wings. The flaps were pushed down by the fuselage. The outer wings would then fall symmetrically at the roots by suddenly applied downloading on the wings with engine inertia.
The outer wings with engine inertia reaction: the outer wing flaps and centre section and engines with cockpit and tail unit attached would then fall separately. The heavy centre section fell upside down in boggy ground and flattened the cockpit area that was left. The engine nacelles etc were wrecked in the impact. The fuselage and tail unit fell like a dart with the pilot still in the cockpit. On impact the cockpit and fuselage were crushed right back. Inertia took the tail unit off the rear end of the fuselage and allowed it to land on top of the fin, rudder and tail planes. All fractures of control systems, surfaces, elevator torque tubes etc at the rear end of the fuselage seem to be traceable to this impact.
Observation from RAE Farnborough: This accident must be looked upon as an isolated case of a structural failure of a very unusual kind and in so far as it is understood that the Whirlwind is likely to be superseded in the near future by some other type it is not considered any special modification action is required. It would be of interest however to have the suspected rivets examined for incipient failure in all existing Whirlwinds.
Vernon Brown - Chief Inspector.
Plt.Off. Robert Elmer Douglas Wright. Scottow Cemetery, Norfolk. Grave 271. Born 15th November 1916, Lethbridge, Alberta. Son of Robert Albert Mallet and Laberta Myra (née O’Neil) Wright of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Researched extensively by Chris Bowles who has spent many hours at the National Archives in Kew obtaining detailed information on this loss. Webmaster visited the cemetery to pay his respects in February 2016. Thanks to Peter Kempson, whose wife's family owned Abbots hall Farm at the time of the crash, for the additional information regarding the crash site and other clarifications (Aug 2020). Page is dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to sources as quoted below.