Black Arrows

United Kingdom
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In 1955, No. 111 Squadron from The Royal Air Force formed an unofficial team from four Meteor F8 airplanes. In 1956 they moved on Hawker Hunter F6 and received a statute of an official RAF aerobatic team. In the same year the airplanes were five and were specially painted in black. They received its name after display at Paris Air Show in 1957, when French journalist referred the team as Black Arrows. Next year Black Arrows increased their number to 9 airplanes and in 1958 during the demonstration week in Farnborough they performed loop and roll in formation of 22 Hunter aircraft, a world record until now. At the same year the team's planes were equipped with white smoke generators.

On April 30, 1957 during the five-ship landing after a short demonstration at North Weald, one of the Black Arrows Hunters crash landed as the pilot ejected.

  • 'The event occurred following a display given by the Black Arrows for the occasion of the squadron being presented with its new colours by a former 111 Squadron commander (WW 2), Air Chief Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst. The aircraft piloted by Flying Officer Mike Thurley, was unfortunate enough to touch down on the part of the runway surface which was uneven and the camber was adverse. The resultant 'bounce' was insufficiently high to allow the immediate application of full power to have the full effect of enabling a touch and go followed by a normal landing pattern circuit. The aircraft touched down again in a pitch down attitude, with the eventual result that the nose wheel undercarriage broke from the airframe, and the pilot was rendered unconscious. The aircraft sped down the runway under maximum power, and crossed the road traversing the airfield boundary until the port wing struck the approach landing lights, which had the effect of turning the aircraft left at almost 90 degrees and as the aircraft rolled right and the primary cartridge of the ejection seat fired, ejecting the seat sideways out of the aircraft with the pilot still attached to it as he was strapped in. Unbelievably when the crash crew arrived at the scene, the pilot was still conscious and able to talk. He was taken to the local St. Margaret's Hospital at the nearby town of Epping, and made a good recovery though he did not fly again for about 5 weeks after the accident. Following the completion of his engagement as an officer in the RAF, Mike Thurley became a doctor and practiced as a GP in Canada until his retirement. As an escapee from an aircraft by means of a Martin Baker ejection seat, he was presented with his Caterpillar, many years later and is enrolled as a member of The Caterpillar Club. By the way the 'bump' in the runway at North Weald, on which the unlucky Mike Thurley 'landed', is still there on the runway today. It was never repaired and properly made level.' (Andrew Ockenden – Black Arrows ground crew member).

Again bad luck followed the Black Arrows in 8 June 1957 when two of the Hunters collided in mid-air during practice flight in five-ship formation, causing the fatal crash for a one of the pilots. The other involved in the collision pilot succeed to land its plane with a lot of damages.

  • 'The loss of one of our pilots following a mid-air collision, during a five ship practice over the North Weald airfield, was a great tragedy for all of us. Flying Officer David Garrett is buried in the local St. Andrews church yard and is remembered by aircrew and technicians alike. Following damage to his grave stone a new replacement was put in place last year, thanks to the vigilance of one of the former ground-crew members who had made a visit and reported the need for replacement to our MOD. The other pilot flew his badly damaged aircraft to Stanstead, where I and several other ground crew members went to make the aircraft safe, and bring the pilot back to base at North Weald. The memories of those days are still fresh in my mind. The port wing of the damaged aircraft was bent upwards at the transport joint preventing aileron movement and there had been a sufficient loss of hydraulic fluid to render the powered flying controls unusable except with the pressure from the emergency air accumulators. It was said that when the aircraft arrived in the circuit at Stanstead that the aircraft was in inverted flight which necessitated the pilot performing an outward loop to recover his situation (flight attitude) to a landing configuration, and the undercarriage had been lowered using the emergency system. It was an astonishing achievement to be able to land the aircraft rather than abandon it. It was fine skill and airmanship. Sadly the surviving pilot did not resume his flying duties again, and remained as an Administrative officer in the RAF until his retirement'. (Andrew Ockenden – Black Arrows ground crew member).

At the end of 1960 the Black Arrows aerobatic teams was disbanded.

A number of the Black Arrows pilots on leaving Treble One Squadron, went to 92 Squadron where they became members of Squadron Leader Brian Mercer's Blue Diamonds aerobatics team. Several of the Black Arrows pilots now live in retirement, and amongst them are former 'Bosses'; Air Commodore Roger L. Topp AFC and his successor Air Vice Marshal Peter Latham CB, AFC.

Thanks to Andrew Ockenden for a help to grow this page.

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