Smoking on the #13 Bus

Date:         19 Feb 98 01:33:50 
From: (Neil Trotter)
Organization: Planet Nook
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All the silly talk about B747s performing barrel rolls over the Puget
Sound put me in mind of another tall tale, but one which appears to have
some basis in truth.


In the late Sixties, passengers on a London bus crossing Tower Bridge
were afforded a rare close-up of a high-speed, low-flying fighter plane.
One startled onlooker told newspapers at the time, "I heard a sudden
roar and saw the plane swooping down.  I thought it was going to crash
and then it straightened out".

On April 5th 1968, the 50th anniversary of the formation of the RAF, the
then Prime Minister Harold Wilson did not think it a good idea to let
the RAF hold a flypast over London.

One pilot decided to stage his own spectacular protest.  It was Flight
Lieutenant Alan Pollock of Number One Squadron, a division whose history
goes back to the First World War.  In those days, risking your kite at
every opportunity was considered an officer's duty.  Climbing into his
Hunter fighter plane he took off from West Raynham in Norfolk and headed
towards London.  Approaching from the Channel, he followed the Thames
and dipped towards Tower Bridge.  He then aimed his aircraft at the gap
between the upper span of the bridge and the road below.  He reckoned
that with 110ft of vertical space to play with, he could fly the
12ft-high Hunter through with no trouble.  The jet was 34ft wide, the
clearance between the two towers 200 ft.  As he closed in on the
box-shaped target, a red double-decker bus drove into the frame.

There is a stage during any flight that pilots call "commitment".  This
has nothing to do with lasting relationships and Saturday night in with
a Merchant-Ivory video -- it means committing to an act and sticking
with it, because to do otherwise would endanger your aircraft.  The
Thames was less than 100ft below, and the upper span of Tower Bridge
ruled out pulling on the joystick to climb.  Flight Lieutenant Pollock
was committed.

His jet shot through the gap over the top deck of the bus-load of
startled commuters.  Pollock buzzed the House of Commons for good
measure and the honour of the RAF was satisfied.  Air marshals swore
blind they had nothing to do with the one maverick flyer who, it turned
out, was due to retire on medical grounds anyway.  This handy detail
avoided a court martial.

[Michael Dempsey, writing for FHM, August 1994.]


-- Neil "think I'll take the tube today" Trotter