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Thread: Unexplained Disappearances of Aircraft in WW2

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    Default Unexplained Disappearances of Aircraft in WW2

    Hello All,

    This is a combination of a particular very long shot, added to which is a request for very general vague information, or opinion.

    Sometime shortly after 0840Z on Saturday 17 Mar 1945 Hudson FK739 of 251 Sqn, at about 61N 30W, ceased to communicate with its base while returning to RAF Reykjavik. Nothing further was ever seen/heard of this a/c, or its crew, who had been on a routine MAGNUM Met Recce sortie. The weather at the time, in the area, was foul – even by N Atlantic standards! - but FK739’s job was to discover, and measure, just how foul it actually was. Any specific information surrounding this episode from the Sqn ORB, etc, if anybody has it, would be much appreciated.

    On the broader scale, this is not the first Met Recce a/c to suddenly just ‘disappear’ without trace. A Met Recce sortie is often a triangular route (sometimes only an “out & back” sortie). The outbound leg is flown at 1500ft ASL (with the occasional drop to 50ft ASL(!!) to check the MSL pressure). At the end of the outbound leg a box-climb to 500mb/FL180 takes place (about 40 mins). The second leg is flown at this high level, at the end of which a box-descent to 1500ft ASL is made, and the inbound leg flown at this level. H/F W/T contact is kept from time to time to pass the coded weather observations back to base.

    These ‘disappearances’ have been the subject of much discussion within the Met team as to the reason(s). We have (not yet!) collected any stats, but there seem to be two main possibilities. One, there was a “catastrophic airframe failure”, or two, the a/c simply flew into the ocean. We have absolutely no idea how prevalent catastrophic airframe failures may have been in the same a/c types in use for other military purposes. Does anybody have the slightest idea as to just how many a/c just “broke up in the air” – or where do we go to investigate? That’s the mechanical side.

    The MAOs on these ‘disappeared’ flights are on the Met Office RoH – which we look after. They and the a/c crews are on Runnymede – so we can’t get a debrief, or make deductions from that angle. I am beginning to assemble some stats, but it seems likely that more than 50% of the disappearances were at, or shortly after, the bottom of the box-descent. On more than 50% it was dark. More than 50% were on moonless nights. It is not our task to try to blame the Drivers’, Airframe, for flying into the ‘Oggin. We are simply trying to get as near an approximation to the truth as is possible after 70-odd years. We are, basically, meteorologists – not aviators (although I do try to replicate a number of these flights on my flight simulator, and a spreadsheet!). Does anybody in the aviation world have any thoughts – one way, or the other – on this, or know who has? I’m not looking for any legal approach. Informed expert opinion will do – even just a “feeling in one’s water”, so to speak!

    Can anybody help?

    TIA

    Peter Davies
    Last edited by Resmoroh; 23rd February 2018 at 15:42. Reason: QSD
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Peter
    How many such accidents? What types? Unless there was a Cb, I do not think anything could cause disintegration in the air. Lightning strike, but where there any storms? Icing? This one I would consider really seriously. It could be icing of airframe or say pitot tube, leading to crash. Then sudden changes of pressure which could render altimeter useless, and leading to crash into the sea - low flying over water in a mist could be extremely dangerous, due to inability to assess altitude. Then - U-boat Flak, but I think it is less likely.
    Cheers
    https://www.facebook.com/Franciszek-Grabowski-241360809684411/

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    I don't recall reading of any history of catastrophic structural failure on the Hudson - you don't name the other type. Such events were usually closely investigated and written up - the classic WW2 case being perhaps the tail failures on the Typhoon. Mainly these would be fighters indulging in high-g manoeuvres (e.g.wing loss of fighter-bomber Spitfires after steep dives). Some early Lancasters were lost in a dive when the outer wing failed, but this was fairly rapidly sorted. A number of Halifaxes were lost due loss of control after rudder stall, but that wouldn't lead to mid-air structural failure. I would agree/suggest that failure to judge the altitude when low over the sea, icing up of the key instruments leading to sudden loss of control, or flying into cu-nim cloud would be the three likeliest causes. I am inclined to rule out general icing of the airframe because it would be possible to transmit a message, but if you were relying on a trailing wire antenna that that might not be possible.

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    I agree totally with both Franek and Graham, the Hudson was generally acknowledged as a very rugged and well-designed and built aircraft, although it required a good general knowledge of its systems and characteristics; its good performance required that the pilot fly it within the laid down numbers as set out in the pilot's notes, and not to blunder outside the limits of what it could and could not do. Taken for granted these days, but some of the pilots who graduated onto the Hudson from the "gentle" Anson paid with their lives when they (presumably) wandered outside these limits. Other pilots, perhaps with a bit more altitude (and perhaps good reflexes!), managed to save themselves and their crews. No doubt similar cases could be made for other Coastal Command aircraft, which ventured far from land, such as the Whitley, Sunderland, Botha, Beaufort, Catalina and Halifax, as well as the Liberator, and having to contend on every flight with numerous hazards, real and potential.
    David D

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    Peter.

    I think we've been misled in the past in believing the disappearance was at 0840 GMT; I have the ORB in front of me and the times all appear to be local time. For those not familiar with a MAGNUM sortie it was flown at about 1500 ft for 600 nm on a bearing of 225 degrees from Reykjavik. At the terminal point of approximately 56d 30m N, 34d 30m W an ascent was made to approximately 16000 ft. At the top of the climb a reciprocal course was flown on a gradual descent to base.

    The ORB records the ATD as 0150 hours, and the last contact was at 0840 hours, on a bearing of 223 deg - an hour before the scheduled return. Assuming a cruising speed of 150 kt the Hudson would have been at 62d 18m N, 25d 30m W at the time of last contact. I'll let some clever chappie to work out an approximate altitude based on a gradual descent from the terminal point, but I'm guessing it was around 5-6000 ft (notice my complete lack of science/maths).

    The Hudson would probably been flying through the frontal cloud of a northward moving occlusion at the time of last contact, but I don't have sufficient data to estimate the height or intensity of icing.

    Sources:
    1. MAGNUM sortie - unpublished documents in Met Office archives.
    2. Online Daily Weather Report
    3. 251 Squadron ORB AIR 27/1507,15 and AIR 27/1507/16

    Might be worth asking the RAF Museum if there is a F1180.

    Brian

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    251 Squadron flew 55 extended sorties during March 1944 - 36 met reconnaissance and 19 ASR.

    Two aircraft were reported missing. FK739, as described by Peter, and FK743 on the 27th when it disappeared whilst trying to find the airfield in poor weather conditions. The wreckage of FK743 was discovered four days later, on the crest of a mountain about 12 nm south of Reykjavik.

    In addition to these, 14 sorties were curtailed for various reasons:

    Recall due to deteriorating weather at base - 3
    W/T failure - 2 (+1 concurrent with engine trouble)
    Navigation instrument failure - 2
    Mechanical trouble - 2
    Hatch loss - 1
    Engine trouble - 4

    'Engine trouble' nearly caused the loss of FH421 on the 28th. During the climb at 56d 30m N, 34d 30m W, the pilot was forced to feather one engine when its oil pressure and temperature exceeded their limits as the aircraft reached 16000 ft. A WDM-3 and WJR-2 were transmitted (explanation anyone?); being unable to maintain height on one engine the WDM-3 was raised to WDM-2. The pilot eventually managed to restart the engine when the aircraft was just 1000 ft above the sea; the distress call was subsequently cancelled. Shortly after the aircraft experienced a total W/T failure, causing considerable concern at base given previous transmissions. The aircraft eventually landed 90 minutes overdue after a flight of 9.5 hours (ATA 1011 hours). Fortunately it was a fine day with good visibility and only medium and high level cloud.

    I've described this incident because it demonstrates there is no easy answer to the loss of FK739, but it raises the possibility of a major mechanical/engine problem after a W/T failure. FH421 had flown just three sorties in the month, two ASRs (returning to base with engine trouble after just 10 minutes on the second) and one uneventful met reconnaissance.

    Brian
    Last edited by Lyffe; 25th February 2018 at 09:49. Reason: Additional information to hand.

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    Hello All,
    Mni tks for all the very informed opinions - much appreciated. It is a difficult subject area to put into mathematical precision when much of the evidence (and the informed opinion therein) is at the bottom of some sea!
    A day, or so, ago I re-read some of the pages of "Even The Birds Were Walking" by Kington & Rackliff (Tempus. ISBN 075242016X). To a certain extent it made me look at the problem "through the other end of the telescope"! I was brought up sharp by the phrase “. . . replaced by Hudsons, which were considered a death-trap if forced to ditch in the sea”.
    Work In Progress - as they say. But I think I'm trying to quantify (via FSX, maths, spreadsheets, etc) something which is unquantifiable?
    Your expert help is much appreciated!
    Rgds
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Hello Peter,

    I have mailed you some documents with U.S. Coast Guard search positions in the days 17/3 1945 to 19/3 1945.

    Regards

    Finn Buch

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    Apologies, Peter, I should have added the squadron carried out extensive SAR on 17, 18 and 19th. No area given, simply 'Creeping line ahead patrol'. Some flights lasted 8-10 hours.

    Brian

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    I recall that one WW2 bomber was considered dangerous to ditch because the bomb-bay doors were flimsy and collapsed, creating immediate flooding. Unfortunately I don't recall which aircraft this applied to, but the Liberator is an obvious possibility. As the Hudson was a conversion from a civil design, perhaps it had a similar weakness?

    Decades later I had the opportunity to read the (pre-flight) model ditching report for the Jetstream - the conclusion was that it was so good, if you had to carry out a ditching make sure it was in a Jetstream. I don't know of any real-life incident to confirm that!

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