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Feature – Last days of the Sea Vixen

Photo: Sea Vixen 'Foxy Lady' - photo by Hugh Trevor

 

When the Royal Navy retired its frontline Sea Vixen Mk.2s, new uses were devised for the characterful twin-boom jet, as Ken Ellis relates

Both the primary and standby systems had failed to bring the undercarriage down. It was time to assess options. Were the other two hydraulic networks, which powered the flying controls and the autopilot mechanism, also about to malfunction? The slipstream-driven ram-air turbine was popped out to provide back-up.

Sea Vixen FAW.2 XP924, civil registration G-CVIX, operated on behalf of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust (FNHT) was returning to its base at Yeovilton, Somerset. Fondly known as Foxy Lady, earlier in the day the jet had been displayed faultlessly at Duxford, Cambridgeshire.

A radio conversation with the Vixen’s chief engineer helped the pilot to decide what came next. Fuel state was moderate and, crucially, the drop tanks were empty. A wheels-up landing would be carried out. Declaring an emergency to Yeovilton air traffic, the rescue services were readied.

Running through the procedure cards, the pilot set up for an approach on the westerly Runway 27, which offered a generous 7,582ft (2,311m) on which to alight. A couple of feet above the runway, the pilot shut down the port Rolls-Royce Avon Mk.208 engine. Seconds later, the starboard powerplant was cut and the canopy was jettisoned, just as the drop tanks shattered on contact with the surface.

Transformed from aircraft to what was, in effect, a high-speed sledge, XP924 slithered along the runway centreline, halting after about 3,300ft. There was no fire, no fuel spillage. It was 16:55hrs on Saturday May 27, 2017.

As the emergency crews arrived, the pilot made the ejection seat safe and climbed out. Royal Navy reservist Cdr Simon Hargreaves OBE had completed a textbook wheels-up. Although the jet had significant damage to the underside of the fuselage, engine bay and gearbox casing, the commander’s cool head and skills had saved Foxy Lady for another day.

Published in March last year, the Air Accident Investigation Branch report (EW/G2017/05/28) provides a superb insight into the exacting work of the safety examiners: it is available on the internet. In the ‘Synopsis’ section it explains: “The landing gear failed to lower because of a mechanical break-up within both the normal and standby hydraulic systems pumps. [This] was caused by seizure of the pistons within the hydraulic pumps, probably due to the presence of a contaminant. Forensic work is continuing to identify the contaminant and its source.”

The rest of this feature can be read in the current FlyPast, in UK shops now, or available at www.flypast.com

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