Accident Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c 4700,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 214682
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Date:Monday 31 January 1916
Type:Silhouette image of generic be2 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c
Owner/operator:10 Sqn RFC
Registration: 4700
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Joyce Green Airfield, Dartford, Kent -   United Kingdom
Phase: Approach
Departure airport:Joyce Green
Destination airport:Joyce Green
Confidence Rating: Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources
31.1.16: Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c 4700, 10 (Reserve) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, Joyce Green Airfield, Dartford, Kent. Written off when Hit a tree on a night approach and caught fire. Pilot and sole occupant - Major Ernest Frederic Unwin (agd 35) - died 22.3.16 of injuries sustained.

According to a contemporary report in Flight magazine (August 17 1916 page 270 - see link #3) the incident was debated in the House of Commons in Parliament. According to "Hansard" the official record of Parliamentary debates:

"Statement by Mr. Pemberton Billing:—
Major Unwin died on March 20th, 1916, from injuries received on January 31st, 1916
Place, Joyce Green.

Major Unwin was telephoned by the War Office, or by his Wing Commander, to send up two pilots on the night of January 31st, when a Zeppelin raid over London was anticipated. He replied, "We have no suitable machine here. The ground is not suitably lighted. There is a thick ground fog and it is not safe for anybody." Major Unwin had never previously flown at night. He said, " I will not disobey orders; I will go up myself." His machine, a B.E. 2C, caught a tree in descending and was burnt, Major Unwin receiving the injuries to which he afterwards succumbed.

News had been received of a Zeppelin raid on the north-east coast, and it was thought (erroneously as it turned out) that a Zeppelin was making for London. Orders were sent to Major Unwin at Joyce Green giving him the information, and telling him to send up aeroplanes " if the weather/conditions were suitable."

There was a ground mist, although not dense at that particular place. Major Unwin, who was an experienced night flier, decided to go up himself. In descending he came down too low before reaching the landing ground, probably due to the fact that he was new to Joyce Green, and dashed into some trees, with the result that his machine was burnt and he received the injuries from which he died. The ground itself is not a bad one to land upon and was well lighted.

There was no engine failure. There is always danger in landing at night owing to the fact that while a pilot can see the guiding flares he is often unable to see obstacles like trees or hedges between himself and the ground as he gets low down for the purpose of landing. This danger is increased when there is a fog or ground mist. It is entirely untrue that Major Unwin had imperative orders to send up machines. Such orders are never given. The orders are always subject to the weather conditions, of which the officer in charge of the aerodrome is left to judge for himself. The Committee can discover no foundation at all for the unsupported suggestion of Major Unwin's alleged protest."

Note that several published sources confused the date of the accident (night of January 31st 1916) with the date of the death of the pilot (March 22nd 1916 - some seven weeks later) and state (or imply by omission) that the crash happened on the latter date.


3. Flight magazine (August 17 1916 page 270):

Revision history:

26-Aug-2018 07:59 harro Added
22-Nov-2018 20:21 Dr.John Smith Updated [Time, Registration, Operator, Location, Nature, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
23-Nov-2018 16:37 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]
24-Nov-2018 01:09 Dr.John Smith Updated [Date]
25-Nov-2018 04:11 JINX Updated [Operator, Departure airport, Destination airport]
25-Nov-2018 18:40 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]
01-Dec-2018 22:57 Dr.John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]

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