Accident Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2b 676,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 218553
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Date:Thursday 25 February 1915
Time:12:15 LT
Type:Silhouette image of generic be2 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2b
Owner/operator:CFS RFC
Registration: 676
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Upavon, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire -   United Kingdom
Phase: Approach
Departure airport:RFC Upavon, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire
Destination airport:RFC Upavon, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire
Confidence Rating: Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources
25.2.15: Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2b 676, CFS, RFC, RFC Upavon, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. Written off (damaged beyond repair) when Dived in from 300 feet, Upavon, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. Pilot - Flt Lt Dawson Calybut Downing (aged 25), RNAS - was killed

According to a contemporary report in Flight magazine (August 17 1916 page 270 - see link #4) the incident was debated in the House of Commons in Parliament. According to "Hansard", the official record of Parliamentary debates:

"No. 24. Hansard.—
Spiral dive 300 feet over the sea. Pilot Killed.
Supplemental statement.—There is a mistake in Hansard.
It should read "B.E." instead of "over the sea."
Date, February 25th, 1915.
Place, Central Flying School, Upavon.
Pilot, Lieutenant T. Dawson Downing.

Suggestion by Mr. Pemberton Billing that the machine was a B.E. 2 C, an inherently stable machine, which he describes as apt to take nose dives and unable to right itself in under 500 feet. That pilots take liberties with it on account of its inherent stability, and that this accident may have been due to over-confidence in the machine engendered by its stability.

The machine in question was not a B.E. 2C, but a B.E. 2B., which is not an inherently stable machine. The engine was a 70-h.p. Renault.

Mr. Pemberton Billing's suggestion fails because he is mistaken as to type of machine. It was supposed at the time that Lieutenant Downing became incapacitated while in the air, perhaps from a fainting fit. This may have been so, but it is only surmise. Nothing can be alleged against the machine, which was examined and in good order before starting"

Additional: The following is a transcript from the Coroners report of the inquest into the death of Flight Lt Dawson Downing (see link #5):

"Downing, Dawson
March 5th 1915

Naval Officer’s Aeroplane “Nose Dives.”

Another addition to the roll of the brave was made on Thursday, when Lieutenant Dawson C Downing, RN, sacrificed his life for the art of aviation. The accident took place just before noon, when the deceased was engaged in carrying out the usual exercises with a B.E.2 bi-plane, under the instructions of Lieutenant Dalrymple Clark, RN, in close proximity to the Aerodrome. The late officer, who was only 25 years of age, had not been at the school long; he took his Royal Aero Club certificate there only last month, but was not a fully-qualified aviator. Aeroplanes were buzzing and whirring around the Aerodrome during the sitting of the court, and that in spite of the fact that the wind blew half a gale and “bit” with a cold winter effect.

The inquest was held in the Lecture Room at the school on Friday afternoon, before Mr F A P Sylvester, coroner for Mid-Wilts, and a jury of whom Mr Thomas Chamberlain, of Upavon, was foreman. With his usual courtesy Captain G Paine, the commandant of the school, sent a couple of motor cars to the village of Upavon, a mile-and-a-half or so away, to fetch the members of the jury and Police Constable Symonds, the village constable, who acted as Coroner’s officer.

Captain Godfrey Marshall Paine, RN, CB, commandant of the Central Aviation School, gave evidence of identification. He said the deceased’s full name was Dawson Calybus Downing, whose home was at Ipswich. He was 25 years of age. He joined the school on December 13th last, and took his Royal Aero Club certificate on the 6th of last month. He had done a considerable amount of flying up to the date of the accident.

The Coroner: Do you know if he had any previous experience of this particular bi-plane?
Captain Paine: Yes, he had flown machines of the bi-plane several times before.

Lieutenant Dalrymple Clark, RN, deposed that at 12.10 on Thursday morning he instructed Lieut Downing to take the bi-plane B.E.2 number 676 and do three circuits of the aerodrome, landing each time. Witness watched him for some time, and saw the first landing, which was normal.

Coroner: What was the weather like?
Captain Paine: Excellent; practically calm.

The next time he saw the machine, the witness proceeded, it was in the middle of a left-hand spiral descent, of which he saw two complete turns. The descent was fast, but normal. At the end of the second turn the machine lengthened out “down wind” and was planing down very fast.

Coroner : That is to say it ceased the spiral movement?
Captain Paine: Yes, it ceased turning, and almost immediately it developed into a vertical dive from a height of about 300 feet.

Coroner: Where did the machine strike the ground?
Captain Paine: The machine struck the ground quite close to the flying sheds.

Coroner: Did he fall out?
Captain Paine: No, he was strapped in his seat.

Coroner: Were you far away?
Captain Paine: No, quite close; I was standing within about 100 yards. I ran to the spot and found Lieutenant Downing in the middle of the wreckage, quite dead.

Coroner: The machine was smashed, I suppose?
Captain Paine: Completely smashed.

Coroner: Was the machine examined that morning, do you know?
Captain Paine: Yes, I had seen it myself, with a non-commissioned officer.

Coroner: Was it all right?
Captain Paine: Yes, quite all right. It had been flown previously by another officer.

Coroner: Have you formed any theory of the accident?
Captain Paine: I think the machine ran away whilst planing down; Lieutenant Downing had every confidence.

Coroner: You think the deceased lost control?
Captain Paine: Yes, lost control of the machine.

Coroner: Do you think the spiral turn was sharper than it should have been?
Captain Paine: It was a steep one, but it went all right so long as it was not allowed to get any steeper. I examined the machine; the controls were in perfect order after the smack.

Does this type of machine take a passenger?
Captain Paine: Yes.

Coroner: There was a passenger?
Captain Paine: No.

Coroner: Had the deceased officer been accustomed to fly with a passenger?
Captain Paine: No, they are not allowed to take a passenger until they have completed their course and passed.

Lieutenant —— confirmed the evidence of Lieutenant Clark. He said he found all the controls in order. He thoroughly examined the machine – it was all in a heap, but nothing had gone from the machine. All the wires were intact, with the exception of one, and that was duplicated.

Corone : Did you see the accident happen?
Lt Clark: No, but I was on the ground where the machine was before anyone touched it.

Captain Ernest George E Lithgow, of the RAMC, medical officer at the school, said he was called to the scene of the accident within a few minutes of the time it happened. He found that Lieutenant Downing was quite dead. Witness examined the body, and found that the neck was dislocated; that was the principal injury, and would be fatal. There were seven injuries in addition to that.

Addressing the jury, the Coroner said this was all the evidence in the case. The accident appeared to be very similar to those which had been inquired into at the Central Aviation School before; in fact it was very much, if he remembered rightly, like the last one they had there. They had heard from an eyewitness what happened; that the deceased, who had been flying for some months, got his Aero Club certificate a month after he was at the School, and was carrying out one of his usual practices. Perhaps owing to his going a little too fast, or descending too steeply, he lost control of the machine, dived to the ground, and met an instantaneous death.

As they had heard from Lieutenant Clark, it was an ideal morning for flying; in fact, he (the Coroner) remembered thinking while he was out what a good day it was for aviation. It was extraordinary that this unfortunate officer should have met his death in such extraordinarily fine weather, when flying went on in all weathers in order to obtain the necessary practice at the School. One should have thought fatal accidents, if they occurred at all, would be more likely to occur in bad weather.

Perhaps it was explained by the fact, as was suggested by one of the witnesses, that in calm weather flying officers who had not been at it so long as others, became a little too confident, and so met with accidents like this.

All they could do as a jury was to return a verdict of accidental death. They had heard that the machine had not only been examined by experts that morning, but another had flown it, and the deceased had flown it once round and come to the ground in safety. Nothing was found to be the matter with it after the accident. He thought they might conclude that the machine was in perfect order, and that the unfortunate accident was due to an error of judgement on the part of the flying officer himself.

After a brief consultation, the foreman announced the jury’s verdict was one of “Accidental Death.”"


4. Flight magazine (August 17 1916 page 859):

Revision history:

25-Nov-2018 20:53 Dr.John Smith Added
02-Dec-2018 00:41 Dr.John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]
09-Dec-2018 20:46 Dr.John Smith Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Nature, Source, Narrative]
09-Dec-2018 21:39 Dr.John Smith Updated [Source]
23-Jan-2019 09:08 stehlik49 Updated [Operator]

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