A bridge too far?

Pilot - - PILOT NOTES -

Twenty-five years on, a pri­vate pi­lot owns up to a stunt that took plan­ning, skill and steady hands. To­day it would land you in court

As this is­sue went to press the 35th an­niver­sary of a lit­tle (if at all) cel­e­brated ex­ploit was com­ing up. In De­cem­ber 1983 pri­vate pi­lot David Wil­liams fi­nally re­alised his dream of fly­ing un­der a small bridge. When the Hin­stock by­pass bridge in Shrop­shire was built near his home, his plan be­gan to take shape. Both the height and width of the bridge would be suf­fi­cient for his ex-dutch Na­tional Fly­ing School Saab 91D Safir to pass through if he held the cen­tre­line. On-site mea­sure­ments were made care­fully and on the day be­fore pub­lic traf­fic was re­leased onto the by­pass for the first time two of David’s friends were along­side the road and his fa­ther was po­si­tioned on top of the bridge so they could all take pho­to­graphs (His fa­ther, alas, was a lit­tle too quick with the shut­ter but­ton and cap­tured only the Safir’s spin­ner emerg­ing from be­low!)

David’s ex­ploit fol­lowed a long tra­di­tion of fly­ing un­der bridges dat­ing back to the pi­o­neer­ing days of avi­a­tion. Per­haps best known in Eng­land were the ex­ploits of ‘Mad Ma­jor’ Christo­pher Draper, who in 1930 flew a DH Puss Moth un­der two bridges over the River Thames in protest over the govern­ment’s treat­ment of war vet­er­ans. He had in­tended to fly un­der all eigh­teen Thames bridges. Poor weather dic­tated oth­er­wise, but he came close to achiev­ing that goal on 5 May 1953 when he flew a rented Auster un­der fif­teen of them. He was ar­rested, charged with fly­ing too low in an ur­ban area and fined ten guineas.

On 5 April 1968 Flight Lieu­tenant Alan Pol­lock, a RAF pi­lot from No 1 Squadron based at West Ray­nam, cel­e­brated the 50th An­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Royal Air Force – and in protest against the govern­ment of the day’s fail­ure to mark it – by fly­ing his Hawker Hunter FGA.9 ground at­tack fighter (ap­pro­pri­ate mount for the task) at low level around Lon­don land­marks in­clud­ing the Houses of Par­lia­ment, then through the up­per span of Tower Bridge. He also made low passes at RAFS Wat­tisham, Marham and Lak­en­heath, and flew part of the re­turn leg to base in­verted at 200 feet. Pol­lock was im­me­di­ately ar­rested, grounded and later dis­charged from the RAF on med­i­cal grounds.

David Wil­liams flew his Saab Safir un­der Hin­stock by­pass bridge in 1983

'Mad Ma­jor' Draper flew an Auster un­der fif­teen Lon­don bridges

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