A bridge too far?
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