Daily Flight Stories
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Published on May 13, 2013
One hundred and one years ago today in aviation history, on Monday, May 13, 1912, there was a terrible accident at Brooklands. Two men, the pilot, Edward Victor Beauchamp “E. V. B.” Fisher, and his passenger, Victor Mason, an American, were killed. The plane, a Flanders F.3, burst into flames immediately after impact. Just what had happened was unclear, despite that the crash was witnessed by over 200 people. Faced with a mystery, the Royal Aero Club took the opportunity to undertake a formal investigation. In fact, it was the first aviation accident investigation in history.
Despite the crude nature of the aircraft and low technologies involved, the professional of the British set a first and rather high standard (in early aviation terms) — one that would quickly become the world standard for all aviation. Therefore, in honor of the efforts done all those years ago to establish a methodology that would enable manufacturers, maintenance personnel, support personnel and aviators to learn from mistakes made and the unexpected, we hereby republish what amounts to Accident Report No. 1.
Though outtakes have been republished before, we present the full findings — all 13 points, a rather unlucky number….
The Report — from Flight, June 8, 1912
Report on the fatal accident to Mr. E. V. B. Fisher and his passenger, Mr. Victor Mason, when flying at Brooklands on Monday, May 13th, 1912, at about 6 p.m.
Brief Description of the Accident. — Mr. E. V. B. Fisher flying with a passenger on a Flanders monoplane fitted with a 60-h.p. Green engine had made two or three circuits of the Brooklands flying ground. He was making a left-hand turn when the aircraft fell to the ground, killing both the aviator and passenger. Almost immediately after contact with the ground, the aircraft was in flames.
Report. — The Special Committee sat on the following dates: — Tuesday, May 21st, Wednesday, May 22nd, and Tuesday, May 28th, 1912, and heard the evidence of two eye witnesses, both of whom were aviators holding certificates. The Committee also heard the evidence of the designer and manufacturer of the aircraft, and of the representative of the maker of the motor. The written reports of other witnesses, and the report of Dr. Eric Gardner, were also considered.
From the consideration of this evidence the Committee is of opinion that the following facts are clearly established: –
(1) That the accident originated while the aircraft was making a left-hand turn at about 100 feet from the ground. (Evidence as to height, in the opinion of the Committee, is not conclusive.)
(2) That the aircraft had turned through an angle of about 90° in the horizontal plane.
(3) That it then side-slipped inwards.
(4) That it struck the ground head first, with the tail practically vertical.
(5 ) That from the effect produced on the engine and other part * the velocity at the moment of striking the ground was very considerable.
(6 ) That the fire which took place originated subsequently to the fall, and was the result not the cause of the accident.
(7) That there is no reason to suppose that the structural failure of any part of the aircraft was the cause of the accident.
(8) That from the commencement of the flight the aircraft was flying tail down.
(9) That the engine was actually running when the aircraft struck the ground.
(10) That Mr. Fisher was not in any way incapacitated so far as the normal control of the aircraft was concerned by an injury to his left shoulder, which he had sustained on April 18th, 1912.
(11) That the passenger did not cause the accident.
(12) That Mr. Fisher was thrown, fell, or jumped out of the aircraft when the latter was a considerable height from the ground, his body being found about 60 ft. in front of the spot where the aircraft struck. The passenger remained in the aircraft: his position was such that he could not readily have been thrown out.
(13) Mr. Fisher was granted his Aviator’s Certificate No. 77, on May 2nd, 1911, by the Royal Aero Club.
Opinion. — The Committee is of opinion that the cause of the accident was the aviator himself, who failed sufficiently to appreciate the dangerous conditions under which he was making the turn, when the aircraft was flying tail down, and in addition was not flying in a proper manner.
A side slip occurred, and Mr. Fisher lost control of the aircraft.
It seems probable that his losing control was caused by his being thrown forward on to the elevating gear, thereby moving this forward involuntarily, which would have had the effect of still further turning the aircraft down. This would explain his being thrown out whilst in the air.
In the opinion of the Committee it is possible that if the aviator had been suitably strapped into his seat he might have retained control of the aircraft.
It was unanimously resolved that this Report be forwarded to the Committee with a recommendation that it be published in extenso.
In the annals of early aviation, accidents and incidents were all too common. Many early aviators lost their lives, sometimes when attempting to set new records for distance or altitude, sometimes when attempting the crossing of lakes, seas and the English Channel, or sometimes just to bad luck when an engine malfunctioned or something failed. Bad fuel, improper oil weights and more conspired against safe flight.
When E. V. B. Fisher and Victor Mason died, their accident was something of a mystery. They had been flying on a good day, at a reasonable altitude, just around the airfield. Suddenly, the plane simply fell out of control and crashed vertically into the ground. The Royal Aero Club’s investigation was therefore a welcome effort — many wondered what had happened. Fisher was just 24 years old and was buried at Weybridge Cemetery in Surrey, England.
On May 18, 1912, on the first page of its newsletter, the RAeC published the following, which signaled their interest in undertaking investigations:
Readers of FLIGHT will have gathered from the official notices appearing in its columns of that the Royal Aero Club is keenly appreciative of the need that exists for the thorough and systematic investigation of all flying accidents which are of at all a serious nature. To that end has been established a Public Safety and Accidents Investigation Committee — the title is rather a cumbrous one, perhaps, but it is its work rather than its name which matters…..
Incredibly, from the first, the RAeC applied what would later be recognized as required, standard methods — they held inquiries over multiple days, consulted with both the aircraft and engine manufacturer to check for defects in design or materials or other flaws, and they consulted with eyewitnesses to determine the events with some detail, implicitly putting weight on opinions of those who were certificated pilots. The doctor who examined the bodies was also consulted for any evidence of a medical type that might have influenced the accident.
The findings were thereafter numbered, discussed and approved in formal committee. They were written succinctly and with clarity, and then published for wide review and challenge. The accident investigation and results were extraordinary work.
Sadly, in the end, it appears that the most likely cause is one that we hear all too often these days — whether it is true or not — that “pilot error” was involved.
On May 10, 1912, an airman in France succeeded in winning the Claudel Prize, which had been offered and had stood awaiting an aviator who would seek the prize — what exactly was it that asked? Well, it was a bit non-traditional by today’s standards, as reported in the May 11, 1912, issue of Flight, the newsletter of the Royal Aero Club:
Flying Under and Over a Bridge.
AMONG a number of £40 prizes offered two years ago by the Ligue Nationale Aerienne, was one known as the Claudel Prize, to be given to the first aviator who should succeed in flying over and then under the Corneille Suspension Bridge at Rouen. The feat was accomplished on Sunday afternoon by Cavelier on a Deperdussin monoplane. He started from the Bruyeres Aerodrome, flew over the bridge at a good height, and then turning swooped down and passed under it, afterwards returning to his starting point.
What was Accident Report No. 2?