A couple of weeks ago a man flew an airplane at an airshow, which wasn’t unusual in itself. Sadly for the pilot and the eleven people dead so far, the plane crashed. A lot of people seem to think that’s quite unusual too, but it isn’t.
Airshow crashes happen quite a lot. Right back as far as 1911, just a few years after airplanes started flying, there was an airshow crash just like the Shoreham one. You can read the details on Wikipedia if you wish.
At Shoreham, the plane looped, then went into the ground. It happened in Suffolk too, at the little airfield just down the road from me. It was flown by a man called Lt. Otto Jenkins, known to his friends as Dittie. He was killed on 24th March 1945. I was told the story by a man who saw it happen, who’d seen the aircraft fly past at about 20 feet, saw it clip the tree and go straight into the field, where it exploded and burned. There was quite a crowd that day too. Lt Jenkins had told people to watch.
He’d just completed his last mission over Germany. He was going home. When he got back to Leiston airfield he said his last words on earth, over the radio. “I’ll show you flying you’ll never forget.”
He took his Mustang down to get the speed up then looped it, going up and over in a complete circle. Then he decided to go it again, straightaway. According to the mechanics watching, they could hear something wasn’t right. They said it was ‘mushing’ as it went round the second time, trying to press itself out of the loop, skidding downwards out of the circle. There just wasn’t enough speed to make it happen twice.
I met a woman whose aunt dated him, or said she did. He was married, according to the old pilot who told me about it. We went to look for the tree. It was smaller then, but it’s still there. Oak trees are tough stuff.
Lt Jenkins got through several aircraft in the few months he was flying. After the custom of the time he’d named them, first Floogie, then Floogie II, then Toolin’ Fool. then Toolin’ Fool’s Revenge. The pilot who inherited Floogie II. Lt Schlieker, was killed later. He crashed near Butley church, nearby. He was in formation when his flight of four aircraft climbed into the clouds. That was the last anyone ever saw of him. He was identified by a name tag on his shirt. Bad weather and accidents killed more pilots on that airfield than the Luftwaffe ever did.
A badger track leads across the field exactly where there used to be a path the pilots used, but there’s no plank over the ditch any more. The Officer’s Club he watched the show from isn’t there either, and where the Mustang screamed past the huts now it would be flying through a hedge and 70 years of brush that’s grown up since the airmen went home. Not Lt Jenkins. But maybe he was right, somehow. Not everyone’s forgotten his flying.