Langford History Soc Crest
Langford History Society
 

Aviation incidents
For a village that has no airfield and no obvious connection with aviation apart from nearby Old Warden and RAF Henlow, Langford has seen four aviation incidents over the years, the earliest only 10 years after the dawn of the air age.

The photographs and some of the information below formed part of the collection of the late Malcolm Handscombe, a local photographer, which he left to the Society.

1912/1913: Short S38 lands on the Mushroom Meadow
The aircraft, a Short S38, one of a batch with maker’s numbers 554–562, was used by the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps and was a pusher biplane and a large aircraft for that time, having a 52 foot wing span, a length of 36 feet and a wing area of 500 square feet. It was taking part in manoeuvres when it made a forced landing in Langford.

Naval Plane 1
Naval Plane 2
Naval Plane 3
Naval Plane 4

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

Mr Handscombe’s note with the photographs places the incident in September 1913, but the description at page 25 of Langford through the Lens (vol. 1, 1990) said it took place in October 1912 and states that the landing took place on ‘Mr Inskip’s land, mid-way between Baulk House and the sewage works’. The Pilot Officer of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps was following the railway line when he lost sight of it in the mist and decided to land wherever he could. The landing caused great excitement in the village but the plane was quickly removed.

This type of aircraft was very flimsy and had a service life of just one year. The one that was used by the Central Flying School was wrecked by a gust of wind.

Hawker Hind trainer, Balls Farm, 24 February 1941
A Hawker Hind trainer, L7226, and belonging to 501 squadron, RAF, built in 1938, crashed at Balls Farm, Langford, on 24 February 1941.

Hawker Hind 1
Hawker Hind 2

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

The Hawker Hind, designed by Sir Sydney Camm (designer of the Hurricane), began to replace the Hawker Hart as the RAF’s standard light bomber in late 1935. The prototype flew on 12 September 1934, and was really an improved Hart with a more powerful engine and better aerodynamics. 527 Hinds were built, and it equipped 47 RAF bomber squadrons from 1935 to 1939, until replaced by more modern aircraft. 501 Squadron RAF flew Hawker Hinds from March 1938 to March 1939 when they were replaced by Hurricanes but the aircraft that crashed at Langford, L7226, was retained as a trainer. It was probably on a flight from 501 Squadron’s base at Filton, near Bristol, when it crashed. The Hind differed from the Hart in having a tail-wheel in place of a skid, a better exhaust system and a cutaway rear cockpit to give the gunner a better view.

There is very little other information due probably to wartime restrictions.

Hunting Jet Provost, Langford Common, 16 November 1960
Just before lunch time on Wednesday 16 November 1960 a Jet Provost blew up over the village. The wreckage was scattered over a wide area but fortunately fell in open spaces so that nobody on the ground was injured and there was no damage to property.

Hunting Jet Provost 1
Hunting Jet Provost 2

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

One of our members recalls: ‘I was playing in the village on that day, as were most Langford kids who were off school, as it was General Election day. When the plane exploded, most people thought that fragments of falling plane (glinting in the sun) were party political leaflets! One of the plane wings landed close to the school.’

The aircraft involved was G-AOUS which was a T2B development aircraft owned by Hunting Aircraft, Luton. The pilot, Lt Cdr J R S (‘Jack’) Overbury, 35, of Studham, Nr Whipsnade, sadly died in the accident. The accident occurred when the aircraft was recovering from a dive, the nosewheel doors opened which were then ripped off, this affected the balance of the aircraft and it went into a nose-high attitude. The aircraft was severely overstressed and the wings detached causing it to disintegrate over Langford. The cause of the undercarriage doors opening at speed was that the nosewheel had been lowered on a previous flight, then raised by the emergency undercarriage system and it was not locked in place. This additional information was supplied by The Jet Provost File, http://jetprovost.org a history-based web site listing the histories of every Jet Provost built.

Mr Overbury had served in the Fleet Air Arm as a Lieutenant Commander and had won two international point to point records. In 1954 he flew a Sea Hawk from London to Amsterdam at 571 mph and in 1955 a Sea Venom from Rome to Malta at 531 mph. He joined Saunders Roe in 1956 and assisted with the experimental rocket powered SR53, which in 1953 killed John Booth, the chief test pilot. In the same year Mr Overbury was badly injured in a crash at Sandown. He was told he was permanently grounded but four months and four operations later he had recovered and was allowed to fly again from 1959.

 

Glider No 73
Glider No 73 belonging to the RAF Glider and Sailplane Association forced landed on Langford Playing Field sometime in the early 1950s and was photographed by Malcolm Handscombe. We heard from Nigel Perry, who was an Air Cadet instructor at Henlow for 12 years, 1981–1993, in April 2016,that the glider is a Slingsby Skylark 3F andindeed owned by the RAFGSA. The glider was in a competition from the London Regionals at Dunstable.The date was Monday, 28 July 1958. The pilot was Flying Officer Dave Cretney and the article in Sailplane & Gliding magazine for October 1958 states that he landed on a playing field three miles East of Henlow having flown 17 miles from Dunstable. On 2 August he flew the glider to Martlesham Heath and won an award for the best flight. Dave Cretney was on an exchange posting with the US Air Force later and in 1964 piloted the B-52 mother ship for the X-15 rocket plane.

Glider 1
Glider2

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

Fatal accident in 1904
Sir William Rattigan (1842–1904), a distinguished judge in India and the grandfather of the playwright Terence Rattigan, was motoring through Langford in July 1904 when his hired Darracq car left the road. As the car approached an awkward turn in the road at 10 mph it overturned:

‘Sir William was thrown against the glass screen in front of the car and Lady Rattigan and the chauffeur were imprisoned beneath the glass screen. Some labourers rushed forward to render assistance and found Sir William was dead. They extricated Lady Rattigan, who was suffering from cuts and shock.’
[Bedfordshire Times]

The body was taken to The Boot public house which probably indicates that the incident took place at The Boot corner where the road was improved many years later. The Coroner’s inquest was held a few days later at the Corner House, which used to stand on the south side of the junction between The Leys and the High Street. The roadworthiness of the car was not discussed but the coroner needed to decide whether anyone was to blame. The car was hired out by Rawlings of Gloucester Road, London, even though it had previously been in collision with a coal cart. A verdict of accidental death was returned, for although ‘the car was not in a fit condition to go on a journey’, the driver was ‘acting under the instructions of his masters’ and was exonerated from all blame.
[Details from Bedfordshire by Simon Houfe (Pimlico, 1995).]