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That Time Alan Pollock Flew a Hawker Hunter Through Tower Bridge

The Pilot Figured the RAF Wasn’t Doing Enough to Celebrate Their 50th Anniversary

RAF Hunter FGA.9 via Hawker Siddeley Aerospace

With the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) being celebrated all over the UK, this look at a 50th anniversary “celebration” seems in order. In early April of 1968, RAF Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock was frustrated with the state of the RAF. The British aircraft industry had become a shell of its former self. Gone were the days of innovative designs equipping a powerful air British arm and the research and development to deliver more of them. The British government refused to sponsor any public celebrations of the RAF’s 50th anniversary. Even a fancy dinner at the Lancaster House with the Queen was cancelled. This interview with Pollock was uploaded to YouTube by ITV News

On April 5th Pollock was flying with Number 1 (Fighter) Squadron, Number 38 Group out of RAF West Raynham in Norfolk. He was assigned to fly Hawker Hunter FGA.9 XF442 as one in a flight of four Hawker Hunter jets tasked with several military (not open to the public) flying displays as part of an RAF 50th anniversary celebration. Earlier in the month Pollock had taken part in 50th anniversary leaflet raids on other RAF stations. On April 4th Pollock performed an anniversary display at RAF Tangmere in West Sussex. But there were still no displays planned for the “commoners.”

Hunter FGA.9 by Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) (Hunter – RIAT 2010) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Pollock’s return flight path to West Raynham took him close to London. Perhaps it was the meds he was taking for a case of pneumonia. Perhaps it was overall low morale and disdain for the lackluster anniversary events. The fact that historic RAF Tangmere was going to be closed down wasn’t helping his mindset. The fact that no flying displays had been planned for the public was almost certainly a factor. That cancelled dinner with the Queen maybe? But whatever the cause, the effect was sensational. Pollock and his squadron mates took off from RAF Tangmere and set course for RAF West Raynham, but soon after takeoff they were no longer a flight of four.

Hunter flying as adversary with ATAC via US Navy

Pollock first made low and fast passes over RAF Dunsfold and then made his way to London. Pollock made low and fast passes over several parts of London, including three passes over the Houses of Parliament. He then dipped his wings in salute over the Royal Air Force Memorial. Suddenly he found himself facing the famous Tower Bridge. Unable to resist the temptation to fly between the upper and lower spans of the old bridge, he rang up more than 350 knots and did just that- while avoiding one of the ubiquitous double-decker London buses. Pollock said his years of low-level attack training made the decision to fly through the bridge simple. He became the only pilot to fly a jet through the bridge.

Tower Bridge in London via public domain

On his way back to West Raynham, Pollock proceeded to fly over RAF Wattisham, RAF Lakenheath, and RAF Marham. At 400 knots. At 200 feet. Inverted. When Pollock landed back at RAF West Raynham he was promptly arrested by Flying Officer Roger Gilpin and grounded. Number 1 (Fighter) Squadron, RAF, was soon deployed to North Africa without Pollock. The RAF considered court martialing Pollock, but no charges were filed against him by the London police and his actions were not exactly universally frowned upon. Many in the RAF actually supported Pollock’s sentiment if not his expression thereof. The RAF ended up discharging the 32 year old father of four on medical grounds instead. Pollock cleared his name in 1982, having already become a successful businessman in the UK.

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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