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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 58356
Last updated: 15 December 2020
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Type:Silhouette image of generic HUNT model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Hawker Hunter F Mk 5
Owner/operator:263 (Fellowship of the Bellows) Squadron Royal Air Force (263 (Fellowship of the Bellows) Sqn RAF)
Registration: WN989
C/n / msn: S4/U/3976
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:North Sea, 7 miles east of Bawdsey, Suffolk -   United Kingdom
Phase: Manoeuvring (airshow, firefighting, ag.ops.)
Departure airport:RAF Stradishall, Suffolk
Destination airport:
Flying Officer Hedley Molland of No 263 Squadron based at Wattisham, who was destined to be a double ejectee, made history when he ejected from his Hunter Mk.5 (WN989) at 25,000ft at an indicated Mach 1.1. It was fortunate that he was so high because although his True Air Speed (TAS) was around 760 mph, his Indicated Air Speed, which determines the degree of air blast, was about 480kt. The Hunter was not a supersonic aircraft, its maximum speed in level flight is in the order of Mach 0.93, but in a shallow dive from altitude, it could exceed Mach 1.0, a feature which was an attraction at air displays before the supersonic bang created by breaking the so-called sound barrier was banned.

On 3 August 1955, Molland was in a pair of aircraft that had climbed to 40,000 ft to carry out practice interceptions on each other. After 10 minutes of this leader called for a tail chase. Molland acknowledged and the chase was on. Both aircraft were still at 40,000ft with Molland some 400yd behind the leader flying at full throttle at an Indicated Mach Number (IMN) of 0.86, when the leading Hunter went into a steep turn to port. He then straightened out and started a full-throttle dive of about 30. Molland, still about 400yd to the rear, dived his aircraft and was soon touching Mach 0.98. He had just experienced the customary slight forward movement of the stick associated with reaching that Mach number when the leader started to pull out. He tried to follow but although he pulled the stick back to the limit of its travel, the Hunter's nose would not rise.

The nose, in fact, began to drop and the 23-year-old pilot felt himself being lifted slightly from his seat by negative 'g'. Immediately he trimmed full nose up from the half-division nose down he had set before starting the tail chase. He then throttled back but this had no noticeable effect on the angle of dive. At 25,000ft with the stick fully back, the aircraft diving at between 70 and 80, it was quite clear that something was seriously wrong with the Hunter's power controls and recovery was impossible.

So, releasing the stick, Molland put his right hand on the hood jettison release and his left on the ejection seat blind handle. The hood went cleanly, and the air blast swept in, sucking his maps and other loose oddments out of the cockpit. The force of the blast caused his vision to fade so he quickly pulled the blind with his left hand and did not bother to pull his feet back off the rudder bar.

The last he saw of the Mach meter it was registering Mach 1.1. He heard the seat fire, felt himself spinning through space and then blacked out. Recovering consciousness, he found that he was sitting upright in the seat and, looking up, saw the drogues streamed out. His left arm was twisted around the side of the seat and he made several unsuccessful efforts to pull it back. Each time it blew around the side of the seat again and in the end, he decided to let it stay where it was. During the ejection, Molland had lost his left shoe and sock, helmet, oxygen mask, both gloves and his watch which had been on his left wrist. All three dinghy leads had become detached, but he managed to reconnect one of them with his right hand before separation occurred at 10,000ft. There was a jolt as his parachute opened and soon afterward he noticed a circle of foam on the sea where his Hunter had crashed.

Taking stock of his surroundings he worked out that he was going to land some miles off the coast near Felixstowe. Unable to swim, he took no chances and inflated his life jacket whilst still at some height. After splashing in he bobbed to the surface and within a few minutes was picked up by a tug, a crew member from which dived into the sea to help. Later he said that although he had always been comforted by the thought that the seat was there if needed, he didn't think he stood a great chance of escaping at the speed he was traveling. The two actions required at that time to jettison the hood and then operate the seat had led to many discussions in the crew room about the amount of turbulence that would be created once the hood had gone. It was felt that this might well lead to difficulty in ejecting, so Molland and his fellow pilots had spent some time practicing the technique of operating the hood jettison with one hand and the seat blind almost simultaneously with the other.

This worked for him but the one-sided pull on the face blind resulted in his left arm, instead of lying in front of his chest, pulling to the left and being blown around the side of the seat and fractured. His legs too were separated by the ram effect of the air blast and the forceful abduction injured his left hip joint and pelvis. Other injuries consisted of minor bruises including a black eye and small hemorrhages in the eyelids. However, the Mk 2H seat had worked to perfection, and after a period in hospital, Hedley Molland, who at the time of his first ejection had 40 hours on Hunters, returned to flying.


1. Halley, James (1999) Broken Wings Post-War Royal Air Force Accidents Tunbridge Wells: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. p.172 ISBN 0-85130-290-4.
2. Royal Air Force Aircraft WA100-WZ999 (James J Halley, Air Britain, 1983 p 81)
3. Category Five; A Catalogue of RAF Aircraft Losses 1954 to 2009 by Colin Cummings p.148
4. Hawker Hunter 1951 to 2007 p.89

Revision history:

10-Jan-2009 11:55 ASN archive Added
03-Dec-2011 14:46 Dr. John Smith Updated [Operator, Total fatalities, Total occupants, Other fatalities, Location, Country, Phase, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
15-Aug-2012 08:11 Nepa Updated [Aircraft type, Operator]
30-May-2013 13:53 Nepa Updated [Operator, Narrative]
27-Jan-2019 07:41 Updated [Aircraft type, Source, Narrative]
25-May-2020 16:32 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Cn, Location, Source, Narrative]

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