Incident involving KG651 when flying as civil aircraft G-AMHJ
If you have visited Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre or follow the restoration of our Douglas Dakota KG651, you will know that the aircraft is displayed at the museum in her RAF military “olive drab” paint scheme with serial number KG651. This represents how the aircraft would have looked whilst in RAF service from 1944 to 1946. Thereafter, she spent most of her working life in civilian clothes under the civil registration G-AMHJ. This is why we offer our Dakota key rings in both military and civil versions as many people have an interest in, or association with, the aircraft from its time flying for various civil airlines. One such person is Mike Le Galle who contacted us after purchasing a G-AMHJ key ring to say he had a story relating to our aircraft. In turns out Mike flew G-AMHJ whilst it was in service with Intra Airways and to say his story was interesting would be an understatement so, in Mike’s own words, here it is............
“4th April 1978 was a date I will not forget. I was a Captain with Intra Airways in Jersey, Channel Islands, and that day our first flight was from Jersey to Staverton (formerly RAF Staverton and now Gloucestershire Airport) then back to Jersey.
Myself and F/O Clive along with CC Fiona pre flight checked DC-3 G-AMHJ and we had around 25 passengers and around half fuel for the short flight to Staverton. History tells us that Intra at the time was one of the last operators to use the DC-3 for scheduled passenger operations in Europe.
The take off and flight up to Staverton from Jersey was normal and we arrived overhead the Staverton NDB beacon ready for the non-precision approach. The weather was not brilliant however and the cloud base was around 600ft with easterly surface winds which allowed the approach to runway 09 at Staverton.
Just as we arrived overhead the NDB beacon there was a huge bang accompanied by lots of vibration, which, as I was handling pilot, felt like a starboard engine failure, as the old pilot adage of ‘dead leg dead engine’ was clear and this along with low starboard engine RPM seemed to indicate the starboard engine. Just to check I asked the F/O Clive to look out his side window and when he looked back at me, he said nothing, but I instantly knew it was the starboard engine, as his expression was one of fear and his face was pale. Only later on the ground did I really realise why his expression had changed.
We shut down the starboard engine, increased power on the live port engine and I trimmed the aircraft. Airspeed was quickly dropping, however I managed to get airspeed stabilised at the minimum single engine speed of 86 knots.
With the undercarriage up and flaps at 11° down and maintaining airspeed of 86kts, it soon became clear that level flight was not possible, indeed the best we would manage was around 500fpm down.
This was turning into our unlucky but also lucky day, as the descent profile from over the beacon was for about 500fpm descent, going 5nm out turning back and 5nm inbound to the runway.
This we did, holding full power on the port P&W 1830 engine, just holding the descent profile, and leaving the undercarriage up until we became visual with the runway at 600ft, and landing with only the 11° flap.
Staverton in those days had the small passenger terminal at the far end of runway 09, and only a small curved taxiway from the runway, so as luck would have it, I managed to turn right at the runway end, and slide to a parking position without having to use any power.
Once stopped, we let the passengers disembark from the port rear door, they must have looked back, but would not have seen the damage to the starboard engine. Clive and myself left and followed them, we walked around to the starboard side, now I knew why Clive had looked so pale.
The starboard engine had failed in spectacular fashion; a conrod had snapped pushing the cylinder outwards and destroying the petal cowlings on that side. They had splayed out without detaching from the aircraft thus forming a huge air brake on the outside of the engine. Also, as the propeller feathered it pushed the detached cowlings further back and jamming them in the open position - no wonder we had been unable to hold level altitude.
An engineer arrived shaking his head as he put up a trestle and from the inside of the cowling produced a hand full of oil and bits of broken engine. Not long after, the local police arrived and they opened the back of their squad car to show us the broken oily bits of P&W engine, which they had picked up from the B4063 road. Thankfully they had fallen without causing any damage or injuries.
After Intra sent a replacement DC-3 G-AMYJ up to Staverton, we positioned as passengers back to Jersey, only to be asked to fly that days' late Jersey-Dinard-Jersey schedule DC-3 rotation with G-AMYJ.
The story had a significant twist, as the following day the Chief Piot called me into his office. I thought ‘I’m for it now’, but no, he said ‘Le Galle you keep breaking our DC-3s so we are putting you back on the Viscount as Captain’. I had flown it as F/O, and two days later I was in Sumburgh, flying training for my LHS Viscount conversion.
4th April 1978 remains a significant day for me.”
Mike Le Galle, January 2021
Mike Le Galle who flew G-AMHJ for Intra Airways in the 1970s.
The damaged cylinder and cowling
Another angle of the damaged cylinder and cowling
This photo clearly shows how the damaged cowling, pushed back through almost 90 degrees, would have acted as an effective air brake!
G-AMHJ on the apron at Staverton ready to fly again after being repaired. You can see the shiny new cowling!
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