The Story of Shark 517

On the 27 July 1940 F/L A. Simpson, the Blackburn Shark 517Signals Officer for #6 (B.R.) Squadron in Alliford Bay wanted to flight test a new wireless set and the modified crate (rack) it was to be installed in so he requested that the Operations Officer F/L Doyle schedule an aircraft for the test flight. Doyle told him to install it in Shark 517 and that afternoon after the aircraft was modified F/O Halpenny requested that he be tasked to fly it. He was briefed to carry out diving tests and tight turns as the crate had to be tested under dive bombing conditions. He was instructed to get plenty of height and put some stress on the new gear. F/L Simpson the Signals Officer and LAC Richardson a signals tech went with him to operate the equipment.

The weather was clear with some scattered to broken cloud at 5000’, winds were westerly at 10-12 mph. The aircraft took off at 1555 and climbed to altitude over Skidigate and did one dive then climbed back up to 5000’ and started another dive over Bush Island. This one was steeper than normal and the pitch increased to nearly vertical and the power was at max. When he tried to pull out at 1000’ parts of the aircraft fell off and the aircraft plunged into the water and burst into flames. All occupants were killed instantly. Witnesses were unanimous in stating the dive was much steeper and the speed much higher than normal and the engine was at or near full power all the way down. There is disagreement whether the port wing or one of the elevators or maybe an aileron came off at about 1000’ however the starboard aileron and elevator were found some distance from the crash and there was a tear on the left wing fabric with indications that the left wing broke off before the crash. The stabilizer was set to full nose down, the throttle was wide open and the airspeed indicator had broken at 300 kts when the aircraft crashed at 1620. It had been airborne 25 minutes. The fuselage was broken in three places and two of the wires showed previous damage, wings were completely demolished.

Following the accident dive bombing was no longer authorized, the maximum speed permitted for the Shark was restricted to 150 mph and the wings were strengthened.

A possible contributing factor was that Shark wings after being overloaded were being badly deformed which meant that in 517’s case the airflow might have broken down coupled with the nose heavy tail setting resulted in the aircraft being unable to pull out of the dive. Shark 517 had previously crashed on landing at Prince Rupert on the 26 May 1940 and the port wing assembly, tail, and elevators had to be replaced. The aircraft had flown 80.55 hours since the repairs.

Crew

F/O Robert M Halpenny Pilot C 1296 KIA

F/L Allen Simpson Signals Officer C1127 KIA

LAC Robert L Richardson Wireless Tech 4056 KIA

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 Crash Location

53°12’50.09″N   132° 0’14.33″W

 Cairn Location

53°12’55.55″N   131°59’28.58″W

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