William (Bill) T. Coulter trained at No. 36 Service Flying
Training School (SFTS), Penhold, from January until
In the following excerpt, he describes a mid-air collision
that occurred over one of the schools satellite fields.
To speed up training, a couple of satellite fields were used
for circuit and landing training. The
field we used was a bare field, with three runways arranged
in a triangle—one runway being active, the other two
being used for taxi purposes. A mobile control tower
was driven alongside the take-off point of the active
runway and controlled take offs and landings by means of
an Aldis lamp....
We could watch the approach path to see the aircraft arriving and be ready for our turn to use the runway. There
were two aircraft on approach, both on the centre line and
with nearly the same rate of descent. As they got nearer
the runway, it was obvious that the second aircraft was too close
and descending slightly faster than the leading one.
Vision forward and down was not available in the Oxford
while seated in the cockpit, so the lower aircraft was hidden
from the upper aircraft’s crew.
The controller was out of the cab with the lamp lead at
full stretch, trying to shine a red at number two from a position
where number one could not see it. If number one tried to overshoot,
he would go straight into the path of number two. The longer the
controller waited, the worse the situation became. He went
from cab to the full extent of the lamp, led away from the
runway and sighted his lamp without success. He rushed towards
the runway, still with no luck.
At 30 feet above the ground, the top aircraft hit the
bottom one. A heap of wood engines and bodies landed at
the threshold. My instructor leaned over and said, "No one will walk away from that mess." To our amazement
the pile shook and four people got out to brush themselves
down, shook hands and walked away. It was the ultimate heavy
landing—the engines of the top aircraft lay alongside
the engines of the bottom aircraft, so close was the alignment
of the airframes on impact.