Triple Trouble

By BAD-2 UK

It was a rare occasion that Warton’s short runways were used for taking off and landing. The strips of concrete would usually be lined with aircraft awaiting their onward ferry to their respective airfields. However, on the 5th of October 1944, strong winds at the airfield rendered BAD-2’s main runway unusable. In order to keep the busy airfield up and running, runway 15/33 was cleared of aircraft and opened to flights.

It took skill to land on 15/33. The short runway was at least 1,700 feet shorter than the main and, where the two met, a depression had formed. The dip in the runway meant that, if unprepared, the aircraft you were landing was likely to get airborne again – with very little room to stop once you’d landed for the second time.

John B. Graef lined B-24J Liberator “44-40456” up for landing over the River Ribble. He had adjusted his approach ready to tackle the short runway in the large bomber. The Liberator touched down and made its way down the runway, towards the infamous dip. The aircraft was carrying too much speed as the aircraft hit the dip, it took to the air and Captain Graef instantly brought the nose down in an attempt to get the bomber back on the ground. He was successful, but the trip into the air meant that the aircraft wasn’t going to be able to stop before the runway ended. Nevertheless, Captain Graef took to the brakes. The aircraft squirmed and the brakes screeched as it approached the end of the runway. Ground crews could only look on as the bomber departed the runway, ripping off its nosewheel as the aircraft dug into the grass. Captain Graef left the aircraft and was taken to the base hospital as a precaution.

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Flying Control decided that the ditched Liberator wasn’t too much of a hazard as to black the airfield. The large demand from the base meant that closing the airfield to flights would have a detrimental effect. BAD-2 had handled 1,874 landings in October 1943, an average of 55 flights a day, and the work rate had only increased by the time October 1944 came round. Warton was handling so many flights in October 1944 Flying control introduced separate call signs for station aircraft, 87th ATG aircraft based at BAD-2, and ferrying aircraft, to avoid confusion.

As crews worked on the Liberator, BAD-2 test pilot Pete Manassero brought A-20 Havoc “44-561” back from a test flight and lined up for final approach. The A-20 landed and carried on towards the wrecked B-24. The aircraft hit the dip and became airborne. Lt. Manassero saw the beached Liberator and took action, steering his aircraft clear as soon as it touched back down. The Havoc veered off the runway and slid across the grass beyond the Liberator, its landing gear digging into the soft ground. Lt. Manassero climbed out of the aircraft and went to join Captain Graef at the base hospital.

Undeterred by the incidents at the end of the runway, Flying Control kept the runway open to aircraft.

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Retrieval efforts continued at the end of 15/33 as Malcolm A. Stewart ferried P-51D “44-14608” in to Warton from Speke. The aircraft hadn’t been in the country for long, only recently arriving via cargo ship at Liverpool docks. Cleared for landing, he brought the aircraft in only to suffer the same fate as the other two aircraft. For the third time that day, the aircraft went airborne after hitting the dip in the runway. Stewart quickly brought the aircraft back down, but instantly applied full power to the Mustang in order to avoid the two aircraft. The torque from the engine took over, and the aircraft ground looped off the runway into the grass. Malcolm Stewart climbed out of the Mustang through a split in the fuselage and, as the other two pilots, was sent to visit the base hospital.

All three pilots were unharmed, whilst all three aircraft were written off. Subsequent investigation deemed that the change in runway, due to the wind speed and direction, and the depression in the strip were the cause of all three incidents.

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