Supermarine Spitfire MK IX FN-F

Bailout from Spitfire

Leif Lyngby

This happened on August 9th 1951, as the 331 Squadron at Vaernes in Norway was approaching the end of its proud era as a Spitfire squadron. I had been posted, together with some of my classmates, directly from the flight academy to 331 from May 20th the same year.

Having just returned from vacation, I did a trip with FN-T practising blind-flying the day before. This Tuesday I had been scheduled for camera training together with Reidar Ludt. He was to do attack training with me as his target, fortunately using the gun-camera instead of the real thing.

We buckled up and started the engines, Reidar taxed out first. The time was 1206 PM when we reached takeoff position, the tower gave clearance and Reidar in FN-T blasts off. Seconds later I'm letting go of the brakes, due to the immense tourqeeffect, right pedal all the way in, the stick max to the right before I moved the throttle slowly forward. The tail section came up immediately, and as the speed increased, use of rudder and aileron could be reduced. After a few hundred yards I pulled the stick back and we were airborne. Then the left hand works the stick, the undercarriage was lifted with the right and as I reached a secure height the hood was pulled forward and locked.

FN-T increases his (its?) altitude slowly outwards the Trondheimsfjord, and I followed in FN-F. As we reached the Frostaland shore across the fjord, Reidar asked me on the radio to fly on courses parallel with the shore at 2000 feet, as he would practice attacks from various altitudes and angles.

I turned to a north-east course over the water, and FN-T started one attack after another. We continued the exercise for a while; time is now past 1230. This is when I suddenly get a feeling that something is wrong, but it's impossible to say what. Neither Reidar nor myself had more than 18-19 hours on the Spit', and we had about 200 hours fly time logged altogether. Not a lot of routine to depend on!

I checked the instruments, but no faults were indicated. My uneasiness remained, but I wouldn't risk the embarrassment in aborting merely on a hunch. My hand reached for the radio button several times, but I changed my mind.

I turned towards the shore again in order to fly south-west. Suddenly a series of loud bangs were heard from the engine as it shook violently - white steam from glycol poured out of the exhaust, then everything was dead quiet. I had just reached the shoreline, so I turned out towards the water.

There are stories of how one's entire life passes by in seconds when faced with a situation like this, however, this did not happen in my case. My first thought was how I would be the first one to "go" from my class. The 331 Squadron had lost two pilots earlier the same year. The last one was Ivar Stroem who crashed the day I arrived at the Squadron; he was stuck in cockpit when attempting to jump. The next thought that entered my mind was "What about the party on Saturday, I'm in the arrangement committee!?"

Less than a second later the fight for my life had started. An emergency landing was out of the question. The Squadron leader, Major Ullestad, was a W.W.II veteran and well known for his forthright statements. If we ever experienced trouble in a reasonable altitude, all attempts to perform an emergency landing were strictly prohibited. Too many had tried with fatal results. If anyone still did it, and survived, the happiness would be short-lived - as Major Ullestad would personally execute us! Consequently, jumping was the only option!

At the top of the windshield was a small black knob. By pulling it, the wires connected to it would release the locking pins for the hood to enable it to blow off. I grasped the release-knob with both hands and jerked it down, and at the same time I pushed my elbows out into the sides of the hood to release it. But the hood was still firmly in place, and I was holding the reason in my hands - two corroded stubs of wire! They were torn of without having released the locking pins.

The speed of the plane had to be reduced towards 120 knot to be able to pull the hood backwards. When I reached the lower speed, I could open it. I released the safety harness, disconnected the oxygen tube and the radio-wire and was ready to get out. However, while doing all of this I hadn't kept an eye on the speed. The next moment the Spitfire stalls, the right wing drops and I found myself in straight dive towards the sea surface! I was already unbuckled, but managed to get a grip around the stick with my right hand, pulled myself back into the seat and placed my feet on the pedals. The dive was nearly vertical at this point. I pulled the stick with all the force I could muster, and right before hitting the surface I was on the way up again.

As soon as the nose pointed above the horizon I held the stick back, and set full nose down trim. I managed to lift one foot up onto the edge of the seat and gave full aileron to the left. The moment I let the stick go the down trim pressed the nose down, and as I simultaneously pushed off with my leg I was thrown out of cockpit.

I felt a slight rub against my back, and then I swirled out into the air. I straightened my body to stop the rotation, pulled the release handle and the parachute opened momentarily. I looked down as I descended; the seasurface was just beneath my heels , I inflated the life vest and - splash! My speed as I hit the water must have been fairly high, as I went down quite a bit before the life vest was fully inflated and started the ascent up to the surface again.

As I got my head above water I noticed that the parachute strings had got tangled around my legs, and I had to remove my boots to get loose. I got the dinghy inflated and pulled myself onboard. Reidar came down and waved his wings before returning to base. Paddling around, I started to pick up some of the debris and equipment that was floating about.

I had noticed some activity on the shore, and pretty soon several rowing boats were on their way towards me. As the harvesting season had started most people worked outdoors, and many had noticed what happened. The first rower that reached me was a holidaymaker from Trondheim, I later learned. As his boat neared the dinghy, he stood up and looked at me, then he formally stretched out his hand and presented himself. I was probably as confused as he was in this situation, so I tried to be polite and made a, not too successful, attempt to stand up in the dinghy, and take his hand. "May I invite you over into my boat", he said, and I accepted gladly!
The other boats had reached the area, and continued to collect the dinghy and my parachute, which I had managed to tie to the dinghy to prevent sinking.
We reached the shore in a short time, arriving at a place called Ekne. I was brought to the nearest farm, and given clothes from the farmer himself - twice my size - but nice and dry!

People were arriving from all over the area to see what was going on. Pretty soon the long tables had been carried out from the barn and placed in the formal living room. The tables were set, and in no time at all we were about 50 people enjoying coffee and cakes. The host and myself were at the high end of the table; he had produced a bottle of Aquavit, which we shared between
the two of us. We toasted each other frequently and were in excellent spirits!

After about one and a half hour the ambulance from Vaernes arrived at the farm, they had spent some time finding their way on the country roads. After having searched for me on the beach they were pointed towards the farm. I had to bid my host and new-found friends goodbye, thanking them for a great spur-of-the-moment party!

When we got outdoors, the medic insisted on giving me an anti-trauma injection. I to explained to him I had already ingested plenty of the sorts, however, it was difficult to convince him. We finally reached an agreement - I would carry the stretcher to the ambulance, and they would collect the equipment left on the beach. We got on our way back after a while - but the corporal stopped the car and tried to talk me into having an injection again. He gave up, and we returned to Vaernes.

Upon arrival at 331 I was sent directly to the Squadron leader, the Station commander was present as well. I had to give a vocal report on the incident before I was sent to the hospital for a check-up.

I lost my leather jacket, had to fill out a Loss & Damage Report and was fined 50 Norwegian Kroner for my dawdling. My leather jacket was, by the way, received by mail from Ekne 3 days later.

The conclusion of the Commission was that the intercooler had cracked, causing the glycol to flow into the cylinders together with the gas. The intercooler cools the gas down after it has passed the turbo.