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20/04/1944 - North American P-51 42-103308

Type Serial No Unit Station  Duty Crew Passengers
P-51C 42-103308 310th Ferry Squadron Warton Ferry Flight 1 0

On the 20th April 1944 at approximately 19:15 hours 1st Lieutenant James L Blanchard took off from Warton in P-51C Mustang 42-103308 for a routine ferry flight to Staplehurst. However it was not long before things started to go wrong which Lieutenant Blanchard describes in his own words.

“Take off was normal, and I pulled up the gear. I turned left out of the traffic pattern. At approximately 500 feet, smoke started to pour from behind the cockpit on my left side. I figured making an emergency landing, but I turned my head back to look at the runway in use, and there were three planes one on the runway starting to take off, and two others right behind it. I decided to land at Burscough”.

“I made a left pattern, lowered my gear on the down wind leg and the indicator showed that the gear was down. I had checked the light immediately after take off, so I was sure the indicator was working. I made a normal approach and touched down in the first 100 yards of the runway. On contact with the ground the right side of the plane went down and it swerved to the right. I thought that the right tire had blown. I shot the throttle to it to go around again and it was then I realized that I had gotten the propeller and that the gear had collapsed. The propeller in this condition shook the ship so much that I could not go round. It was then I cut the throttle and made the belly landing. From were I touched town and gave it the throttle the point were I touched the runway again was about 2,000 feet. The control tower made the statement that during the first touch down and this time I was in the air the gear completely retracted or collapsed”.

“My judgment in this case was influenced by a test pilot that had over 5,000 hours and was my former commanding officer. He taught all his men to consider themselves first in case of fire or chance of fire and if they had a suitable field into which to land, save as much of the ship as possible. In this case the ship was not seriously damaged except for an engine change. This is why I chose to make a normal landing. I could not determine the source of the fire in the air but the amount of smoke in the cockpit was so great that it made landing immediately my only choice".

“Smoke was pouring out on both sides of the cockpit, and smelled like oil smoke. I nosed the aircraft onto the runway and skidded off about 200 feet further onto the grass. I immediately cut all switches and gas. The control tower operator stated that he saw smoke pouring from the ship on the down wind leg and new I was in trouble. As a result of this the ship had hardly come to rest and was not yet out of the cockpit before the fire truck and ambulance arrived. No fire developed however, apparently the cutting of the switches or engine stoppage eliminating the cause of the fire. The odor of the smoke was defiantly that of oil rather than burning rubber or insulation”.

42-103308 crash site

42-103308 crash site

“I was not injured. The ship was damaged very slightly from all that could be observed. The propeller was broken loose at the hub and stopped 50 feet back from the fuselage when it came to rest. I have flown the P-51 a total of approximately 50 hours, and cannot determine the cause for the fire and defective landing lock”.

Sub Lieutenant S S Parker was on duty in the tower and witnessed Lieutenant Blanchard’s arrival as follows,

“At 19:50 hours, April 20th, I was on duty in flying control, Burscough when a Mustang aircraft crash landed at this airdrome. The aircraft approached the field low and was apparently was attempting a landing on a crosswind runway (01/21). I was about to shot a red Very when I saw one go up from our runway van. The aircraft did not pull up so it was evident that he was attempting a forced landing. Due to the fact he was landing on a crosswind runway, which had a tendency to be down runway, it carried the aircraft far down the runway. When the aircraft touched down the under carriage collapsed. The pilot at this point seemed to give the aircraft full throttle for just an instant, the aircraft then settled and slid across the perimeter track on to ground level. I pressed the crash alarm and crash tender etc, were at the scene immediately. The pilot was uninjured, but the aircraft was apparently heavily damaged".

The landing was also witnessed by Sub Lieutenant also on duty in flying control as follows,

“At my first view of the aircraft, smoke appeared to be issuing from the exhaust or cockpit. The wheels appeared to be down at the moment of first impact, my impression was that the undercarriage appeared to fold up or collapse spoiling what would have been a normal landing. The pilot appeared to open the throttle for an instant completing an excellent belly landing further down the runway with the undercarriage completely retracted after the initial touch down".

On the 24th April 1944 after the aircraft had been returned to Warton it was inspected by Master sergeant C Kadow who found a list of 24 items that were damaged on the aircraft ranging from the engine to a bent pitot tube. The aircraft then required 30 corrective actions to make it airworthy again.

42-103308 crash site today

42-103308 crash site today

The opinion of the accident investigation officer was that Lieutenant Blanchard did the right thing under the circumstances landing at Burscough, it was also evident that the mechanical failure that caused the smoke was the initial cause of the accident, the secondary cause was the retraction of the landing gear.

Position Name Rank Service No Age Status
Pilot  James L Blanchard 1st Lieutenant O-464693 - OK

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