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13/10/1943 - North American Mustang III FX919  

Type Serial No Unit   Base   Duty   Crew   Passengers  
Mustang III   FX919   Ministry of Aircraft Production   Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's Factory, Speke   Test Flight   1   0  

On the 13th October 1943 this aircraft was undergoing its first flight after re-assembly at the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's Factory at Speke Airport. It was accepted for flight test by a Mr John Patrick Wakelin Topham, and after a normal engine run up became airborne at 17:40 hours. The take off was made on the South-North runway and appeared to be normal. Shortly after leaving the boundaries of the airfield and whilst flying North in the direction of Garston, the engine appeared to cut and the aircraft turned to port in the direction of the River Mersey as if doing a normal circuit. The cockpit hood was then observed to leave the aircraft and it fell in Garston Docks. The aircraft lost height and finally belly landed on a mud bank in the middle of the River Mersey.

Examination of the ground at the scene of the crash enabled witnesses to conclude that the pilot had made a perfect belly landing, but ridged formation of the sand banks caused the aircrafts fuselage to break behind the radio compartment and the pilot to be thrown out, the pilots straps were also found to be undone. As no suitable boat was available, approximately thirty minutes elapsed before anyone reached the wrecked aircraft. The two witnesses who reached the scene of the accident first found the pilot lying beside the aircraft under the tail plane.

Examination of the aircraft showed it was intact apart from the break in the fuselage, removal of the propeller and reduction gear, and impacting of the outer portion of the starboard wing. The engine and its installation were intact but had suffered from immersion in sea water. The cockpit was practically intact and the settings of controls and switches were as would be expected, except for the priming pump and emergency boost control. The former was in the unlocked position and the latter was broken off apparently as the result of impacting by the pilots leg or boot. The emergency boost control was in the "on" position and may have been pulled by the pilot prior to the crash. The rear mirror was also cracked.

The engine was in good mechanical condition, fuel tank and carburetor vents were clear and the booster pumps delivered an adequate flow of fuel to the engine fuel pump. The engine fuel pump and Stromberg carburetor were taken to Rolls Royce Ltd. Derby. Tests with a British Merlin engine similar to the Packard but with slightly different supercharger ratios revealed that the carburetor provided too weak a mixture. The fuel pump gave an adequate output..

Also on the 18th October 1943 another Packard Merlin engine Mustang cut shortly after taking off from Speke . This aircraft was being delivered to the USAAF. The pilot reported that he could not get fuel boost. He experienced spluttering but got up to 7,000 feet. On returning to belly land at Speke the engine cut completely at 3,000 feet. His fuel pressure gauge was reading high 17 to 18 lbs, indicating a probable blockage in the carburetor. The Stromberg carburetor was subjected to a bench flow test at Burtonwood and stripped, but no fault was found.

The investigation, No W1681 by the Accidents Investigation Branch into the crash of FX919 drew the following conclusions,

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The accident was caused by the engine cutting after take off, all evidence pointed to the cut being due to fuel starvation. The cause of the starvation was unknown at the time. 

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The pilot would have probably escaped serious injury had he been strapped in. It was believed he was strapped in at the commencement of the flight but undid the straps with the possible intention of bailing out.

bulletHalf an hour elapsed before rescuers were able to reach the wrecked aircraft. As the River Mersey is almost three miles wide opposite the airport, a suitable power driven boat should be kept near the airport and maintained so that it can set off at a moments notice. In view of the dangerous sand banks at low tide a shallow draught boat with protected propeller would be preferable.

Mustang FX919 was built under contract No AC-33923 and originally had the USAAF code No  43-12447, and arrived at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's Factory on the 7th October 1943 and was struck of charge on the 14th October 1943.

John Topham who was aged 30 and was from London and unmarried, he had previously served in the RAF. He was issued a Certificate of airworthiness for a Hawk Major M. 2F 166 No G-ADGL on the 24th May 1935 at Lympne, this aircraft was subsequently destroyed by enemy action at Lympne in June 1940.

John Topham's Grave

John Topham's Grave

John Topham who lived in Reservoir Road, Woolton was  buried in Allerton Cemetery CE section 2F grave No 388 on the 16th October 1943, the service was conducted by Rev W Chipping, among the many wreaths was a large one from the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

John Topham was a boyhood hero of Brian  Walker who recently recalled his memories of John Topham "At the time we were pretty upset, Topham had been my boyhood hero and had been the one to invite us in on Saturday afternoons, we never managed to wrangle a flight but sat in just about every type passing through the assembly plant, happy days. He had all the right credentials, good looking, an enormous red sports car with chromium plated exhaust pipes and heavy leather straps holding down the long bonnet, the black Labrador that used to great him after each flight, it was a sad day for that dog too. He told me that the Mustang was the best of the lot" 

Basil Adair (Buddy) Blythe a fellow Lockheed test pilot witnessed the aircraft gliding, he then took of in another aircraft to locate  John Topham and found the aircraft about 1/2 mile from the shore, the cockpit was empty and saw two men on the sandbank and concluded that one was the pilot and returned to Speke, were nothing had been heard of Topham. He returned to the shore and undressed, then swam out to the sandbank and met two men who had got there by boat, they told him that they had found the pilots body and taken it ashore.

William Mansell, a dock gateman at Garston witnessed something fall of the aircraft and then saw it hit the sandbank.

Position Rank   Name   Service No   Age   Status  
Pilot   Test Pilot   John Patrick Wakelin Topham   Civilian 29 Killed  

Speke Incidents

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