1995 U-2 Crash


In early 1995 when RAF Alconbury in East Anglia, UK closed the 9th
Reconnaissance Wing moved their forward operating location known as
Operating Location-United Kingdom (OL-UK) to RAF Fairford.  The
unit’s three U-2R aircraft and several hundred ground crew took up
residence at the Gloucestershire base at a time when there was
international political interest in the former-Yugoslavia.

 

 

 

Once settled into their new Cotswold
home the unit began flying operational missions on an almost daily
basis.  In fact even today the U-2 is the only aircraft in of the
United States Air Force that flies operational missions everyday of
the year somewhere in the world, and has done for the last five
decades.

On the 29th August 1995 disaster
was to strike.  Captain David Hawkens was to take himself and the
U-2 68-10338 on what was described as a “higher-headquarters tasked
reconnaissance sortie” where “Mooch 31” his mission call sign was
scheduled to “conduct operations at high altitude along a classified
routing” before returning to RAF Fairford eight to ten hours later.
 

When Hawkens took off at 7:27am the
left pogo, a detachable wheel used to stabilise the aircraft’s wings
during ground operations, failed to fall from the aircraft as
expected when the aircraft left the runway.  With the pogo still
attached Hawkens halted the mission and leveled off at 500 feet
before beginning a visual approach to Fairford’s runway 27. 
 

 


The pogo is the orange wheel hanging from the wing

 

The agreed U-2 procedure for a “hung
pogo” was to rock the aircraft’s wings and yaw from side to side
while over a safe area in the hope the pogo would fall off.  In the
case of RAF Fairford the procedure specifically mentioned avoiding
over flying the village of Kempsford and using the area to the south
of the main runway to shake off the pogos while maintaining a
minimum height of 500 feet.

When Hawkens
reached the airfield his Commander on the ground told him to “try
rocking the wings a little bit and kick the rudders”.  The pilot
started shaking and rocking the aircraft but at the same time he was
losing vital speed and altitude. 
 

Just after Hawkens had passed the runway’s midpoint the aircraft
entered a stall during which the left wing dropped and hit the
runway breaking off the wingtip.  The aircraft veered left towards
the grassed infields and a few seconds later the aircraft struck a
power sub-station on the ground and crashed through the base’s
perimeter fence.  It was when the aircraft hit the concrete taxiway
during the bounce that Hawkens ejected.

 


 

The U-2’s ejection system is classed
as “zero-zero” meaning its considered safe for ejection at zero
altitude and zero airspeed however for this to be true the aircraft
must also have no bank angle or sink rate.  At the time of ejection
Hawkens was sinking at a rate of 27 feet per second and the aircraft
was banking 20 degrees to the left.  The seat’s drogue chute
deployed but the main chute didn’t have time to open causing the
pilot to land on his side 150 feet east of the wreckage and still
pointing in the direction of ejection.
 


U-2 ‘338’ on approach just days before the crash

 

Following the ejection the aircraft
came to a halt in a farmer’s field just outside the base perimeter
where the nose broke off and the engine, wings and cockpit section
caught fire.  Five crash rescue vehicles and the Fire Chief arrived
on scene and began tackling the fire while the rescue truck which
had arrived with fire fighters was out searching the crash site for
the pilot.  The Air Force ambulance along with the U-2 unit’s
Physiological Support Division (PSD) truck which had tools on board
to help remove the pilot’s pressure suit helmet also arrived ready
to help once Hawkens had been found.

 

 

 

At the time it wasn’t know that he’d
ejected from the aircraft but once Hawkens had been found and his
injuries inspected it was decided to evacuate him straight away to
the base’s trauma centre before he could be airlifted to the
Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon by a local police helicopter. 
Despite obviously severe injuries the medics continued to try and
stabilise his condition however Captain Hawkens’s autopsy later
described the force at which he hit the ground as being his cause of
death.  His official time of death was recorded as 9:55am, 29th
August 1995.

 


 
Captain David “Hawk” Hawkens came
from a military family in McLean, Fairfax County, North Virginia and
was just 35 when he died.  He’d been flying the U-2 for just over a
year and had flown nine operational missions from RAF Fairford.  The
event made the front pages of the both England and America’s
national newspapers, some of which can be found in the Newspapers
photo album on this site.  In memory of Captain Hawkens there is now
a memorial room on base at RAF Fairford, decorated with photographs
and memorabilia of the U-2 deployment to RAF Fairford between 1995
and 1996.

 

In return for the commitment Captain
Hawkens gave his country David was buried in the Arlington National
Cemetery.
 

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