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Youth Club

The Swallow 
The De Havilland 108 Crash
15 February 1950

The de Havilland 108 was a swept wing high speed research aircraft built to explore the effects of high speed flight close to the speed of sound.  Powered by a de Havilland Goblin jet engine, the aircraft was constructed using a standard de Havilland Vampire fuselage with a newly designed swept back wing at the de Havilland factory at Hatfield.  Three aircraft were built for the programme: TG283, TG306 in 1946 and VW120 in 1947. Click here to see a photograph of VW120 The story of the three prototypes is told in the book by Brian Rivas A Very British Sound Barrier - DH108: A Story of Courage, Triumph and Tragedy.

TG306 crashed on 27th September 1946 killing the pilot Geoffrey de Havilland during a high speed dive.  TG283 crashed on 1st May 1950 killing the pilot George Genders whilst carrying out stalling trails at Hartley Wintney.

VW120 crashed on 15 February 1950 at Little Brickhill whilst involved in transonic dive research, killing the pilot Squadron Leader Stuart Muller-Rowland.  The test flight was supposed to examine the effects of change from sub-sonic to transonic flight, but the aircraft is thought to have broken up whilst in a dive.  The inquest into Muller-Rowland's death was opened two days later by North Bucks Coroner Mr E T Ray at Bletchley.  Witnesses told of hearing an explosion.  (Note: it is not clear if this "explosion" was the cause of the aircraft breaking up or a sonic boom.)

Some of the wreckage came down at Little Brickhill, the cockpit came down somewhere near Bow Brickhill church.  Other pieces were found as far away as Husborne Crawley.  Muller-Rowland's body was found near Sandy Lane between Bow Brickhill and Woburn Lane.  Woburn, Bletchley and Leighton Buzzard fire brigades were all called out to attend the accident.  Because of the secrecy of the aircraft the local police sealed the area to keep the public away, and after the crash police officers visited local schools to appeal for any 'souvenirs' to be returned.

Stuart Muller-Rowland was born on 27th November 1921 in Woking, Surrey.  During the war he flew Bristol Blenheim bombers with 60 Squadron in India, later flying Bristol Beaufighters with 211 Squadron in Burma.  After the war, with the rank of Squadron Leader, he joined the Empire Test Pilots School, completing No. 6 course.  He was posted to the Royal Aircraft Establishment in 1948 and was named DH 108 pilot for the high speed programme.

VW120 was the first British aircraft to break the sound barrier on 6th September 1948 piloted by John Derry.  In fact VW 120 was only the third aircraft ever to fly at Mach 1.  VW 120's first flight was on 24th July 1947 piloted by John Cunningham.  The three de Havilland 108 aircraft made a total of 480 flights that greatly explained a lot of the questions that needed to be answered about the transition to sonic flight, although all three aircraft eventually crashed killing their test pilots.  Unofficially the DH 108 was known as "The Swallow".

The information above is from Jack Bromfield
Buckinghamshire Aircraft Recovery Group, Bletchley Park

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