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Why I Flew my Hunter through Tower Bridge - 5th April 1968 by Flight Lieutenant Al Pollock
Thanks to Al Pollock and Flypast Magazine

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1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesALAN POLLOCK, the man who flew a Hunter Jet through the middle of Tower Bridge on April 5, 1968 has agreed to tell his own story exclusively to FlyPast.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHis daredevil antics caused a storm of controversy at the time, but the Royal Air Force refused to court martial him, preferring, instead to have a Medical Board discharge him.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHe was not court martialled, he claims, because his outspoken views on the fighting effectiveness of the Royal Air Force and the lack of RAF 50th anniversary flying celebrations in l968, might provide embarassing publicity.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesIt has also since transpired that his one-man anniversary display inadvertently co-incided with the recently exposed 'coup plot' against Prime Minister Harold Wilson's Labour Government.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesNow, for the first time since the incident, he has agreed to reveal why he made his incredible flight, which captured the country's imagination and describe his fascinating personal account of that fateful day.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesA graduate prizewinner from RAF Training College Cranwell, Mr Pollock was a fighter leader and instructor and saw active operational service in the Middle East and served as Aide-de-Camp to a NATO Air Commander.   One of the three pre-formation founders of the Red Arrows aerobatic team, he held the rare 'exceptional' RAF fast jet pilot rating.

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Alan Pollock at the controls of a Yellowjack Gnat, part of the low-level aerobatic display team, forerunners of the Red Arrows.
Painting by Rex Flood.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesApril Fool's Day, 1968, was the 50th Anniversary of the forming of the Royal Air Force.   For 50 years the Royal Air Force had independently provided the effective instrument of air power for the United Kingdom.   The service was rightly proud of its short but splendid heritage and in half a century's experience of the "constancy of change", the fighting tradition of the RAF had been built up, but with a heavy annual toll of young lives in both war and peace.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesEarly in 1968, and following the well established routines of her squadrons, it was generally assumed throughout the Air Force that, on this historic day, some form of Anniversary flypast over London would provide the highlight of the day's special events.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesNearer the day itself and despite earlier expectations and discussions, it became obvious that no formal flypast was going to take place.   Only a Royal Anniversary Dinner and pedestrian groundborne parades would remind the nation's backbone of the Air Force's first proud 50 years.   The Abingdon Review was scheduled for much later in the year.

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1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAt West Raynham as senior operational flight commander on the RAF's senior and the world's oldest military air squadron, No.1 (Fighter) Squadron, I felt a particular responsibility lay with us to honour the occasion of the 50th Anniversary suitably.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFor months previously I had frequently badgered my station, wing and squadron commanders to obtain Command approval for our own Command, Group Wing or Squadron to make an aerial contribution.   Flypasts make excellent training events.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesMeanwhile, with our squadron CO, Sqn Ldr Spike Jones, we had been driving very hard both at Raynham and on our detachments down at Gibraltar to regain our leading position in flying hours over our rival 54 (F) Squadron, after a spate of bad serviceability in two of the winter months.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSince nothing else was going to happen from an airborne point of view - and we were scheduled on normal Forward Air Control Strike training on Salisbury Plain and 38 Group would not release us from this - I prevailed on the Boss that we should carry out celebration Anniversary leaflet raids, which would be both good training value for the pilots and a morale raiser.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWe prepared our leaflets and our Chiefy had a Hunter F.G.A.9 specially prepared ready to fly immediately after the parade on April 1.   I changed rapidly into my flying suit from my No.1 uniform after the parade.   We "bombed up" the aircraft with a celebration warload of Anniversary leaflets in the flaps, with a special ceremonial 57 leaflets (one for each full year of our own squadron's service) and an adequate supply of four-and-a-half-inch G.P. ("Government property") bog- rolls stowed in the airbrake.

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Flt Lt Alan Pollock in 1959 while serving at RAF Sylt.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesMy No.1 (F) Hunter was first up using a flapless take-off technique and, despite a strong gusty crosswind, by getting down below the side of the hangar I was fortunate to have a good drop above 54 Squadron's pilots outside their crew room at West Raynham.   The station was then given a beat-up from the South, with pull up into a vertical roll.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesOne of our best pilots and weaponeers, Flt Lt "Wally" Walton, was selected for Wattisham, another proud fighter base and home for part of the Lightning force.   An ex-Lightning O.C.U. pilot from Coltishall. Ken Becker, was suitably chosen for the paper delivery there.   Successful drops were also made by our ex-Vietnam F-105 pilot and USAF exchange officer, Capt Pete Albrecht at Chivenor and by F/O Barry Horton in bad weather at Valley.

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A pilot's eye view of the Mk 9 Hunter cockpit.   It is doubtful if the altimeter even registered as Flt Lt Pollock passed through Tower Bridge at around 400 knots.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesChivenor and Valley responded well to the drops with congratulatory telephone calls.   However, both Wattisham (with an AOC's inspection next day!) and Coltishall rang up and blasted our Station Commander, complaining of dangerous flying, bad example, untidy debris and poor airmanship from No.1 - a happy, successful and operationally very combat ready unit!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesI saw red, particularly with the attitude from an "operational" station like Wattisham because I knew full well and at first hand Wally Walton's competence as a Hunter driver and live armament deliverer.   Throughout the day we had only one reprisal raid, flown by one pair of Lightnings from Wattisham who at least showed some spunk by returning the compliment, even if rather inaccurately, over our wing's dispersal.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesApart from the parade as elsewhere, there indeed had been no special celebration for the airmen, that vital body of skills, service sacrifice which had made the Air Force great - no Anniversary dance, no party, no half day off.   The head seemed to have forgotten the importance of the heart!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesLater in the week I carried out a sample survey of 20 airmen at two stations, none of whom knew there was anything special about this week!   Virtually nothing was in the press and I was particularly acid with the Government and perhaps less forgiving of the apparent apathy of much of our RAF to its great past.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHowever, RAF Tangmere, doyenne of the UK's fighter stations, had laid on an excellent do for Thursday, April 4.   The unit had asked us, No.1 (F) Squadron, to return to our pre-war home after first flying over their "Freedom of the City" parade/march past through Chichester.

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1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe previous Friday I had developed a heavy cold and with the impending important visit to Tangmere, I dosed myself with some strong quick-cure anti-histamine drugs bought from a chemist before being prescribed more triominic drugs by the station doctor on the Monday (April 1).   These drugs, he said, would make me sleepy but in fact had the reverse effect, keeping me ultra alert and sleepless.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesDespite the lack of sleep I still felt particularly alert on Thursday (April 4) and was 'box man' for a group of four No.l Squadron Hunters led by Flt Lt Mike Webb, recently posted from No.8 Squadron, for the formation flight from West Raynham to Tangmere.   I was apparently given the deputy leadership as 'whipper in' because I had been given my head on April 1 and in any case was to lead the whole squadron of Hunters out to El Adem in Libya later in the month.

"What on earth is the matter with the youth of today?   In my day we used to fly whole squadrons of aeroplanes through bridges.   At Rouen all of No. 1 Squadron Hurricanes flew under the transporter bridge one behind the other." 1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesG. Plinston (Sqn/Ldr Ret'd) 1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFlight International (April '68)
"It was a bloody silly thing to do."   Spokesman   Port of London Authority.

"Please don't condemn or punish the dare-devil pilot who swept across London.   It did me - and a lot of other people a world of good.   I shall always remember the feeling of pride as I thought of that chap in control of so much power and it revived memories of those wonderful fellows who during the war, fought for our survival."
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesKay Kacilquham (Miss)
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesDaily Express Letters. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesEn route we performed over Brighton's air display, later arriving on time to the second over Tangmere's parade for a small impromptu work up with some difficult square box work over Arundel Castle.   We had been told to expect visitors and the press on landing, so as was our standard operational procedure, hid our bone domes on the cockpit floor and used our relaxed `boater on' traditional routine for the last part of our taxy-in!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesTangmere hospitality was excellent, with a cocktail party and dance attended by the Duke of Norfolk, the then No.38 Group AOC, Air Vice-Marshal 'Mickey' Martin CB DSC* DFC* AFC of 617 Squadron Moehne Dam fame, the Mayor of Chichester and Group Captain Pater Latham AFC whom I had met at 26 Squadron South African reunion and at Raynham, who was now Grp/Capt Ops No.38 Group.   In a rather supercharged state and after so little sleep on the toxic drugs I had been prescribed, I filled the odd available ear about subjects dear to my heart... in particular the fighting effectiveness of the RAF and the poor celebrations during this special year.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe party at RAF Tangmere was a good one: champagne flowed!   I had two-and-a-half hour's sleep, awakened by the loud throbbing downwash of a helicopter from Thorney Island flying very close to the Mess, partly on a recovery mission to pick off our boss's boater which had somehow found its way to the top of a rather inaccessible Tangmere flagpole!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith what turned out later to be suppressed pneumonia emphasised by the anti-histamine drugs I had been given, champagne, high spirits and lack of sleep, my mind had evidently "speeded" up and I was quite unable to go to sleep again.   My mind went back over the past three or four days and the Government's decisions of the last few years.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSurely I was not alone feeling strongly that the tremendous contribution of the RAF had been sold rather short on its 50th Anniversary?

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith the Anniversary week coming to a close, I concluded that at least one celebration flag wave across the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, the Ministry of Defence and most of all the RAF Memorial that day was quite in order.   In our young Air Force we had always been taught that an ounce of timely action and initiative was worth whole weighty volumes of passive, pompous pontification.   When I was a youngster the solitary, camouflaged Spitfire had done just this to commemorate the Battle of Britain and so many unsung heroes in the Air Force's worldwide service.

"Suddenly there was the most thunderous roar.  I looked up and, whoomph, a big silver jet roared by.   I didn't get a chance to see any of its markings." 1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesGeorge Tapper
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesTower Bridge Watchman.

"The flight was unauthorised; an investigation is being made.   We cannot say what, if any, disciplinary action might be taken against the pilot."         Spokesman   Ministry of Defence.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe weather was ideal.   When decided upon the scheme, it was just the normal routine of how best to achieve target objectives both effectively and safely.   Hell - I thought - how can any Government court martial the spirit of its most famous and historically important airfield?   Tangmere was flying - I was a mere passenger in a single seat fighter!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesLondon lay astride my straight-line return route to West Raynham.   All I needed was to lose contact with the other Hunters immediately I was airborne, somehow slipping off to the north unobserved and without arousing suspicion.   The other three pilots had been lukewarm about joining in on yet another ding!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesMy route over London would obviously have to be low level.   To reduce the Rolls-Royce Avon's noise and inconvenience to Londoners, I would cut my speed down and drop my flaps once I was over the built up areas.   At idling thrust, the Hunter was a very quiet bird of prey.   The lower I was, the less likely I would encounter any other air traffic - not too many aircraft transit throttled back at 80 feet!   Although I was obviously going to break the odd regulation to carry out my protest celebration flight, my 15 year's flying dictated as careful and professional sortie as possible.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesA recent squadron intensive bombing programme in minimum planning, dogfight recovery, opportunity "off the cuff", low level navigation stood me in good stead.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWithout any ruler I sketched the route I was to follow on my quarter million map, scribbling on rough timing marks for my Hunter's various speeds, 420kts, 360kts, 210kts, 420kts and climb out.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFuel figures were rechecked and headings to steer were put on.   Next I stowed away my maps as nonchalantly as possible in my large flying suit pockets.   Not being in a car, I didn't have a detailed map of Central London in or under this particular dashboard.   However, I had wandered into an airmen's crewroom and asked to borrow an AA book for a quick peep.   The total inadequacy from a flying point of view of the tiny red, squiggly map of Central London discouraged me greatly, without enlightening one iota.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesEventually, the OK had been received from West Raynham about the Norfolk weather.   With an acrid hiss from the Avpin engine starter system and a roar, my Hunter 'H' Hotel XF442, a substitute for my own "Bravo" "B" flight commander's aircraft, started up with the others.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAt once I felt relaxed and safe in my homely cockpit environment.   We checked in on Tangmere's local traffic radio frequency and began taxying out slowly, the last section of the last Hunters and fighters of the RAF to fly into and out of our nation's historically greatest fighter airfield.   I was to take off as Number Four in the lead section of four aircraft.   A singleton Hunter with our squadron commander, Sqn Ldr Spike Jones, on board was taking off immediately behind me, making five in all, all FGA9 single seat fighter ground attack aircraft.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWe turned onto the runway after carrying out our normal vital pre-take-off checks - Bang seat live, trim, fuel, flaps, instruments, oxygen, hood, harness and hydraulics.

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1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAs we accelerated, rolling down Tangmere's runway in two pairs and a singleton, with a five second stream spacing, my main pre-occupation was how best to break away from the rest of the section without attracting anyone's attention.   I was aware that a pair of eyes were looking down my jetpipe as we took off to the east.   Immediately after take-off and the reassuring, quiet rumble and clonk had signalled the wheels locked up, I watched as the Hunter behind me turned belly on to me to beat up the airfield as a farewell fighter tribute to such a legendary airfield, symbol of fighter excellence - what a splendidly good and indiscretionary Boss!   I knew that I would not now be seen by him!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesI eased my throttle back, reverse rolled and slipped gently away from the others towards the north, descending rapidly to low level to melt my Hunter's camouflage droptank deep into the dense eiderdown of the Sussex countryside.   After an intentional one-and-a-half minute delay, I then told the formation leader, with speechless code on my R/T button, that I had "lost" visual contact and pretended my radio had failed, using speechless transmissions to avoid any further embarrassing conversations on the R/T.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith things to do, I certainly didn't need a dialogue on the cancellation of TSR2 or the rights and wrongs of initiative!   Before taking off on my way north I had realised my route would take me close to Dunsfold's idyllic, rural aerodrome, the airfield home of Hawkers where such a small team had assembled and tested so many fine and famous aircraft for the RAF, including my own much loved Hunter FGA9.   Aware my flight would have certain consequences, I had decided to pay them a brief Anniversary visit, and after a careful check for other air traffic I streaked low over Dunsfold.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesTwo brief minutes later I was at my "initial point" over the lakes three miles south of London Airport.   As I banked to the right, turning clear and safely below London Airport's approach lane, I saw a stately Boeing 707 glidesloping its studied, final approach onto Heathrow's westerly runway.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesCrossing the green area of Richmond Park, I joined the silvered brown Thames, following its sharp, sinuous bends down river in a melody of delightful Fairey and Dowty banked reversals.   Over London the weather was still one of those rare perfect, 8/8 Gordon's, crystal, gin clear days when all the colours shout out brightly.   Definitely cerulean, not just azure. There was not a breath of wind; the blue sky too shone cloudlessly.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFor obvious reasons at this stage my crumpled quarter inch map, of the route became useless.   I had no 50,000 or 100,000 target map on this particular sortie!   With bursts of flap and power, I now concentrated all my attention on flying down the centre of the stream, startled by the varied beauty in the arches of each bridge just seconds apart.   I swept round over Wandsworth, Battersea and Chelsea bridges, keeping a special eye open for any helicopters.


"I saw the plane swooping down.   I thought it was going to crash.   Then it straightened out, shot over our heads and flew under the bridge.   I thought I was dreaming.   It appeared in a flash and was gone in seconds."
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesPeter Arnold
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSteward on the Baltic Sun, moored near Tower Bridge.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesStraightening up after the next bend, I crossed Vauxhall Bridge and there, a mile or so ahead, was that familiar and splendid silhouette of the Houses of Parliament, viewed within a special sense of Triplex privacy.   This was my main target area.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAs I banked over climbing slightly to circle Whitehall and the historic seat of British government, I had to open my throttle fully to maintain a good tight orbit.   I realised this would put the noise level up considerably, which up to now I had been careful to keep as low as possible to avoid offence or complaint.   As I put the Rolls-Royce power on, I decided that this was perhaps what was really necessary at this juncture to wake up our MPs and remind other august figures, sitting chairbound at their ministerial desks below, that we still had a fighting Air Force, one small unit of which was celebrating its anniversary, despite the dead hand of government policy and the sickening cut-backs of previous years.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe message to Westminster was received.   A debate was interrupted.   Later a four MP cross party inter-service motion of support for the tribute was ruled retrospectively out of order.   Quashed, it was reportedly deleted from Hansard!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThree times I circled, fascinated like any Gulliver looking down at Lilliput by the scene below, and with not dissimilar motives to its author either, exactly as Big Ben struck 12 noon.   Having been abroad for some years I was now conscious of the high Vickers Millbank tower block, which came as a surprise to one who had not been in Central London for some long time.   Its bulk spoiled the even radius of my turns.   Quite suddenly I felt a little tired, rather annoyed that, for once without a target map, I could not readily pick out No.10.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith care I kept well clear of Buckingham Palace, which was plainly visible outside my orbit.   Surprisingly there was time idly to wonder in the final turn exactly how many regulations I was breaking at this rather exclusive and delicious moment.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAfter my final orbit I levelled out again over the Thames, dipping my wings past the RAF memorial and coincidentally the statue of Viscount Trenchard, who had helped to found the RAF in 1918 exactly 50 years earlier, despite tremendous opposition.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith a quick glance at my fuel I decided that, rather than cross the heavily populated area to the north or climb through the airspace used by inbound airliners, the safest plan for all concerned was for me to follow the Thames eastward at low level out into a less populated area and then turn north for home.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAt one minute past noon, I turned happily down river.   Over Waterloo Bridge I could see the architecturally pleasing Post Office Tower away over to the left, then suddenly ahead a fine view of St. Paul's Cathedral, at this time with its lattice work curtain of scaffolding.

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1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesDespite thousands of sorties in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, I felt now like some voyeur or landscape artist, so intoxicated with the various views to the left and right of me that it was literally just before my wings crossed London Bridge when I looked ahead and suddenly saw Tower Bridge.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThere, standing like some proud, strong sentinel across the Thames, this famous matronly structure blocked my low level path to the east.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesUntil this very instant I'd had absolutely no idea that, of course, Tower Bridge would be there.   It was easy enough to fly over it, but the idea of flying through the spans suddenly struck me.   I had just ten seconds to grapple with the seductive proposition which few ground attack pilots of any nationality could have resisted.   My brain started racing to reach a decision.   Years of fast low level strike flying made the decision simple. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"We do not regard this as a joke.   It could have had serious consequences.   There were pedestrians and vehicles on the bridge."
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSpokesman
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesMetropolitan police.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFrom a trained low level pilot's point of view it provided an interesting penetration problem.   To give added decision time I jinked hastily to line myself up directionally and pre-position down low over the river, with my eager fighter well beneath the tall cranes standing like silent, puzzled spectators on the banks.   This manoeuvre would give me a full extra three seconds of decision time to study defloration further.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThere was considerable road traffic I could now see, including a red double decker bus, slowly lumbering across the famous, double-basculed bridge from north to south.   With less than half a mile or so to run, I realised that it would be easy enough to fly through, but what would be the best and safest way?

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSwiftly I concluded Sydney Camm's favourite fighter would have to fly as close to the top structure as possible.   Rather like a reverse skip bombing run with target cues above!   At the last split second before I crossed underneath, the steel girders suddenly seemed to explode all about my cockpit, above, below and about my ears, totally engulfing canopy and one's traditional sense of flying fun!   That microsecond my mind felt quite certain I had overcooked it and the top span would certainly take my fin off the next millisecond.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSomething then happened which had only occurred once before to me, when I had mushed after pull-out from an FAC attack with over-sufficient aircraft weight and "g" and insufficient speed, power and thought!   Thinking I had hit the ground but missing Cloud Ninety Nine by a whisker, my heart actually had missed a couple of beats with the shock of expected imminent disaster.   After that there was the acute, physical reaction as the heart fires up to full stroke again, just like a fighter's fuel pump, trying hard to catch up again.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesMy Hunter flew on, rather unexpectedly finding itself still completely functional and not a finless wonder and I headed out over Greenwich and Hornchurch, heading towards Clacton.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith not overmuch to hide now, I opened up a separate Anniversary sortie callsign on the R/T, Romeo Alfa Foxtrot 01 (rather lost on the controllers).   Then, with R/T permission from the ground, ceremonially I beat up RAF Wattisham, home of some of the Lightning force and whose Station Commander was decidedly an accessory before this particular crime!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesLakenheath was next on my list and Mach .93 divebrake sonic boomletting where No.1 's fellow squadron with their parked USAF F- 100's were based.   I recalled an earlier incident, when, with three other instructors in brand new Jet Provost Mk4's in February 1962, as leader I had called up another US base: "Four basic trainers at 10 miles, permission for slow flyby".   Then we steamed over right on the deck at almost 400kts to remind our transatlantic cousins how we trained our UK basic pilots at that time!   Only the other three were reported as seen by the tower!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesLastly, without really the fuel to do it justice and only after a very careful R/T check on the position of a Victor on its extended final approach lane, I flew across RAF Marham.   Thus the flight had correctly covered both halves of the former Bomber and Fighter elements which were just now combining as the new "Strike Command".   Sic transit gloria.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith less than 400 lbs of fuel now remaining, I carried out a rather hurried, inadequate, inverted run over the squadron hangars at RAF West Raynham before breaking downwind, punching down the gear and landing, with the brake parachute bobbing about contentedly behind my precious fin.   Somewhat pensively I taxied slowly in, expecting, like most other privileged fighter drivers in their time, that a formal reception committee might already be there, as on one or three previous occasions in my flying career.

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The birth of the Yellowjacks.  Flt Lt Pollock (nearest the camera) in Foland Gnat XR539 (08) flies a sortie for Bristol Siddeley's photographer on September 11, 1963.   The other pilots in the picture are Flt Lt Lee Jones (02) and Flt Lt Roger Hymans (04).

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesOnly the normally cheerful airman was there to greet me on to my chock.   Cutting the HP cock, the Hunter's Avon shut down with that unique intermittent cacophony of cooling blades and tolerances like some giant desyncopated lawnmower.   Feeling rather pleased that I had a few more minutes before the thunder of the gods was unleashed, I asked the lad if he'd mind getting my overnight bag out of the radio bay, something I invariably did for myself.   While he proceeded with this task, I had the opportunity of doing what I wanted to but thought I might not get any chance to.   Professionally, I felt thoroughly ashamed of the scribbled marks and tatty appearance of the quarter million map on which I had navigated up from Tangmere without problem.   Certainly I did not want this dog-eared relic produced as an exhibit before some bleary Group Captain at my, or should I say Tangmere's, Court Martial.   So I casually walked in to Wing Ops, borrowed some matches and burnt the map outside out of sight.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesNext I went to ground in the MT section to chat up the switchboard girl and put through private calls to my wife, my wife's mother and my parents.   I told them what had happened and why my Anniversary sortie was flown, that I would be under close arrest for at least a couple of days and on no account were they to say anything to the Press if badgered by them.   The station telephone operator somewhat apologetically said there was a small delay as they'd just had two "Lightning" priority calls, quite outside her long experience.   "The balloon's possibly gone up" I said drily, without too much revelation to her.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThen I went back to the squadron, climbing upstairs to tell first Boss Jones, who was with our OC Flying Wg Cdr Ron Wood, and later the Station Commander, Gp Capt Basil Lock, what they knew already.   By nature used to fast moving situations they took it all coolly in their stride.   Spike Jones seemed strangely relieved that Whitehall wasn't littered with leaflets!   At the end it was left to me to suggest that perhaps I ought to be placed under arrest!


"Flt Lt Pollock was the fifth pilot to have flown 'through' Tower Bridge, but the first jet pilot.   The first bridge flyer was Sir Francis McLean in 1912; then in 1931 'Mad Major' Christopher Draper did it in a Puss Moth.   A Chingford chemist 'shot' the Bridge in 1951 and was fined £100 and in 1954 Texan Gene Thompson did it in an Auster.."

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe section leader and section downstairs meanwhile were in a slight panic - all five aircraft had taken off, verbally authorised but certainly not signed up on any authorisation sheet.   Begged to follow noble traditions and "cook the books straight" and mildly amused at their level of fear, I obliged by signing up!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesNext I went up to the Mess with the Wing Commander Admin, another splendid officer also called Wood, after the Station M.O. had examined me, finding me absolutely normal.   After such little sleep, I was restless.   Exhausted but unable to sleep, I asked the doc. for something to help me sleep at 1.30 p.m.   This was refused and, as was apparently normal service procedure on occasions like this, I had to wait seven hours further for them to get hold of an RAF psychiatrist.   He eventually arrived at 8.30 p.m. and after an hour or so pronounced me quite definitely of sure mind, but in a rather tired and cold-ridden body.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAfter a day and a half I became rather fractious at being held under close arrest for obviously "political" reasons and asked to be released to open arrest.   My deaf AOC last month was now even deafer.   With my spirits high I then started playing up, locking up my officer guard.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHowever, the press made it uncomfortable and I remained cooped up inside in a state of siege.   To take the heat off I was taken to Nocton Hall.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAlways an athletic climber and in high spirits - 14 years earlier I regularly climbed with, but below fellow course member Chris Bonington - I climbed out and onto a roof unnoticed and wickedly watched with some glee the intriguing denouement below.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesI was transferred to Wroughton where the suppressed pneumonia following my terribly heavy cold broke out.   A combination of drugs and disillusion now slowly sapped my spirit.

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1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesA month later a Summary of Evidence took place which lasted five days.   With the squadron in North Africa and almost incommunicado, my morale was shaken.   Two weeks or so later, despite the strong recommendation from Wroughton that I was quite fit enough to stand Court Martial, for political expediency the Under Secretary of State for Air pronounced in a press release that I would not be tried by Court Martial, but would be invalided out of the Air Force.   Having dispensed some Air Force justice myself, I was astounded.   I was very angry and repeatedly asked for what I knew was my statutory right, to see my A.O.C.-in-C.   This opportunity was denied me.   I was told that if I did not accept the invaliding out, with the inducement of my small pension, my services could be dispensed with under a certain Queen's Regulation, without any formal disciplinary action or comeback.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWith tremendous resolve I fought back in a sinister game, the bureaucratic dice of which were increasingly loaded against me for reasons which were only to become clear fairly recently, when the Hugh Cudlipp and May 1968 "Whitehall plot" against the P.M. was revealed.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe bizarre circumstances included a later arrest: the clear statement of my true position and the drug situation at the Summary of Evidence in front of four witnesses and in writing, the cancelled Court Martial, which I had openly sought and had been declared fully fit for by the specialists; the copy of my Summary being forcibly taken back, then later "destroyed" so it was never found again; myself and the country being told of the outcome of a Medical Board in the press by the Secretary of State for Air before even a board had been convened; the refusal of any help in a 10 year cover up; the complete and absolute change of Medical Board findings before and after discharge; the tax position switch after a threat to expose the British Government in Zurich; the persistent withholding of any right of appeal until 1982 when my case was finally vindicated; and the total refusal of my A.O.C.-in-C to allow me an officer's sole right in this sort of situation - the right to see him!

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFollowing some friendly counsel, I realised then that I had to accept Hobson's choice and decided that my next move should be after I was actually receiving my pension.   Then I would petition against what I knew was an unjust decision, taken to avoid any public enquiry into the Government's other arbitrary decision to cancel the Anniversary Flypast.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesI received over 100 letters from the general public and all strata of present and former members of the RAF, as well as members of the other two service arms I admired most, the Royal Navy and the Special Air Service - both of which I had operated with - and they bore witness to the fact that a lot of other people were not satisfied either.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSubsequently after a painfully difficult career "re-light" in 1968/1969 and labelled like an intellectual leper, my languages and aggressive fighter training gave me a perfect career base for success in exporting.   Tomorrow is a new day!

(Courtesy Flypast Magazine September 1981/82)


FLIGHT International 18 April 1968

The Man Who Shot the Bridge

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe RAF pilot who flew a Hunter FGA.9 through Tower Bridge, London, on April 5 was no youthful prankster but a senior flight commander of 1 Sqn, RAF West Raynham, an Old Cranwellian. and the father of four children.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHe was Fit Lt. Alan Richard Pollock, aged 32.   He was named on Sunday, April 7, by MoD (Air) too late, owing to Easter press schedules, for mention in our last week's story.   Flt Lt Pollock was placed under close arrest on April 5 and released into open arrest on April 7.   A board of inquiry was convened at West Raynham on April 8.   An all-party motion signed by six M Ps was tabled in the Commons in his support but was ruled unacceptable.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWhatever their views on the responsibility and possible consequences of flying a jet fighter through the 200 ft-wide, 110 ft-deep aperture framed by the towers, the bascules and the upper span of Tower Bridge, there is unanimity among pilots that it was a handsome piece of flying.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFlt Lt Pollock was the first pilot to fly through the bridge in a downstream direction, following the gentle sinuousities of King's Reach from the Waterloo bend and passing over Blackfriars' two bridges (road and rail), Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street rail bridge, and London Bridge.   After clearing the last he probably had little more than five seconds to align himself with the eye of the needle presented by Tower Bridge, retaining until the last fraction of a second the option of pulling up had he found the opening partly obstructed by abnormally high vehicles, by hanging cradles or by the bascules opening.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesIt has been reported that Flt Lt Pollock peeled off from a formation returning from RAF Tangmere, where he had led four Hunters on display duties.   This might have accounted for his choice of direction.   The absence of pre-placed photographers, who always seem to have been around on previous Tower Bridge buzzings, seems to rule out premeditation.   Another explanation of why he preferred the crane-lined Upper Pool downstream of Tower Bridge for his climb-out when all previous pilots have used it for the run in may have been to avoid climbing through flight levels occupied by airliners on the approach to Heathrow had he made a westerly climb-out.   He turned to port over the City.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe RAF and civil authorities were tussling last week about whether Flt Lt Pollock should be court-martialled or tried in a civil court.   His one-man fly-past was construed in and outside the RAF as an expression of resentment felt by many in the Service - including those now responsible for deciding his punishment - of the way the Royal Air Force is being treated by the Government.   It may he that the last straw was the cancellation of the 50th anniversary fly-past over the capital on April 1.   A fly-past planned in conjunction with the Lancaster House dinner with the Queen was cancelled at the last moment as "inappropriate."   A mid-day fly-past, seen by the maximum number of Londoners and visitors, would have been most "appropriate" on this occasion.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAttitudes to the Tower Bridge exploit of past and present members of the RAF whom we have questioned vary from the very strongly censorious to the frankly admiring; but an unvarying theme was that some RAF protest was called for, without infringing flying discipline.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesTOWER BRIDGE PILOT: MOVE BY MPs

By Daily Mail Reporter

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSIX MPs last night put down a Commons motion on behalf of the 'Tower Bridge pilot.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesBut later it was withdrawn.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe MPs were advised it was unacceptable because the case against Flight Lieut. Alan Pollock was still sub judice.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFour of the MPs were in the RAF.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFlight Lieutenant Pollock, 32 and red-haired, flew a Hunter jet fighter through Tower Bridge at 400 m.p.h. on Friday.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAnd he 'buzzed' the Houses of Parliament.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesProtest

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesIt was his protest against the official refusal to allow a ceremonial fly-past over London to mark the RAF's 50th anniversary.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesLast night a legal wrangle was still going on over his daredevil exploits.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe RAF want him court, martialled.   London police want him tried in a civil court.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesOne of the men who had signed the motion was Sir William Teeling, a former Flight Lieutenant in the RAF, who is Conservative MP for Brighton Pavilion.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesOthers who had signed the motion were Mr Mark Woodnutt (Cons., Isle of Wight), a Royal Artillery officer and PoW; Mr David Crouch (Cons., Canterbury), an Army major who was attached to the RAF as a Staff Officer; Mr Brian Walden (Lab., All Saints), who served in the RAF; Mr John Pardoe (Lib., North Cornwall), a Fighter Command officer, and Mr William Owen (Lab., Morpeth).

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesDidn't Know

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesFlight Lieut. Pollock flew the Hunter from RAF West Raynham, Norfolk, HQ of the No. l Hunter jet Squadron.
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHe lives with his wife and four children at Hyde Close, RAF Bircham- Newton, Norfolk.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHis wife Patricia. said : I have not spoken to anybody about this because the Ministry told me I must not.

Hunter to Tower--Under

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesAn RAF Hunter flew through Tower Bridge, London, in a down-river direction just after noon last Friday, April 5.   The Hunter, carrying underwing tanks, was glimpsed momentarily from Flight's offices in a descending, mushing turn until lost to sight behind United Africa House.   Previous flights through Tower Bridge - never in a jet, and never so fast - have invariably been made in an up-river direction.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe MoD was investigating as we closed for press; the supposition was that the aircraft was an FGA.9 of 1 or 54 Squadrons, which comprise the close-support wing at RAF West Raynham.   The station refused comment, but flying was taking place that day.   Visibility was excellent.   Some authorities attributed the incident to widespread resentment that the RAF had been deprived of a ceremonial fly-past over the capital on 50th anniversary day, April 1.   The Red Arrows were expecting to make this flypast last month, but permission was presumably denied.   A Ministry of Defence spokesman to whom we were referred at press time by the duty officer at RAF West Raynham, was not then able to reveal the name of the pilot.

Queen's RAF Tribute

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytes"A most important and, indeed, vital future for the Royal Air Force" was referred to by the Queen when she spoke at the RAF golden jubilee dinner at Lancaster House, London. on April 1.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesHer Majesty said that the future for the RAF, and for the Armed Services as a whole, would be different from the past; but it would be most important; "our security depends upon it, the security of our friends and allies in many parts of the world depends on it, and in the end the peace of the world depends upon it."

4sqnpic433.jpg, 18649 bytes

Bridge Pilot Leaving RAF

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesTHE RAF AUTHORITIES have decided not to court martial Flt Lt Alan Pollock, 32, who on April 5 flew his Hunter FGA.9 between the two towers, the bascules and the upper span of London's Tower Bridge.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe MoD (Air) announced on May 31 that the AOC-in-C, Air Support Command, Air Marshal Sir Thomas Prickett, has decided in the light of medical opinion not to bring Flt Lt Pollock to trial by court martial.   Flt Lt Pollock has recently been in Ely and Wroughton RAF hospitals with pneumonia.   The statement said that medical opinion was that "if he were brought to trial it would probably have a damaging effect on his health, both immediately and in the long term."

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesIn an unprecedented, and some might think unusual way, the statement went on to anticipate the findings of a medical board not yet convened, in adding: "When he is well enough he will come before a medical board and is expected to be invalided from the RAF."

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesThe decision follows by some weeks that of the City of London Police to take no action against Flt Lt Pollock in the civil courts.   His implied discharge on medical grounds begs many questions, in particular those concerning the level of support which his demonstration - against the failure of the Government to acknowledge reasonably the RAF's 50th anniversary - enjoys in the Service.   Certainly there have been several expressions of support and sympathy for Pollock's action made to Flight by serving RAF officers in recent weeks.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesIn making this strange decision the MoD seems to impugn Flt Lt Pollock's mental health for it is highly unlikely that a court martial would have adverse medical effects upon a man simply recently recovered from pneumonia.   There seems little doubt that from the authorities' point of view Flt Lt Pollock's recent illness, and a medical discharge, has provided a felicitous way of avoiding punishing Pollock for manifesting resentments widely shared throughout the Service and to the public expression of which a court martial might well have led.

Flight International, 18 April, 1968

"Timid" RAF Flying?

Letters 1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesSIR,-The beating-up of Central London and Tower
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesBridge by a Hunter signifies to me that the adventurous spirit is not
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesyet quite dead in the RAF.   The apparently timid fashion
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesin which some RAF aircraft have been flown at air displays during recent
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesyears had led me to believe that pilots who were willing to fly in a
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesspirited fashion, using fine judgment in the process (and thereby
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesincreasing their efficiency as fighting pilots), no longer existed in
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesthe RAF.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesI bet that this flight gave the aircraft knockers and the Neddies in
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesWhitehall (who don't know what aircraft are, anyway, or so it would
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesseem) something to think about.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesGood luck to the pilot! I would rather trust the defence of this country
1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesto a handful of his type than to a great number of the timids.

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesRedditch, Worcs1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesJ. G. ROBINSON


"Where intoxication is brought on by unskilful medical treatment ..... a person while under its influence will not be criminally responsible for his actions...."

1px-trans.gif, 43 bytesRare side effect problems were known even in 1968 from the drugs given in those previous days, linked with the lack of sleep problem on the three days before and after the flight, interacting with the ensuing pneumonia.   No-one has a right to a court martial but in law, theoretically, one should not be worse placed for not having one!

Radio Broadcast by Al - 5Apr10

I was asked to give a minor burst for the World Service, which was wanted on 5th April 2010 for them, at

after a BBC bloke's editing down (nearly correct) his Q & A's.

Two More Copies of Press Articles About Al's Adventure

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