The Royal Navy pilot who skilfully landed his stricken aircraft after it plunged to the ground following engine failure at last year’s Culdrose Air Day, is returning to fly again at the 2015 event. At RNAS Culdrose Air Day 2014, the crowd held its breath as Lieutenant Commander Chris Gotke of the Royal Navy Historic Flight (RNHF) dramatically brought his Sea Fury to the ground showing exemplary airmanship under extreme pressure. For his courage and skill, he received the highest peacetime honour for gallantry in the air – the Air Force Cross.
When the engine of his aircraft failed during a display manoeuvre during the final moments of Air Day 2014, Lt Cdr Chris Gӧtke was faced with the decision to either bail out by parachute or stay with the Sea Fury and try to land it. The former Sea Harrier pilot decided to stay at the controls after pulling the plane out of a dive and managed to glide her back to the Culdrose runway.
The Sea Fury, a large, high performance piston engine fighter, had just started a descent from 2000 feet when significant vibration was felt from the engine. His outstanding flying skills in a situation that demanded split second decision making, undoubtedly averted disaster, avoided any loss of life or injury, and incurred minimal damage to a rare heritage aircraft.
For his display of ‘conspicuous courage and exemplary airmanship under extreme pressure’, he was awarded the Air Force Cross by the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace. His skill, which would have been outstanding in a modern aircraft, was described as ‘altogether exceptional in a fast and heavy 60 year old fighter.’
Chris, who is the Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy Historic Flight and an experienced navy Test Pilot, said: “I effectively put the aircraft into the equivalent of neutral gear, allowing it to lose power and glide. The thought that I would have to jump out was a horrible, horrible feeling. I had already lowered the landing gear and started to position the aircraft for a precautionary landing but I thought I still had power. A few seconds later the engine failed completely and my options diminished rapidly. Cornish fields are very small and surrounded by dry stone walls! And it was far too dangerous to land in a field with the undercarriage down so I rapidly raised the undercarriage again to reduce drag and improve the glide angle. It all happened in split-second timing, but I managed to improve the situation just sufficiently to make it over the airfield boundary and onto the end of the runway.”
Even on touchdown, when the wheels did not lock into place, causing the aircraft to collapse on its undercarriage, Chris demonstrated impeccable skill, carrying out a text book forced landing.
Chris will be part of the RNHF display this year, flying a Chipmunk at the event on Thursday 30th July. He said: “I am looking forward to flying at Culdrose Air Day again. Although based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, I have already been back to fly Hawk Jets from 736 Naval Air Squadron and as a RNHF pilot, I do try and return as often as I can to support Culdrose Families Days with our aircraft. I must admit the first time I returned, which was in a Hawk, it was quite a strange experience when I first looked down over the airfield.”
Chris added: “The Sea Fury T20 is coming along nicely. The fuselage received remarkably little damage and is being repaired as I speak and we have sourced a replacement engine which the engineers at North Weald are now refurbishing. Hopefully the aircraft will return to the display circuit during 2016.”
The Historic Flight will join what promises to be a very exciting air display at Culdrose, with the Italian Air Force’s ‘Frecce Tricolori’ (Italy’s version of the Red Arrows) making their only UK appearance, and fast action displays from the Polish and Swiss Air Force jets. They will be part of an all day flying programme which includes displays from the Breitling Wing Walkers, the Royal Navy Black Cats and the Blades. With fast jets and aerobatic display teams, historic aircraft and military helicopters taking part, the flying display for 2015 is sure to thrill visitors.
As well as an exciting, action-packed flying display, there will also be lots of things to see, touch and experience on the ground. Visitors can climb onboard aircraft, take a ride in a helicopter, be winched high into the air or jump into the driving seat of a military fire engine. The Culdrose Naval Air Squadrons and units will be on display ready to talk about what they do and explain how their aircraft are deployed and used around the world. More information about the event, tickets and a list of display aircraft is available at www.culdroseairday.com
For more information about the Royal Navy Historic Flight, please visit www.royalnavyhistoricflight.org.uk