Michigan Aviation Archaeology
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Royal Air Force (British) Vulcan B-1 # XA908; Detroit, MI - 24 October, 1958

Avro Vulcan B-1, thought to be XA908 of 83 Squadron at Entebbe, Uganda in 1958
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The crew: Pilot - Flt. Lt. John Willoughby-Moore
                Co-Pilot - Flt Lt. Brian Peacock
                Navigator - Sqdn. Ldr. Harvey J. Scull
                Navigator - Flt .Lt. James D.Watson
                AEO - F/O. Anthony D. Baker
                Crew Chief - C/T. Edward C. Evison

Twelve year old Doyle King was delivering newspapers on his route at the Windmill Pointe Yacht Club when he heard a jet plane fly over. As he looked up, he saw the plane scream past him almost at tree top level. Seconds later he heard the loud explosion and saw a giant fireball several blocks away. He immediately started to run home and was hit in the back by a small magnesium alloy fitting that weighed nearly a pound! Unhurt, Doyle picked up the piece and ran home.



At about the same time, Otto and Emily Ewald were watching television in their living room when the plane crashed directly into the house next door. The explosion and concussion destroyed their now burning house and trapped them inside. Thankfully, they were rescued by neighbors who had rushed to the scene.
In all, three houses were completely destroyed and hundreds received some sort of damage. Windows were broken in a two block radius and flaming debris laced with jet fuel caused house fires blocks away from the crash site. Debris was found as far away as seven blocks in all directions. In what can only be described as a miracle, nobody on the ground was seriously injured and Emily Ewald was the only person that required hospitalization for her burn injuries.

The doomed plane was a British Royal Air Force (RAF) Avro Vulcan B-1 SN XA908, flying from RAF Waddington in Lincoln, England on a goodwill mission to Lincoln AFB (Nebraska, USA). The plane was carrying letters from the residents of Lincoln, England to their sister city of Lincoln, Nebraska. After a stop-over at the Royal Canadian Air Force Base (RCAF) at Goose Bay, Labrador, the Vulcan took off without incident.
The first sign of trouble came at 3:40 pm when the pilot, Flt. Lt. John Willoughby-Moore, sent out a MAYDAY over the radio. The call was picked up by Selfridge AFB operators. Moore informed them that he was over Dresden, Ontario (about 50 miles NE of Detroit) and had what he described as “complete electrical failure.” He requested an emergency flight plan to Kellogg Air Field in Battle Creek, MI. The plane’s back-up generators should have allowed him time to make Kellogg since they were designed to give 20 minutes of back-up power. In fact, a faulty bus bar gave the crew less than three minutes of power. Before Selfridge could even respond to the request, Moore instead requested immediate clearance to ANY airport. That was the last transmission heard from the crew of XA908.
The crew of six airmen all perished in the crash. The co-pilot, Flt Lt. Brian Peacock was able to eject but he apparently drowned in the nearby Detroit River. His ejection seat was found on the banks of the river soon after the crash and his body was found the next spring. The Vulcan was equipped with ejection seats for the pilot and co-pilot but the rest of the crew would have had to use an unwieldy hatch in the floor of the aircraft.

The cause of the crash was determined to be complete electrical failure. In fact, a total of four generators failed in a domino effect of various faults brought on by the failure of the previous generator. In light of this, the backup systems on the Vulcan were reconfigured to be completely separate from the main electrical system.

Following British military tradition, the six men were laid to rest in the country of their loss. They are buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Trenton, MI alongside eleven British aviators who perished during training exercises out of nearby Grosse Ile Naval Air Station during World War II.

Crash site, 1958

 
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Search for the crash site:

I learned about this crash from some contacts on the wreckchasing message board, Chris Baird and Dave Trojan. In 2010 they both sent me information and asked if I’d ever heard anything about it.

When I first began researching this crash, I had some misgivings. On the one hand, I knew EXACTLY where the plane came down. Newspaper articles provided maps and exact addresses. On the other hand, the likelihood of finding crash site debris in a residential neighborhood (or getting permission to dig in someone’s yard) in a major urban area seemed doubtful. Or was it? If I couldn’t find parts on land, I might be able to find them in the water! A friend and I hatched a plan to use his boat to search the canal adjacent to the crash site using all sorts of rudimentary tools; fish finders, magnets and best of all, cheap waterproof video cameras on sticks! I even went so far as to talk to the local diving club. Unfortunately, we thought of all this in the dead of winter, our plan would have to wait.


                    Me testing out the "stick-cam"


 April 7, 2012 was a nice sunny day and my wife Wendy and I were headed to downtown Detroit. While we were going to be there anyway, I decided to make an impromptu scouting trip to the area of the crash to check out the neighborhood, water conditions in the canal and boating access. As we approached the address of the impact, it was immediately obvious which three houses were totally destroyed by the crash. Three tidy orange brick bungalows now stand amongst a neighborhood of older 1930’s style houses. Approaching the address, the homeowner was out hosing down his driveway, so I decided to talk with him, even though I wasn’t really prepared for any digging or searching. He was very friendly and knew all about the crash even though he had only been living there for twenty years. He told me that basically every time he works in the garden or puts shovel to earth, he digs up pieces of the plane! As a matter of fact he was hosing down after rototilling a section of his yard and found some pieces, which he gladly shared with me. I was allowed to take pictures of his yard and canals and we discussed my plans to search the canal. He did not believe my plan would work since the canals have a 3 ft. layer of silt at the bottom. I told him I was still going to give it a try anyway since I have several underwater wrecks that I am working on and need to perfect my technique. I did give him my contact information and told him to call me when he was going to do more yard work, and I’d come and help! He said that over the years he’d found some interesting parts including a couple of head-sets and that just two years ago he threw away a garbage can full of parts that had been collecting dust over the years…if only I’d looked into this one sooner!

Since he was going to throw away the pieces he’d found, he let me take them home. After cleaning, one of the parts revealed several partial part ID stamps and numbers. So far I have been able to positively determine that the piece was manufactured by the Avro Company based on the manufacturer’s code on one of the stamps. I am still trying to ID the part.


Crash site, today



More pictures here:



Slide show is clickable to enlarge or see a photo album view for comments
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Vulcan B-1

Designed and built by A. V. Roe & Co. (Avro), it was the world’s first delta-winged bomber to reach operational service. The Vulcan was one of the cornerstones of Britain’s nuclear deterrent during the height of the Cold War. In later years it was adapted for conventional bombing and saw active service in the Falklands War.

Vulcan B-1 Specifications:

Crew: 5
Dimensions: Length 97 ft 1 in (29.59 m); Height 26 ft 6 in (7.95 m); Wing Span 99 ft 0 in (30.18 m); Wing Area 3554.0 sq ft (330.18 sq m)
Engine(s): Four Bristol Olympus 101 turbojets of 11,000 lb (4990 kg) st, or Olympus 102 of 12,000 lb (5443 kg) st or Olympus 104 of 13,000 lb (6078 kg) st.
Weights: Empty (including crew) 83,573 lb (37,144 kgs); Maximum Take-off 170,000 lb (77,111 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed Mach 0.95 (625 mph, 1006 kph) at 39,375 ft (12,000 m); Cruising speed Mach 0.92 (607 mph, 977 kph) at 50,000 ft (15,241 m); Service ceiling 55,000 ft (16,765 m); Range 3000 mls (4,830 km).
Armament: No defensive guns. Conventional or free-fall nuclear bomb-load carried internally. Maximum bomb-load 21,000 lb (9,526 kg).

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If you have any pictures or other information pertaining to  this crash, please contact me.

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