It must have been a shock for a train driver in Britain when he smashed into the wreckage of a crashed scale-model kerosene-fueled fighter jet last month. And it must have been more of a surprise for the air accident investigators who had to look into the rather strange incident between Liverpool and Manchester.
The BBC reports that the United Kingdom’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch recently released a report detailing the odd occurrence on September 16 in Warrington, 20 miles east of Liverpool and 16 miles west of Manchester. An unidentified 72-year-old was taking his 1:10 scale model of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom out of its maiden test flight at Kenyon Hall Farm Airstrip, a model club runway that happens to be located adjacent to a railway line.
The F-4 model was recently constructed, and the aircraft wasn’t in perfect working order before takeoff. The report mentions, “During the flight, the pilot noted that the aileron response was ‘sluggish,’ but he considered it sufficient for safe flight. He subsequently noted that up elevator was required to maintain level flight and progressively applied ‘up’ trim.” Things quickly went wrong.
The F-4 Phantom model was discovered on the railway line, but it was hit by a train. Afterward, the pilot and other club members recovered the wreckage. Thankfully, no one was injured.
It isn’t clear exactly how much time passed between the discovery of the model plane’s crash site on the tracks and the train plowing over the wreckage. Though, I want to imagine that the scaled-down F4 was found and then immediately struck by the passing train in comedic fashion.
Network Rail, the United Kingdom’s state-owned rail infrastructure manager, also had comments for the investigators on the incident:
“Network Rail advised the AAIB that an object the size and weight of the model aircraft on a railway track would be unlikely to cause damage or risk of derailment to a moving train. However, collision with a train, in particular the driver’s window, could cause a substantial safety threat, particularly given the carriage of jet fuel in this particular case. It could also represent a risk to track workers or users of the pedestrian crossing.”
The British Model Flying Association (BMFA) has amended its procedures on turbine-powered model flight. Also, the BMFA member’s handbook now includes a 24-hour emergency phone number to report track safety threats to Network Rail. The local club at Kenyon Hall Farm Airstrip will now also require committee approval for turbine-powered flights. The airstrip has been in operation for seven years with 6,500 flights per year, and this was the first time that there had been a crash on the railway line.