On April 5, 1968, it is said that Royal Air Force (RAF) Hunter pilot Alan Pollock performed an unexpected low flying over a number of London landmarks before flying through the Thames gate at the Tower Bridge.
Why would Alan perform such a risky process? And how did this even succeed?
The British Aircraft industry Collapse
Allan’s movement was intended to honor the RAF’s 50th anniversary and to serve as a criticism against the Ministry of Defense (MoD) for declining to do so.
A move from manned aircraft to guided missiles occurred in the British defense sector in the 1960s, resulting from the 1957 Defense White Paper by British Defense Minister Duncan Sandys. The British aircraft industry had entered a state of collapse, and the morale of the British military forces’ aerial services was weak as a result.
Pollock was a huge fan of the RAF and wanted to mark its 50th anniversary with a flyover across London. Despite the ceremonial dinner and a few parades, no flypast was shown during the celebrations that followed. In his mind, this was a huge injustice.
Pollock Decided to do his Own Flyover
On April 4, he and three other Hunter pilots from his unit flew from their base in West Raynham, Norfolk, to RAF Tangmere, Sussex, to celebrate the base being granted City of Chichester freedom. He decided to take a detour over the capital on their way back the next day.
At the time, Alan thought flying over London was worth it, even if he were going to be punished in court for it. If nothing else, a trial will provide him an opportunity to speak out about the Air Force’s current issues.
On the morning of April 5, Alan sneaked away from the rest of the Hunters after the plane took off. He informed his colleague pilots that he had lost visual contact and was having difficulties sustaining verbal connection by typing out coded signals over his radio transmitter.
He arrived at Heathrow Airport in a matter of minutes, and he made a right turn toward Richmond Park and then the Thames. It was, according to Pollock, the most secure and quietest method of getting around the capital by air.
Instead of causing any trouble, “I decided to cross the Thames.” His altitude was around 150 feet as he took off, and he flew across the bridges, keeping a close eye out for any approaching helicopters.
As a result of the defense cuts and what he considered as Labour’s role in the lack of celebration for the anniversary, Pollock traveled towards Parliament and Downing Street. He could see Westminster in the distance as he crossed the Vauxhall Bridge.
Big Ben struck twelve just as the Hunter’s throttle was pushed open for three noisy, low laps around the Parliament. “Then, I turned the power back on. ‘Stuff it, let them hear some noise!’ I thought to myself. In an ironic twist, they were discussing noise reduction at that moment.”
As reported by the Daily Mail, Pollock was subsequently informed by Iain Duncan Smith’s father, Spitfire ace Wilfred Duncan Smith, that he heard his engines while talking to Sir John Grandy, head of the Air Staff, on the 6th floor in a Ministry of Defense building.
In respect, he waved the Hunter’s wings while passing the Whitehall RAF Memorial and then headed down towards the City. The plane flew safely across Hungerford Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Southwark Bridge, and London Bridge.
After that, he was in for a surprise. ‘There it was, Tower Bridge, glaring me in the face. I’d completely forgotten about it! The Tower Bridge was a complete surprise to me. Flying above it was easy, but the concept of flying through the bridge suddenly hit me.
My mind was spinning as I tried to come to a decision. Making the decision was easy after years of flying quick, low-altitude strike missions..”
Pollock said: “Right at the last minute, as my cockpit canopy was just below the bridge and the girders were all around me, in that microsecond I remembered I’d got a tail fin behind and I thought: ‘I’m going to lose the fin!'”
The Hunter was able to make it through somehow. A biker on the bridge tripped and fell off his bike, ripping his pants in the fall.
We Live Once, Let’s Enjoy!
Knowing that he would lose his flying privileges as a result of his show at RAF West Raynham, he flew inverted over various airfields (Wattisham, Lakenheath, and Marham) before being caught by Flying Officer Roger Gilpin within the hour.
His battalion was sent to North Africa without him in the early aftermath of the event while he was still in charge. In addition to the hundreds of messages of congratulations from fellow RAF servicemen and public members, British Overseas Airways Corporation sent Alan’s squadron a barrel of beer in appreciation of his service (BOAC).
As a result of his medical condition, he was forced to leave the RAF. That way, Pollock wouldn’t be in trouble for his act, and the government wouldn’t be embarrassed.
Although earlier pilots have flown beneath the upper span of the Tower Bridge, Pollock was the first in a jet aircraft to do so.
To know more about this incident, please watch the following video: